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Justices answer certified question

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The Indiana Supreme Court Monday answered the certified question sent to them by the U.S. District Court in New York about what standard should be applied in determining whether a director is “disinterested” under Indiana Code Section 23-1-32-4(d).

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York certified the question of “What standard should be applied in determining whether a director is ‘disinterested’ within the meaning of Indiana Code § 23-1-32-4(d), and more specifically, is it the same standard as is used in determining whether a director is disinterested for purposes of excusing demand on the corporation’s directors under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.1 and Rales v. Blasband, 634 A.2d 927, 936 (Del. 1993)?”

The justices accepted the question in November 2009. The question comes from the case, In re ITT Derivative Litigation, Sylvia B. Piven, et al. v. ITT Corp., et al.,  No. 94S00-0911-CQ-508. One of ITT’s business units supplies night vision equipment to the military; ITT was charged and fined because it exported military technology to other countries in violation of the U.S. State Department restrictions. The instant case is a derivative action, on behalf of ITT, brought by ITT shareholders against ITT directors. The plaintiffs want to recover the criminal fines and penalties paid, alleging that the directors violated fiduciary duties by not monitoring and supervising management of the unit.

Shareholder Robert Wilkinson didn’t make any demand on ITT’s board to pursue the claims; shareholder Anthony Reale did. The board appointed a Special Litigation Committee to consider whether the corporation should pursue the claims in question, and the District Court ruled the three, independent, outside directors appointed to the committee were not “disinterested” under I.C. Section 23-1-32-4.

The high court held that the Indiana Business Corporation Law employs the same standard for showing a “lack of disinterestedness” both as to the composition of special board committees under the statute and to the requirement that a shareholder must make a demand that the corporation’s board act unless the demand would be futile.

The District Court properly concluded that in assessing the futility of a demand, Indiana law determines whether a director is “disinterested” by asking whether a derivative claim poses a significant risk of personal liability for the director, which is the Rales standard, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

“Determining that a named director is ‘interested’ as respects all claims save for the outright frivolous would likely preclude most directors from serving on an SLC which considers shareholder demands,” wrote the chief justice. “Ousting directors from such roles on a broader basis than that mandated by Rales undermines the intent of Indiana’s BCL.”

Neither the statutory language nor the policies underlying the BCL suggest that the standard for showing a lack of disinterestedness under the statute should be more “plaintiff-friendly” than the showing required in the demand futility context, the justice continued.

Justice Frank Sullivan did not participate in answering the certified question.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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