Forum selection clause

One idea that resurfaces from time to time is the suggestion that companies ought to adopt bylaw or charter provisions mandating the arbitration of shareholder claims, including claims under the federal securities laws. The current SEC Chair, Jay Clayton, has said that he does not consider the issue to be a top priority, seemingly shelving the idea for the time being. But various contending parties have continued to agitate on the issue.

In a recent white paper issued by a consumer advocacy group and signed by a number of prominent securities law professors, the professors state their view that Delaware law does not permit federal securities law claims to be resolved in arbitration or in any specific forum. The white paper is sure to stir the pot. As discussed below, it could also have an impact on a case currently pending in Delaware state court that could dictate whether or not Delaware companies may designate a federal court forum for the resolution of claims under the federal securities laws.
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For a time a few years ago, litigation management bylaws were all the rage. Driven by concerns about multi-forum merger-related litigation, commentators proposed company adoption of forum selection bylaws for internal corporate disputes. The debate widened when reformers suggested that companies adopt fee-shifting bylaws. The debate subsided in 2015 when the Delaware legislature adopted legislation authorizing the adopting of bylaws designating Delaware’s courts as the preferred forum for disputes under Delaware, but prohibiting fee-shifting bylaws.

The topic of litigation management bylaws resurfaced in recent months in connection with the debate about plaintiffs lawyers’ resorting to state court (primarily in California) to assert securities class action claims, in reliance on the concurrent jurisdiction provisions under the Section 22 of the Securities Act of 1933. Concerns about this kind of litigation has in turn precipitated various self-help measures companies could adopt to try to avoid getting hauled into state court for these kinds of suits.
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gavelIn recent years, we approached the point where nearly every M&A transaction attracted one or more merger objection lawsuit, which all too often was resolved through a “disclosure only settlement” in which the defendant company agreed to make supplemental deal document disclosures and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees, in exchange for a comprehensive release for the defendants. However, the courts in Delaware, the state where the majority of these cases were filed, have recently shown – in a series of rulings culminating with the Trulia decision last January — their unwillingness to approve these kinds of disclosure -only settlements where there is no material benefit for the company or its shareholders.
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delawareMany readers will recall that just a short time ago companies were actively experimenting to try to incorporate litigation management measures into their corporate bylaws. These efforts led to decisions by Delaware courts upholding both forum selection bylaws (about which refer here) and fee-shifting bylaws (refer here). Delaware’s legislature ultimately addressed these bylaw experimentation efforts by adopting statutory provisions allowing forum selection bylaws but prohibiting fee-shifting bylaws.

Following the enactment of this legislation, the payroll software services firm Paylocity adopted a bylaw provision designating Delaware as the forum for any shareholder disputes and holding any shareholder who filed an action outside Delaware and who did not prevail on the merits liable for the company’s attorneys’ fees. A Paylocity shareholder filed an action in Delaware Chancery Court challenging the bylaw’s fee-shifting provision. In an interesting December 27, 2016 opinion (here), Chancellor Andre Bouchard held that the Paylocity bylaw’s penalty provisions violated the Delaware statutory fee-shifting bylaw prohibitions, but dismissed the claims that company’s board had violated its fiduciary duties in enacting the bylaw.
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delmapWhen Delaware Chancellor Andre Bouchard rejected the proposed disclosure-only settlement in the litigation arising out of Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia, there was some belief that his decision represented the death knell for these kinds of settlements in merger objection lawsuits. There is indeed some evidence that the number of merger objection lawsuits filed has declined. However, as discussed in an April 29, 2016 Washington Legal Foundation article by attorneys Anthony Rickey and Keola R. Whittaker (here), “Delaware’s sister courts continue to approved disclosure only settlements and award six-figure attorneys’ fees.” As discussed below, the net effect of Delaware’s hostility to disclosure only settlements may not necessarily be that fewer of these kinds of cases get filed, it may be that weaker cases are “driven to other jurisdictions.”
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nystateOne of the key current concerns in the global D&O insurance marketplace involves questions of cross-border implementation of insurance policy responsibilities and requirements. This concern is usually presented as a problem for policyholders, as they must determine how their insurance might respond to claims arising outside their home jurisdictions. However, a recent decision in the Eastern District of New York and involving one of the individuals caught up in the FIFA improper payments scandal show that the problems involved with cross-border policy implementation represent a challenge for insurers, as well.

In an April 27, 2016 ruling (here), Eastern District of New York Judge Raymond J. Dearie determined that, notwithstanding a provision in FIFA’s D&O insurance policy requiring insurance disputes to be litigated in a Swiss forum, he had the authority to enter a preliminary injunction against FIFA’s insurers requiring them to advance the defense fees of Eduardo Li, one of the defendants in the FIFA criminal proceedings.   
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oregonsealAs readers of this blog will recall, Delaware’s courts have held that under Delaware law bylaws designating Delaware’s courts as the exclusive forum for corporate and shareholder disputes are facially valid. Last summer, Delaware’s legislature adopted a statutory provision adding the permissibility of forum selection bylaws to the Delaware Corporations Code. In response to these judicial and legislative developments, many Delaware corporations have adopted forum selection bylaws. But whether these new bylaw provisions will have their intended effects will depend in part on what the courts in other jurisdictions do. If an action in another jurisdiction is permitted to go forward notwithstanding the bylaw specifying Delaware’s courts as the designated forum, the bylaw’s purpose would be frustrated. A recent decision from the Oregon’s highest court suggests that this potentially frustrating outcome is less likely.
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del1Following the Delaware Chancery Court’s June 2013 ruling upholding the facial validity of the bylaw of Chevron Corporation designating Delaware as the exclusive forum for intra-corporate disputes, the adoption of forum selection bylaws has become mainstream. But while a number of companies have now adopted forum selection bylaws, the circumstances surrounding the adoption by

delIn light of the recent legislative initiative to restrict Delaware stock corporations’ use of fee-shifting bylaws, companies incorporated in Delaware have, as described in a recent Law 360 article (here, subscription required) a “smaller more defined toolbox” to reduce the burdens involved with shareholder suits.  As it stands, the article notes, the “sharpest