Corporate Defense and Disputes

Important developments in U.S. securities law, white collar criminal defense, regulatory enforcement and other emerging issues impacting financial services institutions, publicly traded companies and private investment funds

Court Preliminarily Enjoins Florida’s “Stop Woke Act”

In a new skirmish in the volatile ESG and culture wars, a Florida federal court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of portions of Florida’s “anti-woke” law, which prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend training sessions or other activities that “espouse” or “promote” eight “concepts” relating to race, color, sex, or national origin.  U.S. District Judge Mark Walker held in Honeyfund.com, Inc. v. DeSantis (N.D. Fla. Aug. 18, 2022), that the statute is a “naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech,” in violation of the First Amendment, and also is unconstitutionally vague.

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Blockchain Meets Morrison: Court Rejects Blockchain Class Settlement Because of Concerns About Adequacy of Representation

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently rejected a proposed settlement of a securities class action involving purchasers of digital tokens due to concerns about whether the lead plaintiff had adequately represented the class for settlement purposes.  Judge Lewis A. Kaplan held in Williams v. Block.one that the federal securities laws did not appear to apply equally to all class members’ token purchases and that the lead plaintiff had not produced evidence showing that its own purchases were (or were not) subject to the securities laws in a proportion similar to other class members’ purchases.

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Dis-Honest: Judge Allows Lawsuit against Jessica Alba Company to Move Forward

A judge in the United States District Court for the Central District of California has allowed a lawsuit against actress Jessica Alba’s child and personal care company Honest to move forward. The case is the latest in a series of investor-led actions against companies that shareholders claim have used COVID-19 and associated disruptions to mislead the public about the financial health of their businesses.

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Delaware Supreme Court Allows Use of “Reliable” Hearsay to Support Books-and-Records Demand

The Delaware Supreme Court held yesterday that a stockholder seeking to inspect corporate books and records may use “reliable” hearsay to establish the propriety of the purpose of the inspection demand. The decision in NVIDIA Corp. v. City of Westland Police and Fire Retirement System (July 19, 2022) does not appear to break new ground on this issue, inasmuch as the Court concluded that it “appeared” to have allowed the use of sufficiently reliable hearsay in a 26-year-old decision, which neither party here asked the Court to revisit or overrule. Continue Reading

Divided Delaware Supreme Court Decision Highlights Issues About Director Independence in Derivative Actions

The Delaware Supreme Court recently affirmed a Court of Chancery ruling granting a Special Litigation Committee’s motion to terminate a shareholder derivative action that had survived a motion to dismiss. The split decision in El Pollo Loco (June 28, 2022) highlights whether a director can be considered independent – especially as a member of a Special Litigation Committee (“SLC”) – if he or she had known about and had approved or not objected to the prior motion to dismiss, which had asserted that the claims at issue in the subsequent SLC investigation lacked merit. Continue Reading

Tractor Supply Gets Lift from Court with Diversity Suit Dismissal

Earlier this spring, yet another lawsuit alleging a company failed to adequately promote diversity was dismissed for a failure to properly allege demand futility.

In City of Pontiac Police & Fire Ret. Sys. v. Jamison, the plaintiff, a shareholder of Tractor Supply Company, had alleged that the company and members of its Board falsely stated in securities filings that they were committed to promoting diversity.  The plaintiff alleged that diversity maximizes shareholder wealth and that the lack of racial diversity at Tractor Supply contributed to economic disparities at the company.  Because, according to the plaintiff, the defendants had failed to sufficiently promote diversity within the company while, at the same time, made statements in Tractor Supply’s 2020 proxy statement that the Board was “committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion,” they had violated Section 14(a) of the Exchange Act.

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No Influence: Court Dismisses Claim Based on CEO’s Raucous Influencer Parties

Earlier last month, Judge Vince Chhabbria of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a novel complaint that the court noted stretched the bounds of when directors of a company could reasonably be held accountable for the actions of its executives. Notwithstanding the case’s amusing subject matter, the decision applies typical Delaware standards to dismiss a shareholder derivative complaint formed on the basis of an executive’s out-of-office behavior.

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