breaches of fiduciary duties

While we are growing accustomed to pandemic-based shareholder actions relating to improper health and safety disclosures or misrepresentations relating to COVID-19 treatments and tests, this month brings a novel variant of the COVID-19 lawsuit. A Universal Health Services Inc. investor has filed a derivative suit against company officers and directors, claiming they took advantage of a pandemic-related drop in the company’s stock price to grant and receive certain stock options that were unfair to the company and its stockholders. The plaintiff investor claims that “company insiders took advantage of the temporary drop in the company’s stock price to grant and receive options to buy the company’s stock at rock bottom prices, thereby showering themselves in excessive compensation.” The complaint alleges that the drop in stock price was “not caused by any changes in the company’s fundamentals or business prospects,” but instead was entirely attributable to the effect of the pandemic on the markets writ large.

A shareholder derivative action which had alleged that Facebook’s lack of diversity caused a negative effect on its stock price was rejected by a California federal magistrate judge last week.

The court held that the shareholder plaintiff had not pled demand futility with particularity, as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 23.1, because she had not “plausibly alleged any facts about the directors’ actual or constructive knowledge . . . their failure to act, or their lack of independence.” Labeling the plaintiff’s allegations as “conclusory,” the court held that the complaint contained inaccurate factual allegations and that the plaintiff “did not plead plausible facts about discriminatory practices,” of the Company. Because the allegations that Facebook’s directors ignored red flags were “contradicted by the record,” and the alleged events occurred before four of the directors joined Facebook’s board, the court held the complaint was unsustainable.