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Lewis Lazarus, Morris James Lewis Lazarus, Morris James.

The standard of review and who has the burden of proof are important issues in any trial of stockholder litigation. One instance where entire fairness is the standard of review is a merger where a controlling stockholder is on both sides of the transaction. Since the Delaware Supreme Court’s Kahn v. Lynch decision in 1994, Delaware law in that circumstance has mandated an entire fairness standard of review with the burden on the controlling stockholder and the proponents of the transaction to prove that the transaction was fair. But what happens when, after discovery, plaintiffs fail to adduce evidence that a purported controlling stockholder in fact coerced the minority stockholders into approving the transaction? The Delaware Court of Chancery answered that question in In re Tesla Motors Stockholder Litigation, Cons. C.A. No. 12711-VCS (Feb. 4, 2020), holding that disputed issues of fact remain to be resolved as to whether Elon Musk, as the owner of 22.1% of Tesla’s shares, was a controlling stockholder. The possibility that he might be a controlling stockholder invokes the potential for inherent coercion and therefore prevents summary judgment based on an informed Corwin-cleansing vote of a majority of the disinterested stockholders.

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