Law Review Articles, the Delaware Courts, and Some "Guidance" on Bylaws (Part 3)
We are discussing the article written by Justice Ridgely from the Delaware Supreme Court. See The Emerging Role of Bylaws in Corporate Governance. The article examines bylaws, including forum selection, fee shifting and mandatory arbitration bylaws.
The article also took a dim view of bylaws that mandated arbitration and eliminated the right to bring class actions. As the article noted:
- Another category of bylaw generating discussion, but not yet litigation in Delaware, is a mandatory arbitration bylaw covering intra-corporate disputes that waives a shareholder’s right to a class action. Some commentators have concluded that a board has the unilateral power to do this after the Boilermakers decision. However, in Boilermakers, then-Chancellor Strine expressly noted that the bylaw at issue did not regulate whether the stockholder may file suit.
Similarly, bylaws were suspect to the extent cutting off the right of shareholders to bring derivative actions.
- Moreover, a significant issue exists as to whether a bylaw, unilaterally adopted by a board, that eliminates the equitable standing of a stockholder to sue derivatively on behalf of a corporation is per se an inequitable purpose under an ATP analysis. In Schoon v. Smith, the Delaware Supreme Court traced the historic origins in equity of the derivative action to the 14th century in England. “To prevent ‘a failure of justice,’ courts of equity granted equitable standing to stockholders to sue on behalf of the corporation ‘for managerial abuse in economic units which by their nature deprived some participants of an effective voice in their administration.’” The policy foundation for this is the ancient maxim that equity will not suffer a wrong without a remedy. Our Court of Chancery has explained that “[t]he derivative action was developed by equity to enable stockholders to sue in the corporation’s name where those in control of the corporation refused to assert a claim belonging to the corporation.” Whether or not arbitration and a class-action waiver would be upheld when equitable standing to bring a derivative suit was designed “to set in motion the judicial machinery of the court,” likely will be a central issue in litigation over the validity of such an arbitration bylaw in Delaware.
Although unmentioned in the article, these are the same type of bylaw that drew objection from the SEC in a recent IPO. See Carlyle Drops Arbitration Clause From I.P.O. Plans.