The prevalence of settlements in class and derivative litigation challenging mergers and acquisitions in which the only payment is to plaintiffs’ attorneys suggests potential systemic dysfunction arising from the increased frequency of parallel litigation in multiple state courts. After examining possible explanations for that dysfunction, and the historical development of doctrines limiting parallel state court litigation — the doctrine of forum non conveniens and the “first-filed” doctrine — this paper suggests that those doctrines should be revised to better address shareholder class and derivative litigation. Revisions to the doctrine of forum non conveniens should continue the historical trend, deemphasizing fortuitous and increasingly irrelevant geographic considerations, and should place greater emphasis on voluntary choice of law and the development of precedential guidance by the courts of the state responsible for supplying the chosen law. The “first-filed” rule should be replaced in shareholder representative litigation by meaningful consideration of affected parties’ interests and judicial efficiency.
Putting Stockholders First responds to the observation that in 2011, only 5% of settlements of shareholder litigation challenging mergers and acquisitions involved an additional payout to stockholders, 84% of such settlements were based on additional disclosure only, but all of such settlements involved payment of fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys. These figures reflect a significant change from 1999 to 2000, when 52% of suits filed on behalf of shareholders produced a financial benefit for the class, and only 10% of settlements were “disclosure-only.”