Posts Tagged ‘Contracts’

An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law

Posted by Robert Sitkoff, Harvard Law School, on Monday February 24, 2014 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: Robert H. Sitkoff is the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

I’ve recently posted to SSRN a book chapter called “An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law,” which will be published in Philosophical Foundations of Fiduciary Law by Oxford University Press. The editors are Andrew Gold and Paul Miller.

The purpose of my chapter is to restate the economic theory of fiduciary law. In doing so, the chapter makes several fresh contributions. First, it elaborates on earlier work by clarifying the agency problem that is at the core of all fiduciary relationships. In consequence of this common economic structure, there is a common doctrinal structure that cuts across the application of fiduciary principles in different contexts. However, within this common structure, the particulars of fiduciary obligation vary in accordance with the particulars of the agency problem in the fiduciary relationship at issue. This point explains the purported elusiveness of fiduciary doctrine. It also explains why courts apply fiduciary law both categorically, such as to trustees and (legal) agents, as well as ad hoc to relationships involving a position of trust and confidence that gives rise to an agency problem.

…continue reading: An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law

Sealing the Deal

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday February 14, 2014 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Frederick H. Alexander, Chair of the Executive Committee and partner in the Delaware Corporate Law Counseling Group at Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP, and is based on a Morris Nichols publication by Melissa A. DiVincenzo. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In many jurisdictions, a statute of limitations may not be extended by contract. [1] Delaware follows this rule, so its three-year statute of limitations for contract claims generally may not be extended. [2] Moreover, under Delaware’s borrowing statute, contract claims arising outside of Delaware but litigated in a Delaware court are subject to the shorter of that three-year period or the time established by the jurisdiction where the cause of action arose. [3] Notwithstanding these default rules, the statutory limitations period can be reduced by contract. [4] While many private company acquisition agreements do in fact shorten the statute of limitations for many breaches of certain representations and warranties by providing that such representations and warranties “survive” for a shorter period, it is also often the case that buyers want certain representations and indemnification obligations to “survive” longer, and in some cases, beyond the statutory period. [5] In order to achieve such a result, parties may, under Delaware law, use a so-called “specialty” contract, i.e., a contract that is entered into under seal, which will be subject to a twenty-year limitations period. [6]

…continue reading: Sealing the Deal

Practice Tips for M&A Practitioners for 2014

Posted by Kerry E. Berchem, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, on Sunday February 2, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Kerry E. Berchem is partner and co-head of corporate practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. The following post is based on an Akin Gump Client Alert. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Based on a number of cases decided by the Delaware courts in 2013, below we summarize practice tips regarding careful drafting of contractual provisions and complying with technical and statutory requirements.

Disclaimers of Reliance and Accuracy Clauses Likely Do Not Bar Fraud Claims

The Delaware courts have had several opportunities to examine a range of disclaimer provisions in agreements, usually an integration (or “entire agreement”) clause and a disclaimer of extra-contractual statements, to determine if they were adequate in barring fraud claims. Although in the past the courts have disallowed fraud claims based on rather thinly worded disclaimers of extra-contractual statements (i.e., disclaimers that do not include an express statement of non-reliability or non-reliance), recently the courts seem to be requiring an express statement that the buyer was not relying on extra-contractual statements to bar such fraud claims. See, for example, the decisions of the Court of Chancery in Anvil Holding Corporation v. Iron Acquisition Company, Inc. (May 17, 2013), and of the Superior Court in Alltrista Plastics, LLC v. Rockline Industries (September 4, 2013) and TEK Stainless Piping Products, Inc. v. Smith (October 14, 2013).

…continue reading: Practice Tips for M&A Practitioners for 2014

NY Court: Claims for Breach of RMBS Representation & Warranties Accrue on Issuance

Editor’s Note: Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Mirvis, George T. Conway III, Elaine P. Golin, Jeffrey D. Hoschander, and Justin V. Rodriguez.

In an important decision last week, a New York appellate court ruled that claims for breach of representations and warranties made in connection with residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) accrue when the representations and warranties are made, which typically occurs when the securitization closes. ACE Securities Corp. v. DB Structured Products, Inc., No.650980/12 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t Dec. 19, 2013). The court held that the six-year contract statute of limitations begins to run at that time, instead of when a defendant refuses to comply with a plaintiff’s demand for a contractual remedy.

…continue reading: NY Court: Claims for Breach of RMBS Representation & Warranties Accrue on Issuance

Supreme Court Reaffirms that Forum-Selection Clauses Are Presumptively Enforceable

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday December 19, 2013 at 9:23 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from J. Paul Forrester, partner focusing in corporate finance and securities at Mayer Brown LLP, and is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update by Mr. Forrester, David K. Duffee, John F. Lawlor, Richard B. Katskee, and James F. Tierney. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Forum-selection clauses are common, and highly useful, features of commercial contracts because they help make any future litigation on a contract more predictable for the parties and, in some cases, less expensive. But what procedure should a defendant use to enforce a forum-selection clause when the defendant is sued in a court that is not the contractually selected forum?

On December 3, 2013, the US Supreme Court issued a decision in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. United States District Court for the Western District of Texas that answers this question. The Court held that, if the parties’ contract specifies one federal district court as the forum for litigating any disputes between the parties, but the plaintiff files suit in a different federal district court that lawfully has venue (and therefore could be a proper place for the parties to litigate), the defendant should seek to transfer the case to the court specified in the forum-selection clause by invoking the federal statute that permits transfers of venue “[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.” If the contract’s forum-selection clause instead specifies a state court as the forum for litigating disputes, the defendant may invoke a different federal statute that requires dismissal or transfer of the case.

…continue reading: Supreme Court Reaffirms that Forum-Selection Clauses Are Presumptively Enforceable

Ex-Ante Severance Pay Contracts and Optimal Executive Incentive Schemes

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday February 11, 2013 at 9:16 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from P. Raghavendra Rau, Professor of Finance at the University of Cambridge, and Jin Xu of the Finance Area at Purdue University.

In recent years, large severance payouts to executives who have been fired from poorly performing firms have attracted a great deal of attention in the popular press. There is a considerable degree of popular outrage on what seem to be egregious ex post payments that are unrelated to the executive’s performance during his tenure at the firm. However, though severance agreements are potentially important elements of executives’ compensation contracts, there is little empirical evidence on the incidence and terms of ex ante severance agreements negotiated by executives, let alone on how these contracts fit into executives’ overall incentive compensation schemes.

In our paper, How Do Ex-Ante Severance Pay Contracts Fit into Optimal Executive Incentive Schemes?, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting Research, we analyze a unique hand-collected sample of 3,688 severance contracts in place at 808 firms in 2004. Based on the full list of S&P1500 firms, this sample is the most comprehensive of any work in this area, including firms of all sizes, ages, and industries, and executives of a wide range of ranks including the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), and other executives. Around 68% of the firms list explicit severance contract terms with their executives. Most contracts list up to three sets of benefits: explicit cash payments as multiples of salary and bonus (most common benefit); medical and life insurance benefits, and benefits covering the payment of legal fees, outplacement, and other perks.

…continue reading: Ex-Ante Severance Pay Contracts and Optimal Executive Incentive Schemes

Best Practices for Preparing a Clawback Agreement

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday November 21, 2012 at 8:41 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Scott J. Davis, head of the US Mergers and Acquisitions group at Mayer Brown LLP, and Michael E. Lackey, Partner-in-Charge of Mayer Brown’s Washington, D.C. office. This post is based on a Mayer Brown memorandum.

Scenario

A large corporation is sued over the alleged breach of a substantial contract. Due to the complex nature of the contract, the corporation’s business executives frequently sought advice from in-house counsel when entering into, and performing under, the agreement. The corporation’s in-house counsel has concerns that sensitive documents reflecting attorney-client communications—or even in-house counsel’s own work product—may be produced by mistake, given the volume of email and electronic documents that must be reviewed quickly.

Clawback Provisions Provide Protections and Cost Savings

Even when a party to a litigation employs precautions to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents, some privileged materials are likely to slip through. Recognizing this likelihood, litigants commonly enter into “clawback agreements” at the start of discovery. Typically, a clawback agreement permits either party to demand the return of (that is, to “claw back”) mistakenly produced attorney-client privileged documents or protected attorney work product without waiving any privilege or protection over those materials.

Clawback agreements allow parties to specifically tailor their obligations (if any) to review and separate privileged or protected materials in a manner that suits their needs. For example, before discovery begins, the parties can agree on how they will search for and separate privileged or protected materials from their document productions. So long as the parties abide by the agreement, they will be permitted to take back any privileged or protected material inadvertently produced. Thus, parties can reduce their exposure to costly and time-consuming discovery disputes over whether the protection of privileged material was waived by its production.

…continue reading: Best Practices for Preparing a Clawback Agreement

Allocating Risk Through Contract: Evidence from M&A and Policy Implications

Posted by John Coates, Harvard Law School, on Friday September 14, 2012 at 8:43 am
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Editor’s Note: John Coates is the John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School.

Risk allocation provisions (RAPs) are an important part of M&A contracts. In a new research paper, Allocating Risk Through Contract: Evidence from M&A and Policy Implications, I analyze those provisions in the contracts for a representative sample of deals for US targets, and find both wide variation but also clear patterns in when they are used and how they are designed. The patterns I observe reflect multiple economic theories: they show that RAPs are used and designed in light of the information different parties to a deal are likely to have, their incentives during and after the deal, and also transaction costs, especially the costs of enforcing contracts. Despite these patterns, the contracts also show enormous variation in how risk is allocated — and some of this residual variation correlates with the experience of deal lawyers — suggesting that some choices are better than others. Practitioners can benefit from better understanding economic theories, and academics can benefit from better understanding how varied and complex real-world contracts are.

Among the basic patterns I find are the following:

…continue reading: Allocating Risk Through Contract: Evidence from M&A and Policy Implications

Avoiding Unintended Consequences of Damage Waiver Provisions

Posted by Eduardo Gallardo, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, on Thursday July 26, 2012 at 9:18 am
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Editor’s Note: Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Robert Little and Chris Babcock.

Acquisition agreements often contain provisions that restrict or prohibit the payment of “consequential,” “special,” or “incidental” damages for breach. [1] Principals and their counsel may intend that these provisions prevent liability arising from unknown and unforeseeable future events; however, because these terms are poorly understood in the context of acquisition agreements, the exclusion of these categories of damages may have unexpected consequences for the parties to a transaction. Buyers and sellers should carefully weigh the effect of these damage-limiting provisions and consider alternative, more clearly defined provisions to limit damages under their acquisition agreements.

General Contract Damages

Before examining contract provisions limiting damages, it is important to review briefly the basic principles for recovery of damages due to breach of contract. Damages arising out of the breach of a contract are generally limited by the principles set forth in the English case of Hadley v. Baxendale. [2] Hadley created a rule with two branches: (i) a party may recover for losses that directly and naturally arise from the breach of a contract and (ii) a party may recover for losses arising from special circumstances surrounding the breach to the extent that the breaching party knew of the circumstances at the time the contract was made. [3] Consistent with Hadley, under the default rules of most jurisdictions, recoverable losses arising under a breach of contract are limited to those damages that are reasonably foreseeable to the breaching party. [4]

…continue reading: Avoiding Unintended Consequences of Damage Waiver Provisions

Reputation and Opportunistic Behavior in the VC Industry

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday July 25, 2012 at 9:20 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Vladimir Atanasov of the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary; Vladimir Ivanov of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; and Kate Litvak, Professor of Law at Northwestern University.

In the paper, Does Reputation Limit Opportunistic Behavior in the VC Industry? Evidence from Litigation against VCs, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we use a hand-collected database of lawsuits filed against U.S. venture capitalists (VCs) to examine the role of reputation in limiting opportunism in the VC industry. The lawsuits in our sample serve as a proxy for alleged opportunistic behavior by the defendant VCs. Based on the lawsuit plaintiff, we further identify whether the defendant VCs allegedly behaved opportunistically against founders, limited partners, other VCs, buyers of VC-backed startups, or other parties (angels, creditors, employees, etc.).

We choose proxies for VC reputation (or alternatively the intensity of VC relationships) with each of the four main types of plaintiffs as follows. First, the number of deals that a VCs invests in serves as proxy for the VC’s reputation with founders. Second, we use the amount of funds under management to proxy for the VC’s reputation with limited partners. Third, the VC’s network centrality, defined as the scaled number of relationships that a VC has with other VCs, serves as proxy for the VC’s reputation with other VCs. Last, we use the percentage of companies in the VC’s portfolio that go public to proxy for the VC’s reputation with buyers of VC-backed startups.

…continue reading: Reputation and Opportunistic Behavior in the VC Industry

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