Oklahoma represents the first state to intervene in the debate legislatively. The State adopted a provision mandating the shifting of fees in derivative suits. The provision specifically applies to derivative suits “instituted by a shareholder” where there is a “final judgment.” In those circumstances, the court “shall require the nonprevailing party or parties to pay the prevailing party or parties the reasonable expenses, including attorney fees . . . incurred as a result of such action.”
This Opinion constitutes the Court’s response to four certified questions of law concerning the validity of a fee-shifting provision in a Delaware non-stock corporation’s bylaws. The provision, which the directors adopted pursuant to their charter-delegated power to unilaterally amend the bylaws, shifts attorneys’ fees and costs to unsuccessful plaintiffs in intra-corporate litigation. The United States District Court for the District of Delaware found that the bylaw provision’s validity was an open question under Delaware law and certified four questions to this Court, asking it to decide whether, and under what circumstances, such a provision is valid and enforceable. Although we cannot directly address the bylaw at issue, we hold that fee-shifting provisions in a non-stock corporation’s bylaws can be valid and enforceable under Delaware law.
New Section 331 is intended to confirm and codify the limited liability nature of corporations by expressly stating that provisions in a certificate of incorporation or bylaw may not impose monetary liability on stockholders, except in the very limited circumstances already provided for in the Delaware General Corporation Law. In ATP Tours, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund (No. 534, 2013, May 8, 2014), the Delaware Supreme Court upheld as facially valid a bylaw imposing liability for legal fees on certain members of a non-stock corporation who participated in the litigation. Together with the amendments to Section 114, new Section 331 is intended to limit applicability of that holding to non-stock corporations, and to make clear that such liability may not be imposed on holders of stock in stock corporations.
The Delaware legislature has postponed until early 2015 discussion of a proposed bill that had drawn heat from the Chamber, among others, the bill’s sponsor confirmed Wednesday. … “I certainly believe that we should not permit companies carte blanche to adopt these kinds of bylaws,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, who sponsored the bill, said in an interview. “But we have heard from a broad group of stakeholders and thought it best to take the coming months to continue our examination of the issue.”