As readers of this blog know, there have been important case law developments in Delaware concerning boards’ duty of oversight. In the following guest post, the authors review the key recent developments and consider the practical implications for boards. The authors of this paper are: Sebastian M. Alia, Deputy General Counsel, Hudson Insurance Group; H. Stephen Grace, Ph.D., President, H.S. Grace & Company, Inc.: Alvin H. Fenichel, CPA, Senior Advisor, H.S. Grace & Company, Inc.; and Joseph P. Monteleone, Esq., Partner, Weber Gallagher. A version of this article previously was published in the ACC Docket. I would like to thank the authors for allowing me to publish their articles on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is the authors’ article.
Continue Reading Guest Post: How To Structure a Board to Oversee Mission-Critical Activities

A claim alleging a board’s breach of duty of oversight has long been regarded as one of the most difficult for a plaintiff to sustain. But after the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2019 opinion in Marchand v. Barnhill, breach of the duty of oversight claims (or Caremark claims, as they are sometimes called) have in recent years, as Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock put in in his recent opinion in the SolarWinds case, “bloomed like dandelions after a warm spring rain.” Some commentators questioned whether oversight breach claims were in fact as difficult to sustain as is so often said. However, in his recent opinion, the Vice Chancellor emphasized the oversight breach claims remain “one of the most difficult claims” to sustain and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the cybersecurity-related oversight breach claims asserted against the board of Solar Winds.  A copy of Vice Chancellor Glasscock’s September 6, 2022 opinion in the SolarWinds case can be found here.
Continue Reading Del. Court Dismisses Cybersecurity-Related Oversight Claim Against SolarWinds Board

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 despite “red flags” alerting them to problems. But what happens if the “red flag” that alerts the board to a problem is a litigation demand letter submitted by a prospective claimant seeking to have the board take up litigation because of problems identified in the letter? In an interesting and troubling May 24, 2022 decision, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster sustained a claim based on these kinds of allegations, accepting what he called a “novel theory” with “admitted trepidation.” Though Laster sought in his opinion to contain some the more “disquieting” implications of this ruling, there is now at least a theoretical basis on which future prospective claimants could argue that a board’s rejection of a litigation demand letter could itself give rise to a separate breach of fiduciary duty claim.
Continue Reading Del. Court Sustains Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim for Board’s Rejection of Demand Letter

The filing of data breach and other cybersecurity incident-related shareholder derivative lawsuits against corporate boards is nothing new; plaintiffs’ lawyers have been filing these kinds of claims now for several years. However, in recent months, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have shown an increasing inclination to file these claims based on allegations of breach of the duty of oversight. The latest example of this type of claim is the shareholder derivative suit filed this week against the board of T-Mobile USA. Although the plaintiff’s complaint does not expressly use the words “breach of the duty of oversight” or refer to “Caremark duties,” the complaint does refer to the board’s alleged “failure to monitor” and to the board’s alleged failure “to heed red flags” – the very kind of allegations that are at the heart of breach of the duty of oversight claims. A copy of the plaintiff’s complaint in the November 29, 2021 lawsuit can be found here.
Continue Reading Data Breach-Related Derivative Suit Filed Against T-Mobile USA Board

In the latest example of claimants seeking to assert the newly revitalized type of claim for breach of the duty of oversight against corporate boards, plaintiff shareholders have filed a derivative lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court against certain past and current directors of technology company SolarWinds, based on the massive cybersecurity incident involving the company’s software and systems discovered in December 2020. As discussed below, there are several interesting features of this lawsuit in light of recent developments involving claims for alleged breaches of the duty of oversight. A copy of the heavily redacted publicly available version of the plaintiffs’ complaint against the SolarWinds board can be found here.
Continue Reading Cybersecurity-Related Breach of the Duty of Oversight Claim Filed Against SolarWinds Board

In what is one of the largest derivative lawsuit settlements ever, and — according to the statement from one of the co-lead plaintiffs in the case — the largest settlement ever in Delaware of a Caremark/breach of the duty of oversight case, the parties to the Boeing 737 Max Crash shareholder derivative suit in Delaware Chancery Court have agreed to settle the case for a payment of $237.5 million, all of which is to be funded by D&O insurance. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to adopt several safety and oversight protocols and other corporate governance measures. The settlement is subject to court approval. A copy of the November 5, 2021 statement of the co-lead plaintiff, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, about the settlement can be found here. A copy of the parties’ settlement stipulation can be found here.
Continue Reading Boeing Air Crash Derivative Lawsuit Settles for $237.5 Million

In a recent post in which I reviewed recent legal developments in Australia, I discussed the growing possibilities for future climate change-related D&O claims. A recent paper highlights the extent of these D&O claim risks in the United States. The October 2021 paper, published by the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative and entitled “Fiduciary Duties and Climate and entitled “Fiduciary Duties and Climate Change in the United States,” discusses how evolving understandings of climate change has “changed the relevance of climate change to the governance of corporations,” with important implications for the fiduciary duties of directors and officers. The paper discusses how in the current legal environment in the U.S. a board’s failure to adequately regard climate change-related issues could lead to potential litigation and liability. A copy of the full paper can be found here, and an executive summary of the paper can be found here.
Continue Reading Climate Change-Related Breach of Fiduciary Duty Lawsuits?

Last month, when the Delaware Court of Chancery sustained the breach of the duty of oversight claim against the Boeing board, some observers suggested we could see an increase in board oversight breach lawsuits. We may yet see more breach of the duty of oversight claims, but another more recent Delaware Chancery Court decision in the Marriott data breach shareholder derivative suit suggests claimants still face an uphill battle in asserting these kinds of claims. On October 5, 2021, Delaware Vice Chancellor Lori Will granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss in the case, in part on grounds related to the plaintiff’s breach of the duty of oversight claims. As discussed below, the ruling could have particular significance with respect to the prospects for claims of breach of the duty of oversight relating to cybersecurity issues. A copy of Vice Chancellor Will’s opinion can be found here.
Continue Reading Cybersecurity-Related Oversight Duty Breach Claim Against Marriott Board Dismissed

In an important decision that highlights the liability exposures facing corporate boards for claims alleging breaches of the duty of oversight, a Delaware Court of Chancery Vice Chancellor denied in substantial part the defendants’ motion to dismiss in the shareholder derivative suit pending against the board of Boeing relating to the 737 Max air crashes. The court concluded that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged that the company’s board had breached its oversight obligations by failing to establish safety oversight mechanisms prior to the October 2018 Lion Air crash and ignoring red flags about safety issues after the Lion Air crash and before the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash. Vice-Chancellor Morgan Zurn’s September 7, 2021 opinion can be found here.
Continue Reading Del. Court Substantially Denies Boeing Duty of Oversight Claim Dismissal Motion

An important recent litigation phenomenon that I have been monitoring on this site is the recent revival of the duty of oversight as a legal theory on which plaintiffs can try to assert claims against corporate boards. Delaware’s court have recently sustained several of these kinds of claims – often referred to as “Caremark” claims in reference to the 1986 Delaware Court of Chancery decision that first recognized the legal theory behind these claims – and indeed on recent federal court decision sustained a breach of the duty of oversight claim under Ohio law. In light of these developments, boards will need to anticipate the possibility that these kinds of claims can arise, which possibility in turn raises the question of what boards can do to protect themselves from these kinds of claims.
Continue Reading The Duty of Oversight and the Need for Regular Board Review of Corporate Risk