Even as the Delaware appraisal rights landscape continues to evolve, dealmakers should not assume that the issues and outcomes will be the same in transactions involving companies incorporated in other states. Although once an afterthought on the M&A landscape, in recent years appraisal rights have become a prominent topic of discussion among dealmakers. In an earlier M&A Update (discussed on the Forum here) we discussed a number of factors driving the recent uptick in shareholders exercising statutory appraisal remedies available in cash-out mergers. With the recent Delaware Supreme Court decision in CKx and Chancery Court opinion in Ancestry.com, both determining that the deal price was the best measure of fair price for appraisal purposes, and the upcoming appraisal trials for the Dell and Dole going-private transactions, the contours of the modern appraisal remedy, and the future prospects of the appraisal arbitrage strategy, are being decided in real-time. These and almost all of the other recent high-profile appraisal claims have one thing in common—the targets in question were all Delaware corporations and the parties have the benefit of a well-known statutory scheme and experienced judges relying on extensive (but evolving) case law. But, what if the target is not in Delaware?
Posts Tagged ‘David Feirstein’
As we have noted in prior M&A Updates, when dealmakers face a transaction where one or both of the parties are incorporated outside the Delaware comfort zone, they often confront unexpected structuring issues unique to entities or deals undertaken in that state or country. These may include corporate law, tax, accounting or structuring concerns and, most often, the deal teams will have to adjust the transaction terms to accommodate these issues.
But a recent decision from the Virginia Supreme Court is a timely reminder that, on occasion, these issues can be managed using some resourceful and creative structuring involving shifting jurisdictions. In the case, a Virginia corporation planned to sell its assets which, under Virginia law, would trigger appraisal rights for minority stockholders. Seemingly to avoid this result, the seller undertook a multi-step restructuring ahead of the sale which began with a “domestication” under Virginia law that shifted its jurisdiction of incorporation to Delaware. Under the Virginia statute, no appraisal rights apply to such a reincorporation. Once reincorporated in Delaware, the seller continued its restructuring, ultimately selling its assets to the buyer. Notably, Delaware does not provide for appraisal rights in an asset sale. The Virginia court dismissed the minority stockholders’ argument that they were entitled to appraisal rights. It rejected a “steps transaction” argument that looked to collapse the multiple steps and focus on the substance of the transaction (i.e., a sale of the company’s assets to the buyer), favoring instead the seller’s assertion that the first-stage move to Delaware had independent legal significance and therefore was effective to shift the appraisal rights analysis to Delaware law.
A recent Delaware decision in Cigna provides important guidance on simple yet important steps that buyers of private companies using a merger structure can take to more effectively impose certain post-closing obligations on stockholders who do not sign agreements to support the deal.
While a stock purchase involves entering into an agreement with each stockholder of a target company, creating an avenue to bind each selling stockholder to terms such as indemnification obligations, non-compete clauses and general releases, in a merger structure direct contractual relationships are only established with those target stockholders who may sign a written consent or voting agreement to support the merger. This leaves buyers facing the challenge of how to impose these post-closing obligations on stockholders who do not consent or sign a voting agreement (“non-signatory stockholders”).
Two recent Chancery Court decisions, Crimson Exploration and KKR Financial, confirm that Delaware takes a flexible and fact-specific approach to determining whether a stockholder is deemed to be “controlling” for purposes of judicial review of a transaction. It is important for dealmakers to understand when the courts may make a determination of control, both to properly craft a defensible process and to understand the prospects for resulting deal litigation.
As confidence in M&A activity seems to have turned a corner, the use of acquirer stock as acquisition currency is a serious consideration for executives and advisers on both sides of the table. A number of factors play into the renewed appeal of stock deals, including an increasingly bullish outlook in the C-level suite and higher and more stable stock market valuations, as well as deal-specific drivers like the need for a meaningful stock component in tax inversion transactions (see recent post on this Forum).
In any transaction facing a meaningful delay between signing and closing, dealmakers on both sides of the table spend a considerable amount of time thinking about allocating the various risks resulting from that delay (e.g., regulatory, business and financing). Most of the discussion centers on “deal certainty,” with sellers focused on contract provisions that force buyers to move quickly through transaction hurdles and obligate them to close despite potentially changed circumstances or unfavorable regulatory demands. In a prior M&A Update that focused on the allocation of antitrust risk, discussed here, we addressed merger agreement terms that outline the required efforts and remedy concessions by buyers, as well as the possible use of a reverse termination fee payable to the seller if the deal terminates because of the failure to obtain required antitrust approvals.
The Delaware courts have often repeated the bedrock principle that there is no one path or blueprint for the board of a target company to fulfill its Revlon duties of seeking the highest value reasonably available in a sale transaction. The courts have usually deferred to the judgment of the directors as to whether the requisite market-check is best achieved by a limited pre-signing process, a full-blown pre-signing auction or a post-signing fiduciary out. However, as evidenced in the recent decision by VC Glasscock in NetSpend, it is equally true that the courts will also not automatically bless a sale process simply because the deal protection provisions fall with- in the range of “market” terms. Especially in a single-bidder sale process, the courts will continue to seek evidence of a fully informed and thoughtful approach by the target board to the sale process and deal protection terms with the goal of maximizing value for shareholders.
Appraisal, or dissenters’, rights, long an M&A afterthought, have recently attracted more attention from deal-makers as a result of a number of largely unrelated factors. By way of brief review, appraisal rights are a statutory remedy available to objecting stockholders in certain extraordinary transactions. While the details vary by state (often meaningfully), in Delaware the most common application is in a cash-out merger (including a back-end merger following a tender offer), where dissenting stockholders can petition the Chancery Court for an independent determination of the “fair value” of their stake as an alternative to accepting the offered deal price. The statute mandates that both the petitioning stockholder and the company comply with strict procedural requirements, and the process is usually expensive (often costing millions) and lengthy (often taking years). At the end of the proceedings, the court will determine the fair value of the subject shares (i.e., only those for which appraisal has been sought), with the awarded amount potentially being lower or higher than the deal price received by the balance of the stockholders.
While deal counsel have always addressed the theoretical applicability of appraisal rights where relevant, a number of developments in recent years have contributed to these rights becoming a potential new frontier in deal risk and litigation:
A record date, often viewed in the merger context as a mere mechanic to be quickly checked off a “to do” list, creates a frozen list of stockholders as of a specified date who are entitled to receive notice of, and to vote at, a stockholders’ meeting. A tactical approach to the timing of the record date can have strategic implications on the prospects for a deal’s success, while the failure to comply with the rules relating to setting a record date could cause a significant delay in holding the vote, leaving the door open for a topping bidder or dissident stockholder to emerge or gather support. As a result, it is important that dealmakers understand the basic mechanics and rules of setting a record date and the tactical repercussions of the record date construct.
Starting first with the legal requirements, there are several key inputs that inform the mechanics of setting a record date, including laws of the company’s state of incorporation, the company’s organizational documents, federal securities laws, rules of the applicable securities exchange and the relevant merger agreement. Taken together, these requirements dictate the necessary procedural and governance steps for setting the record date and establish the minimum and maximum time periods between the record date and the meeting, as well as between the board action setting the record date and the record date itself.
With valuations stabilizing and the M&A market heating up, a rebirth of stock-for-stock deals, after a long period of dominance for all-cash transactions, may be in the offing. If this happens, we expect to see renewed use of the term “merger of equals” (MOE) to describe some of these all-equity combinations. As a starting point, it may be helpful to define what an MOE is and, equally important, what it isn’t. The term itself lacks legal significance or definition, with no requirements to qualify as an MOE and no specific rules and doctrines applicable as a result of the label. Rather, the designation is mostly about market perception (and attempts to shape that perception), with the intent of presenting the deal as a combination of two relatively equal enterprises rather than a takeover of one by the other. That said, MOEs generally share certain common characteristics. First, a significant percentage of the equity of the surviving company will be received by each party’s shareholders. Second, a low or no premium to the pre-announcement price is paid to shareholders of the parties. Finally, there is some meaningful sharing or participation by both parties in “social” aspects of the surviving company.
While each of the aspects of an MOE deal will fall along a continuum of “equality” for the shareholders of each party, there are a handful of key issues that require special attention in an MOE transaction: