North Carolina Supreme Court Addresses Duties of Corporate Directors

by Smith Anderson
Contact

On November 8, 2013, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a rare opinion addressing the duties of corporate directors and reaffirming that those duties are generally owed only to the corporation itself rather than the individual shareholders.  

In Green v. Freeman, the court considered claims brought by investors in a failed business venture. The court reversed a jury verdict for the plaintiffs on their breach of fiduciary duty claims, explaining that corporate directors owe a fiduciary duty to the corporation, not directly to shareholders. As a result, shareholders generally cannot bring direct actions against directors for breach of fiduciary duty, but are limited to bringing derivative claims on behalf of the corporation.  

This distinction is important because under North Carolina law derivative claims are subject to more stringent requirements than direct claims face. Specifically, plaintiffs seeking to bring derivative claims must, prior to filing suit, make a demand on the company’s board of directors asking the company to assert the claim directly. Following such demand, if an independent committee of the board determines in good faith after conducting a reasonable inquiry that the claim should not be pursued, then the plaintiff cannot bring a derivative action asserting the claim. 

The court acknowledged two exceptions to this general rule, noting that shareholders, creditors and guarantors may bring an individual action for breach of fiduciary duty when (i) the wrongdoer owed them a special duty or (ii) they suffered a personal injury distinct from that sustained by the corporation. The court found, however, that neither exception was met in Green because there was no evidence that the plaintiffs ever became shareholders (either no shares were issued or the shares never vested) or that the plaintiffs as creditors were owed a special duty or suffered any distinct personal injury.  

The court’s opinion is consistent with a recent opinion from the North Carolina Business Court, Gusinsky v. Flanders Corp., in which the Business Court dismissed a shareholder’s challenge to a merger transaction on the grounds that the shareholder’s claim was derivative, and the shareholder had not satisfied the procedural requirements for bringing a derivative claim. The Gusinsky case Client Alert is available here. It is significant that the North Carolina Supreme Court, which rarely has occasion to address corporate law issues, has reaffirmed the basic principles governing duties of directors. The North Carolina Supreme Court’s opinion in Green v. Freeman is available here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Smith Anderson | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Smith Anderson
Contact
more
less

Smith Anderson on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.