Marcoux v. Prim, 2004 NCBC 5 (N.C. Super. Ct. Apr. 16, 2004)(Tennille)

This action sought to enjoin a merger involving a publicly traded company. The Court addressed whether the action was derivative or direct under Delaware law. If it was derivative, the Court held that the complaint suffered from three flaws: it was not verified, the corporation had not been joined as a party, and there were no allegations with respect to demand futility as required by North Carolina law.

The Court held, under Delaware precedent, that a shareholder claiming that the merger price is the product of a breach of the directors' duty of loyalty, as a result of the directors being conflicted or acting in bad faith, is entitled to make a direct claim. The Court further held that a Revlon claim is a direct claim, because the injury results from the diminished value that a shareholder receives in the merger process. As the Court put it, "the treasury of the shareholder is depleted, not the treasury of the corporation."

The Court discussed the analysis to be followed when a shareholder seeks to enjoin a merger. It held that if there is no competing offer, the shareholder must make "a particularly strong showing on the merits" in order to obtain the injunction because of the potential loss of the merger premium.

Plaintiff contended that the Special Committee of the company's board, which had approved the merger, was not independent because the members of the board sat on the boards of each others' companies, and that they vacationed together. The Court found that these challenges to directorial independence were merely personal and business relationships. One director had served as outside counsel to the company, and had been paid legal fees. The Court held that "the receipt of legal fees by a director's law firm does not, by itself, demonstrate that director's lack of independence."

The Court further found that the board was not required to conduct an auction. It had conducted a market check. Nor were the directors required to disclose the benefit of merger synergies or to obtain a study which quantified the synergies. Nor were the directors required to disclose the existence of derivative lawsuits pending against the company in the merger proxy, and that those claims would be extinguished as a result of the merger. There furthermore was no diversion of the merger consideration to the company's president, who sold property to the buyer and obtained a new employment contract as a result of the merger.

The Court noted that the plaintiff had failed to make a statutory inspection request under Delaware law before filing its complaint, and that he had not waited for the merger proxy to be filed before he filed suit.

Full Opinion

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