In the latest development in Pfizer’s long-running efforts to recover from its D&O insurers amounts the company paid in defense and settlement of prior securities litigation (the “Morabito Action”), a Delaware Superior Court Judge, applying Delaware law, has held that the company’s settlement with a lower level excess insurer for less than that insurer’s policy limit did not create a gap relieving an upper layer excess insurer of its payment obligations.  The court also found that the company’s earlier notice of a different securities litigation did not trigger the policy’s Prior Notice exclusion. The court’s August 28, 2020 opinion can be found here.
Continue Reading Excess Insurer Cannot Avoid Payment Where Underlying Insurer Settled With Policyholder for Less Than Full Policy Limits

After the Delaware Supreme Court’s March 2020 decision in Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi upholding the facial validity of corporate charter provisions designating federal court as the forum for Securities Act liability claims, several questions remained. Among the questions is whether others’ states courts will recognize and enforce federal forum provisions in Delaware corporations’ charters. This issue has been teed up for decision in a Section 11 lawsuit pending in San Mateo County court in California, in a case involving Dropbox. Dropbox has filed a motion urging the California state court to dismiss the action, in reliance on the federal forum provision in its corporate charter.

As discussed Alison Frankel’s July 13 post on her On the Case blog (here), a group of six ex-judges from Delaware has now entered an amicus brief on the issue in the case, urging the California court to recognize Delaware legal authority and enforce the federal forum provision in Dropbox’s charter. The Dropbox case, according to Frankel, is “shaping up as an early test of the application of the [Sciabacucchi decision] that forum selection clauses requiring shareholders to litigate Securities Act claims in federal court are facially valid because they concern the corporation’s internal affairs.”
Continue Reading California Court to Address Enforceability of Delaware Corporation’s Federal Forum Provision

In what is the latest variant of coronavirus-Related D&O claims, a plaintiff shareholder has filed class action lawsuit in Delaware State Court against the board of media technology Xperi with respect to the company’s planned merger with TiVo Corporation. Among other things, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant board members breached their fiduciary duties by failing to provide investors with adequate disclosures about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the deal and failing to reassess the deal in view of the fact that the pandemic represents a “Material Adverse Event” under the merger agreement. A copy of the plaintiff’s May 15, 2020 complaint can be found here. Alison Frankel’s May 18, 2020 post about the lawsuit on her On the Case blog can be found here.
Continue Reading Shareholder Files State Court Class Action Over COVID-19 Impact on Planned Merger

The Delaware Supreme Court unanimously held that corporate charter provisions requiring claims under the Securities Act of 1933 to be litigated in federal court are facially valid. These kinds of provisions were proposed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s March 2018 decision in Cyan affirming that state court’s retain concurrent jurisdiction for ’33 Act liability actions. However, in December 2018, the Delaware Chancery Court ruled that federal forum provisions are invalid and unenforceable. In its March 18, 2020 decision (here), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Chancery Court, holding that federal forum provisions are a valid form of “private ordering.” The ruling has important implications, which are discussed below. And as also discussed below, there is a very interesting backstory – involving key D&O insurance industry players – to this successful appeal.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Holds Federal Forum Provisions Facially Valid

Before the ice age, before the flood, before some of the people reading this were even born, the big D&O insurance coverage issue was allocation – that is, the division of loss between covered and non-covered claims or between covered and non-covered parties. After a flurry of judicial decisions in the mid-‘90s, after the addition of entity coverage to the standard D&O insurance policy (also in the mid-‘90s), and after policy allocation language became more or less standardized, litigated allocation disputes became much less frequent. Indeed, the last time I had occasion to write about an allocation coverage decision on this blog was in 2007. (Although, to be sure, allocation is still very much an issue in many D&O insurance claims.) It was with some surprise and interest that I read a recent Delaware Superior Court decision in the long-running Dole Foods insurance coverage dispute dealing with the question of allocating the underlying settlements between covered and non-covered amounts. The decision itself contains some surprises, as discussed below.
Continue Reading Delaware Court Rules “Larger Settlement Rule” Governs D&O Insurance Allocation

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”?

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.
Continue Reading Third Circuit Finds Major Shareholder Exclusion Ambiguous

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.
Continue Reading Caremark Duties Include Duty Not Only to Establish Oversight Processes but Also to Monitor Them

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.
Continue Reading Guest Post: Can a Fully Executed Contract be Unenforceable?

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.
Continue Reading A Critique of the Delaware Chancery Court Decision on Federal Forum Provisions