Editor’s Note: David A. Katz
is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal
; the full article, including footnotes, is available here
The say-on-pay advisory vote requirements of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 have turned out to be a fertile source of nuisance litigation filed by aggressive plaintiffs’ lawyers. The first wave of lawsuits generally consisted of after-the-fact actions targeting companies that experienced failed say-on-pay advisory votes. These initial cases, which appeared primarily to be attempts to extort settlements, were nearly all dismissed on procedural grounds. The current wave, embodied by a recent spate of lawsuits filed primarily by a single plaintiffs’ law firm, is potentially more problematic from a practical perspective for targeted companies, even though the claims involved appear to have even less basis in law or fact. The pattern of these recent actions is for a lawsuit to be filed in state court sometime between the filing of the definitive proxy statement and the date of the annual meeting, alleging that the proxy disclosure is inadequate with respect to executive compensation (or relating to the authorization or issuance of additional common shares for equity incentive plans), claiming breach of fiduciary duty by directors, and calling for the shareholder meeting to be enjoined until additional disclosure is made.
Directors and corporate managers need to be prepared for this type of proxy disclosure litigation, particularly since it appears that little can be done to prevent such lawsuits from being brought. Boards of companies that are targeted in this manner may feel significant pressure to settle because they do not want to postpone the annual meeting or, worse, face the possibility that the required say-on-pay advisory vote or other needed votes could be enjoined. However, it is worth noting that the earlier wave of lawsuits that targeted companies with failed say-on-pay votes has subsided, undoubtedly due to the discouraging results obtained by the plaintiffs in court. The same fate is likely to befall the current wave, but only if companies are willing to fight these lawsuits in court so that the plaintiffs and their attorneys encounter judicial skepticism and dismissal rather than the rewards of a quick and lucrative settlement.
…continue reading: The New Wave of Proxy Disclosure Litigation