A New York appellate court today [December 04, 2014] ruled that the “common-interest privilege” can protect from discovery pre-closing communications among merger parties and their counsel made for the predominant purpose of furthering a common legal interest, even if there is no pending or anticipated litigation. Ambac Assurance Corp. v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 651612/10 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t Dec. 4, 2014). The ruling recognizes that after a merger agreement is signed, the merging parties must often share legal advice to complete the transaction.
Posts Tagged ‘Mergers & acquisitions’
A recent Delaware decision in Cigna provides important guidance on simple yet important steps that buyers of private companies using a merger structure can take to more effectively impose certain post-closing obligations on stockholders who do not sign agreements to support the deal.
While a stock purchase involves entering into an agreement with each stockholder of a target company, creating an avenue to bind each selling stockholder to terms such as indemnification obligations, non-compete clauses and general releases, in a merger structure direct contractual relationships are only established with those target stockholders who may sign a written consent or voting agreement to support the merger. This leaves buyers facing the challenge of how to impose these post-closing obligations on stockholders who do not consent or sign a voting agreement (“non-signatory stockholders”).
On November 25, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a decision in In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation, which: (1) dismissed claims that the Comverge board of directors conducted a flawed sales process and approved an inadequate merger price in connection with the directors’ approval of a sale of the company to H.I.G. Capital LLC; (2) permitted fiduciary duty claims against the directors to proceed based on allegations related to the deal protection mechanisms in the merger agreement, including termination fees potentially payable to HIG of up to 13% of the equity value of the transaction; and (3) dismissed a claim against HIG for aiding and abetting the board’s breach of fiduciary duty.
The case provides important guidance to directors and their advisors in discharging fiduciary duties in a situation where Revlon applies and in negotiating acceptable deal protection mechanisms. The decision also is the latest in a series of recent opinions addressing and defining the scope of third party aiding and abetting liability.
On October 22, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services issued a note to clients entitled “The IRR of ‘No’.” The note argues that shareholders of companies that have successfully “just said no” to hostile takeover bids have incurred “profoundly negative” returns. In a note we issued the same day, we called attention to critical methodological and analytical flaws that completely undermine the ISS conclusion. Others have also rejected the ISS methodology and conclusions; see, for example, the November analysis by Dr. Yvan Allaire’s Institute for Governance of Public and Private Organizations entitled “The Value of ‘Just Say No’” and, more generally, a December paper by James Montier entitled “The World’s Dumbest Idea.” Of course, even putting aside analytical flaws, statistical studies do not provide a basis in individual cases to attack informed board discretion in the face of a dynamic business environment. The debate about “just say no” has been raging for the 35 years since Lipton published “Takeover Bids in the Target’s Boardroom,” 35 Business Lawyer p.101 (1979). This prompts looking at the most prominent 1979 “just say no” rejection of a takeover.
Over the last 15 years, numerous economics articles, many published in top finance journals, have examined the effect of takeover law on performance, leverage, managerial stock ownership, worker wages, patenting, acquisitions, and other firm actions. These studies have concluded, among other things, that anti-takeover laws are associated with a decline in managerial stock ownership, and increase in wages, and a decline in dividend payout ratios.
From a legal perspective, however, the varying methods that financial economists use to measure the takeover protection afforded by state law make little sense. Economists generally look either at whether (and when) a state adopted a business combination statute; at when a state adopted the first of a set of statutes (typically, business combination statutes, control share acquisition statutes, and fair price statutes); or at how many different types of statutes a state has adopted.
M&A practitioners are well aware of the several standards of review applied by Delaware courts in evaluating whether directors have complied with their fiduciary duties in the context of M&A transactions. Because the standard applied will often have a significant effect on the outcome of such evaluation, establishing processes to secure a more favorable standard of review is a significant part of Delaware M&A practice. The chart below identifies fact patterns common to Delaware M&A and provides a preliminary assessment of the likely standard of review applicable to transactions fitting such fact patterns. However, because the Delaware courts evaluate each transaction in light of the transaction’s particular set of facts and circumstances, and due to the evolving nature of the law in this area, this chart should not be treated as a definitive statement of the standard of review applicable to any particular transaction.
On November 24, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery preliminarily enjoined for thirty days a vote by C&J Energy Services stockholders on a merger with Nabors Red Lion Limited, to allow time for C&J’s board of directors to explore alternative transactions. In a bench ruling in the case, City of Miami General Employees’ & Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust v. C&J Energy Services, Inc., Vice Chancellor Noble concluded that “it is not so clear that the [C&J] board approached this transaction as a sale,” with the attendant “engagement that one would expect from a board in the sales process.” Interestingly, the Court called the issue a “very close call,” and indicated it would certify the question to the Delaware Supreme Court at the request of either of the parties (at this time it does not appear either party has made a request). The decision provides guidance regarding appropriate board decision-making in merger transactions, particularly where one merger party is assuming minority status in the combined entity yet also acquiring management and board control.
Valeant’s failed acquisition bid for Allergan has underscored longstanding M&A principles—even as the involvement of shareholder activists in the M&A arena has introduced new technologies, opportunities, and challenges. In the aftermath of the Allergan saga, it is clear that Pershing Square was richly rewarded for having crafted a novel bidder-activist collaboration model. The outcome for Valeant, however, notwithstanding the creative collaboration, is that its bid ultimately failed, and in the most conventional of ways (losing to a superior offer from an alternative bidder).
On November 17, 2014, Allergan, Inc. announced a $66 billion merger agreement with Actavis plc, thwarting the pending $53 billion bid for Allergan by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. Valeant had teamed up with Pershing Square, a fund run by activist investor Bill Ackman, to facilitate an acquisition of Allergan by Valeant. Although the Valeant bid has failed, Pershing Square apparently will recognize a gain of well over $2 billion on consummation of the Actavis merger.
The distinguishing feature of Valeant’s now-failed pursuit of Allergan was the bidder-activist collaboration itself, which was the focal point for public attention throughout the saga. Corporate America’s initial reaction to the Pershing Square-Valeant model was fear that the model would be followed by others, unleashing a new wave of hostile takeover activity in a context that appears to make target companies particularly vulnerable. Now, at the end-point of Valeant’s bid for Allergan, we note the following:
On November 20, 2014, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, in a case of first impression under New York law, ruled in favor of Kenneth Cole in a litigation where minority shareholders had challenged the fashion designer’s transaction to take private Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. Mr. Cole controlled approximately 89% of KCP’s voting power and owned a 46% economic interest in KCP. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP represented Mr. Cole in the transaction and the class action litigation.
The Appellate Division found that the business judgment standard of review—and not the heightened entire fairness standard—applied to judicial review of breach of fiduciary claims because the transaction had been structured at the outset with dual protections of an independent special committee review and the vote of a “majority of the minority” (that is, non-Cole) shareholders. The judicial standard of review can have important litigation consequences, as cases governed by the business judgment rule can be dismissed at an early stage, as occurred here, whereas transactions governed by the “entire fairness” standard generally require discovery and further proceedings, which can be burdensome and expensive.