Posts Tagged ‘Director liability’

FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions

Editor’s Note: John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. The following post discusses a Cornerstone Research report by Abe Chernin, Katie Galley, Yesim C. Richardson, and Joseph T. Schertler, titled “Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014,” available here.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) litigation activity associated with failed financial institutions increased significantly in 2013, according to Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014, a new report by Cornerstone Research. The FDIC filed 40 director and officer (D&O) lawsuits in 2013, compared with 26 in 2012, a 54 percent increase.

The surge in FDIC D&O lawsuits stems from the high number of financial institution failures in 2009 and 2010. Of the 140 financial institutions that failed in 2009, the directors and officers of 64 (or 46 percent) either have been the subject of an FDIC lawsuit or settled claims with the FDIC prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Of the 157 institutions that failed in 2010, 53 (or 34 percent) have either been the subject of a lawsuit or have settled with the FDIC.

…continue reading: FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions

FDIC Cautions Financial Institutions Regarding Increase in D&O Insurance Exclusions

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Saturday November 9, 2013 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from John Dugan, partner and chair of the Financial Institutions Group at Covington & Burling LLP, and is based on a Covington & Burling E-Alert.

The FDIC last week issued a Financial Institution Letter advising financial institutions and their directors and officers of the increased use of exclusionary terms or provisions in D&O policies, and the resulting increased risk of uninsured personal civil liability for directors and officers. (FIL-47-2013, October 10, 2013).

The FDIC Letter urges the directors of financial institutions to make well-informed choices about D&O coverage, including consideration of costs and benefits, exclusions and other restrictive terms in proposed policies, and the implications for personal financial liability for directors and officers.

D&O insurance is a critical asset for financial institutions and their directors and officers, and the FDIC Letter expressly affirms that the purchase of D&O insurance serves a valid business purpose. The FDIC’s Letter is also a timely reminder that the D&O insurance market is in constant flux and that—in addition to seeking advice from insurance brokers—directors should consider seeking advice from experienced coverage counsel to gain a better understanding of the potential impact of restrictive provisions in proposed policies.

…continue reading: FDIC Cautions Financial Institutions Regarding Increase in D&O Insurance Exclusions

Independent Director Duties of Delaware Corporations with Foreign Operations

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Saturday February 23, 2013 at 10:45 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Tariq Mundiya, partner in the litigation department of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, and is based on a Willkie client memorandum by Mr. Mundiya. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On February 6, 2013, Chancellor Strine of the Delaware Chancery Court issued a bench ruling addressing the duty of independent directors of a Delaware corporation with significant operations or assets outside the United States. In re Puda Coal, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 6476-CS (Del. Ch. Feb. 6, 2013). In a short but important bench ruling, Chancellor Strine refused to dismiss a breach of fiduciary duty claim against independent directors of a Delaware corporation who had failed to discover the unauthorized sale of assets located in China by the company’s chairman. Importantly, Chancellor Strine’s remarks implicated the duty of loyalty, which creates a risk of personal liability for directors and, potentially, the absence of corporate indemnification. While the facts in the case were somewhat extreme, the ruling in Puda Coal highlights the risks and challenges that may exist for directors of Delaware corporations with significant foreign assets or operations. Although Chancellor Strine recognized that each situation is undoubtedly dependent on its facts and will turn on the nature of the foreign operations, his ruling did include the following remarks:

…continue reading: Independent Director Duties of Delaware Corporations with Foreign Operations

Delaware Court of Chancery Dismisses Hastily Filed Caremark Action

Posted by Eduardo Gallardo, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, on Tuesday October 30, 2012 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Gallardo, Brian Lutz, James Hallowell, and Jefferson Bell. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On September 25, 2012, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster of the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware dismissed the derivative complaint in South v. Baker, C.A. No. 7294-VCL, with prejudice. This decision reaffirms the Chancery Court’s low tolerance for hastily filed shareholder derivative lawsuits brought under the In re Caremark International Inc. Derivative Litigation, 698 A.2d 959 (Del. Ch. 1996), line of cases where the plaintiff makes little effort to plead any connection between a “corporate trauma” and the conduct of a board of directors. At the same time, the South decision also finds that shareholders are entitled to, and should seek, books and records from Delaware corporations before bringing derivative lawsuits in Delaware. Accordingly, Delaware corporations should anticipate an increase in shareholder demands for books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law in the wake of any “corporate trauma.” In addition, the South decision found that dismissal of the South complaint did not preclude other Hecla shareholders from filing future derivative suits because the South plaintiffs did not use Section 220 and, therefore, did not adequately represent Hecla’s interests.

…continue reading: Delaware Court of Chancery Dismisses Hastily Filed Caremark Action

Say on Pay 2012

Posted by Jeremy L. Goldstein, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Saturday July 14, 2012 at 10:28 am
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Editor’s Note: Jeremy Goldstein is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz active in the firm’s Executive Compensation and Benefits practice. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Goldstein, Michael J. Segal, and Jeannemarie O’Brien.

The following are our observations on the second year of mandatory “say on pay” votes for U.S. public companies under Dodd-Frank thus far this proxy season.

Results of Vote. As of June 25, 2012, of the companies that have reported results for 2012, 54 have failed their say on pay votes. This is an increase from 2011 and there remain a number of companies left to report. Four companies have failed two years in a row. 396 companies in the S&P 500 have reported say on pay results as of June 22, 2012, of which 384 received majority shareholder support (97%). Similar to last year, the mean level of shareholder approval is 89% and the median level of shareholder approval is 95%.

Influence of ISS. The recommendation of ISS continues to have a measurable impact on voting results. ISS has recommended against say on pay proposals at approximately 14% of the S&P 500 companies as of June 22, 2012. Of companies receiving unfavorable vote recommendations from ISS, 21% of those that had reported results as of June 22, 2012 failed to receive majority support. Companies receiving negative ISS recommendations that have nonetheless received majority support have generally done so with considerably lower margins than those receiving a favorable ISS recommendation. According to a recent study by Pay Governance, a negative ISS recommendation results in an average shareholder support level of 65% versus 95% for those receiving a positive ISS recommendation (for S&P 500 companies, the difference in support levels based on such recommendations is 59% versus 94%). According to the same study, this is a 10% increase over last year’s correlation. During the approximately two years of mandatory say on pay proposals under Dodd-Frank, only one company that received a positive ISS recommendation failed to receive majority shareholder support. The median change in voting results following a year-over-year change in ISS recommendation is approximately 27%.

…continue reading: Say on Pay 2012

Court Rules on Short-swing Liability Rules

Posted by Richard J. Sandler, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, on Saturday May 5, 2012 at 5:36 am
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Editor’s Note: Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

On March 26, 2012, in Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Simmonds, the U.S. Supreme Court held 8-0 that the two-year statute of limitations for suits under the short-swing liability rules of Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is not tolled (i.e., suspended) until an insider files a Section 16(a) disclosure statement; the limitations period can begin running even if the disclosure statement is filed at a later date or never filed at all. The Court’s decision provides insiders of U.S. public companies with better protection and more certainty against time-barred claims.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, which had held, citing to its precedent, that the limitations period is tolled until an insider files the Section 16(a) disclosure statement “regardless of whether the plaintiff knew or should have known of the conduct at issue”. In dicta, the Supreme Court also rejected the Second Circuit’s rule that the limitations period is tolled until the plaintiff “gets actual notice that a person subject to Section 16(a) has realized specific short-swing profits that are worth pursuing”.

The Supreme Court did indicate some willingness to permit equitable tolling of the Section 16(b) limitations period, but under circumstances more limited than the “disclosure” rule of the Ninth Circuit or the “actual notice” rule of the Second Circuit.

…continue reading: Court Rules on Short-swing Liability Rules

For Directors, A Wake-Up Call from Down Under

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Tuesday October 4, 2011 at 9:21 am
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Editor’s Note: David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Earlier this summer, the Federal Court of Australia handed down an important corporate law decision that would appear to have a substantial impact on the way that the statutorily defined responsibilities of directors are understood in Australia. [1] In Australian Securities and Investments Commission v. Healey, the entire board of directors (consisting of seven non-executive directors and the chief executive officer) was found to have breached its duty in failing to notice a significant error in the financial statements, an error that also went uncorrected by the outside auditors and internal employees. The directors were subject to possible financial penalties and bans as a result of the decision, though in the penalty phase of the case, the court determined that the liability judgment itself, with its associated embarrassment and reputational damage, was adequate punishment and deterrence. [2] Though the case involved interpretation of an Australian corporation law statute and was necessarily fact-specific, nonetheless it is worth careful scrutiny, as it serves as a powerful reminder to directors that their role is an active one and, further, may signal the direction in which the understanding of the role of directors generally could be headed.

…continue reading: For Directors, A Wake-Up Call from Down Under

Delaware Court of Chancery Refines Rules for Mixed-Consideration Mergers

Posted by William Savitt, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Monday June 13, 2011 at 9:38 am
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Editor’s Note: William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savitt, Steven A. Rosenblum and James Cole, Jr. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is co-sponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Court of Chancery last week provided fresh guidance on the standards of director conduct applicable to part-cash, part-stock mergers and reaffirmed the rules of the road for board process and deal protection provisions in strategic mergers. In re Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. S’holder Litig., C.A. 6164-VCP (May 20, 2011).

In a merger agreement announced on January 23, Smurfit-Stone, a leading containerboard manufacturer, agreed to merge with Rock-Tenn Corporation. The agreement provides that Smurfit-Stone stockholders will receive consideration valued at $35.00 per share as of the date of the merger agreement, representing a 27 percent premium over the stock’s pre-announcement trading price, with 50 percent of the consideration payable in cash and the other 50 percent payable in Rock-Tenn common stock. Shareholder plaintiffs sought to enjoin the deal, alleging that the Smurfit-Stone board had improperly failed to conduct an auction and that the deal protection provisions in the merger agreement were impermissible as a matter of Delaware law.

…continue reading: Delaware Court of Chancery Refines Rules for Mixed-Consideration Mergers

Seventh Circuit Makes Life Tougher for Directors with Conflicts

Posted by Andrea Unterberger, Corporation Service Company, on Thursday June 2, 2011 at 9:10 am
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Editor’s Note: Andrea Unterberger is Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at Corporation Service Company (CSC). This post is by Ms. Unterberger, and Sandra E. Mayerson and Peter A. Zisser of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP.

In CDX Liquidating Trust v. Venrock Assocs., et al., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 6390 (7th Cir. March 29, 2011), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, reversing the District Court’s ruling, held under Delaware law that a director’s disclosure of a conflict, in and of itself, is insufficient to protect that director from liability for breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty arising from that conflict.  Similarly, the other party to whom the conflicted director owes loyalty (under the right circumstances) can be held liable for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty.  Nor does the mere existence of independent directors shield these parties from liability.

In Venrock, the debtor (“Debtor”) was a company which manufactured internet modems. The founders received common stock.  Two venture capital firms (the “VCs”) received preferred stock in exchange for an investment made at the beginning of 2000.  A principal of one of the venture capital firms (the “VC Principal”) became a member of Debtor’s five-member board of directors (the “Board”) upon the firm’s investment.  In April 2000, the Board rebuffed a tentative offer to buy Debtor’s assets for $300 million.

…continue reading: Seventh Circuit Makes Life Tougher for Directors with Conflicts

Directors’ Monetary Liability for Actions or Omissions Not in Good Faith

Posted by Scott J. Davis, Mayer Brown LLP, on Friday May 29, 2009 at 9:32 am
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Editor’s Note: This post is by Scott J. Davis of Mayer Brown LLP.

Michael Torres, who is my colleague at Mayer Brown LLP, and I have written a paper titled Directors’ Monetary Liability for Actions or Omissions Not in Good Faith, based on a paper we submitted to the Ray Garrett Jr. Corporate and Securities Law Institute at Northwestern Law School. It has long been established that damages are available against directors when they engage in self-dealing or similar actions in situations in which they have a conflict of interest. Few issues in U.S. corporate law, however, are as controversial as whether directors should be exposed to damages for their actions or omissions in situations in which they do not have a conflict of interest. Advocates of such damages awards argue that they are appropriate in extreme cases of directorial misconduct and an important deterrent to future misconduct. Opponents of such awards argue that courts cannot reliably distinguish between extreme cases of misconduct and routine cases of negligence, and that well-qualified persons will not serve as directors if they are exposed to this type of monetary liability.

Since the enactment of section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law, it has been clear that directors could still be responsible for damages for breaches of the duty of loyalty involving conflicts of interest – for example, being on both sides of a transaction to which the corporation was a party – and could not be held liable for money damages for breaching their duty of care, even if they were grossly negligent. The question was whether there was any real-world basis for imposing damages on directors in situations in which they did not breach their duty of loyalty on conflict of interest grounds.

Beginning in the middle 1990s with the Caremark decision, the Delaware courts answered that question in the affirmative by making it clear that certain conduct of directors who did not have a conflict of interest could constitute acts or omissions not in good faith that would expose them to damages. As the law has developed, there has been no bright line rule defining such conduct. Consequently, there is no shortcut to examining the cases decided inside and outside of Delaware in determining where the law now stands. Most of these cases were brought as derivative lawsuits, and the reported decisions were issued in deciding defendants’ motions to dismiss because of the plaintiffs’ failure to make a demand on the company’s board of directors. We briefly analyze a number of these decisions, dividing them into cases in which the directors are accused of failing to act and therefore violating their duty of oversight and cases in which the directors are accused of acting improperly. We reached the following conclusions from this analysis:

1. The courts are anxious to limit monetary liability for bad faith to situations in which directors knowingly countenanced wrongdoing or knowingly engaged in wrongful conduct. The test laid down in Stone v. Ritter, 911 A.2d 362 (Del. 2006), for bad faith oversight is that the directors knew that they were not discharging their obligations of oversight because they utterly failed to implement any reporting or information system or controls or, having implemented such a system or controls, consciously failed to monitor or oversee their operations. The test for bad faith action laid down in In re the Walt Disney Company Derivative Litigation, 906 A.2d 27 (Del. 2006), is intentional dereliction of duties or a conscious disregard of one’s responsibilities. Thus, the case law, in both the oversight and the action situations, indicates that bad faith has a mens rea requirement: bad faith requires scienter, i.e., an illicit state of mind. Anything less is no more than gross negligence, which Disney defined as not bad faith.

2. However, the line between bad faith and negligence or gross negligence can be blurry, especially in merger or sale cases. It is arguably difficult to distinguish between the bad faith conduct of the director held liable in In re Emerging Communications, Inc. Shareholders Litigation, 2004 WL 1305745 (Del. Ch. 2004), for permitting an unfair transaction and the director in Gesoff v. IIC Industries, Inc, 902 A.2d 1130 (Del. Ch. 2006), or the directors in McPadden v. Sidhu, 964 A.2d 1262 (Del. Ch. 2008), who permitted unfair transactions but were exonerated because their conduct, while negligent or grossly negligent, did not rise to bad faith. It is possible that Emerging Communications is an anomaly because lawsuits challenging directors’ good faith, absent a conflict of interest, in merger and sale transactions have been mostly unsuccessful. See, in addition to Gesoff and McPadden, In re Lear Corporation Shareholder Litigation, 2008 WL 5704774 (Del. Ch. 2008), and Lyondell Chemical Company v. Ryan, 2009 WL 790477 (Del. 2009).

3. McCall v. Scott, 239 F.3d 808 (6th Cir.), amended on denial of rehearing, 250 F.3d 997 (6th Cir. 2001), and In re Abbott Laboratories Derivative Shareholder Litigation, 325 F.3d 795 (7th Cir. 2001), suggest (admittedly based on a small sample) that courts outside of Delaware may be more inclined to allow oversight claims to proceed than Delaware courts are. Indeed, Guttman v. Huang, 823 A.2d 492 (Del. Ch. 2003), Stone v. Ritter, Desimone v. Barrrows, 924 A.2d 908 (Del. Ch. 2007), Wood v. Baum, 953 A.2d 136 (Del. 2008), and In re Citigroup Inc. Shareholder Litigation, 964 A.2d 106 (Del. Ch. 2009), are all Delaware cases in which oversight claims were dismissed, with AIG Consolidated Derivative Litigation, 965 A.2d 763 (Del. Ch. 2009), being a counterexample.

4. The courts appear to be drawing a distinction between directors’ oversight or actions resulting in bad business decisions that did not result in illegality or fraud and those that did. In the former case the courts tend not to find bad faith. See Citigroup, Gesoff, Disney, McPadden, Lear and Lyondell. In the latter case the courts will find bad faith if the complaint supplies particularized allegations of a knowing failure of oversight or knowing misconduct. See McCall, Abbott, AIG, Ryan v. Gifford, 918 A.2d 341 (Del. Ch. 2007), and In re Tyson Foods Consolidated Shareholder Litigation, 919 A.2d 563 (Del. Ch. 2007). The courts are concerned that the availability of damages for bad faith not lead to directors being second-guessed for business decisions that were merely wrong.

The paper is available here.

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