The Duty to Maximize Value of an Insolvent Enterprise

By Brad Eric Scheler, Steven Epstein, Robert C. Schwenkel, and Gail Weinsten of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP

In the recent Delaware Chancery Court decision of Quadrant Structured Products Company, Ltd. v. Vertin (October 1, 2014), the Court clarified its approach to breach of fiduciary duty derivative actions brought by creditors against the directors of an insolvent corporation. Importantly, the Court applied business judgment rule deference to the non-independent directors’ decision to try to increase the value of the insolvent corporation by adopting a highly risky investment strategy—even though the creditors bore the full risk of the strategy’s failing, while the corporation’s sole stockholder would benefit if the strategy succeeded. By contrast, the court viewed the directors’ decisions not to exercise their right to defer interest on the notes held by the controller and to pay above-market fees to an affiliate of the controller as having been “transfers of value” from the insolvent corporation to the controller, which were subject to entire fairness review.

This decision appears to stand for the proposition that, under all but the most egregious circumstances, the business judgment rule will apply to directors’ decisions that relate to efforts to maximize the value of an insolvent corporation. Thus, even decisions made by a non-independent board for a high-risk business plan that favors the sole equity holder over the creditors, as in Quadrant, will be subject to business judgment deference. The court also distinguished decisions involving direct transfers of value from the insolvent corporation to the controller, holding that these decisions would be subject to entire fairness review because the controller stood on both sides of such transactions.

See here for a more detailed discussion of this case.