Private Email Woes Infect The Private Sector

Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster’s ruling in Amalgamated Bank v. Yahoo!, Inc., C.A. No. 10774-VCL (Del. Ch. Feb. 2, 2016) should sound a tocsin to directors that their “private” emails may not be so private.  The ruling addressed Amalgamated Bank’s demand to inspect the books and records of Yahoo! pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law.  The bank sought to inspect, among other things, documents that reflect discussions or decisions of Yahoo’s full Board or Committee.  Documents covered by the demand included emails to and from the directors, from management or the compensation consultant, emails among the directors themselves, and documents and communications prepared by Yahoo officers and employees about the Board‘s deliberations.

Vice Chancellor Laster found that emails were records subject to inspection under Section 220 and that through Delaware’s jurisdiction over a corporation, a court can compel production of documents in the possession of officers, directors, and managing agents of the firm.  According to the Vice Chancellor, the court can impose sanctions or other consequences on the firm if the officer, director, or managing agent fails to comply. He further noted that if a personal email account was used to conduct corporate business, the email is subject to production under Section 220. Directors and corporate officers should therefore take heed that emails concerning corporate business may be subject to disclosure even if conducted using a private email address.