On my beat here at The D&O Diary, I cover the liabilities of corporate directors and officers. One objection I frequently hear is that I focus too much public companies and not enough on private companies. The reason I write about public company issues more than private company concerns is that the public company world usually is more eventful. However, every now and then, something comes up involving a privately-held company that reminds all of us that plenty happens in the private company D&O world, too. The most recent example is the shareholder derivative and class action lawsuit filed last week against executives of the electronic cigarette company, Juul Labs. As discussed below, this new lawsuit highlights the exposures that private company directors and officers can face and underscores the fact that even private companies can get hit with shareholder class action lawsuits.
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The Northern California wildfire known as the Camp Fire – reportedly the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history – has finally been fully contained. But while the fire has been doused, the fight about the fire has only just begun. Investigators will now undertake to determine the fire’s cause. And the inevitable lawsuits will now get rolling as well.

As I noted last week, investors already filed a wildfire-related securities class action lawsuit while the fires were still burning. And now a shareholder has filed a shareholder derivative lawsuit in federal court against the board and certain officers of PG&E Corp., and its regulated utility operating company, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, relating to the companies’ alleged role in causing the Camp Fire. As discussed below, this recent lawsuits may represent examples of the kinds of lawsuits we may expect to see in increasing numbers as a result of climate change-related effects. The derivative lawsuit complaint, filed in the Northern District of California on November 21, 2018, can be found in two parts here and here.
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Marc Casarino
Doug Greene

In the following guest post, Marc Casarino, a partner in the White & Williams law firm, and Doug Greene, the National Practice Leader of BakerHostetler’s Securities and Governance Litigation Team, take a look at the special litigation committee process and examine the ways in which the SLC process can be “robust, successful and efficient.” I would like to thank Marc and Doug for their willingness to allow me to publish their article as a guest post on my 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 Marc and Doug’s article.
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The news headlines have been dominated in recent days by appalling revelations that leading politicians, entertainers, political candidates and others have engaged in sexual harassment, assault, and even worse behavior. As these stories have emerged, a dynamic has evolved in which the victims come forward with their stories and seek to hold the wrongdoers accountable for their misconduct. Now, a blockbuster settlement entered on Monday suggests that this dynamic may not be limited just to attempting to hold individuals to account but may also involve efforts to hold the wrongdoers’ companies’ executives accountable for allowing the misconduct or for turning a blind eye.

In what is one of the largest shareholder derivative settlements ever, senior officials of 21st Century Fox have agreed to a $90 million settlement (to be funded by insurance) of allegations the company’s management permitted a culture of sexual and racial harassment to permeate the company, ultimately resulting in financial and reputational harm to the company. The settlement includes provisions for interesting governance and compliance enhancements, including the creation of a Workplace Professionalism and Inclusion Council. As discussed below, the procedural circumstances of the settlement are interesting as well, as the settlement arises out of a lawsuit that had been threatened but not filed until the same day as the settlement agreement was submitted to the court.
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If a “fast filer” plaintiff races to the courthouse in one jurisdiction to file a derivative suit without prior due diligence, should a dismissal of the  lawsuit for failure to plead demand futility preclude a separate derivative lawsuit brought be a different , more diligent plaintiff who files in a second forum? On the one hand, considerations of judicial efficiency and conservation of public resources argues in favor of precluding the second claim. On the other hand, policies in favor of greater pre-suit care prior to filing a lawsuit would militate in allowing the more diligent plaintiff’s claim to go forward.

In an interesting July 25, 2017 opinion (here) in which he reviewed these questions of the prior derivate suit dismissal’s claim preclusive effects on subsequent non-party claimant derivative claims, Chancellor Andre Bouchard concluded, in a break with the Court’s prior practices, the prior derivative suit dismissal on grounds of failure to plead demand futility does not preclude the claims of a subsequent claimant. This new approach to the issue of non-party preclusion in derivative litigation has important practical implications, as discussed below.
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home depotDuring the period 2014-2015, several companies –including Home Depot — that had experienced high-profile data breaches were hit with cybersecurity-related D&O lawsuits. All of these lawsuits, including the one against Home Depot, were dismissed. The plaintiffs in the Home Depot case filed an appeal of the dismissal. Now it appears that while the appeal was pending the parties to the Home Depot data breach-related derivative lawsuit have reached a settlement. The settlement could have interesting implications for the plaintiffs’ bar’s ongoing efforts to pursue data breach related D&O litigation.
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home depotFor some time now, many commentators (including me) have been predicting that as a result of rising numbers of companies experiencing date breaches that there would be a resulting wave of D&O lawsuits. Indeed, there have been a small number of high profile data security-related D&O lawsuits filed. However, several of those cases – including, for example, the derivative lawsuits filed against Target (about which refer here) and Wyndham Worldwide (here) – have been dismissed.  Following these dismissals, the sole remaining recent high-profile data breach-related derivative lawsuit was the one filed against the directors and officers of Home Depot. However, the Home Depot lawsuit has now also been dismissed as well. The spate of dismissals certainly raises a question about what we may expect with respect to future cybersecurity-related D&O lawsuits. A copy of Northern District of Georgia Judge Thomas Thrash’s November 30, 2016 opinion in the Home Depot derivative lawsuit can be found here.
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nystateDelaware’s courts have recently made it clear that the days where they would routinely approve disclosure-only settlements in merger objection lawsuits may be over (as discussed here). It now appears that other states also are no longer willing to approve these kinds of settlements. In a blistering October 23, 2015 opinion (here), New York (New York County) Supreme Court Judge Charles E. Ramos refused to approve the disclosure-only settlement proposed in the Allied Healthcare merger objection lawsuit, saying that courts’ willingness to approve these kinds of settlements “reflects poorly on the profession and on those courts that, from time to time, have approved these settlements.”
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homedepotIn early 2014, when plaintiffs initiated data breach-related derivative lawsuits against the boards of Target Corp. (here) and Wyndham Worldwide (here), there was some speculation that these cases might be the first of what could become a wave of data-breach related D&O lawsuits. But then the Wyndham Worldwide case was dismissed (refer here) and no new data breach-related D&O lawsuits followed, even though there were several high profile data breaches after that time (including Sony Entertainment, Anthem and Home Depot). Although many predicted that more D&O lawsuits were to come, the suits themselves did not materialize. There were, however, some suggestions that a lawsuit against Home Depot might eventually arrive, as a plaintiff initiated a books and records action in Delaware Chancery Court against the company.

The wondering and waiting about whether or not there will be a Home Depot data breach-related D&O lawsuit is now over. A Home Depot data breach-related shareholder’s derivative lawsuit has been filed in the Northern District of Georgia. On September 2, 2015, a plaintiff shareholder filed a redacted complaint in a lawsuit against Home Depot, as nominal defendant, and twelve Home Depot directors and officers, alleging that the defendants breached “their fiduciary duties of loyalty, good faith, and due care by knowingly and in conscious disregard of their duties failing to ensure that Home Depot took reasonable measures to protect its customers’ personal and financial information.” The redacted version of the plaintiff’s complaint can be found here. (Please see below for further explanation about the timing of the filing of the plaintiff’s lawsuit and the redactions to the complaint.)
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Richard Bortnick (2)The derivative lawsuit filed against the board of Wyndham Worldwide Corporation in connection with the series of cyber breaches the company had experienced was being closely watched as possibly representative of a potential new area liability exposure for corporate directors and officers. However, as I discussed in a prior post (here), on October