Yesterday, in Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi (pronounced Shabacookie!), the Delaware Supreme Court unanimously held that charter provisions designating the federal courts as the exclusive forum for ’33 Act claims are “facially valid,” thereby reversing the decision of the Chancery Court, which had invalidated the provisions in the charters of three Delaware companies. The Chancery Court had previously invalidated the exclusive federal forum provisions (FFPs) at issue in the case because, among other reasons, Delaware’s enabling statute (Section 102(b)(1))—which provides general authority for non-mandatory charter provisions—was, in the lower court’s view, inherently limited to “internal affairs” and FFPs were “external” matters. On de novo review, the Delaware Supreme Court rejected this analysis. It characterized FFPs as intra-corporate matters, located in a new territory—the “outer band” between internal and external matters—which fell within the statutory scope of Section 102(b)(1) and are, therefore, valid on their face. Given the substantial benefits of an FFP in the event of ’33 Act litigation (which includes Section 11 claims), companies that do not have an FFP in their charters or bylaws, whether as a result of uncertainty about the validity of FFPs or otherwise—may want to revisit the issue.
Yesterday, the Delaware Supreme Court heard the appeal in Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg (pronounced Shabacookie!) in which the Chancery Court held invalid exclusive federal forum provisions for ’33 Act litigation in the charters of three Delaware companies. Few of the justices revealed their inclinations, so it’s difficult to predict the outcome. We’ll have to wait for the Court’s final decision.
In March 2018, in Cyan Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund, SCOTUS held that state courts continue to have concurrent jurisdiction over class actions alleging only ’33 Act violations by private plaintiffs and that defendants cannot remove actions filed in state court to federal court. (See this PubCo post.) Both before and especially after Cyan, to avoid state court litigation of ’33 Act claims (and forum shopping by plaintiffs for the most favorable state court forum), many companies adopted “exclusive forum” provisions in their charters or bylaws that designated the federal courts as the exclusive forum for litigation under the ’33 Act. Delaware law expressly permits the adoption of charter or bylaw provisions that designate Delaware as the exclusive forum for adjudicating “internal corporate claims,” i.e., claims, including derivative claims, that are based on a violation of a duty by a current or former director or officer or stockholder or as to which the corporation law confers jurisdiction on the Court of Chancery. However, federal securities class actions are not expressly included. (See this PubCo post.)
The enforceability of “exclusive federal forum” provisions was then challenged in the Delaware courts in a case seeking a declaratory judgment to invalidate the provisions included in the Delaware Certificates of Incorporation of three companies. And, after Cyan, that Delaware case took on much greater significance. A decision in that case, Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, has now been rendered by the Delaware Chancery Court. On cross-motions for summary judgment, Vice Chancellor Laster held that all three of the exclusive federal forum provisions at issue in that case were invalid.