Morrison, et al. v. Berry, et al.Annotate this Case
In March 2016, soon after The Fresh Market (the “Company”) announced plans to go private, the Company publicly filed certain required disclosures under the federal securities laws. Given that the transaction involved a tender offer, the required disclosures included a Solicitation/Recommendation Statement on Schedule 14D-9 (together with amendments, the “14D-9”), which articulated the Board’s reasons for recommending that stockholders accept the tender offer—from an entity controlled by private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC (“Apollo”). The 14D-9 incorporated certain required schedules by reference. After reading these disclosures, as the tender offer was still pending, stockholder-plaintiff Elizabeth Morrison suspected the Company’s directors had breached their fiduciary duties in the course of the sale process, and she sought Company books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. The Company denied her request, and the tender offer closed as scheduled. Litigation over the Section 220 demand ensued, and Plaintiff obtained several key documents, such as board minutes and a crucial e-mail from Ray Berry’s counsel to the Company’s lawyers. Plaintiff then filed this action, including a breach of fiduciary duty claim against all ten of the Company’s directors, including Ray Berry, and a claim for aiding and abetting the breach against Ray Berry’s son, Brett Berry, who did not serve on the Board. The thrust of Plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim was that Ray and Brett Berry teamed up with Apollo to buy The Fresh Market at a discount by deceiving the Board and inducing the directors to put the Company up for sale through a process that “allowed the Berrys and Apollo to maintain an improper bidding advantage” and “predictably emerge as the sole bidder for Fresh Market” at a price below fair value. Plaintiff also alleged the Board and the stockholders were misled into believing that Ray Berry would openmindedly consider partnering with any private equity firm willing to outbid Apollo, but, instead, “[t]he reality of the situation was that Ray Berry (a) had already formed the belief that Apollo was uniquely well situated to buy Fresh Market; (b) had already entered into an undisclosed agreement with Apollo; and (c) was incentivized not to create price competition for Apollo.” In moving to dismiss, Defendants argued that Corwin v. KKR Fin. Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304, 312 (Del. 2015) applied. The Court of Chancery stated that this matter “presents an exemplary case of the utility of th[e] ratification doctrine, as set forth in Corwin and [In re Volcano Corp. S’holder Litig., 143 A.3d 727 (Del. Ch. 2016)].” The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed, finding defendants did not show under Corwin, that the vote was fully informed. Thus, “the business judgment rule is not invoked.” The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision and remanded for further proceedings.