Forum Selection Bylaws: The Elephant in the Room
Forum selection bylaws are ostensibly designed to prevent the inefficiencies that arise out of the filing of multiple derivative actions in multiple jurisdictions. See North River Insurance Co. v. Mine Safety Appliances Co., --- A.3d --- n. 75 (Del. Nov. 6, 2014) ("In the corporate context, for example, much of the discussion has centered on ways in which corporations have responded to multi-forum litigation, such as the adoption of forum-relation charter or bylaw provisions."). See also The Honorable Henry duPont Ridgely, Justice, Supreme Court of Delaware, The Emerging Role of Bylaws in Corporate Governance, ("Notwithstanding the policy of the Council of Institutional Investors against forum section clauses, the number of corporate boards that are adopting forum selection bylaws to avoid the risk of costly shareholder suits in multiple jurisdictions continues to grow.")
While that certainly represents one basis for adopting forum selection bylaws, another is to ensure that the case is heard before a judiciary where the outcome is management friendly.
In Wolst v. Monster Beverage, the issue was whether the inspection request should be denied because the underlying conduct that could result in a derivative action was outside the statute of limitations. One issue discussed at the relevant hearing was whether the statute of limitations issue should be determined in an action under DGCL 220.
In asserting that the issue should not be resolved in connection with the request to inspect, counsel for plaintiff had this to say:
- if a derivative case were brought, it could be brought in Delaware. It might possibly be brought in California state court or California federal court. While the law that would govern this case would be the exact same case, it would be Delaware substantive law because Monster is a Delaware corporation, there might or might not be different tolling practices or procedures or case law that a judge would refer to in that ultimate action.
In other words, while the substantive law would remain the same, decision makers outside of Delaware might have a different view on the application of the law. Forum selection bylaws, however, interfere with the ability of shareholders to select decision makers that may have this alternative perspective.
For primary materials related to Wolst, go to the DU Corporate Governance web site.