Breach of Fiduciary Duty

In a series of opinions beginning with the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Marchand v. Barnhill, Delaware courts have sustained a number of so-called “Caremark” claims based on the defendant board members’ breach of their duty of oversight. The courts have denied motions to dismiss in cases where the boards failed to act

As I have noted before, Elon Musk is a reliable source of interesting blog fodder. His hyperkinetic fracases are so numerous that at times it is easy to lose track of the many controversies in which he is involved. Amidst all of the hoopla about his current bid to acquire Twitter, it was easy to overlook the fact that he remained mired in ongoing litigation relating Tesla’s 2016 acquisition of SolarCity. As the heart of the dispute was the fact that Musk served both as Chairman of SolarCity and as an executive of and as the largest shareholder of Tesla at the time.

The dispute went to a ten-day bench trial in 2021, and on April 27, 2022, Delaware Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III issued a lengthy opinion ruling in Musk’s favor on all issues. A copy of the opinion can be found here. As discussed below, the sprawling, 132-page opinion contains a number of interesting observations and insights and also has important implications.
Continue Reading Elon Musk Prevails in Trial Over Tesla’s Acquisition of SolarCity

In January of this year, when the Delaware Chancery Court sustained the Delaware state court direct action filed against the directors and officers of the SPAC that had acquired MultiPlan Corp., I speculated that the Court’s ruling would encourage other disgruntled SPAC investors to bring similar Delaware direct actions against SPAC management.

Consistent with my speculation, on March 18, 2022, a plaintiff shareholder filed a direct action for breach of fiduciary duty against certain former directors of officers of Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), that in July 2021 merged with Hyzon Motors USA to form Hyzon Motors Inc. The claim is brought on behalf of SPAC investors who were entitled to redeem their shares at the time of the merger.  The plaintiff claims that the defendants’ misrepresentations about the merger deprived the plaintiff class of their right to make an informed redemption decision. The claims asserted on behalf of the investors are not only very similar to the allegations previously raised in the MultiPlan litigation, but the new complaint expressly quotes the dismissal motion denial ruling in the MultiPlan ruling. As discussed below, this latest lawsuit may indicate a likely future direction for SPAC related litigation. A copy of the complaint in the new Delaware state court direct action can be found here.
Continue Reading Investors Bring SPAC-Related Direct Fiduciary Breach Action Relating to Hyzon Motors Merger

The “economic structure” of SPACs creates an ‘inherent conflict” between the SPAC sponsor and the SPAC’s public shareholders, according to a new paper from two leading law professors.  The conflict arises from the SPAC sponsor’s financial interest in completing a merger even if the merger is not value-creating, which may conflict with the shareholders’ interest in redeeming their shares if they believe that the proposed merger is disadvantageous. Because of the potential conflict, it is critical that the SPAC’s board independently reviews the proposed merger and inform shareholders about the merger with appropriate candor. However, if the board members’ compensation aligns their interests with those of the sponsor, the sponsor’s conflict could extend to the directors themselves – a circumstance the paper’s authors call the “epitome of bad governance.”

The solution, the authors suggest, is for the SPAC to structure the board members’ compensation in a way that aligns the directors’ financial interests with those of the shareholders. Moreover, the authors contend, courts reviewing shareholders’ allegations that a SPAC’s board members breached their fiduciary duties should consider the potential for conflict inherent in the SPAC’s structure and accordingly review the underlying circumstances using the “entire fairness” standard. These considerations are relevant to cases now pending in the Delaware courts, which have the potential to be “groundbreaking.” Stanford Law Professor Michael Klausner and NYU Law Professor Michael Ohlrogge’s November 19, 2021 paper entitled “SPAC Governance: In Need of Judicial Review” can be found here.
Continue Reading SPACs’ Structural Conflicts, Shareholder Litigation, and Judicial Review

As I have noted in prior posts (most recently here),over the last several months plaintiff shareholders have filed numerous SPAC-related securities class action lawsuits. In an interesting variant of SPAC-related litigation, a claimant has filed a post-merger SPAC-related class action lawsuit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against the former directors of a SPAC and against the SPAC’s sponsor, in which the claimant alleges the defendants breached their fiduciary duties to the pre-merger SPAC shareholders. The lawsuit has a number of interesting features, as discussed below. A copy of the plaintiffs’ August 4, 2021 complaint in the action can be found here.
Continue Reading SPAC-Related Class Action Breach of Fiduciary Duty Lawsuit Filed in Delaware Chancery Court

Coverage for the corporate entity under public company D&O insurance policies is limited to claims that constitute “Securities Claims” as that term is defined in the policy. A coverage dispute between Calamos Asset Management and its D&O insurer involved the question of whether an underlying breach of fiduciary duty claims alleged in connection with the company’s take-private tender offer meet the policy’s “Securities Claim” definition.

In a February 19, 2021 opinion (here), District of Delaware Judge Maryellen Noreika, applying Delaware law, ruled that the breach of fiduciary duty claims do not fall with the policy’s definition of “Securities Claim” and granted summary judgment for the insurer, largely in reliance on the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in the Verizon case, notwithstanding the fact that the definition of the term “Securities Claim” in the Calamos dispute express referred to the “common law,” while the definition in the Verizon dispute did not.
Continue Reading Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Not a “Securities Claim” Under D&O Policy

Most public company D&O insurance policies provide coverage for the corporate entity only for “Securities Claims.” But what constitutes a “Securities Claim”? That is the question the Delaware Supreme Court addressed in a recent appeal of an insurance coverage dispute in which a bankruptcy trustee had sued Verizon for breach of fiduciary duty, unlawful payment of a dividend, and violation of the uniform fraudulent transfer act. The trial court had entered summary judgment for Verizon, ruling that the bankruptcy trustee’s claims represented “Securities Claims” within the meaning of the policy. In an October 31, 2019 decision (here), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the lower court, ruling that the bankruptcy trustee’s claims were not Securities Claims within the meaning of the policy. As discussed below, the decision raises some interesting issues.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court: What is a “Securities Claim”?