Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease. This, it seems, is the implicit view of the Delaware State Bar Association’s Corporation Law Council (the “Council”) with regard to fee-shifting in shareholder litigation. The Council’s second proposal on fee-shifting, circulated in early March 2015,  is much like their first, circulated in May 2014 in the wake of ATP Tour v. Deutscher Tennis Bund.  Both would prevent corporations from seeking to saddle shareholders with the cost of shareholder litigation by means of a fee-shifting provision, whether adopted in the charter or the bylaws.
Posts Tagged ‘Delaware articles’
For at least 40 years, a large body of literature has debated the effects of state competition for corporate charters and the value of state corporate laws. The common assumption of these studies is that interstate competition affects the way state corporate laws respond to managerial moral hazard, i.e., the agency problem arising between shareholders and managers out of the separation of ownership from control (Jensen and Meckling, 1976). Nevertheless, scholars have been sharply divided about the importance of interstate competition, and particularly whether interstate competition fosters a “race to the top” that maximizes firm value (Winter, 1977; Easterbrook and Fischel, 1991; Romano, 1985, 1993) or a “race to the bottom” that pushes states to cater to managers at the expense of shareholders (Cary, 1974; Bebchuk, 1992; Bebchuk and Ferrell, 1999, 2001).
Director-adopted bylaws that affect shareholders’ litigation rights have attracted both praise and controversy. Recent bylaws specify an exclusive judicial forum for litigation of corporate-governance claims, require that shareholder claims be arbitrated, and (most controversially) impose a one-way regime of fee shifting on shareholder litigants. To one degree or another, courts have legitimated each development, while commentators differ in their assessments. My paper, Forum-Selection Bylaws Refracted Through an Agency Lens, brings into clear focus issues so far blurred in the debate surrounding these types of bylaws.
The corporate governance arrangements of U.S. public companies have been transformed over the past four decades. Independent directors now dominate boards (at least numerically), activism by shareholders has become more prevalent and executive pay has become more lucrative and more performance-oriented. The changes have been accompanied by a new nomenclature—the term “corporate governance” only came into general usage in the 1970s. How and why did this transformation of corporate governance come about? Delaware and the Transformation of Corporate Governance, which is based on the 2014 Francis G. Pileggi lecture, addresses these questions by assessing Delaware’s impact on key corporate governance trends.
Financial reports should provide useful information to both shareholders and creditors, according to U.S. accounting principles. However, directors of corporations have fiduciary duties only toward equity holders, and those fiduciary duties normally do not extend to the interests of creditors. In our paper, Does Corporate Governance Make Financial Reports Better or Just Better for Equity Investors?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether this slant in corporate governance biases financial reports in favor of equity investors. We show that the likelihood that firms will manipulate their reporting to circumvent debt covenants is higher when directors owe fiduciary duties only to equity holders, rather than when they owe fiduciary duties also to creditors. Covenants limit the amount of new debt that the firm issues, for example, and by that reduce bankruptcy risk, and allow creditors to avoid bankruptcy costs, and to recover more from the borrowing firm in case it approaches insolvency. When managers manipulate financial reports to circumvent these debt covenants, they transfer wealth from creditors to shareholders. Our results suggest that when corporate governance is designed to protect only equity holders, firms’ financial reports serve equity holders’ interests at the expense of other stakeholders. We find that when the legal regime requires directors to consider creditors’ interests, firms are less likely to use structured transactions designed to skirt debt covenant limits, particularly if the board of directors of the firm is independent.
In the US, every M&A deal of any significant size generates litigation. The vast majority of these lawsuits settle, and the vast majority of these settlements are for non-pecuniary relief, most commonly supplemental disclosures in the merger proxy.
The engine that drives this litigation is the concept of “corporate benefit.” Under judge-made law, litigation that produces a corporate benefit allows the court to order plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees to be paid directly by the defendants provided that the outcome of the litigation is beneficial to the corporation and its shareholders. In a negotiated settlement, plaintiffs will characterize supplemental disclosures in the merger proxy as producing a corporate benefit, and defendants will typically not oppose the characterization, as they are happy to pay off the plaintiffs’ lawyers and get on with the deal. The supposed benefits of these settlements thus are rarely tested in adversarial proceedings. Knowing this creates a strong incentive for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file claims, put in limited effort, and negotiate a settlement consisting exclusively of corrective disclosures. But is there any real value to these settlements?
In November 2013 I delivered the 29th Annual Francis G. Pileggi Distinguished Lecture in Law in Wilmington, Delaware. My lecture, entitled “Delaware’s Choice,” presented four uncontested facts from my prior research: (1) in the 1980s, federal courts established the principle that Section 203 must give bidders a “meaningful opportunity for success” in order to withstand scrutiny under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; (2) federal courts upheld Section 203 at the time, based on empirical evidence from 1985-1988 purporting to show that Section 203 did in fact give bidders a meaningful opportunity for success; (3) between 1990 and 2010, not a single bidder was able to achieve the 85% threshold required by Section 203, thereby calling into question whether Section 203 has in fact given bidders a meaningful opportunity for success; and (4) perhaps most damning, the original evidence that the courts relied upon to conclude that Section 203 gave bidders a meaningful opportunity for success was seriously flawed—so flawed, in fact, that even this original evidence supports the opposite conclusion: that Section 203 did not give bidders a meaningful opportunity for success.
“Leximetrics,” which involves quantitative measurement of law, has become a prominent feature in empirical work done on comparative corporate governance, with particular emphasis being placed on the contribution that robust shareholder protection can make to a nation’s financial and economic development. Using this literature as our departure point, we are currently engaging in a leximetric analysis of the historical development of U.S. corporate law. Our paper, Law and History by Numbers: Use, But With Care, prepared for a University of Illinois College of Law symposium honoring Prof. Larry Ribstein, is part of this project. We identify in this paper various reasons for undertaking a quantitative, historically-oriented analysis of U.S. corporate law. The paper focuses primarily, however, on the logistical challenges associated with such an inquiry.
My article, Standing at the Singularity of the Effective Time: Reconfiguring Delaware’s Law of Standing Following Mergers and Acquisitions, examines the doctrine of standing as applied to mergers and acquisitions of Delaware corporations with pending derivative claims. The settled rules of direct and derivative standing break down at the “singularity of the effective time” of a merger, yielding to conflicting principles of standing, corporation law and policy, and basic equity. The path-dependent network of rules and exceptions that has developed is an outgrowth of case-by-case adjudication that now begs for a one-time, wholesale reconfiguration.
The article takes on that task, proposing three straightforward rules that need no exceptions:
Historically, buyouts by controlling shareholders (also known as “going-private transactions,” “squeeze-outs,” and hereinafter “freezeouts”) were subject to different standards of judicial scrutiny under Delaware corporate law based on the transactional form used by the controlling shareholder to execute the deal. In a line of cases dating back at least to the Delaware Supreme Court’s 1994 decision in Kahn v. Lynch Communications, a freezeout executed as a statutory merger was subject to stringent “entire fairness” review, due to the self-dealing nature of the transaction. In contrast, in a line of cases beginning with the Delaware Chancery Court’s 2001 opinion in In re Siliconix Inc. Shareholder Litigation, a freezeout executed as a tender offer was subject to deferential business judgment review.
Subramanian (2007) presents evidence that, after Siliconix, minority shareholders received less in tender offer freezeouts than in merger freezeouts. Restrepo (2013) finds that these differences in outcomes occurred only after Siliconix, and that the incidence of tender offer freezeouts increased after this opinion, also supporting the idea that controlling shareholders took advantage of the opportunity provided by Siliconix. Subramanian (2005) describes why these differences in outcomes for minority shareholders create a social welfare loss and not just a one-time wealth transfer from minority shareholders to the controlling shareholder.