Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease. This, it seems, is the implicit view of the Delaware State Bar Association’s Corporation Law Council (the “Council”) with regard to fee-shifting in shareholder litigation. The Council’s second proposal on fee-shifting, circulated in early March 2015,  is much like their first, circulated in May 2014 in the wake of ATP Tour v. Deutscher Tennis Bund.  Both would prevent corporations from seeking to saddle shareholders with the cost of shareholder litigation by means of a fee-shifting provision, whether adopted in the charter or the bylaws.
Posts Tagged ‘Sean Griffith’
In the US, every M&A deal of any significant size generates litigation. The vast majority of these lawsuits settle, and the vast majority of these settlements are for non-pecuniary relief, most commonly supplemental disclosures in the merger proxy.
The engine that drives this litigation is the concept of “corporate benefit.” Under judge-made law, litigation that produces a corporate benefit allows the court to order plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees to be paid directly by the defendants provided that the outcome of the litigation is beneficial to the corporation and its shareholders. In a negotiated settlement, plaintiffs will characterize supplemental disclosures in the merger proxy as producing a corporate benefit, and defendants will typically not oppose the characterization, as they are happy to pay off the plaintiffs’ lawyers and get on with the deal. The supposed benefits of these settlements thus are rarely tested in adversarial proceedings. Knowing this creates a strong incentive for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file claims, put in limited effort, and negotiate a settlement consisting exclusively of corrective disclosures. But is there any real value to these settlements?
The recent discovery that corporate law litigation very often takes place in courts outside of Delaware has rattled the academic consensus that Delaware won the corporate law “race” by providing a well-managed forum staffed with expert judges willing to decide complex deal cases quickly. In an apparent affront to this settled understanding, recent research shows that more cases are filed against Delaware corporations in other states than in Delaware itself.  As a forum for corporate litigation, in other words, Delaware no longer dominates.
Shaken from their settled understandings, commentators have sounded the alarm that fewer cases decided in Delaware could, over time, reduce the expertise of the Delaware judiciary in corporate law matters. Worse, the decisions reached by non-Delaware “dilettantes” threaten to adulterate and degrade the basic Delaware product. In sum, prior commentary on the out-of-Delaware trend has treated it as very bad for corporate defendants, very bad for shareholder plaintiffs, and very bad for Delaware.