Director and Officer Liability

The directors of companies have roles, responsibilities and potential liabilities. But who can be held liable as a director? That was the question that the Third Circuit recently answered in an interesting ruling in which the appellate court determined that board observers could not be held liable as directors or director equivalents under Section 11 for alleged registration misstatement misrepresentations. The decision raises some interesting considerations when it comes to directors and their roles. The Third Circuit’s July 23, 2019 decision can be found here.
Continue Reading Board Observers Not Subject to Section 11 Director Liability

Billionaire Sam Zell and other former executives of the bankrupt Tribune Company have reached a $200 million deal to settle the bankruptcy trustee’s adversarial claims against them arising out of the disastrous 2007 leveraged buyout (LBO) of the company. According to press reports about the settlement, the $200 million settlement amount will “significantly” exceed the company’s remaining D&O insurance; the settlement amount in excess of the remaining insurance is to be split among the various individual defendants.  The settlement is subject to bankruptcy court approval. The trustee’s May 31, 2019 motion for court approval of the settlement can be found here. Jonathan Stempel’s June 12, 2019 Reuters article about the settlement can be found here.
Continue Reading Tribune Execs Must Contribute Personal Assets to $200 Million Settlement

One of the now-standard storylines about the global financial crisis is that despite all the chaos very few corporate executives were prosecuted and even fewer went to jail. However, rather than interpreting these circumstances to suggest that there was insufficient evidence to convict corporate executives beyond a reasonable doubt, some observers have decided that the problem was that there is something wrong with our criminal justice system.

One observer who has made a hobby horse out of these issues is the U.S. Senator and Presidential Candidate, Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren has now introduced new legislation that would lower the standard of criminal liability for corporate executive. Among other things, the new legislation would make corporate executives criminally liable for mere negligence in certain circumstances, even in the absence of the degree of intent that has for centuries been viewed in our legal system as the indispensable basis for a criminal conviction. As discussed below, this legislation is not only a bad idea in terms of our country’s corporate competitiveness, it also threatens one of our legal system’s bedrock principles.
Continue Reading Senator Warren’s Proposed Executive Liability Legislation is Contrary to Legal Traditions

In the now more than a year since the #MeToo phenomenon first arose, there have been a number of D&O lawsuits filed against companies and their boards in which the plaintiffs allege that company officials either allowed the alleged sexual misconduct to take place or turned a blind eye. In the latest D&O lawsuits to follow in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct, two Alphabet shareholders have filed separate derivative lawsuits in California state court against the company’s board based on underlying allegations of alleged sexual misconduct at the company’s Google unit.
Continue Reading Alphabet Board Hit With Derivative Suits Over Alleged Sexual Misconduct at Google

Back in 2015, the California Legislature enacted Labor Law Section 558.1, making an “other person” acting for an employer (defined as any natural person who is owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer) who causes the employer to violate the state’s wage and hour laws liable as the employer for the violation. As I noted at the time, this new statutory provision, which created personal liability for individuals for the employer’s wage law obligations, was quite controversial. However, as noted in a December 21, 2018 post on the Sheppard Mullin law firm’s Labor & Employment Law Blog entitled “Managers Beware: Can You Be Held Personally Liable for Wage and Hour Violations” (here), a California appellate court recently confirmed that “even in the absence of this new section, the labor code imposes personal liability” for California minimum wage and overtime violations.
Continue Reading Personal Liability for Corporate California Wage and Hour Violations?

The world of directors’ and officers’ liability is always dynamic, but 2018 was a particularly eventful year in the D&O liability arena. The past year’s many developments have significant implications for what may lie ahead in 2019 – and possibly for years to come. I have set out below the Top Ten D&O Stories of 2018, with an eye toward future possibilities.
Continue Reading The Top Ten D&O Stories of 2018

Francis Kean

In the following guest post, Francis Kean, Executive Director FINEX Willis Towers Watson, reviews some interesting recent historical academic research on directors’ duties and the business judgment rule in the U.K.  A version of this article previously was published on the Willis Towers Watson Wire blog (here). I would like to thank Francis for allowing me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to thig blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is Francis’s article.
Continue Reading Guest Post: The Truth about Directors’ Duties in the UK and the Business Judgment Rule

If the uncertainty creates risk, then the current state of play on the United Kingdom’s efforts to withdraw from the European Union represents risk in a highly concentrated form. On November 25, 2018, the 27 EU members approved the divorce pact that the U.K. negotiated with its EU counterparts, but the pact must now face a Parliamentary vote, on December 11, 2018. In the meantime, the March 29, 2019 withdrawal date looms. These upcoming events present uncertainties at both the economic and enterprise levels. The uncertainties in turn create challenges for potentially affected companies, including among other things the challenge of communicating about these issues to investors. As discussed below, SEC Chair Jay Clayton recently emphasized that the agency is “sharpening its focus” on Brexit-related disclosures, highlighting the significance of the disclosure-related concerns.
Continue Reading Brexit Uncertainty, Disclosure Concerns, and Potential Liability

The Northern California wildfire known as the Camp Fire – reportedly the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history – has finally been fully contained. But while the fire has been doused, the fight about the fire has only just begun. Investigators will now undertake to determine the fire’s cause. And the inevitable lawsuits will now get rolling as well.

As I noted last week, investors already filed a wildfire-related securities class action lawsuit while the fires were still burning. And now a shareholder has filed a shareholder derivative lawsuit in federal court against the board and certain officers of PG&E Corp., and its regulated utility operating company, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, relating to the companies’ alleged role in causing the Camp Fire. As discussed below, this recent lawsuits may represent examples of the kinds of lawsuits we may expect to see in increasing numbers as a result of climate change-related effects. The derivative lawsuit complaint, filed in the Northern District of California on November 21, 2018, can be found in two parts here and here.
Continue Reading Further Wildfire-Related Management Liability Litigation: Harbinger of Things to Come?