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.
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D&O insurance policies sometimes contain Major Shareholder Exclusions, precluding coverage for claims brought by shareholders’ with ownership percentages above a certain specified ownership threshold. But when is the shareholder’s ownership percentage to be determined – at the time of policy inception or at the time of the claim? This issue was among the D&O insurance coverage question presented in a recent case before the Third Circuit. The appellate court, applying Delaware law, found that the exclusionary language involved was ambiguous, and therefore resolved the issue in the policyholder’s assignee’s favor. As discussed below, the appellate court’s ruling is interesting in a number of different respects.

The Third Circuit’s opinion in the case can be found here. The Wiley Rein law firm’s October 19, 2019 post about the decision on its Executive Summary Blog can be found here.
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Earlier this year, in Marchand v. Barnhill, the Delaware Supreme Court underscored that boards that fail to establish oversight procedures for their company’s mission critical functions can be held liable for breach of their Caremark duties. In an October 1, 2019 decision in the Clovis Oncology Derivative Litigation, the Delaware Chancery Court provided further perspective on directors’ potential liability for breaches of the duty of oversight. The Chancery court held, citing Marchand,  that boards not only must be able to show that they have made good faith efforts to implement an oversight system, but that also that they monitor the system – particularly when a company operates in a highly regulated industry.  The Chancery Court’s October 1, 2019 decision in the Clovis Oncology Derivative Litigation can be found here.
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Richie Leisner

In the following guest post, Richard M. Leisner, a Senior Member in the Trenam law firm in Tampa, takes a look at an unusual and interesting recent decision from the Delaware Chancery Court, Stacey Kotler v. Shipman Associates, LLC (here). Regardless of where you sit, this decision is worth consideration, as the parties had a fully executed stock purchase agreement yet as a result of the court’s decision the intended beneficiary came up empty. As Richie points out, there are some important lessons from this decision. I would like to thank Richie 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 this site’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to publish a guest post. Here is Richie’s article.
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After the U.S. Supreme Court’s March 2018 decision in the Cyan case that state courts retain concurrent jurisdiction for ’33 Act liability actions, one idea that circulated was that companies could avoid securities class action lawsuits in state court by adopting a charter provision designating a federal forum for these kinds of suits. Unfortunately, in December 2018, Delaware Chancery Court Vice Chancellor Travis Laster held in Sciabacucchi v. Salzburg that under Delaware law federal forum provisions are invalid and ineffective, as discussed here. The Sciabacucchi decision, which is now on appeal, is the subject of a comprehensive critique in a recent article by Stanford Law Professor Joseph Grundfest, entitled “The Limits of Delaware Corporate Law: Internal Affairs, Federal Forum Provisions, and Sciabacucchi” (here). Professor Grundfest argues that Sciabacucchi was wrongly decided and that a under a “straightforward” application of applicable Delaware statutory law, federal forum provisions are valid and permitted.
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In the following guest post, Jeremy Salzman and Kylie Tomas of Sompo International and Ommid Farashahi and Jonathan Cipriani of BatesCarey LLP discuss a recent series of Delaware court decisions in which the courts applied Delaware law in addressing insurance coverage disputes. In their article, the authors question Delaware law appropriately should have been the law applied in those cases. I would like to thank the authors for allowing me to publish their article as a guest post 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.
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As discussed in prior posts, after the Delaware courts evinced their distaste for the type of disclosure-only settlements that had until then typically resolved merger objection lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ lawyers changed their game. They began filing their merger objection lawsuits in federal court rather than in state court, and then rather than settling the cases, agreed to dismiss their cases in exchange for supplemental proxy disclosures, after which the plaintiffs would seek to recover a so-called “mootness fee.” At least one federal judge recently questioned this “racket,” but the question remained whether more courts would take steps to scrutinize this process and discourage what has become nothing more than the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ extraction of a “go away” payment.

In a positive sign suggesting that court may indeed become more involved in policing this process, a District of Delaware judge recently rejected merger objection lawsuit plaintiffs’ mootness fee petition on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of showing that the supplemental disclosures produced a substantial benefit for the acquired company’s shareholders.
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In a recent decision, the Delaware Superior Court, applying Delaware law, held that two of Pfizer’s excess D&O insurers are on the hook for their portion of costs the company incurred in defending and settling a securities class action lawsuit, despite the excess insurers’ arguments that the claim was interrelated with an earlier securities suit and that coverage was therefore precluded under their policies’ Specific Litigation Exclusion. The critical determinant in the court’s ruling may have been its decision that Delaware law governed the coverage dispute, but there are still a number of interesting elements about issue of claims relatedness. The Delaware Superior Court’s July 23, 2019 decision can be found here.
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Between 2010 and 2016, the number of shareholder appraisal actions filed in Delaware courts increased every year, but in 2017 and again in 2018, the number of appraisal actions declined, according to a recent report from Cornerstone Research. The decline arguably is a result of recent Delaware Supreme Court decisions in which the court reversed lower court rulings holding that the fair value exceeded the deal price and instead indicated that the deal price should be given substantial weight, at least where the sales process was “robust.” The report, entitled “Appraisal Litigation in Delaware: Trends in Petitions and Opinions, 20016-2018” can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s February 13, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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As I noted at the time (here), on December 19, 2018, Delaware Vice Chancellor Later held that under Delaware law, a corporate charter provision specifying that liability actions under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1934 must be brought in federal court are invalid and ineffective. A copy of Laster’s opinion in Sciabacucchi v. Salzburg (referred to below as the Blue Apron decision) can be found here. In the following guest post, Paul Ferrillo, Robert Horowitz, and Steven Margolin of the Greenberg Traurig law firm take a look at the Blue Apron decision and examine whether or not Congress will act to eliminate concurrent state court jurisdiction for state court claims. The authors also examine the steps companies should take now in light of the possibility of facing litigation in both state and federal court. I would like to thank the authors for their willingness to allow me to publish their article as a guest post. 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 an article. Here is the authors’ article.
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