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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

URI/Cerberus: The Complaint

RAM said it would need to draw on its committed bridge financing facilities, but in the current credit markets it was not prepared to impair relationships with RAM’s financing sources by forcing them to fund [the acquisition of United Rentals]. . . .

--  URI Complaint alleging the reasons why Cerberus has repudiated its agreement with URI and perhaps revealing where Cerberus's true allegiances lie.

United Rentals yesterday filed suit against the Cerberus acquisition vehicles, RAM Holdings, Inc. and RAM Acquisition Corp. (for ease of reference I will refer to them as Cerberus).  The complaint is about as straight-forward as they get.  United Rentals sole claim is that Section 9.10 of the merger agreement requires specific performance of Cerberus's obligations.  Section 9.10 of the United Rentals/Cerberus merger agreement states:

The parties agree that irreparable damage would occur in the event that any of the provisions of this Agreement were not performed in accordance with their specific terms or were otherwise breached. Accordingly . . . . (b) the Company shall be entitled to seek an injunction or injunctions to prevent breaches of this Agreement by Parent or Merger Sub or to enforce specifically the terms and provisions of this Agreement and the Guarantee to prevent breaches of or enforce compliance with those covenants of Parent or Merger Sub that require Parent or Merger Sub to (i) use its reasonable best efforts to obtain the Financing and satisfy the conditions to closing set forth in Section 7.1 and Section 7.3, including the covenants set forth in Section 6.8 and Section 6.10 and (ii) consummate the transactions contemplated by this Agreement, if in the case of this clause (ii), the Financing (or Alternative Financing obtained in accordance with Section 6.10(b)) is available to be drawn down by Parent pursuant to the terms of the applicable agreements but is not so drawn down solely as a result of Parent or Merger Sub refusing to do so in breach of this Agreement. The provisions of this Section 9.10 shall be subject in all respects to Section 8.2(e) hereof, which Section shall govern the rights and obligations of the parties hereto (and of the Guarantor, the Parent Related Parties, and the Company Related Parties) under the circumstances provided therein.

United Rentals must still get around Section 8.2(e) of the merger agreement which purports to trump this provision and limit Cerberus's aggregate liability to no more than $100,000,000.  This clause states: 

(e) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Agreement, including with respect to Sections 7.4 and 9.10, (i) the Company’s right to terminate this Agreement in compliance with the provisions of Sections 8.1(d)(i) and (ii) and its right to receive the Parent Termination Fee pursuant to Section 8.2(c) or the guarantee thereof pursuant to the Guarantee, and (ii) Parent’s right to terminate this Agreement pursuant to Section 8.1(e)(i) and (ii) and its right to receive the Company Termination Fee pursuant to Section 8.2(b) shall, in each case, be the sole and exclusive remedy, including on account of punitive damages, of (in the case of clause (i)) the Company and its subsidiaries against Parent, Merger Sub, the Guarantor or any of their respective affiliates, stockholders, general partners, limited partners, members, managers, directors, officers, employees or agents (collectively “Parent Related Parties”) and (in the case of clause (ii)) Parent and Merger Sub against the Company or its subsidiaries, affiliates, stockholders, directors, officers, employees or agents (collectively “Company Related Parties”), for any and all loss or damage suffered as a result thereof, and upon any termination specified in clause (i) or (ii) of this Section 8.2(e) and payment of the Parent Termination Fee or Company Termination Fee, as the case may be, none of Parent, Merger Sub, Guarantor or any of their respective Parent Related Parties or the Company or any of the Company Related Parties shall have any further liability or obligation of any kind or nature relating to or arising out of this Agreement or the transactions contemplated by this Agreement as a result of such termination. The parties acknowledge and agree that the Parent Termination Fee and the Company Termination Fee constitute liquidated damages and are not a penalty and shall be the sole and exclusive remedy for recovery by the Company and its subsidiaries or Parent and Merger Sub, as the case may be, in the event of the termination of this Agreement by the Company in compliance with the provisions of Section 8.1(d)(i) or (ii) or Parent pursuant to Section 8.1(e)(i) and (ii), including on account of punitive damages. In no event, whether or not this Agreement has been terminated pursuant to any provision hereof, shall Parent, Merger Sub, Guarantor or the Parent Related Parties, either individually or in the aggregate, be subject to any liability in excess of the Parent Termination Fee for any or all losses or damages relating to or arising out of this Agreement or the transactions contemplated by this Agreement, including breaches by Parent or Merger Sub of any representations, warranties, covenants or agreements contained in this Agreement, and in no event shall the Company seek equitable relief or seek to recover any money damages in excess of such amount from Parent, Merger Sub, Guarantor or any Parent Related Party or any of their respective Representatives.

United Rentals argues that this damages limitation clause does not bar its specific performance claim since:

RAM implied in its November 14, 2007 letter that this explicit contractual provision, headed “Specific Performance” has no force and effect because of language in Section 8.2(e) of the Merger Agreement. But RAM is incorrect. As reflected in the language of the Merger Agreement itself, and as described in the Proxy Statement that RAM and its counsel reviewed and signed off on, Section 8.2(e) limits rights to equitable relief only in the event that the Merger Agreement has been terminated.

I'm surprised at this argument.  The limitation in Section 8.2(e) specifically has the qualification:  "In no event, whether or not this Agreement has been terminated pursuant to any provision hereof . . . ."  This would seem to make its applicability wider than just termination events.  Moreover, Section 9.10 specifically makes its provisions subject to clause 8.2(e).  I just don't think that United Rental's argument here is compelling since a better, though not certain reading, of this clause would be that its liability cap is applicable in circumstances other than termination of the agreement. 

Instead of the above argument, I would have thought that United Rentals would have argued what I postulated they would the other day

Conversely, United Rentals is going to argue that "equitable relief" here refers to other types of equitable relief than set out in Section 9.10 and that to read Section 8.1(e) any other way would render Section 9.10 meaningless. United Rentals will also argue that specific performance of the financing commitment letters here is at no cost to Cerberus and so the limit is not even met. 

But United Rentals has the benefit of the lawyers who negotiated for them and the currently non-public parol evidence as to how the contract was meant to be read, so perhaps the plain fact is that clause 8.2(e), though in-artfully drafted, was actually meant to be interpreted this way.  Still, I wonder how United Rentals will ultimately explain the qualification "whether or not this agreement has been terminated".  Regardless, this is a clearly ambiguous contract; this is a conclusion I can make even before reading Cerberus's response.  This dispute will have to be resolved at trial in Delaware Chancery Court -- an event that is 6-9 months out at best, even on an expedited basis. 

Finally, United Rentals makes a big deal in their complaint about their proxy disclosure, and Cerberus's failure to correct it.  United Rentals claims that this shows that their interpretation is the correct one.  I'm not so sure about this.  While ex post facto conduct can evidence the parties intentions with respect to the contract, their reading of the proxy statement can easily be disputed by Cerberus.  Moreover, Cerberus's failure to comment here is weak evidence as opposed to affirmative, conscious conduct.   For those who want to read the proxy disclosure and make their own conclusions, here it is: 

Specific Performance

Parent, Merger Sub and the Company have agreed that irreparable damage would occur in the event that any of the provisions of the merger agreement were not performed in accordance with their specific terms or were otherwise breached. Accordingly, the parties have agreed that they shall be entitled to seek an injunction to prevent breaches of the merger agreement and to be able to enforce specifically the terms and provisions of the merger agreement, in addition to any other remedy to which such party is entitled at law or in equity, including the covenants of Parent or Merger Sub that require Parent or Merger Sub to (i) use its reasonable best efforts to obtain the financing and satisfy certain conditions to closing, and (ii) consummate the transactions contemplated by the merger agreement, if the financing (or alternative financing) is available to be drawn down by Parent pursuant to the terms of the applicable agreements but is not so drawn down solely as a result of Parent or Merger Sub refusing to do so in breach of this Agreement. The provisions relating to specific performance are subject to the rights and obligations of the parties relating to receipt of payment of the termination fee, as described above under “Fees and Expenses,” under the circumstances described therein.

Fees and Expenses

The merger agreement provides that our right to terminate the merger agreement in the above circumstances and receive payment of the $100 million termination fee is the sole and exclusive remedy available to the Company and its subsidiaries against Parent, Merger Sub, the guarantor and any of their respective affiliates, stockholders, general partners, limited partners, members, managers, directors, officers, employees or agents for any loss or damage suffered as a result of such termination.

To the extent this proxy disclosure is actually unambiguous, my guess is that United Rentals post-signing recognized the uncertainty in the actual agreement and tried to cure it here without raising Cerberus's ire or comment.  The result is the neutral language above which I believe is still far from definitive and certainly not dispositive.  I think United Rentals is grasping for parol evidence.  I suspect that this may be because there is not really anything out there on paper evidencing the negotiation of this provision other than mark-ups -- further weakening their case in light of their less than compelling argument above.

Final question:  what then were the proxy comments of Cerberus which URI alledgedly ignored and which Cerberus referred to in its August 31 letter

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/mergers/2007/11/uri-legal-analy.html

Delaware, Litigation, Merger Agreements, Private Equity | Permalink

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