On April 8, 2014, Vice Chancellor Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion addressing the reasonableness of a “market check” as well as required proxy disclosures to stockholders in M&A transactions. In Chen v. Howard-Anderson,  the Vice Chancellor held that (i) evidence suggesting that a board of directors favored a potential acquirer by, among other things, failing to engage in a robust market check precluded summary judgment against a non-exculpated director, and (ii) evidence that the board failed to disclose all material facts in its proxy statement precluded summary judgment against all directors. The opinion addresses the appropriate scope of a market check, the necessary disclosure when submitting a transaction to stockholders for approval, the effect of exculpatory provisions in a company’s certificate of incorporation, and the potential conflicts faced by directors who are also fiduciaries of one of the company’s stockholders.
Posts Tagged ‘Delaware cases’
In its recent decision in In Re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation,  the Delaware Court of Chancery, in a footnote, touches on what it means for directors to be “fully protected” by §141(e) of the Delaware General Corporation Law when they rely on information, opinions, reports or statements provided to them by officers, employees, board committees or experts. While not central to the Rural Metro decision, this is an issue that should be of interest to conscientious public company directors. Below I suggest that, as currently applied, §141(e) does not sufficiently protect conscientious directors, examine why that may be so, highlight the need for alternative approaches to provide truly full protection without undermining other important conduct imperatives Delaware law imposes on directors and others, and offer some suggestions toward that end.
On March 7, 2014, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery found a financial advisor liable for aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duties by the board of Rural/Metro Corporation in connection with the company’s 2011 sale to an affiliate of Warburg Pincus LLC. In its 91-page, post-trial opinion, the Court concluded that the financial advisor allowed its interests in pursuing buy-side financing roles in both the sales of Rural/Metro and Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) to negatively affect the timing and structure of the company’s sales process, that the board was not aware of certain of these actual or potential conflicts of interest, and that the valuation analysis provided to the board was flawed in several respects. Both the Rural/Metro board of directors and a second financial advisor to Rural/Metro settled before trial for $6.6 million and $5.0 million, respectively.
On March 7, the Delaware Court of Chancery published a post-trial opinion in In Re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation (Rural Metro) finding Rural/Metro’s financial advisor RBC liable for aiding and abetting the Rural/Metro’s board of directors’ breach of its fiduciary duties in connection with the acquisition of Rural/Metro by Warburg Pincus. The decision is the latest in a series of Delaware opinions concerning conflicts of interest of banks and investment firms in advising companies in buy-out transactions.
The private equity firm that was the controlling stockholder of Orchard Enterprises effected a squeeze-out merger of the minority public stockholders. Two years later, a Delaware appraisal proceeding determined that Orchard’s shares at the time of the merger were worth more than twice as much as was paid in the merger. Public shareholders then brought suit, claiming that the directors who had approved the merger and the controlling stockholder had breached their fiduciary duties and should be held liable for damages. The Orchard decision  issued by the Delaware Chancery Court this past Friday adjudicates the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment before trial.
The Delaware Supreme Court today affirmed that a going-private transaction may be reviewed under the deferential business judgment rule when it is conditioned on the approval of both a well-functioning special committee and a majority of the minority stockholders. Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., No. 334, 2013 (Del. Mar. 14, 2014).
As described in our previous memo, the case arose out of a stockholder challenge to a merger in which MacAndrews & Forbes acquired the 57% of M&F Worldwide it did not already own. Then-Chancellor Strine granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the record established the transaction was approved by both an independent special committee that functioned effectively and had the power to say no and the fully-informed vote of a majority of the unaffiliated stockholders, thus entitling them to business judgment review.
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.
Some corporate practitioners could have the impression that significant fee awards are granted as a matter of course in M&A class action litigation, even where the results obtained by class counsel were supplemental (and arguably routine) disclosures regarding the proposed transaction. Recent comments by the judges of the Delaware Court of Chancery, however, may suggest an increasing concern over what might be perceived as “default” fee awards in this context, as well as the value of purely supplemental, as opposed to remedial, disclosures.
In 2011, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster analyzed M&A fee awards in a published case titled In re Sauer-Danfoss Inc. Shareholders Litigation, 65 A.3d 1116 (Del. Ch. 2011). This undertaking, it reasonably could be hoped, would serve to promote consistency and establish reasonable expectations, especially in an area where precedent frequently lies in transcripts and unpublished orders. Of particular note, Vice Chancellor Laster wrote:
Several years ago, the Delaware Supreme Court held, in Revlon v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, that when a “sale” or “break-up” of a company becomes “inevitable,” the duty of the board of directors is not to maintain the independence of the company or otherwise give priority to long-term considerations, but rather to obtain the highest price possible for the shareholders in the transaction (that is, to maximize short-term value). To satisfy that duty, when confronted with these situations, the board is generally supposed to conduct an auction (or, as clarified in subsequent decisions, a “market check”) that ensures that the final buyer is, in fact, the best bidder available. In the words of the court, in this “inevitable” “break-up” or “sale” scenario (which, however, the court did not precisely define), the directors’ duties shift from “defenders of the corporate bastion to auctioneers charged with getting the best price for the stockholders.”
Delaware’s Leading Role in Business and Business Litigation
Delaware has long been known as the corporate capital of the world. It is the state of incorporation for 64 percent of the Fortune 500 and more than half of all companies whose securities trade on the NYSE, Nasdaq and other exchanges. Its preeminence in business law started with its corporate code—the Delaware General Corporation Law—and has been enhanced by business law innovations that have led to the creation of many new business entities designed to meet the expanding needs of corporate and financial America.