Toward a Controlling Shareholder Safe Harbor

Note — Volume 90, Issue 8

90 Va. L. Rev. 2245
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This Note surveys the law governing transactions between public corporations and their controlling shareholders. It explains that Delaware courts review these “controlling shareholder transactions” under the “entire fairness” standard. Yet, Delaware and the Model Act provide safe harbors to review independently approved transactions between corporations and their directors under the business judgment rule. This Note questions the disparate treatment and suggests that the same constraints on interested directors—namely, disinterested approval and market checks—are at least as effective in supervising controlling shareholders.

Next, this Note proposes that a safe harbor doctrine extend to controlling shareholder transactions. The premise is that, so long as the interests of controlling and minority shareholders are aligned, independent approval and market checks together provide sufficient constraints that challenge the utility of the current entire fairness rule. Yet, because these constraints fail when shareholder interests diverge in the so-called “final period,” this Note suggests that controlling shareholder transactions be separated into (1) final period and (2) non-final period categories. Business judgment is appropriate when shareholder interests are aligned, but entire fairness is necessary in the final period to protect the minority from the controlling shareholder’s self interest.

This argument relies on two principal Delaware cases: Puma v. Marriott (1971) and Kahn v. Lynch Communications (1994). It suggests that Lynch implicitly recognized the final period problem, while Puma declined judicial review because the aggregate interests of shareholders were aligned. Thus, read together, they are seen as wholly consistent with the theory underlying a controlling shareholder safe harbor.

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  Volume 90 / Issue 8  

Virtual Liberty: Freedom to Design and Freedom to Play in Virtual Worlds

By Jack M. Balkin
90 Va. L. Rev. 2043

Enforcement Costs and Trademark Puzzles

By Robert G. Bone
90 Va. L. Rev. 2099

The Option Element in Contracting

By Avery Wiener Katz
90 Va. L. Rev. 2187

Toward a Controlling Shareholder Safe Harbor

By Steven M. Haas
90 Va. L. Rev. 2245