Category Archives: News

Professor Conaway on the CML Opinion

From Professor Ann Conaway
Widener University School of Law

In a case of first impression, the Delaware Supreme Court in CML V LLC v. Bax, (Del. Sept. 2, 2011,) has held that creditors do not have derivative standing to bring a fiduciary duty claim against present or former managers of an insolvent Delaware LLC under statutory provisions of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (DLLCA). The statutory preclusions on which the Supreme Court relied are found at 6 Del. Code §§ 18-1001-1002. In its opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court set forth the language of § 18-1002, stating that: “the plain language [of the statutory provisions] is unambiguous and limits derivative standing to “member[s] or assignee[s]” and that exclusive limitation is constitutional.” (Emphasis in the original). Indeed, § 18-1002 defines a “Proper plaintiff” as: “ In a derivative action, a plaintiff must be a member or an assignee of a limited liability company interest at the time of bringing the action….” (Emphasis added)
CML had entered a loan transaction with JetDirect at a time when the company’s finances were uncertain and the company’s financial situation somewhat unclear. However, CML was always free to contract for any terms it desired if greater financial security was sought. Shortly after the loan agreement by CML, JetDirect became insolvent and failed to pay CML. CML brought suit in the Court of Chancery for derivative and direct claims, including breach of the duty of care. The Court of Chancery dismissed the derivative claims and the case was appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court.
On appeal, the Vice Chancellor’s interpretation of DLLCA §§ 18-1001-1002 was disputed. In addition, counsel for CML argued that the Vice Chancellor’s interpretation rendered the statutory provisions of DLLCA unconstitutional on the grounds that they stripped the Court of Chancery of its traditional power to do “equity.” The Supreme Court quickly disposed of the constitutionality argument on the basis that the equitable derivative suit for stockholders from English common law was grounded in corporate – not LLC law. The Supreme Court continued that the Delaware General Assembly was free to legislate exceptions from the common law and did so with the enactment of the DLLCA in 1992.
The Supreme Court’s opinion in CML v. Bax is a beacon of hope for the law of Delaware unincorporated entities for its uncontroverted stance in line drawing between Delaware corporations and LLCs. In this opinion, the Supreme Court refuses, through the doctrine of equity, to infuse corporate principles into Delaware’s unambiguous, contractually based alternative entity statutes. With this opinion comes greater clarity and lower agency costs in the law of Delaware LLCs. Hopefully, the opinion will serve as a harbinger for the abandonment of corporate principles to define the rights of members, managers and other parties to a Delaware operating agreement. Five stars to the Delaware Supreme Court!

Too Busy to Think, Spread Too Thin to Matter: Why Stockholder Voting Should be Less Frequent, More Targeted, and More Thoughtful

I spoke two days ago at the 9th Annual PLI Directors’ Institute on Corporate Governance. Lots of great presentations and provocative suggestions at this event, from such luminaries as Bill Ackman, Ira Millstein, Hillary Sale, Pat McGurn, Richard Parsons, Alan Beller and lots of others. In my comments which you can find in this PDF, I asserted that stockholder meetings are too frequent and involve too many votes on too many items. Stockholder input into corporate governance is cheapened as a result, and would be more valued and valuable if voting were more selectively scheduled and targeted. Managers and investors share a common interest in having their governance dialogue include discussion of how to better focus stockholder voting and eliminate elections and resolutions that have little or no economic significance. State laws compelling the annual holding of stockholder meetings should become more flexible, but are unlikely to do so unless both management and stockholder representatives support that evolution.

Amendments Made to the Delaware General Corporation Law

The amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law that were signed by the Governor this past spring became effective on August 1, 2009.  They can be viewed here.  As described more fully in the synopsis to the legislation, these are very significant amendments, dealing with issues like proxy access bylaws (new Section 112), proxy contest expense reimbursement bylaws (Section 113), bifurcation of record dates for notice and voting at stockholder meetings (amended Section 213 and related sections), and alteration of rights to indemnification and advancement of defense costs (amended Section 145(f)).