The right of a stockholder of a Delaware corporation to inspect the books and records of the company is codified in Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. In recent years, and for a number of reasons, stockholders have been exercising this inspection right in ever increasing numbers (I have four clients addressing demands to inspect books and records as I write). A recent decision of the Court of Chancery (Juul Labs, Inc. v. Grove, C.A. No. 2020-0005-JTL) is worth highlighting–less for the substantive law related to Section 220 inspections of books and records and more its discussion of certain “gatekeeping” matters related to litigation to enforce these stockholder inspection rights.
The noteworthy holdings and outcomes in the Juul Labs decision are the following:
- Because Juul Labs is a Delaware corporation, and a demand by a stockholder to inspect the books and records of a corporation are a matter of internal affairs for that entity, the stockholder could not use a similar California statute (even though Juul’s principal place of business is in California) as a basis upon which to demand the inspection of books and records;
- A stockholder of a Delaware corporation must look solely to 8 Del. C. Sec. 220 for its statutory rights to inspect the books and records of a Delaware corporation in which they own shares; and
- The court left open the question whether a stockholder of a Delaware corporation can contractually waive the statutory rights to inspection of books and records granted by Section 220.
Thus, while it is clear that Delaware corporations and their legal advisors can take greater comfort that disputes over stockholder access to corporate books and records can and will be heard in Delaware, the broader question of whether Delaware corporations can affirmatively contract with their stockholders to limit or obviate such inspection rights remains to be answered.