Monday, May 23, 2016
Well, given that I just spent several hours constructing a somewhat lengthy post that I apparently lost (aargh!), I will keep this relatively short.
This summer, I am working on a benefit corporation project for the Annual Adolf A. Berle Symposium on Corporation, Law and Society (Berle VIII) to be held in Seattle next month. In that connection, I have been thinking about litigation risk in public benefit corporations, which has led me to consider the specific litigation risks incident to mergers and acquisitions ("M&A"). I find myself wondering whether anyone has yet done a benefit corporation M&A transaction and, if so, whether a checklist might have been created for the transaction that I could look at. I am especially interested in understanding the board decision-making aspects of a benefit corporation M&A transaction. (Haskell, maybe you know of something on this . . . ?)
Preliminarily, I note that fairness opinions should not carry as much weight in the benefit corporation M&A approval context, since they only speak about fairness "from a financial point of view." Benefit corporation boards of directors must consider not only the pecuniary interests of shareholders in managing the firm, but also the firm's articulated public benefit or benefits (which is/are set forth in its charter). Will legal counsel pick up the slack and render an opinion that the board's consideration of the public benefit(s) complies with law? What diligence would be required to give that opinion? I assume in the absence of interpretive decisional law, any opinion of that kind would have to be qualified. I also assume that legal counsel will not readily volunteer to give this kind of opinion.
However, even in the absence of an opinion, legal counsel will have to offer advice on the matter, since the board of a benefit corporation has the legal obligation to manage the firm consistent with its public benefit(s) in any case. Moreover, M&A agreements typically include representations (on transactional consents, approvals, and governance/legal compliance) affirming that the requisite consents and approvals for the transaction have been obtained and that the agreement and consummation of the transactions contemplated by it do not violate the firm's charter or applicable law. Legal counsel will be responsible for counseling the client on these contractual provisions.
At first blush, the embedded issues strike me as somewhat complex and fact-dependent. Important facts in this context include the precise language of the applicable statutory requirements, the nature of the firm's public benefit or benefits, the type of M&A transaction at issue and the structure of the transaction (including which entity survives in a merger), and the identity of the other party or parties to the transaction (especially whether, e.g., a merger partner is organized as a public benefit corporation or another form of entity). As I continue to ponder these and related matters in the benefit corporation M&A setting, I invite your comments on any of this--or on broader aspects of litigation risk in the public benefit corporation environment.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Free Web Seminar: The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Mergers and Acquisitions
One of my two former firms, King & Spalding, is hosting a free interactive web seminar on cybersecurity and M&A on February 25 at 12:30 p.m. Thought the web seminar might be of interest to some of our readers. The description is reproduced below.
An Interactive Web Seminar
The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Mergers and Acquisitions
February 25, 2016
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Over the last several years, company after company has been rocked by cybersecurity incidents. Moreover, obligations relating to cybersecurity and data privacy are rapidly evolving, imposing on corporations a complex and challenging legal and regulatory environment. Cybersecurity and data privacy deficiencies, therefore, might pose potentially significant business, legal, and regulatory risks to an acquiring company. For this reason, cybersecurity and data privacy are becoming integral pre-transaction due diligence items.
This e-Learn will analyze the (1) special cybersecurity and data privacy dangers that come with corporate transactions; (2) strategies to mitigate those dangers; and (3) benefits of incorporating cybersecurity and data privacy into due diligence. The panel will zero in on these issues from the vantage point of practitioners in the deal trenches, and from the perspective of a former computer crime prosecutor and a former FBI agent who have dealt with a broad range of cyber risks to public and private corporations. This e-Learn is for managers and attorneys at all levels who are involved at any stage of the M&A process and at any stage of cyber literacy, from the beginner who is just starting to appreciate the complex nature of cyber risks to the expert who has addressed them for years. The discussion will leave you with a better understanding of this critical topic and concrete, practical suggestions to bring back to your M&A team.
Robert Leclerc, King & Spalding’s Corporate Practice Group and experienced deal counsel; Nick Oldham, King & Spalding, and Former Counsel for Cyber Investigations, DOJ's National Security Division; John Hauser, Ernst & Young, and former FBI Special Agent specializing in cyber investigations.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
This post highlights SIGA Technologies, Inc. v. PharmAthene, Inc., Del. Supr., No. 20, 2015 (Dec. 23, 2015).
At the end of 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming its earlier holding that where parties have agreed to negotiate in good faith, a failure to reach an agreement based upon the bad faith of one party entitles the other party to expectation damages so long as damages can be proven with "reasonable certainty."
Francis Pileggi, on his excellent Delaware Commercial and Business Litigation blog, provides a succinct summary of the case, available here. The parties to the suit entered into merger negotiations to develop a smallpox antiviral drug. Due to the uncertainty of the merger negotiations, the parties also entered into a non-binding license agreement, the terms of which would be finalized if the merger fell through for whatever reason. While nonbinding, the preliminary license agreement contained detailed financial terms and benchmarks. When the merger was terminated, SIGA proposed terms for a collaboration that departed from the preliminary license agreement. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery finding that SIGA's acted in bad faith. The question of the case became what damages were due from the bad faith breach of a preliminary agreement to "negotiate in good faith,” when all essential terms have not been agreed to by the parties?
The first gem in the opinion, and something I'll be working into my damages lectures for first year contracts this spring, is that:
when a contract is breached, expectation damages can be established as long as the plaintiff can prove the fact of damages with reasonable certainty. The amount of damages can be an estimate.
What constitutes reasonable certainty changes whether the party is establishing damages are due versus the amount of the damages. And here is the second gem: the standard of proof can be lessened where willful wrongdoing contributed to the breach and the uncertainty about the amount of damages.
where the wrongdoer caused uncertainty about the final economics of the transaction by its failure to negotiate in good faith, willfulness is a relevant factor in deciding the quantum of proof required to establish the damages amount.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
The Pep Boys – Manny, Moe & Jack (NYSE: PBY) merger triangle with Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC and Icahn Enterprises LP is proving to be an exciting bidding war. The price and the pace of competing bids has been escalating since the proposed Pep Boys/Bridgestone agreement was announced on October 16, 2015. Pep Boys stock had been trading around $12/share. Pursuant to the agreement, Bridgestone commenced a tender offer in November for all outstanding shares at $15.
Icahn Enterprises controls Auto Plus, a competitor of Pep Boys, the nation's leading automotive aftermarket service and retail chain. Icahn disclosed an approximately 12% stake in Pep Boys earlier in December and entered into a bidding war with Bridgestone over Pep Boys. The price climbed to $15.50 on December 11th, then $17.00 on December 24th. Icahn Enterprises holds the current winning bid at $18.50/share, which the Pep Boys Board of Directors determined is a superior offer. In the SEC filings, Icahn Enterprises indicated a willingness to increase the bid, but not if Pep Boys agreed to Bridgestone's increased termination fee (from $35M to 39.5M) triggered by actions such as perior proposals by third parties. Icahn challenged such a fee as a serious threat to the auction process.
Regardless of which company ends up claiming control over Pep Boys, this is a excellent example of sale principles in action and also shows the effect of merger announcements (and the promised control premiums) have on stock prices. This will be a great illustration to accompany corporations/business organizations class discussions of mergers and the role of the board of directors. For those teaching unincorporated entities as a separate course or component of the larger bus.org survey course, Icahn Enterprises is a publicly-traded limited partnership formed as a master limited partnership in Delaware-- BONUS! Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC, as in limited liability company, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation ADR, a publicly traded corporation.
See you all in the New Year! Anne Tucker
EDITED January 4, 2016. Based on the thoughtful observations of fellow BLPB editor Haskell Murray, I removed the inarticulate references to this bidding war as a "Revlon" transaction. As Haskell pointed out, Pep Boys is a Pennsylvania corporation and subject to a constituency statute. The constituency statute modifies directors' "Revlon" duties by authorizing (but not requiring) directors to consider:
The effects of any action upon any or all groups affected by such action, including shareholders, members, employees, suppliers, customers and creditors of the corporation, and upon communities in which offices or other establishments of the corporation are located.
(2) The short-term and long-term interests of the corporation, including benefits that may accrue to the corporation from its long-term plans and the possibility that these interests may be best served by the continued independence of the corporation.....15 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 515 (West)
Thursday, December 10, 2015
A few days ago, co-blogger Steve Bradford posted on law professor complaints about grading under the title Warning: Law Professor Whine Season. OK. I typically am one of those whiners. But today, rather than noting that grading is the only part of the semester I actually need to be paid for (and all that yada yada), I want to briefly extoll one virtue of exam season: the positive things one sees in students as they consciously and appropriately struggle to synthesize the material in a 14-week jam-packed semester.
My Business Associations final exam was administered on Tuesday. Like many other law professors, I gave my students sample questions (with the answers), held a review session, and responded to questions posted to the discussion board on our class course management site. Sometimes, I dread any and all of that post-class madness. This year, I admit that there were few of the thinly veiled (and, by me, expressly discouraged and disdained) "is this on the exam?" or "please re-teach this part of the course . . ." types of questions or requests in any of the forums that I offered for post-class review and learning. That was a relief.
The students' final work product for my Corporate Finance planning and drafting seminar was due Monday. I met with a number of students in the course about that drafting assignment and about the predecessor project in the final weeks before each was due. I watched them work through issues and begin to make decisions, uncomfortable as they might be in doing so, that solve real client problems. Satisfying times . . . .
In fact, there have been a number of moments over the past week in which I was exceedingly proud of the learning that had gone on and was continuing to go on during the post-class exam-and-project-preparation phase of the semester. I offer a few examples here to illustrate my point. They come from both my Business Associations course, for which students take a comprehensive written final examination, and my Corporate Finance planning and drafting seminar, for which students solve a corporate finance problem through planning and drafting and write a review of a fellow student's planning and drafting project.
Saturday, November 28, 2015
A short while ago, some commentators declared that the Treasury had successfully ended corporate inversions. But after several recent corporate migrations, reports of the inversion’s death appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
A corporate inversion is a complicated and costly transaction used by American corporations to avoid particularly burdensome aspects of the U.S. tax code. The United States not only enforces the OECD’s highest corporate tax rate (the tax rate for most U.S. corporations ranges between 35% to 39%) but also worldwide taxation. This latter feature subjects an American corporation’s entire revenue stream to the United States’ extraordinary tax rate, whereas most countries tax only what is earned inside their territorial borders. In simplified terms, a corporation hoping to invert must merge with a foreign corporation—while satisfying some very idiosyncratic conditions—in order to reorganize in the foreign company’s country. After inverting, a company’s foreign generated income becomes subject to more favorable foreign tax rates, though it must still pay U.S. taxes on domestically generated revenue.
The rhetoric surrounding inversions has been heating up since Pfizer announced its intentions to invert into an Irish entity after acquiring Allegran in a $160 billion deal. The chief complaint against inversions is that inverted companies avoid their “fair share” of taxes (the United States likely lost 33.6 billion in tax revenue in 2014 alone). Not only that, the inversion trend perhaps shifts research and development and intellectual property innovation to foreign countries (see this excellent article by Omri Marian). President Obama famously declared that inversions are “unpatriotic,” Jon Stewart warned his viewers of the “Inversion of the Moneysnatchers,” and countless politicians have proposed ending the inversion loophole.
But why should we demonize inverted companies. First, consider an old Learned Hand quote: “[a]nyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose the pattern which best pays the treasury.” And considering that inverted companies must still pay U.S. taxes on U.S. generated income, the process shields only foreign-based revenue with which the United States has limited association. In fact, if the internal affairs doctrine incentivizes companies to incorporate in whichever U.S. state they wish, why should this policy not include foreign countries?
In the end, what to do about inversions presents a number of complex issues. Critics offer very accurate arguments concerning the deleterious effects of inversions. However, in light of previous attempts, it seems quite unlikely that the tax code could be amended to prohibit future companies from inverting. As of a couple days ago the Treasury just added new inversion restrictions with the caveat that there is only so much that the Treasury can do. Indeed either lowering the corporate tax rate or ending worldwide taxation would likely be the most effective anti-inversion policy. Or the United States could take better aim at the income shifting transactions that corporations use to repatriate foreign income into the United States. But probably the best first step is for us to quit viewing inversions normatively; any well-informed policy prescription should avoid the very commonly used rhetoric of “good” guys and “bad” guys. After all, companies are just following incentivizes that the law offers.
For an excellent discussion of inversions, please read this Virginia Law Review article by Eric Talley.
Friday, November 27, 2015
I try to read everything Lyman Johnson writes, so my Thanksgiving break reading is his recent book chapter The Reconfiguring of Revlon. The abstract is below:
Three decades later, an irksome uncertainty still impedes a settled understanding of the Delaware Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Revlon, Inc. v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc. For such a towering doctrine, Revlon’s underlying rationales remain controversial, its exact contours and demands continue to be surprisingly unclear, and it holds out scant hope for remedial relief. In spite of these troubling features of today’s Revlon jurisprudence, however, Revlon is slowly being worked back into the larger fabric of Delaware’s fiduciary duty law and away from being a gangling, standalone doctrine. The organizing themes of this judicial project are strong deference in the deal context to decisions made by independent directors without regard to deal structure, the substantially reduced likelihood of equitable or monetary remedies in all types of deal-related lawsuits, and a nascent effort at harmonizing Revlon with Delaware’s more general, and ill-defined, doctrine on corporate purpose.
This chapter discusses the original Revlon decision and its rapid expansion before turning to lingering uncertainties surrounding the reach of Revlon, the decline of Revlon’s remedial clout, and where Revlon stands today in relation to Delaware’s overall fiduciary duty law. Revlon’s sharp focus on immediate value maximization was a breakthrough pronouncement on corporate purpose, a subject of longstanding national debate but one on which the Delaware Supreme Court had been strangely silent. However, grave reservations about whether and when corporate directors should be required to pursue short term goals found useful cover in sustained judicial murkiness over the boundaries of Revlon. Only if Delaware courts resolve the underlying issue of corporate purpose more generally will Revlon either be fitted into the larger body of Delaware law or continue to stand uncomfortably to the side as a doctrinal loner of diminished significance.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Last week was the 30th anniversary of the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in Moran v. Household International, Inc., 500 A.2d 1346 (Del. 1985). In Moran, decided on Nov. 19, 1985, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld what has become the leading hostile takeover defensive tactic, the poison pill.
Martin Lipton, the primary developer of the pill, even makes an appearance in the case—and obviously a carefully scripted one: “The minutes reflect that Mr. Lipton explained to the Board that his recommendation of the Plan was based on his understanding that the Board was concerned about the increasing frequency of ‘bust-up’ takeovers, the increasing takeover activity in the financial sector industry, . . . , and the possible adverse effect this type of activity could have on employees and others concerned with and vital to the continuing successful operation of Household even in the absence of any actual bust-up takeover attempt.”
I’m not sure the takeover world would be that different today if Moran had rejected poison pills. I’m reasonably confident the Delaware legislature would have amended the Delaware statute to overturn the ruling, as they effectively did with another ruling decided earlier that same year, Smith v. Van Gorkom, 488 A.2d 858 (Del. 1985). Shortly after Van Gorkom made it clear that directors might actually be liable for violating the duty of care, the legislature added section 102(b)(7) to the Delaware law, allowing corporations to eliminate any possibility of damages for duty-of-care violations.
As my colleague Joan Heminway has pointed out, 1985 was an incredibly important year for M & A practitioners. In addition to Moran and Van Gorkom, a third major case was also decided that year: Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co., 493 A.2d 946 (Del. 1985).
Van Gorkom was decided in late January of 1985, Unocal in June, and Moran in November. Corporations casebooks and treatises are filled with Delaware Supreme Court decisions, but that has to be one of the most important ten-month periods in Delaware corporate law jurisprudence—especially in the mergers and acquisitions area.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Earlier this month BLPB editor Ann Lipton wrote about the Delaware Supreme Court opinion in Sanchez regarding director independence (Delaware Supreme Court Discovers the Powers of Friendship). On the same day as the Del. Sup. Ct. decided Sanchez, it affirmed the dismissal of KKR Financial Holdings shareholders' challenge to directors' approval of a buyout. The transaction was a stock-for-stock merger between KKR & Co. L.P. (“KKR”) and KKR Financial Holdings LLC (“Financial Holdings”). Plaintiffs alleged that the entire fairness standard should apply because KKR was a controlling parent in Financial Holdings. The controlling parent argument hinged on the facts that:
Financial Holdings's primary business was financing KKR's leveraged buyout activities, and instead of having employees manage the company's day-to-day operations, Financial Holdings was managed by KKR Financial Advisors, an affiliate of KKR, under a contractual management agreement that could only be terminated by Financial Holdings if it paid a termination fee.
Chief Justice Strine, writing an en banc opinion for the Court, upheld Chancellor Bouchard's finding that KKR could not be considered a controlling parent where "KKR owned less than 1% of Financial Holdings's stock, had no right to appoint any directors, and had no contractual right to veto any board action."
The Delaware Supreme Court upheld the familiar standard of effective control, absent a majority, which focuses on "a combination of potent voting power and management control such that the stockholder could be deemed to have effective control of the board without actually owning a majority of stock."
Chancellor Bouchard had noted that plaintiff's complaint stemmed from dissatisfaction at the contractual relationship between KKR and Financial Holdings which limited the growth of Financial holdings. Chancellor Bouchard wrote:
At bottom, plaintiffs ask the Court to impose fiduciary obligations on a relatively nominal stockholder, not because of any coercive power that stockholder could wield over the board's ability to independently decide whether or not to approve the merger, but because of pre-existing contractual obligations with that stockholder that constrain the business or strategic options available to the corporation.
Sometimes a "nothing new" case provides a good reminder of an established standard and provides clear language for recapping the concept to students. This will become a note case on "effective" control in my ChartaCourse corporations casebook and also a good illustration of the role of private agreements in shaping how legal standards are applied.
You can read the opinion at: Corwin et al. v. KKR Fin. Holdings et al., No. 629, 2014, 2015 WL 5772262 (Del. Oct. 2, 2015).
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
A while back, the CLS Blue Sky Blog featured a post by Michael Peregrine on an article authored by Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine (Documenting The Deal: How Quality Control and Candor Can Improve Boardroom Decision-making and Reduce the Litigation Target Zone, 70 Bus. Law. 679 (2015)) offering pragmatic advice to corporate directors in deal-oriented decision making. Michael's post summarizes points made by Justice Strine in his article, including (of particular importance to legal counsel) those set forth below.
- "Counsel can play an important role in assuring the engagement of the strongest possible independent financial advisor, and structuring the engagement to confirm the provision of the full breadth of deal-related financial advice to the board; not simply the delivery of a fairness opinion or similar document."
- "[I]n the M&A process, it is critical to be clear in the minutes themselves about what method is being used, and why."
- "Lawyers and governance support personnel should be particularly attentive to documenting in meeting minutes the advice provided by financial advisors about critical fairness considerations or other transaction terms, and the directors’ reaction to that advice."
- "[P]laintiffs’ lawyers are showing an increasing interest in seeking discovery of electronic information that may evidence the attentiveness of individual directors to materials posted on the board portal."
Michael concludes by noting the thrust of Justice Strine's points--that "a more thoughtful approach to the fundamental elements of the M&A process will enhance exercise of business judgment by disinterested board members, and their ability to rely on the advice of impartial experts." All of the points made reflect observations of the Chief Justice emanating from Delaware jurisprudence. Michael also notes that the points made by Justice Strine have application to decision making in other forms of business association as well as the corporation.
I could not agree more with the thesis of the post and the article. Maybe it's just my self-centered, egotistical, former-M&A-lawyer self talking, but good lawyering can make a difference in M&A deals and the (seemingly inevitable) litigation that accompanies them. I wrote about this in my article, A More Critical Use of Fairness Opinions as a Practical Approach to the Behavioral Economics of Mergers and Acquisitions, commenting on Don Langevoort's article, The Behavioral Economics of Mergers and Acquisitions. We should be teaching this in the classroom as we frame the lawyer's role in M&A transactions. I use a quote from Steve Bainbridge to introduce this matter to my Business Associations, Corporate Finance, and Cross-Border M&A students:
Successful transactional lawyers build their practice by perceptibly adding value to their clients’ transactions. From this perspective, the education of a transactional lawyer is a matter of learning where the value in a given transaction comes from and how the lawyer might add even more value to the deal.
Stephen M. Bainbridge, Mergers and Acquisitions 4 (2003). Great stuff, imv. I am sure this quote or one like it is in the current version of this book somewhere, too. But I do not have that with me as I write this. Perhaps if Steve reads this he will add the current cite to the comments . . . ?
At any rate, I want to make a pitch for highlighting the role of the lawyer in guiding the client through the legal minefields--territory that only we can help clients navigate most efficaciously. As business law educators, we have a podium that enables us to do this with law students who are lawyers-in-training about to emerge from the cocoon-like academic environment into the cold, cruel world in which fiduciary duty (derivative and direct) and securities class action litigation is around every transactional corner. Let's give them some pointers on why and how to take on this task!
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
As many readers already know, I teach Corporate Finance in the fall semester as a three-credit-hour planning and drafting seminar. The course is designed to teach students various contexts in which valuations are used in the legal practice of corporate finance, the key features of simple financial instruments, and legal issues common to basic corporate finance transactions (including M&A). In the process of teaching this substance, I introduce the students to various practice tips and tools.
As part of teaching M&A in this course and in my Advanced Business Associations course, I briefly cover the anatomy of an M&A transaction and the structure of a typical M&A agreement. For outside reading on these topics, I am always looking for great practical summaries. For example, Summary of Acquisition Agreements, 51 U. Miami L. Rev. 779 (1997), written by my former Skadden colleagues Lou Kling and Eileen Nugent (together with then law student, Michael Goldman) has been a standard-bearer for me. In recent years, practice summaries available through Bloomberg, LexisNexis, and Westlaw (Practical Law Company) have been great supplements to the Miami Law Review article. In our transaction simulation course, which is more advanced, I often assign part of Anatomy of a Merger, written many moons ago by another former Skadden colleague, Jim Freund. Just this past week, I came across a new, short blog post on the anatomy of a stock purchase agreement on The M&A Lawyer Blog. Although I haven't yet given the post a review for teaching purposes, it is a nice summary in many respects and makes some points not made in other similar resources.
I will be revisiting my approach to the M&A part of my Corporate Finance course in the coming weeks. I am curious about how others teach M&A in a context like this--where the topic must be covered in about three-to-five class hours and include practice points, as well as a review of doctrine, theory, and policy. I am always interested in new materials and approaches that may reach more students better. I invite responses in the comments that may be useful to me and others.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I am married to the best husband and dad in the entire world. (Sorry to slight all of my many male family members and friends who are spouses or fathers, but I am knowingly and seriously playing favorites here!) My husband and I bought the anniversary memento pictured below a few years ago, and it just seems to be getting closer and closer to the reality of us as a couple (somewhat endearing, but aging) as time passes . . . .
Of course, our wedding was not the only important event in 1985. There's so much more to celebrate about that year! In fact, it was a banner year in business law. Here are a few of the significant happenings, in no particular order. Most relate to M&A doctrine and practice. I am not sure whether the list is slanted that way because I (a dyed-in-the-wool M&A/Securities lawyer) created it or whether the M&A heyday of the 1980s just spawned a lot of key activity in 1985.
- Smith v. Van Gorkom was decided. It was my 3L year at NYU Law. I remember the opinion being faxed to my Mergers & Acquisitions instructor during our class and being delivered--a big stack of those goofy curly thermal fax paper sheets--to the table in the seminar room where we met. Cool stuff. As I entered practice, business transactional lawyers were altering their advisory practices and their board scripts to take account of the decision.
- Unocal v. Mesa Petroleum was decided. The Delaware Supreme Court established its now famous two-part standard of review for takeover defenses, finding that "there was directorial power to oppose the Mesa tender offer, and to undertake a selective stock exchange made in good faith and upon a reasonable investigation pursuant to a clear duty to protect the corporate enterprise. Further, the selective stock repurchase plan chosen by Unocal is reasonable in relation to the threat that the board rationally and reasonably believed was posed." (The italics were added by me.) More changes to transactional practice . . . .
- Moran v. Household International was decided. As a result, I spent a large part of my first five years of law practice promoting and writing poison pills that innovated off the anti-takeover tool validated in this case. The firm I worked for was on the losing side of the Moran case, so we determined to build a better legal mousetrap, which then became the gold standard.
- The Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (RULPA) was amended by the Uniform Law Commission. Among the 1985 changes was an evolution of the rules relating to the liability of limited partners for partnership obligations. The 2001 version of the RULPA took those evolutions to their logical end point, allowing limited partners to enjoy limited liability for partnership obligations even if the limited partners exercise management authority over the partnership.
- Landreth Timber Co. v. Landreth was decided. Stock is a security under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, unless the context otherwise requires. The Court determined that instruments labeled stock that have the essential attributes of stock should be treated as stock in an offering context, even when the stock is transferred to sell a business. Bye-bye "sale of business" doctrine . . . .
That's enough on 30th anniversaries for this post. I am sure you all will think of more 30th anniversaries in business law that we can celebrate in 2015. Feel free to leave those additional 1985 memories in the comments.
Friday, August 21, 2015
In this interview, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine singles out C & J Energy Services, Inc. v. City of Miami General Employees’ ("Nabors"), 107 A.3d 1049 (2014) as, perhaps, the most important opinion he has authored as CJ.
Given such an endorsement, I took time to read the case yesterday. The following paragraphs get to the heart of the case, which overturned the Delaware Court of Chancery's mandate to shop the company at issue.
Revlon does not require a board to set aside its own view of what is best for the corporation’s stockholders and run an auction whenever the board approves a change of control transaction. As this Court has made clear, “there is no single blueprint that a board must follow to fulfill its duties,” and a court applying Revlon ‘s enhanced scrutiny must decide “whether the directors made a reasonable decision, not a perfect decision.”
In a series of decisions in the wake of Revlon, Chancellor Allen correctly read its holding as permitting a board to pursue the transaction it reasonably views as most valuable to stockholders, so long as the transaction is subject to an effective market check under circumstances in which any bidder interested in paying more has a reasonable opportunity to do so. Such a market check does not have to involve an active solicitation, so long as interested bidders have a fair opportunity to present a higher-value alternative, and the board has the flexibility to eschew the original transaction and accept the higher-value deal. The ability of the stockholders themselves to freely accept or reject the board’s preferred course of action is also of great importance in this context.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
The centerpiece of the Florange Law is a mandate that French companies give two votes to any share held for longer than two years. This goes against the historical one-vote-for-every-share system that most countries have. The law allows an opt-out if two-thirds of shareholders approve one by March 31, 2016.
ISS issued a guide (Download Impact-of-florange-act-france) opposing the law and encouraging investors to pressure directors to opt out of the law (through amendments to corporate bylaws) before the deadline.
Professor Davidoff Solomon questions the strength of the one-share-one-vote corporate democracy in the U.S., noting that recent IPOs, like Facebook, went public with two classes of stock as a anti-takeover measure. There is also the related question of what impact a law like this would have given the turnover rates of many institutional investors.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Monday, I had the privilege of moderating a discussion on structuring merger and acquisition transactions that I had organized as part of a continuing legal education program for the Tennessee Bar Association. Rather than doing the typical comparison/contrast of different business combination structures (with charts, etc.), I organized the hour-long discussion around the banter that corporate/securities and tax folks have in structuring a transaction. We used the terms of a proposed transaction (an LLC business being acquired by a public corporation) as a jumping-off point.
The idea for the format came from a water cooler conversation--literally--among me (in the role of a corporate/securities lawyer), one of my property lawyer colleagues, and one of my tax lawyer colleagues. The conversation started with a question my property law colleague had about the conveyance of assets in a merger. I told him that mergers are not asset conveyance transactions but, rather, statutory transactions that have the effects provided for in the statute, which include a vesting of assets in the surviving corporation. I told him that I call this "merger magic." I showed him Section 259(a) of the Delaware General Corporation Law:
When any merger or consolidation shall have become effective under this chapter, . . . all property, real, personal and mixed, and all debts due to any of said constituent corporations on whatever account, as well for stock subscriptions as all other things in action or belonging to each of such corporations shall be vested in the corporation surviving or resulting from such merger or consolidation . . . .
We discussed the possibility of an assignment/transfer of assets by operation of law under that provision and more generally under Delaware law in connection with different types of mergers, including recent case law regarding reverse triangular mergers. Ultimately, my property law colleague decided that a direct merger involved an asset sale by the target entity and a purchase transaction by the surviving corporation, as a matter of property law, notwithstanding my "merger magic" explanation I was forwarding as a descriptor under state corporate law.
The tax guy thought all this (both descriptions of a merger) was balderdash. These descriptions were too complex and stilted for his taste. Not to be outdone, he offered that all merger and acquisition transactions are either asset sales or sales of equity. At least, he allowed, that's how federal income tax law looks at them . . . . I told him that asset and equity sale transactions are joined by mergers (direct, reverse triangular, and forward triangular) and share exchange transactions (which are also statutory transactions, available in Tennessee and other Model Business Corporation Act states, but not available in Delaware) in the corporate lawyer's business combination toolkit. I also noted that federal securities law voting and reporting requirements work off these different corporate law descriptors.
Fascinating! Three lawyers, three different conceptions of business combination transactions. The moderated discussion on Monday was, in effect, an attempt by me to recreate, albeit in a different form, parts of that conversation. The discussion was, in my view, decently successful in achieving its limited purpose in the program. Nevertheless, I really wish I had a transcription of that original conversation by the water cooler. That was truly priceless . . . .
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
For thirty years, I have had a pet peeve about the media's routine reporting on mergers and acquisitions. I have kept this to myself, for the most part, other than scattered comments to law practice colleagues and law students over the years. Today, I go public with this veritable thorn in my side.
From many press reports (which commonly characterize business combinations as mergers), you would think that every business combination is structured as a merger. I know I am being picky here (since there are both legal and non-legal common parlance definitions of the verb "merge"). But a merger, to a business lawyer, is a particular form of business combination, to be distinguished from a stock purchase, asset purchase, consolidation, or statutory share exchange transaction.
The distinction is meaningful to business lawyers for whom the implications of deal type are well known. However, imho, it also can be meaningful to others with an interest in the transaction, assuming the implications of the deal structure are understood by the journalist and conveyed accurately to readers. For instance, the existence (or lack) of shareholder approval requirements and appraisal rights, the need for contractual consents, permit or license transfers or applications, or regulatory approvals, the tax treatment, etc. may differ based on the transaction structure.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Earlier this week I went to a really useful workshop conducted by the Venture Law Project and David Salmon entitled "Key Legal Docs Every Entrepreneur Needs." I decided to attend because I wanted to make sure that I’m on target with what I am teaching in Business Associations, and because I am on the pro bono list to assist small businesses. I am sure that the entrepreneurs learned quite a bit because I surely did, especially from the questions that the audience members asked. My best moment, though was when a speaker asked who knew the term "right of first refusal" and the only two people who raised their hands were yours truly and my former law student, who turned to me and gave me the thumbs up.
Their list of the “key” documents is below:
1) Operating Agreement (for an LLC)- the checklist included identity, economics, capital structure, management, transfer restrictions, consent for approval of amendments, and miscellaneous.
2) NDA- Salmon advised that asking for an NDA was often considered a “rookie mistake” and that venture capitalists will often refuse to sign them. I have heard this from a number of legal advisors over the past few years, and Ycombinator specifically says they won't sign one.
3) Term Sheets- the seminar used an example for a Series AA Preferred Stock Financing, which addressed capitalization, proposed private placement, etc.
4) Independent Contractor Agreement- the seminar creators also provided an IRS checklist.
6) Employment Agreement- as a former employment lawyer, I would likely make a lot of tweaks to the document, and vey few people have employment contracts in any event. But it did have good information about equity grants.
7) Convertible Promissory Note Purchase Agreement- here's where the audience members probably all said, "I need an attorney" and can't do this from some online form generator or service like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer.
8) Stock Purchase Agreement- the sample dealt with Series AA preferred stock.
9) IRS 83(b) form- for those who worry that they may have to pay taxes on "phantom income" if the value of their stock rises.
10) A detailed checklist dealing with basic incorporation, personnel/employee matters, intellectual property, and tax/finance/administration with a list of whether the responsible party should be the founders, attorney, officers, insurance agent, accountant, or other outside personnel.
What’s missing in your view? The speakers warned repeatedly that business people should not cut and paste from these forms, but we know that many will. So my final question- how do we train future lawyers so that these form generators and workshops don't make attorneys obsolete to potential business clients?
Friday, March 20, 2015
Bernard Sharfman has posted a new article entitled “Activist Hedge Funds in a World of Board Independence: Long-Term Value Creators or Destroyers?" In the paper he makes the argument that hedge fund activism contributes to long-term value creation if it can be assumed that the typical board of a public company has an adequate amount of independence to act as an arbitrator between executive management and the activist hedge fund. He also discusses these funds’ focus on disinvestment and attempts to challenge those in the Marty Lipton camp, who view these funds less charitably. In fact, Lipton recently called 2014 “the year of the wolf pack.” The debate on the merits of activist hedge funds has been heating up. Last month Forbes magazine outlined “The Seven Deadly Sins of Activist Hedge Funds,” including their promotion of share buybacks, aka “corporate cocaine.” Forbes was responding to a more favorable view of these funds by The Economist in its February 7, 2015 cover story.
Whether you agree with Sharfman or Lipton, the article is clearly timely and worth a read. The abstract is below:
Numerous empirical studies have shown that hedge fund activism has led to enhanced returns to investors and increased firm performance. Nevertheless, leading figures in the corporate governance world have taken issue with these studies and have argued that hedge fund activism leads to long-term value destruction.
In this article, it is argued that an activist hedge fund creates long-term value by sending affirming signals to the board of directors (Board) that its executive management team may be making inefficient decisions and providing recommendations on how the company should proceed in light of these inefficiencies. These recommendations require the Board to review and question the direction executive management is taking the company and then choosing which path the company should take, the one recommended by executive management, the one recommended by the activist hedge fund or a combination of both. Critical to this argument is the existence of a Board that can act as an independent arbitrator in deciding whose recommendations should be followed.
In addition, an explanation is given for why activist hedge funds do not provide recommendations that involve long-term investment. There are two reasons for this. First, the cognitive limitations and skill sets of those individuals who participate as activist hedge funds. Second, and most importantly, the stock market signals provided by value investors voting with their feet are telling the rest of the stock market that a particular public company is poorly managed and that it either needs to be replaced or given less assets to manage. These are the kind of signals and information that activist hedge funds are responding to when buying significant amounts of company stock and then making their recommendations for change. Therefore, it is not surprising that the recommendations of activist hedge funds will focus on trying to reduce the amount of assets under current management.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Contrary to widespread belief, corporate directors generally are not under a legal obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders. This is reflected in the acceptance in nearly all jurisdictions of some version of the business judgment rule, under which disinterested and informed directors have the discretion to act in what they believe to be in the best long term interests of the company as a separate entity, even if this does not entail seeking to maximise short-term shareholder value. Where directors pursue the latter goal, it is usually a product not of legal obligation, but of the pressures imposed on them by financial markets, activist shareholders, the threat of a hostile takeover and/or stock-based compensation schemes.
Prof. Bainbridge is with Delaware Chief Justice Strine in that profit maximization is the only role (or at least only filter) for board members. As he asserts, “The relationship between the shareholder wealth maximization norm and the business judgment rule, . . . explains why the business judgment rule is consistent with the director's "legal obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders."
Chief Justice Strine has noted that the eBay decision, which I have written about a lot, says that "the corporate law requires directors, as a matter of their duty of loyalty, to pursue a good faith strategy to maximize profits for the stockholders." I think this is right, but I remain convinced that absent self-dealing or a “pet project,” directors get to decide that what is in the shareholders' best interests.
I have been criticized in some sectors for being too pro-business for my views on corporate governance, veil piercing law, and energy policy. In contrast, I have also been said to be a “leftist commentator,” in some contexts, and I have been cited by none other than Chief Justice Strine as supporting a “liberal” view of corporate norms for my views on the freedom of director choice.
When it comes to the Business Judgment Rule, I think it might be just that I believe in a more hands-off view of director primacy more than many of both my “liberal” and “conservative” colleagues. Frankly, I don’t get too exercised by many of the corporate decisions that seem to agitate one side or the other. I thought I’d try to reconcile my views on this in a short statement. I decided to use the model from This I Believe, based on the 1950s Edward R. Murrow radio show. (Using the Crash Davis model I started with was a lot less family friendly.) Here’s what I came up with [Author's note, I have since fixed a typo that was noted by Prof. Bainbridge]:
I believe in the theory of Director Primacy. I believe in the Business Judgment Rule as an abstention doctrine, and I believe that Corporate Social Responsibility is choice, not a mandate. I believe in long-term planning over short-term profits, but I believe that directors get to choose either one to be the focus of their companies. I believe that directors can choose to pursue profit through corporate philanthropy and good works in the community or through mergers and acquisitions with a plan to slash worker benefits and sell-off a business in pieces. I believe that a corporation can make religious-based decisions—such as closing on Sundays—and that a corporation can make worker-based decisions—such as providing top-quality health care and parental leave—but I believe both such bases for decisions must be rooted in the directors’ judgment such decisions will maximize the value of the business for shareholders for the decision to get the benefit of business judgment rule protection. I believe that directors, and not shareholders or judges, should make decisions about how a company should pursue profit and stability. I believe that public companies should be able to plan like private companies, and I believe the decision to expand or change a business model is the decision of the directors and only the directors. I believe that respect for directors’ business judgment allows for coexistence of companies of multiple views—from CVS Caremark and craigslist to Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby—without necessarily violating any shareholder wealth maximization norms. Finally, I believe that the exercise of business judgment should not be run through a liberal or conservative filter because liberal and conservative business leaders have both been responsible for massive long-term wealth creation. This, I believe.
Friday, January 9, 2015
There are many Delaware cases from 2014 that are worth reading, but below are three relatively recent Delaware cases that I found worthwhile. I provide the case name, my very short takeaway, and links to the case and additional commentary for those who wish to dive deeper.
In re Zhongpin Inc. Stockholders Litigation, controlling stockholders, decided Nov. 26, 2014. In denying a motion to dismiss, the Delaware Court of Chancery found a reasonable inference that a 17.3% stockholder/CEO could be a “controlling stockholder.” I have not done an exhaustive search on this issue, but this is a lower percentage of ownership for a “controlling stockholder” than I have seen in most cases, though (of course) the analysis is case specific. Additional commentary by Toby Myerson (Paul Weiss).
C.J. Energy Services, Inc. et al v. City of Miami General Employees’ and Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust, M&A/Revlon, decided Dec. 19, 2014. The Delaware Court of Chancery held that “there was a ‘plausible’ violation of the board’s Revlon duties because the board did not affirmatively shop the company either before or after signing.” (pg. 3). The Delaware Court of Chancery enjoined the shareholder vote on the transaction at issue for 30-days and “required [the defendant] to shop itself in violation of the merger agreement . . . which prohibited [the defendant] from soliciting other bids.” Id. In this case, the Delaware Supreme Court reserved, stating that the Court of Chancery did not fulfill the stringent requirements for issuing a mandatory injunction, reminding that there are various ways to satisfy Revlon, and mentioning that this case did not have evidence of “defensive, entrenching motives,” as seen in Revlon and QVC. Note that the 38-page opinion was cranked out in just two days after the case was submitted. The handling of these expedited cases by the Delaware courts is one of the things that make Delaware attractive to corporations. Additional commentary by Brian Quinn (Boston College).
United Technologies Corp. v. Lawrence Treppel, books and records, decided Dec. 23, 2014. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s holding that the Court of Chancery did not have authority to restrict documents produced in a books and records inspection to use only in cases filed in Delaware courts. The Delaware Supreme Court remanded to the Delaware Court of Chancery to decide whether the Court of Chancery will exercise its discretion to so restrict the use of the information obtained in the books and records inspection. In this case, United Technologies insisted that Treppel sign a confidentiality agreement when he sought to inspect books and records, which is fairly common, but the confidentiality agreement also limited the forum, of any claim brought using the information inspected, to Delaware courts. At the time of the inspection request, United Technologies did not have a forum selection clause in its bylaws, but it later adopted one. As the broader forum selection debates continue, it will be interesting to see how the Delaware Court of Chancery handles this case in the books and records context, especially because the Delaware Court of Chancery has been encouraging plaintiffs to use the “tools at hand,” such as books and records requests, before filing derivative lawsuits. Beyond the substance, one remarkable thing about this decision is that Chief Justice Leo Strine authored an opinion that was only 14 pages. When he was on the Court of Chancery he would author 100+ page opinions with some regularity. Granted, the Court of Chancery is a trial court and their opinions tend to be a good bit longer than the Delaware Supreme Court opinions, regardless of the judge. Additional commentary by Celia Taylor (Denver Law).
For reading beyond these three cases, former Delaware Supreme Court Justice Jack Jacobs comments on two additional recent Delaware cases here (M&A related).