Delaware law provides parties with significant flexibility to restrict or eliminate fiduciary duties in LLC agreements. Sophisticated parties regularly take advantage of this flexibility by eliminating fiduciary duties of members and directors of LLCs. These same parties, however, often choose not to extend these waivers to officers of the LLCs, often stemming from a desire to ensure that officers still have a fiduciary duty to be loyal to the LLC. A new ruling from the Delaware Court of Chancery highlights the unintended consequences of excluding officers from the scope of the fiduciary duty waiver.Continue Reading New Delaware Ruling Highlights Unintended Consequences of Excluding Officers from Fiduciary Duty Waivers
Much has been written lately about a circuit split on the question whether a company’s forum selection bylaw mandating shareholder derivative lawsuits be brought in Delaware state court trumps a federal lawsuit asserting a derivative claim under Section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (which can only be asserted – if at all – in federal court). The Seventh Circuit answered this question “no” while the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc answered “yes,” in both cases over vigorous dissents. Many have speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court may weigh in to resolve this clear circuit split.Continue Reading Bringing an End to “Derivative” Section 14(a) Claims – Without Waiting for the Supreme Court to Weigh In
In a May 29, 2023 opinion by the Delaware Chancery Court addressing a claim by sellers for specific performance under a merger agreement following buyer’s termination for breach of the capitalization representation, the court found that sellers breached the capitalization representation under the merger agreement based on the post-signing discovery that a former employee held phantom equity in a subsidiary of the target company. Despite buyer’s concession that the financial value of the former employee’s interest in the subsidiary was “minor relative to the deal value,” the court concluded that buyer was entitled to terminate the merger agreement since the capitalization representation was brought down flat at closing (and not subject to any de minimis or materiality qualifier).Continue Reading Private Equity Buyer Permitted to Walk From Deal Based on Capitalization Representation Breach
In a recent decision, the Delaware Court of Chancery grappled with the question whether—and to what extent—claims for breach of fiduciary duty can be waived ex ante in a corporate shareholder agreement. Specifically, in New Enterprise Associates 14 LP v. Rich, the court denied a motion to dismiss claims for breach of fiduciary duties brought against directors and controlling stockholders of Fugue, Inc. (the “Company”) by sophisticated private fund investors who had agreed to an express waiver of the right to bring such claims. Importantly, the court found that fiduciary duties in a corporation can be tailored by parties to a shareholders agreement who are sophisticated, and were validly waived by the voting agreement in this case (which specifically addressed the type of transaction at issue). The court, however, held that public policy prohibits contracts from insulating directors or controlling stockholders from tort or fiduciary liability in a case of intentional wrongdoing, which the court found was plausibly alleged in this case. The court’s opinion has implications for sophisticated investors in venture capital and other private transactions involving Delaware corporations. The opinion cautions against overreliance on express contractual waivers, on the one hand, while also serves as a reminder that at least in some circumstances sophisticated parties can contract around default legal principles (including fiduciary duties), even with respect to corporations.Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Highlights Tension Between Freedom of Contract and Corporate Fiduciary Duties
On May 1, 2023, the Delaware Court of Chancery addressed an unsettled question under Delaware law—whether a fully informed, uncoerced vote of disinterested stockholders (so-called “Corwin cleansing”) can be applied to defeat claims to enjoin defensive measures under Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co.Continue Reading Corwin Cleansing Denied In Action For Post-Closing Injunctive Relief Under Unocal
In a recent opinion addressing breaches of fiduciary duties and disclosure violations in connection with a take-private of Mindbody, Inc. by Vista Equity Partners, the Delaware Court of Chancery reinforced the significance (to both buyers and sellers) of avoiding conflicts in a sell-side process and ensuring all material facts are disclosed to the target’s board …
The Delaware legislature recently amended Delaware’s General Corporation Law (DGCL) to allow corporations to limit the personal liability of corporate officers for money damages for breaches of their fiduciary duty of care. Prior to this amendment, Delaware only allowed for such “exculpation clauses”—which must be set forth in the certificate of incorporation—for corporate directors.
Continue Reading Delaware Extends Exculpation from Personal Liability to Senior Officers
In a noteworthy new post-sale appraisal ruling, the Delaware Court of Chancery in BCIM Strategic Value Master Fund, LP v. HFF, Inc. awarded the petitioner additional consideration based on an increase in the value of the target company that arose between signing and closing. The unique facts of this case, and particularly the sustained outperformance of the target in the interim period before closing, are worth keeping in mind in evaluating the risk that a successful appraisal proceeding can increase the amount of consideration payable in a public company acquisition. Below we break down the Court’s analysis in determining fair value, how changes in each merger party’s valuation drove the appraisal result, and key takeaways.
Continue Reading Appraisal Update: Post-Signing Value Changes Drive Appraisal Result
In Wei v. Zoox, Inc., the Delaware Court of Chancery found that an appraisal petition had been filed for the sole purpose of gathering discovery to be used in drafting a fiduciary duty complaint challenging a merger where the former stockholders had lost standing to seek books and records under Section 220 due to the rapid closing of the merger. Nonetheless, in a novel ruling, the court permitted the appraisal petitioners to pursue some discovery in the appraisal action, limited to what would have been available to them under Section 220 had they not lost standing to seek such records. The court rejected the petitioners’ request for broader discovery that is normally available in an appraisal action in light of its finding that the petitioners’ true purpose in filing the appraisal action was to seek Section 220-like books and records.
Continue Reading A Back-Door Section 220? Chancery Court Limits Appraisal Petitioners’ Demand for Broad Discovery
In a recent opinion addressing the enforcement of trading restrictions (“lock-ups”) that are commonly agreed in connection with a business combination transaction between a special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”) and a target company (“de-SPAC transaction”), the Delaware Court of Chancery determined that the restrictions at issue did not apply to certain shares held by the…