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
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
One issue I have been monitoring on this site recently is the apparent revival of claims against corporate directors and officers for breach of the duty of oversight. Up until now, my focus has been on developments in Delaware’s courts. However, a recent Ohio federal district court decision in an opioid-related derivative suit against the board of the pharmaceutical distribution firm Cardinal Health examined issues addressed sufficiency of breach the duty of oversight allegations under Ohio law.
In an interesting February 8, 2021 decision (here) highlighting the fact these issues are relevant under other states’ laws, Southern District of Ohio Judge Sarah D. Morrison denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s breach of the duty of oversight claims against the Cardinal Health board, although she granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for waste of corporate assets.
Continue Reading Court Sustains Opioid-Related Duty of Oversight Breach Claims Against Cardinal Health Board
As I have noted in prior posts, there has been a recent renewed focus among observers of Delaware corporate case law development on breach of the duty of oversight claims (sometimes called Caremark claims in reference to the initial Court of Chancery decision elaborating on the duty of oversight). Indeed, at least one academic commentator has suggested, based on a series of Delaware court rulings during 2019-2020, that we have entered a “new era” of Caremark claims.
But though there have been a number of high profile cases in which breach of the duty of oversight claims have been sustained, a recent Delaware Court of Chancery decision underscores the fact that the pleading hurdles for these types of claims are still substantial, and, indeed, as discussed below, at least one set of commentators has suggested that this most recent decision raises the question whether the pleading bar for these types of claims has changed at all. The Delaware Court of Chancery’s December 31, 2020 decision in Richardson v. Clark can be found here.
Continue Reading Del. Chancery Court: Caremark Claims Against MoneyGram Board Not Sustained