Optimiscorp v. Atkins, C.A. No. 2020-0183-MTZ (Del. Ch. June 1, 2023)
As this decision explains, when stockholder plaintiffs control the derivative claims of the company, they serve as agents of the company and owe the company fiduciary duties. This dispute involved the defendant-stockholders improperly withholding an arbitration award, which was obtained as a result of their successful litigation of derivative claims on behalf of the company. Ruling on summary judgment, the Court of Chancery held that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties to the company by withholding the award. The Court found that the defendants acted as agents of the company in the derivative claims and, therefore, owed fiduciary duties to the company. The Court reasoned that the defendants, as the company's agents, were required to return the award to the company because a monetized derivative asset belongs to the company. The Court ruled that the defendants breached their duty of care by divesting the company's board of its authority to manage the award and by failing to perform their obligations as company agents. Further, by withholding the award with the intent of distributing it to themselves, their friends, and their family, the defendants also breached their duty of loyalty. In ruling so, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the business judgment rule should apply to their actions, finding the business judgment rule is intended to apply to directors, while derivative stockholder plaintiffs are held to a simple negligence standard with respect to their duty of care and a more stringent duty of loyalty than directors.