An earlier article, Choice of Law/Forum and Waiving the Right to a Jury Trial: California Court Holds That the Former Cannot Do the Latter, reviewed the William West v. Access Control Related Enterprises, LLC decision in which a California court held that a California citizen could not be required to litigate an action involving a Delaware LLC in the Delaware Chancery Court because that forum does not provide for jury trials. In a subsequent addition to the choice of law battle between California and Delaware, the Delaware Chancery Court in JUUL Labs, Inc. v. Grove held that the inspection of books and records of a Delaware corporation is governed by Delaware law notwithstanding a California statute to the contrary.
Daniel Grove was a shareholder and employee of JUUL Labs, Inc. This corporation is organized in Delaware, but its principal place of business is in San Francisco. Grove demanded to inspect JUUL's books and records under Section 1601 of the California Corporations Code, indicating that if he did not receive the requested books and records he would bring suit in California to compel inspection under California law. The California Corporations Code, at section 1601(a), purports to apply not only to corporations incorporated in California but also to "any foreign corporation keeping such records in this state or having its principal executive office in this state." JUUL, in response, filed this action in the Delaware Chancery Court, seeking among other relief a declaration that it is Delaware, not California, law that governs Grove's rights to inspect JUUL's books and records. It sought further relief in the form of an injunction against Grove to prevent him from attempting to circumvent certain contractual limitations on his ability to inspect books and records. Thereafter, Grove filed an action in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Francisco seeking relief under California Corporations Code Section 1601. That action, Grove v. Adam Bowen, was stayed by the California court.
The Chancery Court, after disposing of arguments that Grove had, by contract, waived his right to bring an action under California Section 1601, turned to the (frankly more interesting) question of the Internal Affairs Doctrine. That analysis began with a quotation from the decision of the United States Supreme Court, Edgar v. MITE Corp., namely:
The internal affairs doctrine is a conflict of laws principles which recognizes that only one State should have the authority to regulate a corporation's internal affairs--matters particular to the relationships among or between the corporation and its current officers, directors, and shareholders--because otherwise a corporation could be faced with conflicting demands.
From there the court cited a number of Delaware decisions holding that the Internal Affairs Doctrine protects rights that arise under the Due Process Clause, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and the Commerce Clause, all of which may be well and good, but to this point still beg the question of exactly what actions and activities constitute "internal affairs." It was to that question that the court next turned its attention. For the Delaware Chancery Court, it was not a close question. Rather, "Stockholder inspection rights are a core matter of internal corporate affairs." Turning its attention to the analysis previously set forth in Salzberg v. Sciavacucchi, the court reviewed that decision and determined that inspection of books and records is a core internal affair.