Frank Reynolds, who has been covering Delaware corporate decisions for various national publications for over 35 years, prepared this article.

The full Delaware Supreme Court recently revived part of an investor challenge to IAC/InterActive Corp’s spinoff of its internet dating subsidiary after finding that the deal that controller IAC imposed on minority shareholders did not meet the exacting standards of the high court’s seminal MFW ruling, in In re Match Group Inc. Derivative Litigation, Del. Supr., No. 368, 2022 (April 4, 2024).

The en banc high court partially reversed a Court of Chancery decision that the derivative suit must be dismissed because IAC met the requirements of independence set by the milestone opinion in Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014).  The asset reshuffle allegedly dealt less value and more debt to pension fund investors compared to IAC insiders.  MFW famously said a controller-engineered deal could get business judgment protection if the negotiating committee was independent and disinterested–and the properly-disclosed transaction was endorsed by a majority of the minority shareholders.

The ruling’s importance

But the pivotal issue in this high court appeal concerned the proper standard to determine whether this unique corporate transaction was the product of fully independent, disinterested fiduciaries.  At one extreme, in the case of a freeze-out merger–where the corporate machinery is allegedly used to deprive investors of their shares and/or voting rights–all deal negotiators must be completely independent and disinterested. The high court said the key question in the appeal was: since the Match spinoff did not involve a freeze-out, could the IAC defendants qualify for the protection of the deferential business judgement standard even though one of three deal negotiators was not independent? 

The Court of Chancery said “yes”, agreeing with defendants that a majority of independent directors was enough to trigger the business judgment standard.  The high court said, ‘no“  and reversed. “If the controlling stockholder wants to secure the benefits of business judgment review, it must follow all MFW’s requirements,” the justices said.  In the MFW setting, to replicate arm’s length bargaining, all separation committee members must be independent of the controlling stockholder.


 The challenged 2020 transaction involved the creation of two new corporations out of the former IAC and businesses and a reshuffling of the assets and liabilities of those two entities that was engineered by a “separation committee” composed of three IAC directors.  The old Match was later dissolved into the new ICA.

Three pension funds that owned that eliminated stock sued alleging that the separation was a conflicted transaction in which Old IAC, as Old Match’s controlling stockholder, stood on both sides of the transaction. The plaintiffs claimed that Old IAC obtained significant “non-ratable” benefits in the Separation to the detriment of Match and its minority stockholders, and argued that the Separation Committee was conflicted and the proxy disclosures misled the Old Match minority stockholders.

The trial court ruling

Although the Court of Chancery found that the plaintiffs successfully pleaded facts creating a reasonable inference that one director was not independent of Old IAC, it ruled that a plaintiff must nonetheless show that “either (i) 50% or more of the special committee was not disinterested and independent,” or “(ii) the minority of the special committee ‘somehow infect[ed]’ or ‘dominate[ed]’ the special committee’s decision-making process.“  Finding that plaintiffs failed to do that, the vice chancellor dismissed.

The appellate ruling

Defendants argued that the vice chancellor correctly applied a less exacting standard than the one used in MFW and other freeze-out merger cases.  But the Supreme Court  said, in those key cases, “the common thread running through our decisions: a heightened concern for self- dealing when a controlling stockholder stands on both sides of a transaction.’”

In addition, the high court noted that, longstanding business affiliations, particularly those based on mutual respect, are of the sort that can undermine a director’s independence. Directors who owe their success to another will conceivably feel as though they owe a “debt of gratitude” to the individual. The plaintiffs have adequately pleaded that Director Thomas McInerney may have such a relationship with IAC.

The justices said, a controlling stockholder’s influence is not “disabled” when the special committee is staffed with members loyal to the controlling stockholder. “We stated in MFW that the special committee must be independent, not that only a majority of the committee must be independent,” the high court said’,  “A special committee created to secure the protections of MFW should function “in a manner which indicates that the controlling stockholder did not dictate the terms of the transaction and that the committee exercised real bargaining power at an arm’s length.

The unanimous Supreme Court reversed the dismissal, finding the plaintiffs’ claims of an unfair deal by non-independent directors are supported by the facts that:

1) the minority stockholders received a slightly higher percentage of ownership of New Match;

(2) Old Match was capitalized in a vastly different way, with limited cash, much higher debt, and restrictive governance provisions; and

(3) the boards were different

Supplement: One of Delaware’s favorite corporate law scholars, Professor Stephen Bainbridge, provides additional insights about this case on his eponymous blog here and here.