Tesla shareholders won an important victory for shareholder rights today, at a time when Silicon Valley CEO’s continue to try to wrest power away from their investors through various mechanisms like non-voting stock (SNAP) and dual and triple class capital structures (Google, Facebook, Theranos).
The Delaware Chancery Court denied a motion to dismiss by Tesla in a lawsuit over Tesla’s controversial acquisition of SolarCity.
The close ties between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his board members at the time of the SolarCity acquisition were clearly a concern for the Delaware Chancery Court. That Tesla has now added two new independent board members is an important acknowledgement that Tesla had a problem prior to this point in time because Tesla’s board was not sufficiently autonomous from Musk.
Technically what happened here is that the Court agreed with the plaintiff shareholders that it would be reasonable to conclude that Musk “controlled” the Tesla board and thus judicial review of the merger vote is subject to the most exacting standard of review, known as “entire fairness,” as opposed to the more deferential “business judgment” standard. Cases like these rarely get dismissed. Now, Tesla will face full discovery of its internal records and a possible trial on the merits or look to settle the case.
One interesting comment by the Court: the judge compared this situation with the Dell MBO and concluded that there Michael Dell took important steps to separate himself from the Board when it considered the acquisition offer from Silverlake et al. But here Musk took “practically no steps to separate [himself] from the Board’s consideration of the Acquisition.”