Transactional class and derivative actions have long been controversial in both the popular and the academic literatures. Some commentators have argued that every deal faces litigation, that the overwhelming majority of such cases are frivolous, that the only people who benefit from them are the lawyers, and that the costs of these suits outweigh their benefits to shareholders. Others have taken the opposite view, that the litigation costs are overblown and that shareholders benefit from such suits. Yet, the debate over this litigation has so far neglected to consider a change in legal technology, adopted in Delaware a decade ago, favoring selection of institutional investors as lead plaintiffs. My article, “Private Policing of Mergers and Acquisitions: An Empirical Assessment of Institutional Lead Plaintiffs in Transactional Class and Derivative Actions,” fills the gap, offering new insights into the utility of mergers and acquisitions litigation. The most significant findings in the paper are that public pension funds and labor union funds have become the dominant institutional players in these cases, and that public pension fund lead plaintiffs correlate with the outcomes of most interest to shareholders: an increase from the offer to the final price, and lower attorneys’ fees.
Posts Tagged ‘Delaware law’
In an important and thoughtful decision that will influence the structure of future going-private transactions by controlling stockholders, Chancellor Strine of the Delaware Court of Chancery applied the business judgment rule—instead of the more onerous entire fairness review—to a going-private merger by a controlling stockholder because the merger was structured to adequately protect minority stockholders. The decision is likely to be appealed, but if affirmed by the Delaware Supreme Court on appeal, the case should provide certainty in an area of the law that has been a source of debate and uncertainty for two decades. The decision, In re MFW Shareholders Litigation, provides a detailed roadmap to obtaining the more favorable business judgment rule review and reducing the considerable litigation costs and risks associated with entire fairness review.
The court in MFW held that if the transaction is (1) negotiated by a fully-empowered special committee of directors who are independent of the controlling stockholder and (2) conditioned on the approval of a majority of the minority stockholders, then entire fairness review will not apply. The court noted the following key elements of the process:
In Koehler v. NetSpend Holdings Inc., the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the directors of NetSpend likely breached their Revlon duty to obtain the highest price reasonably available for stockholders by pursuing a single-bidder strategy for selling the company. The board’s lack of knowledge as to the company’s value and related failure to contact potentially interested parties set it apart from other single bidder cases such as Plains Exploration, a recent case where the court found a single-bidder sale process to be reasonable. Nevertheless, the Court declined to enjoin the merger because an injunction could risk the stockholders’ opportunity to receive a substantial premium over the market price for their shares.
In In re Plains Exploration & Production Co. S’holder Litig., the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the plaintiffs’ request to enjoin a merger between Plains Exploration & Production Company and Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold even though the Plains board of directors (1) did not shop Plains before agreeing to be acquired by Freeport for a combination of cash and stock, (2) did not obtain price protection on the stock component of the merger consideration and (3) allowed its CEO (who Freeport had decided to retain after closing) to lead negotiations with Freeport. The Court also held that the estimates of future free cash flows prepared by Plains’ financial advisor did not need to be disclosed in Plains’ proxy materials because management’s estimates of cash flows were already disclosed.
In early 2012, the CEOs of Freeport and Plains discussed an acquisition of Plains by Freeport. The Plains board did not shop the company to other potential buyers or form a special committee, instead allowing the CEO to lead negotiations with Freeport even after becoming aware of the fact that Freeport had determined to retain the Plains CEO after the merger. The Court noted that the Plains CEO was “motivated to obtain the best deal possible” given that a higher merger price would have resulted in a larger payout to him as a substantial stockholder (although ultimately he agreed to roll his stock into the post-merger company).
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:
In this issue, we discuss several cases of significance to the M&A practice, including In re Ancestry.com, In re Bioclinica, In re BJ’s Wholesale Club, Kallick v. Sandridge Energy and Meso Scale Diagnostics v. Roche Diagnostics, as well as some market trends that may be of interest.
Board Enjoined From Impeding Consent Solicitation Until It Approves Insurgent Slate for Purposes of Credit Agreement
In Kallick v. SandRidge Energy, Inc., the Delaware Court of Chancery, in an opinion by Chancellor Strine, enjoined the incumbent board of SandRidge Energy, which faced a consent solicitation initiated by a large stockholder seeking to de-stagger and replace the board, from, among other things, soliciting against or otherwise impeding the consent solicitation until the board approved the rival slate for purposes of a “proxy put” provision in SandRidge’s credit agreements. The Kallick decision, along with the Court of Chancery’s earlier decision in San Antonio Fire & Police Pension Fund v. Amylin Pharmaceuticals, confirm that corporations, as a matter of process, should carefully consider and review whether proxy put and other similar change-of- control provisions in credit agreements and indentures are truly in the best interests of the stockholders. For more detail, click here.
Freeze-outs have been subject to different standards of judicial review in Delaware since 2001, when the Delaware Chancery Court, in In re Siliconix Inc. Shareholders Litigation, Civ. A. No. 18700, 2001 WL 716787 (Del. June 19, 2001), introduced a distinction based on the form in which the transaction is executed. In particular, in Siliconix, the chancery court held that, unlike freeze-outs executed as a merger (which have been subject to “entire fairness review” since 1952), freeze-outs executed as a tender offer were exempted from that standard of review. According to the court, tender offers do not warrant entire fairness because, in these transactions, in contrast to a merger, minority shareholders are protected by the decision itself of tendering or not tendering. Moreover, one month after Siliconix, in Glassman v. Unocal Exploration Corporation, 777 A.2d. 242 (Del 2001), the Delaware Supreme Court held that a short-form merger is also excluded from entire fairness review. As a result of these two decisions, a controlling shareholder was allowed to completely avoid entire fairness by acquiring the remaining shares from minority shareholders through a tender offer followed by a short-form merger.
We have previously discussed a wave of “say-on-pay” lawsuits focused on allegedly inadequate proxy disclosures (in a memo, article, and memo). At least six courts (four state and two federal) have denied requests for injunctive relief against say-on-pay votes. Now, a federal court that had already denied preliminary injunctive relief has dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Noble v. AAR Corp., No. 12 C 7973 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 3, 2013).
Applying Delaware and federal law, the Northern District of Illinois held that Delaware law did not require a company soliciting proxies in advisory say-on-pay vote to disclose information beyond that specified in Regulation S-K:
Legislation proposing to amend the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware (the “DGCL”) and related sections of title 8 of the Delaware Code has been submitted to the Corporation Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association for approval. If the amendments become effective, they would result in several significant changes to the DGCL. The primary components of the proposed legislation, if adopted, would address the following:
The Delaware Supreme Court held that the Court of Chancery erred by failing to give preclusive effect to an earlier with-prejudice dismissal of a parallel derivative suit in another state, and by creating a presumption that all plaintiffs who file derivative suits without first conducting books-and-records inspections are inadequate representatives. Pyott v. La. Mun. Police Emps.’ Ret. Sys., No. 380, 2012 (Del. Apr. 4, 2013). The decision stresses the importance of interstate comity and the need to give full faith and credit to the decisions of other courts.
Allergan is a drug company that incurred losses in resolving civil and criminal investigations of off-label drug marketing. Derivative suits were filed in both federal court in California and the Court of Chancery alleging that Allergan’s directors were liable for the losses because they failed to properly monitor the company’s marketing practices. The Delaware shareholder plaintiff obtained documents through a books-and-records inspection under 8 Del. C. § 220 before filing suit. The California plaintiffs did not, but later amended their complaints when the Delaware plaintiff shared the documents. Defendants moved to dismiss in both jurisdictions. The California federal court ruled first, dismissing with prejudice for failure to establish demand futility. The Court of Chancery refused to give preclusive effect to that ruling, applying Delaware law to the preclusion question. Turning to the merits, Chancery disagreed with the federal court, holding that demand was futile and that the case should proceed.