Bernard S. Sharfman, Shareholder Wealth Maximization and Its Implementation Under Corporate Law

66 Fla. L. Rev. 389 (2014) |

sharfmanThis Article tackles the question of when courts should intervene in the decision-making of a corporation and review a corporate business decision for shareholder wealth maximization. This Article takes a very traditional approach to answering this question. It notes with approval that courts have historically been very hesitant to participate in the process of determining if a corporate decision is wealth maximizing. Courts have restrained themselves from interfering with board decision-making because they understand that it is the board of directors (the board) in coordination with executive management that has the best information and expertise to determine if a corporate decision meets the objective of shareholder wealth maximization. Nevertheless, the courts have found that they can play a wealth-enhancing role if they focus on making corporate authority accountable when there is sufficient evidence to show that the corporate decision was somehow tainted. Therefore, the courts will interpose themselves as a corrective mechanism when a board decision is tainted with a conflict of interest, lack of independence, or where gross negligence in the process of becoming informed in the making of a business decision is implicated.

When judicial review veers from this traditional approach, the court’s opinion must be closely scrutinized to see if the court had valid reasons for implementing a different approach. Such a veering from the traditional path can be found in the Delaware Chancery case of eBay Domestic Holdings, Inc. v. Newmark, a case where the court, in its review of a shareholder rights plan under the Unocal test, required the directors to demonstrate that the corporate policy being defended by the poison pill enhanced shareholder value. As argued here, the court was wrong in its approach, and in general courts should never be in the position of adding this additional component of analyzing board decisions for shareholder wealth maximization unless the business decision was tainted with a conflict of interest, lack of independence, or gross negligence.

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