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.
Posts Tagged ‘Delaware law’
In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW, the Delaware Supreme Court formally recognized the “Garner doctrine,” an exception to the attorney-client privilege, in connection with a stockholder’s demand for records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, and confirmed that the exception also applies to other stockholder claims. The decision may allow derivative plaintiffs to obtain certain sensitive privileged communications and attorney work-product in cases involving substantial allegations of serious fiduciary misconduct.
The following amendments to Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) Section 251(h) have been passed by the Delaware legislature, clarifying a number of issues that have arisen since adoption of the law last year. If signed by the Governor (as is expected), the amendments will apply to merger agreements entered into on or after August 1, 2014. Under Section 251(h), a merger agreement can include a provision that eliminates the need for a target stockholder vote for a merger after a tender or exchange offer if, among other conditions, the acquiror then owns at least the number of shares that would be sufficient to approve the merger under the DGCL and the target’s charter. The amendments provide for the following:
Following a merger (or consolidation), Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) requires notice to be sent to any stockholder of record who has demanded appraisal informing that stockholder that the transaction was accomplished. For long-form mergers approved pursuant to a stockholder vote (i.e., under Section 251(c) of the DGCL), Section 262(d)(1) requires notice of the effective date of the merger to be sent within 10 days of the merger becoming effective. For mergers approved pursuant to Sections 228, 251(h), 253 or 267 of the DGCL (e.g., mergers approved by written consent, certain mergers following a tender or exchange offer, short-form mergers between parent and subsidiary corporations and short-form mergers between a non-corporation parent entity and its subsidiary corporation) the notice of the effective date is governed by Section 262(d)(2), which sets its own timing requirements.
On August 1, 2013, amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) became effective, allowing entities to incorporate as a public benefit corporation, a new corporate form that requires managers to produce a public benefit and balance shareholders’ financial interests with the best interests of stakeholders materially affected by the corporation’s conduct.
In my paper, Delaware Public Benefit Corporations 90 Days Out: Who’s Opting in?, I present empirical research on the companies that adopted the Delaware public benefit corporation form within the first three months of the effective date of the amended DGCL.
Under Delaware’s corporate benefit doctrine, a stockholder who presents a meritorious claim to a board of directors may be entitled to attorneys’ fees if the stockholder’s efforts result in the conferring of a corporate benefit.  On June 20, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court considered in Raul v. Astoria Financial Corporation  whether attorneys’ fees are warranted under this doctrine when a stockholder identifies potential deficiencies in executive compensation disclosures required by the SEC pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act “say on pay” provisions.  The court held that the alleged omissions at issue failed to demonstrate any breach of the Board of Directors’ fiduciary duties under Delaware law and accordingly the Plaintiff did not present a meritorious demand to the Board. This decision makes clear that the courts will not shift fees to a stockholder (and the stockholder’s law firm) who “has simply done the company a good turn by bringing to the attention of the board an action that it ultimately decides to take.” 
Public companies increasingly are adopting “exclusive forum” bylaws and charter provisions that require their stockholders to go to specified courts if they want to make fiduciary duty or other intra-corporate claims against the company and its directors.
Exclusive forum provisions can help companies respond to such litigation more efficiently. Following most public M&A announcements, for example, stockholders file nearly identical claims in multiple jurisdictions, raising the costs required to respond. Buyers also feel the pain, since they typically bear the costs and may even be named in some of the proceedings. Exclusive forum provisions help address the increased costs, while allowing stockholders to bring claims in the specified forum.
In Hamilton Partners, L.P. v. Highland Capital Management, L.P., C.A. No. 6547-VCN, 2014 WL 1813340 (Del. Ch. May 7, 2014), the Court of Chancery, by Vice Chancellor Noble, in connection with a challenge to a going-private transaction whereby American HomePatient, Inc. (“AHP”) was acquired by an affiliate of one of its stockholders, Highland Capital Management, L.P. (“Highland”), refused to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against Highland. The Court held that, for purposes of defendants’ motion to dismiss, plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to support an inference that Highland, which owned 48% of AHP’s stock and 82% of AHP’s debt, was the controlling stockholder of AHP and that the merger was not entirely fair.
Increasingly, some activist hedge funds are looking to sell their stock positions back to target companies. How should the board respond to hushmail?
The Rise and Fall of Greenmail
During the heyday of takeovers in the 1980s, so-called corporate raiders would often amass a sizable stock position in a target company, and then threaten or commence a hostile offer for the company. In some cases, the bidder would then approach the target and offer to drop the hostile bid if the target bought back its stock at a significant premium to current market prices. Since target companies had fewer available takeover defenses at that time to fend off opportunistic hostile offers and other abusive takeover transactions, the company might agree to repurchase the shares in order to entice the bidder to withdraw. This practice was referred to as “greenmail,” and some corporate raiders found greenmail easier, and more profitable, than the hostile takeover itself.
In Houseman v. Sagerman, C.A. No. 8897-VCG, 2014 WL 1600724 (Del. Ch. Apr. 16, 2014), the Court of Chancery, by Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in addressing defendants’ motion to dismiss claims related to the 2011 acquisition of Universata, Inc. (“Universata”) by HealthPort Technologies, LLC (“HealthPort”), held that the failure to obtain a fairness opinion in connection with the acquisition did not rise to the level of bad faith on the part of the board of directors of Universata (the “Board”) and did not support an aiding and abetting claim against the Board’s financial advisor.