Justia Securities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
CCSB Financial Corp. v. Totta
The corporate charter of a bank holding company capped at 10% the stock that could be voted by a “person” in any stockholder vote. During a proxy contest for three seats of a staggered board, the CCSB board of directors instructed the inspector of elections not to count 37,175 shares voted in favor of a dissident slate of directors. According to the board, the 37,175 shares exceeded the 10% voting limitation because certain stockholders were acting in concert with each other. If the votes had been counted, the dissident slate of directors would have been elected. The CCSB corporate charter also provided that the board’s “acting in concert” determination, if made in good faith and on information reasonably available, “shall be conclusive and binding on the Corporation and its stockholders.” In a summary proceeding brought by the plaintiffs, the Court of Chancery found: (1) the “conclusive and binding” charter provision invalid under Delaware corporate law; (2) the board’s instruction to the inspector of elections invalid because the individuals identified by the board were not acting in concert; and (3) the board’s election interference did not withstand enhanced scrutiny review. The court also awarded the plaintiffs attorneys’ fees for having conferred a benefit on CCSB. CCSB argued the Court of Chancery erred when it invalidated the charter provision and reinstated the excluded votes. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery: plaintiffs proved that the board breached its duty of loyalty by instructing the inspector of elections to disregard the 37,175 votes. "The charter provision cannot be used to exculpate the CCSB directors from a breach of the duty of loyalty. Further, the court’s legal conclusion and factual findings that the stockholders did not act in concert withstand appellate review." View "CCSB Financial Corp. v. Totta" on Justia Law
In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation
At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in this case was the 2016 all-stock acquisition of SolarCity Corporation (“SolarCity”) by Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”). Tesla’s stockholders claimed CEO Elon Musk caused Tesla to overpay for SolarCity through his alleged domination and control of the Tesla board of directors. At trial, the foundational premise of their theory of liability was that SolarCity was insolvent at the time of the Acquisition. Because the Court of Chancery assumed, without deciding, that Musk was a controlling stockholder, it applied Delaware’s most stringent "entire fairness" standard of review, and the Court of Chancery found the Acquisition to be entirely fair. In this appeal, the two sides disputed various aspects of the trial court’s legal analysis, including, primarily, the degree of importance the trial court placed on market evidence in determining whether the price Tesla paid was fair. Appellants did not challenge any of the trial court’s factual findings. Rather, they raised only a legal challenge, focused solely on the application of the entire fairness test. After careful consideration, the Delaware Supreme Court was convinced that the trial court’s decision was supported by the evidence and that the court committed no reversible error in applying the entire fairness test. View "In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law
Weinberg v. Waystar, Inc.
Plaintiff-appellant Tracey Weinberg (“Weinberg”) was the former Chief Marketing Officer of defendant-appellee Waystar, Inc.(“Waystar”). During her employment, the company granted her options to purchase stock in its co-defendant Derby TopCo, Inc.,(“Derby Inc.”), pursuant to a Derby TopCo 2019 Stock Incentive Plan (the “Plan”). Weinberg was awarded three option grants under the Plan pursuant to three option agreements executed between October 2019 and August 2020. By the time Weinberg was terminated in 2021, 107,318.96 of her options had vested. She timely exercised all of them in November 2021, and the options immediately converted to economically equivalent partnership units in co-defendant Derby TopCo Partnership LP, a Delaware limited partnership (“Derby LP”) (the “Converted Units”). Each Option Agreement contained an identical call right provision providing Appellees the right to repurchase Weinberg’s Converted Units (the “Call Right”), “during the six (6) month period following (x) the (i) [t]ermination of [Weinberg’s] employment with the Service Recipient for any reason . . . and (y) a Restrictive Covenant Breach.” This appeal turned on the meaning of the word “and” in the three option agreements. Specifically, the question presented for the Delaware Supreme Court was whether two separate events (separated by the word “and”) had to both occur in order for the company to exercise a call right, or whether the call right could be exercised if only one event has occurred. Although Weinberg had been terminated within the time frame specified by the Call Right Provision, a Restrictive Covenant Breach had not occurred. The parties disputed whether the Call Right was available in the absence of a Restrictive Covenant Breach. The Court of Chancery decided that it was, and the Delaware Supreme Court concurred, affirming the Court of Chancery. View "Weinberg v. Waystar, Inc." on Justia Law
Stillwater Mining Company v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA
Stillwater Mining Company filed suit against its directors’ and officers’ liability insurers to recover the expenses it incurred defending a Delaware stockholder appraisal action. The superior court granted the insurers’ motions to dismiss after it found that Delaware law applied to the dispute and the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in In re Solera Ins. Coverage Appeals (“Solera II”) precluded coverage for losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action under a similar D&O policy. The primary issue on appeal was whether Delaware or Montana law applied to the claims in Stillwater’s amended complaint. Stillwater argued that the superior court should have applied Montana law because Montana had the most significant relationship to the dispute and the parties. If Montana law applied, according to Stillwater, it could recover its defense costs because Montana recognized coverage by estoppel, meaning the insurers were estopped to deny coverage when they failed to defend Stillwater in the appraisal action. Before the Delaware Supreme Court issued Solera II, the Solera I court held that D&O insureds could recover losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action. Taking advantage of that favorable ruling, Stillwater argued in its complaint that Delaware law applied to the interpretation of the policies. Then when Solera II was issued, Stillwater reversed position and claimed that Montana law applied to the policies. Its amended complaint dropped all indemnity claims for covered losses in favor of three contractual claims for the duty to advance defense costs and a statutory claim under Montana law. In the Supreme Court's view, Stillwater’s amended claims raised the same Delaware interests that Stillwater identified in its original complaint – applying one consistent body of law to insurance policies that cover comprehensively the insured’s directors’, officers’, and corporate liability across many jurisdictions. It then held the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Stillwater's motions. View "Stillwater Mining Company v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law
Daniel v. Hawkins
The Delaware Court of Chancery entered judgment in favor of appellee Sharon Hawkins on her request for a declaration that the irrevocable proxy which provided appellant W. Bradley Daniel (“Daniel”) with voting power over all 100 shares of N.D. Management, Inc. (“Danco GP”) (the “Irrevocable Proxy”), did not bind a subsequent owner of such Danco GP shares. The Court of Chancery also held that an addendum to the Irrevocable Proxy did not obligate the current owner of the Danco GP shares, MedApproach, L.P. (the “Partnership”), to demand that the buyer in a sale to an unaffiliated third party bind itself to the Irrevocable Proxy. Daniel appealed the Court of Chancery’s judgment that the Irrevocable Proxy did not run with the Majority Shares, arguing the court erred by: (1) rather than interpreting and applying the plain language of the Irrevocable Proxy as written, the court relied on the Restatement (Third) of Agency, which was not adopted until nearly a decade after the parties entered into the Irrevocable Proxy; (2) reading additional language into the Irrevocable Proxy in order to support its finding that the broad “catch-all” language that the parties included to prevent termination of the Irrevocable Proxy did not encompass a sale of the shares; and (3) not giving effect to all of the terms of the Irrevocable Proxy and improperly limiting the assignment clause of the Irrevocable Proxy so as not to bind assigns of the stockholder. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Daniel v. Hawkins" on Justia Law
Griffith v. Stein
An objector appealed a Delaware Court of Chancery decision approving a litigation settlement for claims alleging excessive non-employee director compensation. Initially, the parties agreed to a preliminary settlement and presented it to the Court of Chancery for approval. The Court of Chancery sided with the objector and refused to approve a non-monetary settlement of the derivative claims. The court also awarded the objector fees. After the court denied a motion to dismiss, the parties came up with a new settlement that included a financial benefit to the corporation. The objector renewed his objection, this time arguing that the new settlement improperly released future claims challenging compensation awards and that the plaintiff was not an adequate representative for the corporation’s interests. The Court of Chancery approved the new settlement and refused to award the objector additional attorneys’ fees. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, the objector argued the court erred by: (1) approving an overbroad release; (2) approving the settlement without finding that the plaintiff was an adequate representative of the corporation’s interests; and (3) reducing the objector’s fee because the court believed it would have rejected the original settlement agreement without the objection. Though the Supreme Court acknowledged the Court of Chancery and the parties worked diligently to bring this dispute to a close, it reversed the judgment because the settlement agreement released future claims arising out of, or contemplated by, the settlement itself instead of releasing liability for the claims brought in the litigation. View "Griffith v. Stein" on Justia Law
NVIDIA Corporation v. City of Westland Police & Fire Retirement System
In a final judgment, the Delaware Court of Chancery ordered NVIDIA Corporation (“NVIDIA” or the “Company”) to produce books and records to certain NVIDIA stockholders under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. In the underlying action, the stockholders alleged certain NVIDIA executives knowingly made false or misleading statements during Company earnings calls that artificially inflated NVIDIA’s stock price, and then those same executives sold their stock at inflated prices. As such, the stockholders sought to inspect books and records to investigate possible wrongdoing and mismanagement at the Company, to assess the ability of the board to consider a demand for action, to determine whether the Company’s board members were fit to serve on the board, and to take the appropriate action in response to the investigation. In resisting the request, NVIDIA argued the stockholders were not entitled to the relief they sought because: (1) the scope of the original demands failed to satisfy the form and manner requirements; (2) the documents sought at the trial were not requested in the original demands; (3) the stockholders failed to show a proper purpose; (4) the stockholders failed to show a credible basis to infer wrongdoing; and (5) the requests were overbroad and not tailored to the stockholders’ stated purpose. The Court of Chancery rejected these arguments and ordered the production of two sets of documents—certain communications with the CEO and certain specific sets of emails. The Delaware Supreme Court held: (1) the stockholders’ original demands did not violate Section 220’s form and manner requirements; (2) the stockholders did not expand their requests throughout litigation; (3) the Court of Chancery did not err in holding that sufficiently reliable hearsay evidence may be used to show proper purpose in a Section 220 litigation, but did err in allowing the stockholders in this case to rely on hearsay evidence because the stockholders’ actions deprived NVIDIA of the opportunity to test the stockholders’ stated purpose; (4) the Court of Chancery did not err in holding that the stockholders proved a credible basis to infer wrongdoing; and (5) the documents ordered to be produced by the Court of Chancery were essential and sufficient to the stockholders’ stated purpose. Thus, the judgment of the Court of Chancery is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "NVIDIA Corporation v. City of Westland Police & Fire Retirement System" on Justia Law
Diep v. Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C.
Kevin Diep, a stockholder of El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc. (“EPL”), filed derivative claims against some members of EPL’s board of directors and management, as well as a private investment firm. The suit focused on two acts of alleged wrongdoing: concealing the negative impact of price increases during an earnings call and selling EPL stock while in possession of material non-public financial information. After the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the EPL board of directors designated a special litigation committee of the board (“SLC”) with exclusive authority to investigate the derivative claims and to take whatever action was in EPL’s best interests. After a lengthy investigation and extensive report, the SLC moved to terminate the derivative claims. All defendants but the private investment firm settled with Diep while the dismissal motion was pending. The Court of Chancery granted the SLC’s motion after applying the two-step review under Zapata Corp. v. Maldonado, 430 A.2d 779 (Del. 1981). Diep appealed, but after its review of the record, including the SLC’s report, and the Court of Chancery’s decision, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the court properly evaluated the SLC’s independence, investigation, and conclusions, and affirm the judgment of dismissal. View "Diep v. Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Steam TV Networks, Inc. v. SeeCubic, Inc.
The Delaware Supreme Court addressed whether approval of a corporation’s Class B stockholders was required to transfer pledged assets to secured creditors in connection with what was, in essence, a privately structured foreclosure transaction. Stream TV Network, Inc. (“Stream” or the “Company”), along with Mathu and Raja Rajan, argued that the agreement authorizing the secured creditors to transfer Stream’s pledged assets (the “Omnibus Agreement”) was invalid because Stream’s unambiguous certificate of incorporation (“Charter”) required the approval of Stream’s Class B stockholders. Stream’s Charter required a majority vote of Class B stockholders for any “sale, lease or other disposition of all or substantially all of the assets or intellectual property of the company.” Stream argued the trial court erred by applying a common law insolvency exception to Section 271 in interpreting the Charter, and that the enactment of 8 Del. C. 271 and its predecessor superseded any common law exceptions. It contended that, in any event, such a “board only” common law exception never existed in Delaware. SeeCubic, Inc. argued the court correctly found that neither the Charter, nor Section 271, required approval of the Class B shares to effectuate the Omnibus Agreement. Because the Supreme Court agreed that a majority vote of Class B stockholders was required under Stream’s charter, it vacated the injunction, reversed the declaratory judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Steam TV Networks, Inc. v. SeeCubic, Inc." on Justia Law
First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA
In March 2012, First Solar, Inc. stockholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that it violated federal securities laws by making false or misleading public disclosures ("Smilovits Action"). National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (“National Union”) provided insurance coverage for the Smilovits Action under a 2011–12 $10 million “claims made” directors and officers insurance policy. While the Smilovits Action was pending, First Solar stockholders who opted out of the Smilovits Action filed what has been referred to as the Maverick Action. The Maverick Action alleged violations of the same federal securities laws as the Smilovits Action, as well as violations of Arizona statutes and claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. In this appeal the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether the Smilovits securities class action, and a later Maverick follow-on action were related actions, such that the follow-on action was excluded from insurance coverage under later-issued policies. The Superior Court found that the follow-on action was “fundamentally identical” to the first-filed action and therefore excluded from coverage under the later-issued policies. The Supreme Court found that even though the court applied an incorrect standard to assess the relatedness of the two actions, judgment was affirmed nonetheless because under either the erroneous “fundamentally identical” standard or the correct relatedness standard defined by the policies, the later-issued insurance policies did not cover the follow-on action. View "First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law