Posts Tagged ‘Fiduciary duties’

Risk Management and the Board of Directors—An Update for 2014

Editor’s Note: Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Daniel A. Neff, Andrew R. Brownstein, Steven A. Rosenblum, and Adam O. Emmerich.

Introduction

Overview

Corporate risk taking and the monitoring of risks have remained front and center in the minds of boards of directors, legislators and the media, fueled by the powerful mix of continuing worldwide financial instability; ever-increasing regulation; anger and resentment at the alleged power of business and financial executives and boards, including particularly as to compensation during a time of economic uncertainty, retrenchment, contraction, and changing dynamics between U.S., European and emerging market economies; and consistent media attention to corporations and economies in crisis. The reputational damage to boards of companies that fail to properly manage risk is a major threat, and Institutional Shareholder Services now includes specific reference to risk oversight as part of its criteria for choosing when to recommend withhold votes in uncontested director elections. This focus on the board’s role in risk management has also led to increased public and governmental scrutiny of compensation arrangements and their relationship to excessive risk taking and has brought added emphasis to the relationship between executive compensation and effective risk management. For the past few years, we have provided an annual overview of risk management and the board of directors. This overview highlights a number of issues that have remained critical over the years and provides an update to reflect emerging and recent developments.

…continue reading: Risk Management and the Board of Directors—An Update for 2014

Chen v. Howard-Anderson: Delaware Court Issues Guidance Regarding M&A Transactions

Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Eduardo Gallardo and Robert B. Little, partners in the Mergers and Acquisitions practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Little, Gregory A. Odegaard, and Chris Babcock. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

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, [1] 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.

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Reliance by Directors: What’s a Conscientious Director to Do?

Posted by Peter Atkins, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, on Friday April 11, 2014 at 9:01 am
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Editor’s Note: Peter Atkins is a partner of corporate and securities law matters at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. This post is based on a Skadden, Arps memorandum by Mr. Atkins. The views expressed in this post are those of Peter Atkins, a senior partner of the firm, and are not presented as those of the firm. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In its recent decision in In Re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation, [1] 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.

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The Use and Abuse of Labor’s Capital

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday April 7, 2014 at 9:23 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from David H. Webber of Boston University Law School.

Across the country, public employee retirement systems are investing in companies that privatize public employee jobs. Such investments lead to reduced working hours and often job losses for current employees. [1] Although, in some circumstances, pension fund participants and beneficiaries may benefit from these investments, their actual economic interests might also be harmed by them, once the negative jobs impact is taken into account. But that impact is almost never taken into account. That’s because under the ascendant view of the fiduciary duty of loyalty, pension trustees owe their allegiance to the fund first, rather than to the fund’s participants and beneficiaries. Notwithstanding the fact that ERISA and state pension codes command trustees to invest, “solely in the interests of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits,” the United States Department of Labor declared in 2008 that the plain text of the quoted language means that the interests of the plan come first. [2] Under this view, plan trustees should de facto ignore the potentially negative jobs impact of privatizing investments because that impact harms plan members, and not, purportedly, the plan itself. Thus, in the name of the duty of loyalty, the actual economic interests of plan members in plan investments are subverted to the interests of the plan itself (or, at a minimum, to an unduly constrained version of the plan’s interests that excludes lost employer and employee contributions). As a result, public pension plans make investments that harm the economic interests of their members. This turns the duty of loyalty on its head.

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Court Finds Financial Advisor Liable for Aiding and Abetting Fiduciary Duty Breaches

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Sunday March 30, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Michael Kaplan, co-head of Davis Polk’s global Capital Markets Group, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

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.

…continue reading: Court Finds Financial Advisor Liable for Aiding and Abetting Fiduciary Duty Breaches

Financial Advisor Liable for Aiding Board’s Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday March 25, 2014 at 9:20 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from James T. Lidbury, partner and co-head of the Investment Management practice group at Ropes & Gray LLP, and is based on a Ropes & Gray publication. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

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.

…continue reading: Financial Advisor Liable for Aiding Board’s Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Court of Chancery Stresses Need for Board Monitoring of Advisors and Potential Conflicts

Editor’s Note: Paul Rowe is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Rowe, David A. KatzWilliam Savitt, and Ryan A. McLeod. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

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.

…continue reading: Court of Chancery Stresses Need for Board Monitoring of Advisors and Potential Conflicts

Corporate “Free Exercise” and Fiduciary Duties of Directors

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday March 4, 2014 at 9:15 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Mark A. Underberg, retired partner of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

This Spring, the Supreme Court will decide whether a for-profit corporation can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Act (or “Obamacare”) when doing so would conflict with “the corporation’s” religious beliefs. Although the main legal issue in Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., et al. v. Sibelius concerns the extent to which the guarantee of free exercise of religion under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act may be asserted by for-profit corporations, the Court’s decision may also have important—and unsettling—implications for state corporate laws that define the fiduciary duties of boards of directors.

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An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law

Posted by Robert Sitkoff, Harvard Law School, on Monday February 24, 2014 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: Robert H. Sitkoff is the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

I’ve recently posted to SSRN a book chapter called “An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law,” which will be published in Philosophical Foundations of Fiduciary Law by Oxford University Press. The editors are Andrew Gold and Paul Miller.

The purpose of my chapter is to restate the economic theory of fiduciary law. In doing so, the chapter makes several fresh contributions. First, it elaborates on earlier work by clarifying the agency problem that is at the core of all fiduciary relationships. In consequence of this common economic structure, there is a common doctrinal structure that cuts across the application of fiduciary principles in different contexts. However, within this common structure, the particulars of fiduciary obligation vary in accordance with the particulars of the agency problem in the fiduciary relationship at issue. This point explains the purported elusiveness of fiduciary doctrine. It also explains why courts apply fiduciary law both categorically, such as to trustees and (legal) agents, as well as ad hoc to relationships involving a position of trust and confidence that gives rise to an agency problem.

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Practice Tips for M&A Practitioners for 2014

Posted by Kerry E. Berchem, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, on Sunday February 2, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Kerry E. Berchem is partner and co-head of corporate practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. The following post is based on an Akin Gump Client Alert. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Based on a number of cases decided by the Delaware courts in 2013, below we summarize practice tips regarding careful drafting of contractual provisions and complying with technical and statutory requirements.

Disclaimers of Reliance and Accuracy Clauses Likely Do Not Bar Fraud Claims

The Delaware courts have had several opportunities to examine a range of disclaimer provisions in agreements, usually an integration (or “entire agreement”) clause and a disclaimer of extra-contractual statements, to determine if they were adequate in barring fraud claims. Although in the past the courts have disallowed fraud claims based on rather thinly worded disclaimers of extra-contractual statements (i.e., disclaimers that do not include an express statement of non-reliability or non-reliance), recently the courts seem to be requiring an express statement that the buyer was not relying on extra-contractual statements to bar such fraud claims. See, for example, the decisions of the Court of Chancery in Anvil Holding Corporation v. Iron Acquisition Company, Inc. (May 17, 2013), and of the Superior Court in Alltrista Plastics, LLC v. Rockline Industries (September 4, 2013) and TEK Stainless Piping Products, Inc. v. Smith (October 14, 2013).

…continue reading: Practice Tips for M&A Practitioners for 2014

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