Buy-side executives in an M&A deal negotiate with their sell-side counterparts for months, plying them for information, assessing the seller’s weaknesses and pressure points, and even making informal entreaties when the parties’ standstill agreement says they shouldn’t —all to get the best deal for the acquirer. Under Delaware’s contractarian corporate regime—that would seem to be a good thing.
Corporate boards are subject to a duty of oversight, as part of their duty of loyalty to their company. As outlined by Delaware’s famously stringent Caremark standard, pleading a violation of that duty is often difficult. However, the Delaware Court of Chancery has issued several recent opinions addressing duty of oversight claims where they held the plaintiffs successfully met the Caremark standard. These decisions serve as important reminders for corporate boards to thoughtfully carry out their oversight duties, in order to ensure that their internal controls, reporting systems, and other oversight-related practices are sufficiently comprehensive.
Characterizing the decision to bring a books and records inspection action after filing a plenary or substantive action as “[i]nherently contradictory,” the Delaware Court of Chancery recently dismissed a Section 220 action brought by a group of investors. The decision signals that the Court of Chancery remains alert to the use of books and records inspection actions for improper purposes, including to subvert the ordinary conduct of civil discovery.
Last month, the Delaware Chancery Court drastically reduced – from $275,000 to $50,000 – a mootness fee award requested by plaintiffs’ counsel in a lawsuit challenging the merger between PayPal and Xoom Corporation, finding the supplemental disclosures that flowed from the lawsuit provided only minor benefits to stockholders. In re Xoom Corp. Stockholder Litigation. The steep fee reduction reinforces Trulia’s admonition earlier this year that the days of $250,000-$350,000 attorneys’ fee awards for meaningless additional disclosures are over, as Delaware judges will carefully scrutinize attorneys’ fee requests for litigation that yields disclosures of little or no value.