Articles Posted in Corporations

The fiduciary duty of loyalty that directors, officers, and employees owe to their corporations includes the duty to refrain from taking advantage of opportunities that are within the company’s line of business without the corporation’s consent.  This obligation is known as the “corporate opportunity doctrine”.   A corporate opportunity is one that is reasonably incident to the corporation’s present or prospective business and one in which the corporation has the capacity to undertake.[1]  The corporate opportunity doctrine requires that fiduciaries of corporations must first disclose and tender corporate opportunities to their corporations and can only personally take advantage of the opportunity with the corporation’s consent.[2]

Corporate opportunity cases typically involve an opportunity that is available to the fiduciary personally or the corporation, but not both.[3]   For instance, a common scenario in which the corporate opportunity doctrine is implicated is when a director, officer, or employee personally purchases another business that the corporation was or may have been interested in purchasing.[4]  However, in Indeck Energy Services, Inc. v. DePodesta[5], the Illinois Supreme Court recently addressed the question of whether a fiduciary can be liable for usurpation of a corporate opportunity where the fiduciary’s personal taking of the opportunity did not prevent the corporation from being able to take advantage of the opportunity as well.  A divided Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision held that, even where fiduciaries breach their duties by failing to tender, disclose, and obtain the corporation’s consent prior to personally taking advantage of a corporate opportunity, where the taking of the opportunity did not prevent the corporation from also being able to take advantage of the opportunity, the corporation has not suffered the requisite injury to prevail on a usurpation of corporate opportunity claim.[6]

As set forth in the opinion, Indeck Energy Services, Inc. (“Indeck”) is a developer, owner, and operator of independent power generation projects.  Defendant Christopher M. Podesta (“Podesta”) was the company’s vice president for development.  Defendant Karl G. Dahlstrom (“Dahlstrom”) served as its director of development.   Both DePodesta and Dahlstrom’s duties for Indeck included identifying opportunities for the development of power generation projects and developing those projects.[7]  Indeck’s president charged both DePodesta and Dahlstrom with researching the viability of natural gas power generation projects in an area known the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”).[8]

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the attendant difficulty in holding in-person meetings, the Illinois legislature recently amended the Illinois Business Corporation Act (“BCA”) to allow corporations to hold remote shareholder meetings.

On May 30, 2021, both houses of the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 116, which, among other things, amends Section 7.05 of the BCA to authorize fully remote as well as hybrid shareholder meetings.  A hybrid shareholder meeting is one in which some shareholders are present in person and some participate remotely.  Governor Pritzker signed SB 116 on August 6, 2021.  The amendments take effect on January 1, 2022.

As amended, Section 7.05 now provides that, unless prohibited by the corporation’s articles of incorporation or by-laws, a corporation may allow shareholders to participate in and act at any shareholder meeting by means of remote communication that allow all persons participating in the meeting to communicate with each other.

In AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Lebanon County Employees’ Retirement Fund1, the Delaware Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of whether a stockholder seeking inspection of a corporation’s books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“Section 220”) for the purpose of investigating mismanagement or wrongdoing by the corporation or its fiduciaries must demonstrate that the alleged mismanagement or wrongdoing is actionable in order to establish a proper purpose for the inspection.

There is a divergence in decisions of the Delaware Court of Chancery as to this issue. Some Court of Chancery opinions have held that a stockholder must demonstrate that alleged corporate mismanagement or wrongdoing is actionable in order to state a proper purpose under Section 2202. Other Court of Chancery decisions have held that stockholders are not required to demonstrate that the alleged mismanagement or wrongdoing is actionable in order to assert their Section 220 inspection rights3. The position that stockholders must demonstrate actionable wrongdoing found some support in the Delaware Supreme Court’s summary affirmance of the Court of Chancery’s decision in Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority v. AbbVie, Inc.4. In AbbVie, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed a Court of Chancery decision holding that a stockholder had not stated a proper purpose for the requested inspection because the corporation’s directors were protected by an exculpatory provision of the corporation’s certificate of incorporation that was authorized by Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DCGL”).5

However, in AmerisourceBergen, the Supreme Court squarely addressed the issue of whether a stockholder must establish the actionability of mismanagement or wrongdoing in order to demonstrate a proper purpose under Section 220 and held that a stockholder need not demonstrate that the alleged mismanagement or wrongdoing is actionable6. To the extent that its summary affirmance in AbbVie suggested otherwise, the AmerisourceBergen Court expressly overruled that decision.7

In Munroe-Diamond v. Munroe1, the Illinois Appellate Court recently addressed the issue of the rights of directors of a corporation to inspect the corporation’s books and records. Section 7.75 of the Illinois Business Corporation Act (BCA) provides shareholders with the right to examine certain corporate records provided that the examination is conducted for a proper purpose.2 However, the BCA contains no corresponding provision regarding the inspection rights of directors. While there is a well-developed body of case law regarding shareholders’ rights to examine books and records, there are very few reported decisions addressing the inspection rights of directors.

Munroe-Diamond arose out of a common fact pattern, a dispute between siblings who comprised the shareholders and directors of a closely held corporation over the value of the corporation’s shares during buyout negotiations. In this particular shareholder dispute, the divide occurred along gender lines. The brothers owned the majority shares of a moving company and the sisters owned minority shares. The board of directors had hired a valuation firm to provide a fair market valuation of the corporation’s stock. That firm valued the controlling shares, all of which were held by the brothers, at nearly twice the value of the minority shares. The board of directors authorized the corporation to redeem the shares held by minority shareholders for slightly more than the appraised value. While other minority shareholders’ shares were redeemed, the sisters refused to sell their shares for the amount offered.3

Rather, the sisters made a demand upon the corporation to make available for inspection and copying any and all documents pertaining to twenty-four listed categories. The demand did not state a purpose for the inspection. The brothers refused to comply with the demand on the ground that no purpose was put forward as to why the sisters needed access to the documents and no explanation was provided as to how the documents related to the sisters’ duties as directors.4

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