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 ‘Mergers & acquisitions’
“You like to-may-to and I like to-mah-to…
Potato, potahto, tomayto, tomahto
Let’s call the whole thing off”
(“Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” by George & Ira Gershwin, 1937)
Two nations divided by a common tongue. In M&A, as in so many spheres, common language and terminology often give rise to the assumption that the architecture is similarly homogenous. Although the US and the UK have a number of similarities in terms of capital markets and business practices, there are fundamental divergences in approach to public takeover practice and regulation.
Consistent with the title of this post, I have used the great American songbook as an entry point to this guide to the ten principal differences between takeover practice and regulation in the US and the UK.
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.
It is now clear that, for Delaware companies, a charter or by-law forum selection clause (FSC) is a valid and promising response to the problems posed by multi-jurisdictional disputes involving claims based upon internal corporate affairs (such as M&A litigation and derivative actions). Three recent rulings by “foreign” courts—courts located outside of the forum selected in the charter or by-law (which is usually Delaware). In each case, the “foreign” court granted motions to dismiss based upon an FSC that selected Delaware as the exclusive forum. Still, as we have previously advocated,  the better course would be to include with an FSC a consent to jurisdiction and service provision for stockholders who commence the foreign litigation that would permit the defendants in the foreign case to enforce the forum selection clause in Delaware. 
With M&A activity expected to increase in 2014, shareholder activism is an important factor to be considered in the planning, negotiation, and consummation of corporate transactions. In 2013, a year of relatively low deal activity, it became clear that activism in the M&A context was growing in scope and ambition. Last year activists were often successful in obtaining board seats and forcing increases in deal consideration, results that may fuel increased efforts going forward. A recent survey of M&A professionals and corporate executives found that the current environment is viewed as favorable for deal-making, with executives citing an improved economy, decreased economic uncertainty, and a backlogged appetite for transactions. There is no doubt that companies pursuing deals in 2014—whether as a buyer or as a seller—will have to contend with activism on a variety of fronts, and advance preparation will be important.
As dealmakers put the finishing touches on public M&A transactions, the question is no longer if there will be a lawsuit, but rather when, how many and in what jurisdiction(s). And while many of the cases remain of the nuisance strike-suit variety, recently it seems every few weeks there is an important Delaware decision or other litigation development that potentially changes the face of deal litigation and introduces new risks for boards and their advisers. Now more than ever, dealmakers need to be aware of, and plan to mitigate, the resulting risks from the earliest stages of any transaction.
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.
We recently placed on SSRN a draft of a new paper, Toward a Constitutional Review of the Poison Pill, which will be published by the Columbia Law Review in the Fall of 2014. Last week, six senior partners of the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, including founding partner Martin Lipton, published a strongly-worded response, available on the Forum here. In this post, we rebut Wachtell’s criticism.
Wachtell’s response is a twelve-page, single-spaced Memorandum that describes us as “extreme” and “eccentric,” and characterizes our paper as “tendentious,” “misleading,” and “not a work of serious scholarship.” The Memorandum also attempts to offer a substantive rebuttal of the analysis in our paper. Given that Wachtell Lipton prides itself for creating the poison pill, we understand why an article raising doubt about the validity of the state-law rules authorizing the use of poison pills touches a sensitive nerve at the Firm. Wachtell’s response, however, fails to dispel those doubts—and, indeed, shows why there are serious questions about the constitutionality of state-law poison-pill rules today.
Wachtell does not dispute the analysis in our paper showing that state-law poison-pill rules today impose tighter restrictions on tender offers than those that federal courts have viewed as preempted by the Williams Act. Instead, Wachtell’s response asserts that the “true state of the law,” about which there is “no doubt,” is that the Williams Act “governs procedure, not substance,” and that the Act therefore does not preempt any antitakeover devices that states choose to authorize. As we explain below, this is not an accurate description of the state of the law: Wachtell’s view (1) is not established by Supreme Court precedent; (2) gives undue weight to two lower federal court opinions; and (3) discounts or ignores opinions of other lower federal courts that have expressed views that differ from Wachtell’s.
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.