Last week, the Delaware Court of Chancery reached the rare conclusion that an independent, disinterested board breached its fiduciary duties in connection with an arm’s-length, third-party, premium merger transaction. The decision, In re Rural Metro Corp. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 6350-VCL (Del. Ch. Mar. 7, 2014), which relies heavily on findings that the board’s financial advisor had undisclosed conflicts of interest, holds the advisor liable for aiding and abetting the breaches, but does not reach the question of whether the directors themselves could have been liable, as they settled before trial. The decision sends a strong message that boards should actively oversee their financial advisors in any sale process.
Archive for the ‘Practitioner Publications’ Category
On February 18, 2014, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “FRB”) approved a final rule (the “Final Rule”) implementing certain of the “enhanced prudential standards” mandated by Section 165 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act” or “Dodd-Frank”). The Final Rule applies the enhanced prudential standards to (i) U.S. bank holding companies (“U.S. BHCs”) with $50 billion (and in some cases, $10 billion) or more in total consolidated assets and (ii) foreign banking organizations (“FBOs”) with (x) a U.S. banking presence, through branches, agencies or depository institution subsidiaries, and (y) depending on the standard, certain designated amounts of assets worldwide, in the United States or in U.S. non-branch assets. The Final Rule’s provisions are the most significant, detailed and prescriptive for the largest U.S. BHCs and the FBOs with the largest U.S. presence—those with $50 billion or more in total consolidated assets and, in the case of FBOs, particularly (and with increasing stringency) for FBOs with combined U.S. assets of $50 billion or more or U.S. non-branch assets of $50 billion or more.
In an article recently posted to SSRN I addressed certain issues faced by the SEC in the ongoing Title III rulemaking process under the JOBS Act of 2012, enacted into law by Congress in April 2012. The SEC issued proposed rules to implement Title III in October 23, 2013, and has yet to issue final rules.
Title III of the JOBS Act created an exemption from registration for the offer and sale of so-called “crowdfunded” securities under the Securities Act of 1933, allowing the offer and sale of securities to an unlimited number of unaccredited investors without registration with the SEC, on an Internet-based platform, through intermediaries (portals) which are either registered broker-dealers or SEC licensed “funding portals.” Title III also provided for a number of built-in investor protections, including limitations on the amount invested, a limitation on the amount an issuer may raise in a 12 month period ($1 million), detailed financial and non-financial disclosure in connection with the offering, and ongoing annual issuer disclosure. Congress left much of the details of Title III in the hands of the SEC, to be fleshed out in the rulemaking process.
EU proposal for a regulation on structural measures improving the resilience of EU credit institutions
1. On 29 January 2014 the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council “on structural measures improving the resilience of EU credit institutions”. This proposed legislation is the EU’s equivalent of Volcker and Vickers. It was initiated by the Liikanen report published on 2 October 2012 but the legislative proposal departs in a number of ways from the report’s conclusions. There are two significant departures: the legislative proposal contains a Volcker-style prohibition, which also departs from the individual EU Member States’ approach, and, although the proposal contains provisions which mirror the Vickers “ring-fencing” approach they are not, in direct contradiction to Liikanen’s recommendation, mandatory.
On February 18, both Argentina and the Exchange Bondholders Group filed petitions for writs of certiorari with the Supreme Court, seeking review of the Second Circuit’s rulings in the pari passu litigation. We discuss below the certiorari procedure, followed by comments on substantive arguments raised by Argentina and the Exchange Bondholders.
Our many prior comments on Argentina’s pari passu litigation, as well as all of the material pleadings and decisions (including the two February 18 certiorari petitions), can be found on our Argentine Sovereign Debt webpage, at http://www.shearman.com/argentine-sovereign-debt.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) litigation activity associated with failed financial institutions increased significantly in 2013, according to Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014, a new report by Cornerstone Research. The FDIC filed 40 director and officer (D&O) lawsuits in 2013, compared with 26 in 2012, a 54 percent increase.
The surge in FDIC D&O lawsuits stems from the high number of financial institution failures in 2009 and 2010. Of the 140 financial institutions that failed in 2009, the directors and officers of 64 (or 46 percent) either have been the subject of an FDIC lawsuit or settled claims with the FDIC prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Of the 157 institutions that failed in 2010, 53 (or 34 percent) have either been the subject of a lawsuit or have settled with the FDIC.
This Spring, the Supreme Court will decide whether a for-profit corporation can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Act (or “Obamacare”) when doing so would conflict with “the corporation’s” religious beliefs. Although the main legal issue in Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., et al. v. Sibelius concerns the extent to which the guarantee of free exercise of religion under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act may be asserted by for-profit corporations, the Court’s decision may also have important—and unsettling—implications for state corporate laws that define the fiduciary duties of boards of directors.
Our observations on the Federal Reserve’s final rule:
1. Delayed effective date and higher threshold: Foreign Banking Organizations (FBOs) eked out several small victories in the final rule—in particular, the July 2015 compliance date has been pushed to July 2016 and smaller FBOs (i.e., those with under $50 billion in US non-branch assets) are no longer required to form an Intermediate Holding Company (IHC). The changes reflect the Federal Reserve’s attempt to respond to FBOs’ concerns, especially that smaller FBOs did not pose as much risk to US financial stability.
Marked by leadership changes, high-profile trials, and shifting priorities, 2013 was a turning point for the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”). While the results of these management and programmatic changes will continue to play out over the next year and beyond, one notable early observation is that we expect an increasingly aggressive enforcement program.
Following an increase in shareholder and investor activism beyond pure executive remuneration issues in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2013, with some 25 companies targeted for public campaigns, this post provides a summary of certain principles of English law and UK and European regulation applicable to UK listed public companies and their shareholders that are relevant to the expected further increase in activism in 2014. This post covers (i) stake-building; (ii) shareholders’ rights to require companies to hold general meetings; (iii) shareholders’ rights to propose resolutions at annual general meetings; and (iv) recent developments in these and related areas through raising and answering a number of relevant questions.