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Posts by: Alex Talarides

Delaware Supreme Court Wastes No Words: Summarily Affirms In re Volcano Corp. Stockholder Litigation, Upholding Business Judgment Rule and Dismissing Remaining Waste Claim

On February 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of Delaware summarily affirmed the Court of Chancery’s decision in In re Volcano Corp. Stockholder Litigation which had dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint on defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs, former stockholders of Volcano Corporation, had brought an action against defendants for breaches of fiduciary duty arising from the all-cash merger between Volcano and Philips Holding USA Inc. The parties had disputed what standard of review the Court of Chancery should apply: the Revlon test, as plaintiffs claimed, because Volcano’s stockholders received cash for their shares, or the irrebuttable business judgment rule, as defendants argued, because Volcano’s stockholders were “fully informed, uncoerced, and disinterested” when they approved the merger by tendering a majority of Volacano’s shares into a tender offer.  As the Court of Chancery explained, if a business judgment rule is irrebuttable, plaintiffs could only challenge the transaction on the basis of waste.  Thus, plaintiffs also argued in the alternative that if the business judgment rule did apply, it should only be a rebuttable presumption.

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Too Good to Be True: Fraudulent Self-Promotion Lands “Prodigy” in Hot Water with SEC

In June 2014, the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy at the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an alert cautioning that investment newsletters are often “used to carry out schemes designed to deceive investors.” In particular, the SEC advised investors to be “highly suspicious” of newsletter “promises” of “high investment returns” and to contact the SEC to report potential securities fraud in newsletters and other promotional materials.

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The SEC Audit Trail – Several Industry Groups See Problems as Currently Proposed

Last week, several securities industry groups filed critical responses to the SEC’s plan for an audit trail.  While most groups that commented on the SEC’s proposed regulation supported implementing the proposal, several had concerns regarding the cost for investors and firms, and the protection of private data.

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In a Case of First Impression, Delaware Chancery Court Holds It’s “Out with the Old (Board) and In With the New” When Considering Demand Futility

Chairs Around a Table

On May 31, 2016, the Delaware Chancery Court rejected shareholders’ allegations of corporate wrongdoing in a derivative suit against a national healthcare company, Bioscrip, holding that Plaintiff failed to adequately allege demand futility with respect to Bioscrip’s board of directors. For the first time, the Delaware Court found that Plaintiff was required to demonstrate demand futility with respect to the board of directors that was in place after shareholders filed their derivative complaint. Park Emps.’ & Ret. Bd. Emps.’ Annuity & Ben. Fund v. Smith, No. 11000-VCG (Ch. May 31, 2016).

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The Ripple Effects of U.S. v. Newman Continue: SEC Lifts Administrative Bar on Downstream Insider Trading Tippee and Tipper Requests that Third Circuit Vacate SEC Settlement

The ripple effects of the Second Circuit’s landmark insider trading decision, United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), were felt again last week.  On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or the “Commission”) ruled that Former Neuberger Berman Analyst Sandeep “Sandy” Goyal, whom the SEC previously barred from the securities industry after he pled guilty to insider trading, could participate in the industry again. The SEC’s rare decision to lift an administrative bar order resulted from Newman, (previously discussed at length here), which led to Goyal’s criminal conviction being vacated and the civil claims against him being dropped by the SEC.  Newman raised the bar for what prosecutors in tipper/tippee insider trading cases have to show by holding that tipper/tippee liability requires the tipper to receive a “personal benefit” amounting to a quid pro quo or pecuniary benefit in exchange for the tip and the tippee to know of that benefit.  Despite the SEC’s decision to drop the administrative bar against Goyal in light of Newman, as recently as SEC Speaks on February 19-20, 2016, SEC Deputy of Enforcement Stephanie Avakian affirmed that insider trading cases “continue[] to be a priority” for the Commission.   Nonetheless, the ripple effects of Newman continue to call the government’s ability to successfully bring both criminal and civil cases into question.

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But Everybody’s Doing It: Delaware Chancery Court Invalidates VAALCO’s “Wacky” Charter and Bylaws Provisions Despite Use by Other Companies

Ruling from the bench on dueling motions for summary judgment just days before a special meeting of shareholders was to be held, on December 21, 2015, Delaware Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster invalidated certain provisions in VAALCO Energy, Inc.’s (“VAALCO”) certificate of incorporation and bylaws (the “Charter and Bylaws Provisions”).  The litigation and ruling stem from investor attempts to remove a majority of VAALCO’s Board.  VAALCO argued that the Charter and Bylaws Provisions prevented investors from removing board members without cause.  Vice Chancellor Laster disagreed, holding that these provisions, in purporting to restrict stockholders’ ability to remove directors without cause in the absence of a classified board or cumulative voting provision, violated Delaware corporate law.  The ruling is a cautionary note for a small percentage of Delaware corporations that apparently still have similar provisions on their books.

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The Boss Makes HOW much more than me? SEC Issues Final Pay Ratio Rule

On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved its final rule subjecting most public companies to the so-called “Pay Ratio Disclosure” mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  The SEC voted 3-2 to approve the measure, with the panel’s two Republican members opposing it.  In the split vote, the SEC finally put into place one of the most controversial rules mandated by Dodd-Frank.  In the years since the SEC began working on the rule, it has attracted an intense measure of both public scrutiny and advocacy, drawing more than 286,000 public comments.

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Wannabe Derivative Plaintiffs of Delaware Corporations Cannot Skirt Delaware Law By Filing Suit in California

It is well-established that a shareholder-plaintiff may not assert derivative claims against a corporation’s officers or directors unless he or she makes a pre-suit demand on the corporation’s board of directors and alleges particularized facts showing that the demand was wrongfully refused, or alleges particularized facts showing that a demand on the board would have been futile.  One question that frequently arises is whether the shareholder-plaintiff may obtain discovery from the corporation and its officers and directors in order to assist his or her compliance with this threshold pleading obligation.

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Oklahoma Takes a Stand a Stand in the Battle Over Derivative Fee-Shifting

Back in May we discussed ATP Tour, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund a seminal Delaware Supreme Court case that upheld a non-stock corporation’s “loser pays” fee-shifting bylaw.  ATP Tour held that where a Delaware corporation adopts a fee-shifting bylaw, it can recover its fees and costs from any shareholder that brings a derivative lawsuit and loses.  Many commentators have suggested the case would effectively kill derivative actions in Delaware and indeed, since the time of that decision, the Delaware Corporation Law Council has proposed amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law that would limit its applicability to only non-stock corporations.

Last week the Oklahoma State Legislature went a step further than ATP Tour and amended the Oklahoma General Corporation Act to specifically require fee-shifting for all derivative lawsuits brought in the state, whether against an Oklahoma corporation or not.  Unlike the fee provision in ATP Tour, however, the law also affords derivative plaintiffs the right to recover their fees and costs should they win final judgment.

The difference is likely substantial.  For while the law will potentially chill unmeritorious derivative actions, also known as “strike suits,” it could also provide an incentive for derivative plaintiffs with strong claims.  Where shareholders use the “tools at hand”—including books and records inspection requests—to carefully vet their claims before filing, the promise of a fee recovery could encourage shareholder plaintiffs to bring claims they otherwise might not.

Consider:  in the typical derivative lawsuit, the shareholder plaintiff stands to gain nothing tangible if he or she wins.  Because he or she is suing on behalf of the corporation, any recovery will inure to the corporation itself.   Thus, under the old regime, even if a derivative lawsuit was successful, the plaintiff would receive, at most, any resulting increase in the value of his or her company stock.  Under the new statute, that same plaintiff could stand to receive the not-insubstantial costs of his or her efforts.

Does Being an ‘Expert’ Make You an Expert?

Matrix

Earlier this month, Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York issued his opinion certifying a class of buyers of the common stock of a company created by a Chinese reverse merger.  McIntire v. China MediaExpress Holdings, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113446 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2014).  In doing so, he rejected defendants’ Daubert motion challenging the qualifications and methodology of plaintiffs’ expert witness on market efficiency, Cynthia Jones, and concluded that the market was efficient enough to support the Basic presumption of reliance and to permit class certification.  READ MORE