In an opinion  issued on September 9, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery (VC Glasscock) held that in a controlling stockholder freeze-out merger subject to entire fairness review at the outset, disinterested directors entitled under a company’s charter to exculpation for duty of care violations cannot prevail in a motion to dismiss even though the claims against them for breach of fiduciary duty are not pled with particularity; instead, the issue of whether they will be entitled to exculpation must await a developed record, post-trial. The decision once again highlights the litigation cost that will be imposed on companies engaged in controlling stockholder freeze-out mergers for failing to employ both of the safeguards that Delaware has endorsed to ensure business judgment, instead of entire fairness, review—(1) an up-front non-waivable commitment by the controller to condition the transaction on an informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders and (2) approval of the transaction by a well-functioning and broadly empowered special committee of disinterested directors. At the motion to dismiss stage, disinterested directors effectively will be treated in the same manner as controllers and their affiliated directors.
Archive for the ‘Court Cases’ Category
Directors’ and officers’ (“D&O”) insurance coverage continues to represent a key element of corporate risk management. See memo of July 28 2009. A decision in the bankruptcy of commodities brokerage MF Global, In re MF Global Holdings Ltd., No. 11-15059 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 4, 2014), provides a recent illustration of how D&O insurance may be treated upon the bankruptcy of the insured company, depending on the specific structure and terms of the insurance at issue.
On September 4, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued two lengthy post-trial opinions,  both authored by Vice Chancellor John W. Noble, finding that recapitalization or restructuring transactions did not satisfy the entire fairness standard of review. Although plaintiffs in each instance had received a fair price, the court found that the defendants had employed unfair processes and breached their fiduciary duties.
Significantly, one of the cases involved a recognizable set of facts: various plaintiff stockholders challenged a recapitalization that was approved at the same time the company conducted an “insider” round of financing as the company was running out of cash. The recapitalization and financing were approved by a five-member board of directors, three of whom were designated by venture capital funds that either participated in the financing or were said to have received a special benefit, with no participation by the company’s other stockholders. While the company received an informal and insider-led valuation of $4 million at the time of the recapitalization, the court found that the company’s equity at that time actually had a value of zero. However, as a result of the recapitalization, the company was able to acquire new lines of businesses. Four years after the recapitalization, the company was sold for $175 million. Following the sale, six years of litigation unfolded.
On September 8, 2014, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard issued a notable decision in City of Providence v. First Citizens BancShares, Inc., upholding—as a matter of facial validity and on an “as-applied” basis at the motion to dismiss stage—a forum selection bylaw adopted by a Delaware corporation selecting another jurisdiction (North Carolina, where the company is headquartered) as the forum for intra-corporate disputes. This decision is important not only because it reaffirms the decision last year by then-Chancellor, now Chief Justice, Leo E. Strine, Jr. in Boilermakers Local 154 Retirement Fund v. Chevron Corporation, 73 A.3d 934 (Del. Ch. 2013), upholding the facial validity of forum selection bylaws, but also because it includes notable pronouncements from the current Chancellor on the application of such provisions. 
In its recent decision in Halliburton Co., et al. v Erica P. John Fund, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legal standard for reliance in Rule 10b-5 securities fraud class actions that it had established some 25 years ago in Basic, Inc. v. Levinson. This standard, known as the fraud-on-the market doctrine, created a rebuttable presumption that plaintiffs relied on the integrity of the market price if they can establish that the market for that security was efficient. Defendants can rebut this presumption in several ways, including showing that the market for the security was not efficient or that the security’s price was not affected by the misrepresentations at issue. In delivering its ruling, the Halliburton Court noted that market efficiency is not a binary, yes-or-no proposition but is instead a matter of degree, pointing out that “a public, material misrepresentation might not affect a stock’s price even in a generally efficient market.” (Halliburton, 573 U.S. ___ at 10.)
On August 26, 2014, in the case In re MPM Silicones, LLC, Case No. 14-22503 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y.) (“Momentive”), the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York held that secured creditors could be “crammed down” in a chapter 11 plan with replacement notes bearing interest at substantially below market rates. Unless overturned on appeal, this decision will introduce a new level of risk to leveraged lending—secured lenders will face the specter of losing in a bankruptcy restructuring not only their negotiated rates, but any semblance of market treatment. This risk could result in a tightening of availability and increased costs to borrowers in levered transactions.
In its landmark 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, the Supreme Court articulated what seemed to be a bright-line test for determining the extent to which the U.S. securities laws apply to transactions with international elements. In so doing, the Court harshly rejected the fact-intensive “conduct/effects” tests propounded several decades ago by the Second Circuit and followed by many other courts throughout the country.
Last week, the Second Circuit got its revenge. In a long-awaited decision in ParkCentral Global Hub Limited v. Porsche Automobile Holdings SE, the court declined “to proffer a test that will reliably determine when a particular invocation of [the Securities Exchange Act's anti-fraud provision] will be deemed appropriately domestic or impermissibly extraterritorial.” Instead, the Second Circuit held that courts must carefully consider the facts and circumstances of each case to avoid the very result that the Supreme Court had hoped to prevent in Morrison: promiscuous application of the U.S. securities laws to transactions that have little, if any, relationship to the United States.
Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court Review and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, and Nicholas Walter recently issued an essay with that is forthcoming in Cornell Law Review. The essay, titled Conservative Collision Course?: the Tension Between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United, is available here.
The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s and Walter’s essay summarizes it briefly as follows:
This article, Securities Litigation in the Roberts Court: An Early Assessment, provides a preliminary quantitative and qualitative appraisal of the Roberts Court’s securities law decisions. In the Roberts Court, decisions that “expand” or “restrict” the reach of securities law have occurred in roughly the same 50/50 proportion as in the Rehnquist Court after the departure of Justice Powell, and polarization (5-4 votes and dissents) has decreased. A simple political attitudinal model fails to account for these developments. The article proposes that Roberts Court’s securities law decisions are better understood in the context of Chief Roberts’ background as an appellate litigator and the Roberts Court’s broader “procedural revolution,” which has been more prominent in contract, commercial, and antitrust cases. This procedure-based analysis is then used to predict likely outcomes of securities law cases to be argued in the October 2014 term and to forecast the types of cases that are likely to gain the Court’s attention moving forward.
Just over a year ago, the Delaware Court of Chancery upheld the facial validity of exclusive forum bylaws adopted by corporate boards as a means of rationalizing stockholder litigation. In the time since Chancery’s landmark Chevron opinion, numerous corporations have adopted exclusive forum bylaws, and courts in New York, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, and California have enforced such bylaws against stockholders bringing duplicative lawsuits in violation of their terms. The result, as one commentator recently noted, has been to disincentivize duplicative filings and reduce the concomitant litigation “deal tax” on merging parties. Yet, despite this progress, pernicious multijurisdictional litigation persists. A recent decision from a court in Oregon (Roberts v. TriQuint SemiConductor, Inc., No. 1402-02441 (Or. Cir. Ct. Aug. 14, 2014)) illustrates the potential harm from such litigation and the importance of continued authoritative articulation of the law to ensure the efficacy of exclusive forum bylaws.