In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, the United States Supreme Court expanded the meaning of “confidential” information exempt from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In doing so, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and definitively rejected the “competitive harm” requirement adopted by the D.C. Circuit in National Parks & Conservation Assn. v. Morton. Respondent Argus Leader Media filed a FOIA request with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), seeking the names and addresses of all retail stores that participate in a federal food stamp program known as SNAP. Argus Leader also sought each store’s annual redemption data from 2005 to 2010. The USDA declined to disclose store-level SNAP data based on Exemption 4 of FOIA, which precludes disclosure of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.” Argus Leader sued the USDA. The district court ordered disclosure based upon the failure to satisfy the “competitive harm” test, which requires a party to establish confidentiality by proving that disclosure is “likely … to cause substantial harm to [its] competitive position.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment. In...
Tagged: Derivative Actions
In R.A. Feuer v. Merck & Co., Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s narrow construction of the scope of a shareholder’s right to inspect a corporation’s records under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28 and the common law. In the underlying case, a Merck & Co, Inc. shareholder sought documents in order to elicit evidence that Merck acted wrongfully in its acquisition of another pharmaceutical firm. Merck appointed a “Working Group” to respond to the shareholder’s demand, which rejected the shareholder’s request for documents relating to the acquisition. Following this rejection, the shareholder sought twelve broad categories of corporate documents, including documents pertaining to the Working Group’s activities, communications, and formation; documents provided to the board regarding the target pharmaceutical firm and two of its drugs; and the board’s consideration of the shareholder’s demands and the Working Group’s recommendation. Merck disclosed pertinent minutes of the board and of the Working Group, but denied the remainder of the shareholder’s demand. The shareholder sued Merck, alleging entitlement to the documents under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28(4), which permits a shareholder to compel the corporation to produce its “books and records of account, minutes, and record of shareholders,” and the common law. The trial court denied...
New Jersey Chancery Division Adopts Watered-Down Trulia Standard and Approves Disclosure-Only Settlement of Merger Litigation
Nearly three years ago, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued its landmark opinion in In re Trulia, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, in which Chancellor Bouchard strongly criticized the use of disclosure-only settlements in class-action merger challenges and subjected such settlements to a heightened level of judicial review. In a disclosure-only settlement the merging parties agree to enhance their disclosures about the challenged merger in exchange for a broad release from a settlement class comprised of their shareholders. According to Chancellor Bouchard, all too often the enhanced disclosures in such settlements provide little, if any, value to the shareholders, while class counsel get large fee awards and the corporations get “deal insurance” because their shareholders have released them and their boards from liability arising from the transaction. Because disclosure-only settlements so rarely give meaningful relief to the shareholders, Chancellor Bouchard held that a court should approve them only if “the supplemental disclosures address a plainly material misrepresentation or omission and the subject matter of the proposed release is narrowly circumscribed.” In the first published New Jersey state court opinion addressing the Trulia standard, the Chancery Division in Strougo v. Ocean Shore Holding Co. followed Trulia in holding that disclosure-only settlements are to be...
Access Denied: NJ Appellate Division Clarifies Shareholder’s Right to Inspection of Corporate Records
In R.A. Feuer v. Merck & Co., Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division, in a to-be-published opinion, narrowly construed the scope of a shareholder’s right to inspect a corporation’s records under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28 and the common law. A Merck & Co, Inc. shareholder appealed from the dismissal of his complaint seeking various corporate records, including twelve broad categories of documents. The shareholder sought evidence that Merck acted wrongfully in its acquisition of another pharmaceutical firm. After Merck appointed a working group to assess the shareholder’s concerns, the shareholder requested documents pertaining generally to the working group’s activities, communications, and formation; documents provided to the board regarding the target pharmaceutical firm and two of its drugs; and the board’s considerations of the shareholder’s demands and the working group’s recommendation. Merck disclosed pertinent minutes of the board and of the working group, but denied the remainder of the shareholder’s demand. The trial court determined that the shareholder’s demand exceeded the scope of the “books and records of account, minutes, and record of shareholders,” which the shareholder had a statutory right to inspect and that the common law did not expand that statutory right. The Appellate Division affirmed, narrowly construing the plain language...
Frederick W. Alworth and Jonathan S. Liss, Directors in the firm’s Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department, published the following article in the June 18 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal, after a recent decision by the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division made it more difficult for shareholders to challenge corporate actions in New Jersey. Is this part of a trend toward making New Jersey more business friendly? The full article can be found here.
Delaware Supreme Court Gives Preclusive Effect to Federal Court Dismissal of Derivative Suit for Failure to Show Demand Futility
In its highly anticipated opinion in California State Teachers’ Retirement System v. Alvarez, the Delaware Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of a group of Delaware shareholders’ derivative actions, holding that a previous dismissal by a federal court for failure to plead demand futility precluded other shareholders from pursuing additional derivative actions so long as the other shareholders were adequately represented in the earlier suit. Following the New York Times 2012 exposure of Wal-Mart executives’ alleged mishandling of bribery allegations, Wal-Mart shareholders brought derivative suits in the Western District of Arkansas and the Delaware Court of Chancery. In May 2015, the Arkansas court dismissed the case before it, because the shareholders had failed to adequately plead demand futility. Prompted by the Arkansas dismissal, the Delaware Court of Chancery initially dismissed the Delaware action, but, after some ping-ponging back and forth between the Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery issued a supplemental opinion, recommending that the Supreme Court adopt a rule proposed in EZCORP Inc. Consulting Agreement Deriv. Litig., which held that constitutional Due Process permits a derivative suit to have a preclusive effect on a subsequent derivative suit only if the plaintiff in the first...
In “Spring-Loaded” Options Case, Court Finds Failure to Disclose Board’s “Unclean Heart” Does Not Violate Federal Securities Laws But Allows Common Law Fiduciary Duty Claims to Proceed Against Directors Approving Options
In a far-reaching opinion addressing a host of issues relating to the granting of so-called “spring-loaded” stock options to a corporation’s board of directors, the District of New Jersey dismissed a claim under Section 14(a) of the Exchange Act because federal securities laws do not require the corporation to disclose in its proxy statement that the options were part of a “spring-loading” scheme. But the court allowed common-law breach of fiduciary duty claims to proceed against the directors who served on the board’s compensation committee under the entire-fairness doctrine.
Board-Friendly Rales Test Determines Futility of Pre-Suit Demand When Challenged Decision Is Made by a Board Committee Comprised of a Minority of Board Members
Delaware courts have two tests for determining when it is futile for a plaintiff in a derivative action to make a pre-suit demand of the corporation’s board of directors under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. The Aronson v. Lewis test applies when the board which would consider the demand made the business decision challenged in the derivative action. Under that test, demand is futile if (1) there is a reasonable doubt that the directors are disinterested and independent or (2) there is a reasonable doubt that the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid exercise of business judgment.
On April 2, 2013, Governor Christie signed A-3123, which revises New Jersey’s law concerning shareholder derivative proceedings under N.J.S.A. § 14A:3-6. According to the New Jersey Corporate and Business Law Study Commission, the purpose of this new law is to preclude derivative lawsuits that impose excessive and unnecessary costs on New Jersey corporations. The law applies to both derivative proceedings brought on behalf of a single shareholder and shareholder class actions against a corporation or its directors that arise out of a breach of duty imposed by New Jersey statutory or common law.
Creditors of Insolvent Delaware Limited Liability Companies Lack Standing to Pursue Derivative Claims
Relying on the plain language of Delaware’s Limited Liability Company Act, the Delaware Supreme Court, in CML V, LLC v. John Bax, et al., recently ruled that creditors of insolvent Delaware limited liability companies lack standing to sue derivatively for their managers’ alleged breach of their fiduciary duties. According to Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, writing for the Court, 6 Del. C. § 18-1002 of Delaware’s Limited Liability Company Act is “unambiguous and limits derivative standing in LLCs exclusively to ‘member[s]’ or ‘assignee[s].’” In so holding, the Court distinguished insolvent LLCs from insolvent corporations, which are subject to derivative claims by creditors, noting that “the General Assembly is free to elect a statutory limitation on derivative standing for LLCs that is different than that for corporations, and thereby preclude creditors from attaining standing.”