DELAWARE LEGISLATURE PASSES AMENDMENT ON PUBLIC BENEFIT CORPORATIONS

In August 2013, the Delaware legislature added a new subchapter to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL), allowing corporations to be formed as, or convert to, a public benefit corporation (PBC).[1] A PBC is defined as a for-profit corporation “that is intended to produce a public benefit or public benefits and to operate in a responsible and sustainable manner.” Unlike traditional Delaware corporations, in which directors’ obligation to act in the best interests of the corporation and its shareholders is generally understood to mean maximization of stockholder value, directors of a PBC are required to balance its stated public benefit[2] and the best interests of those materially affected by the PBC’s conduct alongside stockholder value in their decision-making.

The impact community has viewed the PBC form since its adoption as an important tool to enable pursuit of social missions within the corporate construct. The PBC has also been an important symbolic marker for those social entrepreneurs committed to achieving impact goals and attracting impact-first investors. As investors have become more familiar with PBCs, and in order to promote the use of the form and board service by qualified individuals, the community has encouraged legislators to amend the rules applicable to PBCs to make it easier for corporations to adopt the new form and to clarify provisions around director liability and stockholder derivative litigation.

In June 2020, both chambers of the Delaware legislature approved an amendment to the DGCL that will be immediately effective upon signing by the governor and, in addition to various changes applicable to Delaware corporations generally,[3] will have the following additional effects on PBCs:

  • The DGCL currently requires two-thirds stockholder approval for (i) amendments to a certificate of incorporation that convert a conventional corporation into a PBC or convert a PBC into a conventional corporation and (ii) mergers that convert shares of conventional corporations into shares of a PBC or shares of a PBC into shares of conventional corporations. The amendment reduces this requirement from two-thirds to majority stockholder approval, the same standard that applies generally to amendments to a conventional corporation’s certificate of incorporation or merger.
  • The amendment eliminates stockholder appraisal rights for (i) amendments to a certificate of incorporation that convert a conventional corporation into a PBC and (ii) mergers that convert shares of conventional corporations into shares of a PBC, to the extent such appraisal rights are not otherwise required under the DGCL irrespective of the effective PBC conversion.
  • The amendment clarifies that a director will not be considered to have a conflict of interest when balancing stockholder value alongside the PBC’s stated public benefit and the best interests of those materially affected by the PBC’s conduct solely due to the director’s interest in stock of the corporation, except to the extent that such ownership would create a conflict of interest if the corporation were not a PBC. Additionally, absent conflict of interest, any failure on the part of a director to satisfy the balancing requirement will not constitute an act or omission not in good faith for the purposes of limitation of liability or indemnification with respect to such director, unless the PBC’s certificate of incorporation otherwise provides.
  • The DGCL currently allows stockholders of a PBC to bring a derivative lawsuit to enforce the director fiduciary duties noted above. The amendment clarifies that any such derivative lawsuit may not be brought unless the plaintiffs own at least 2% of the PBC’s outstanding shares or, in the case of certain listed companies, shares with a value of at least $2,000,000 if such number is lower.

For additional information on social enterprise forms, see www.mofo.com/impact.

 


[1] Delaware’s Public Benefit statute was amended by S.B. 75, effective as of August 1, 2015.

[2] A PBC’s stated public benefit purpose is built into the certificate of incorporation, and may include “positive effects[s]” such as “artistic, charitable, cultural, economic, educational, environmental, literary, medical, religious, scientific, or technological” in nature.

[3] The DGCL provisions applicable to Delaware corporations are generally applicable to PBCs as well. The June 2020 amendments, among other things, also (i) authorize a corporation to include in its certificate of incorporation an exculpatory provision that eliminates or limits liability of directors for monetary damages for certain breaches of duty, (ii) clarify the types of events that give rise to the availability of emergency powers and the specific powers that may be exercised during an emergency condition, and (iii) permit a corporation to indemnify persons other than current or former directors or officers if such persons are successful in defending claims brought against them by reason of their conduct associated with the corporation.