The Court partially granted an LLC member’s motion for an accounting, ordering the LLC to provide the member with periodic "(1) information regarding the status of the business and the financial condition of [the LLC] including a summary of all funds disbursed and spent and all revenue generated from 1 January 2009 to the present, and (2) a copy of [the LLC’s] federal, State, and local income tax returns as filed for each year the company has been in business."
The Court denied the Motion to Intervene by a shareholder of the defendant, a Delaware corporation, by which the proposed intervenor sought to compel an inspection of books and records and to compel an annual meeting. The Court held that "appropriate and efficient remedies" were available under Delaware law.
The Court considered yet another derivative action plaintiff who had failed to make the demand required under Delaware law. The Court held that the plaintiff had failed to establish demand futility based on his claim that the outside directors were insufficiently disinterested to have properly considered a demand.
Plaintiff’s claim that one of the outside directors had engaged in insider trading did not establish that the director faced a "substantial likelihood" of liability. Membership on the company’s audit committee did not impair the ability of other directors to consider a derivative claim. The disinterest of the directors was also not impeached by their receipt of compensation from the company. The Court also rejected claims that the directors were interested because they had approved, permitted, or participated in the alleged wrongs" as well as other arguments which it rejected in its opinion in the Pozen case.
The Court ended its opinion by chastizing the plaintiff for not making a books and records inspection request before filing his complaint.
The Court dismissed a series of shareholder derivative actions due to plaintiffs’ failure to make the required demand under Delaware law. Since the shareholders did not attack a specific action of the board, the Court undertook to determine "whether any of the directors were rendered ‘interested’ by any of the conduct alleged and, if so, whether the disinterested directors were nonetheless capable of acting independently from those interested directors." (If a specific action of the board had been under attack, the Court would have analyzed whether there was a "a reasonable doubt that either: (1) a majority of the directors [was] incapable of acting in a disinterested and independent manner or (2) the transaction was not a result of a valid exercise of business judgment.").
The Court rejected the argument that four of the directors of the company were "interested" because of their service on the company’s audit committee. The Court held that "[a]udit committees of publicly traded companies are required to have independent and disinterested directors comprise the committee. It makes no sense to require audit committees to be made up of independent and disinterested directors and then find them not to be independent and disinterested because they are on the audit committee."
The Court also rejected what it referred to as "blanket allegations" that the directors participated in or approved the alleged misconduct. The directors were entitled to rely upon management’s assessment of the safety and efficacy of the company’s products" in the absence of specific language to the contrary.
The Court also ran through, and rejected, a series of arguments in support of futility that had been rejected by the Delaware Courts, including (a) that the directors would be forced to sue themselves, (b) that the directors would not sue themselves because this would open them up to further litigation, (c) that the directors had an interest in the suit being derivative because they would have no insurance coverage for a direct claim, and (d) that the directors were interested because they had stock options.
The Court also considered the independence of the directors. It held that allegations that some of the directors were beholden to members of the compensation committee, which determined whether they would be compensated for their service, were insufficient. It held that allegations of business, professional, and personal relationships would not affect independence, in the absence of facts showing that "’the non-interested director would be more willing to risk his or her reputation’ than to jeopardize his relationship with the person with whom he is allegedly entangled."
In a footnote, the Court once again referenced its belief that shareholders should make books and records inspection requests before filing such actions. It quoted Beam v. Stewart, 833 A.2d 961, 981 (Del. Ch. September 30, 2003) for the propositiong that “it is troubling to this Court that, notwithstanding repeated suggestions, encouragement, and downright admonitions over the years both by this Court and by the Delaware Supreme Court, litigants continue to bring derivative complaints pleading demand futility on the basis of precious little investigation beyond perusal of the morning newspapers”.
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.
This opinion on attorneys’ fees was issued in tandem with the opinion in In re Wachovia Shareholders Litigation. Lawsuits had filed over a tender offer for the company, which led the Board of Directors to conduct an auction process which led to a higher price per share. Thereafter, class counsel and the defendant had agreed to permit the Court to set the fee, not to exceed $450,000, and the defendant had agreed not to object.
The Court considered, as it would have if there had been an objection: (1) whether the action was meritorious at the time it was filed, (2) whether there was an ascertainable benefit received by the class, and (3) whether there was a causal connection between the action and the benefit. The Court approved a fee of $450,000, although it found that there were some "close questions," particularly whether the filing of the lawsuit had been a direct cause of the increase in price paid for the company.
The Court noted that an award of fees acts as a check on management. The Court has an obligation "to balance the need for incentives for shareholders to protect their interest with the need to keep litigation costs at a level which does not inhibit merger activity."
The Court discussed, on a prospective basis, whether the law firm which did not become appointed as lead counsel could be compensated for its work. It noted that the decision of the law firm to be lead counsel would not ordinarily turn on which firm was the first to file.
It discussed the importance of making a shareholder inspection request under the North Carolina statute before rushing to the courthouse, cited substantial Delaware precedent on this point, and held that "failure to use inspection of books and records may result in a finding that the suit was not meritorious when filed."
A shareholder qualified under N.C.G.S. § 55-16-02 to inspect the shareholder records of a corporation may share the information with another contestant in a proxy fight who is not a qualified shareholder.
Thus, the corporate defendant was obligated to provide its shareholder list to a shareholder even though that shareholder intended to provided to an entity which would not have been entitled to obtain the list, in order to use it in a proxy fight.