Saturday, November 28, 2009
Wow. Just got around to watching the arguments before Vice Chancellor Strine in In re Bank of America Shareholders Litigation. On a motion to dismiss, Vice Chancellor Strine didn't appear easily convinced. If you haven't seen it, yet, drop by in between football games. It's available on demand at CourtRoom View here and worth watching.
Among other things, the directors' attorney (Portnoy) argues that the suit should be dismissed because the shareholders refused to make demand and the board is sufficiently disinterested. Strine accepts that and takes one step further - so your argument is that the board was sufficiently ignorant of what was going on that they would be impartial in determining whether or not to pursue the litigation. "A turnip truck I did not fall off of..." Ouch.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
I have been giving some thought to how jurisdictions other than Delaware deal with the question of intermediate scrutiny. Although Delaware leads the way in the M&A jurisprudence, other states have gone their own way in important respects. One of them is the hesitance of other states to adopt the Unocal, or intermediate scrutiny, doctrine in the context of board responses to takeovers.
I think I understand why and how things developed this way. It's an old story. The 1980s LBO boom was a scourge for management. They used whatever tools at their disposal to prevent an acquisition, lest they be shown the door by new management. The Delaware courts stepped in to put a limit on unreasonable and draconian defenses. In short, the message from the courts was that boards did not have a free hand to put off all takeover attempts. There were limits, albeit not always binding.
In any event, Ohio has what I think is a pretty typical constituency provision (GCL 1701.59):
(E) For purposes of this section, a director, in determining what the director reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the corporation, shall consider the interests of the corporation’s shareholders and, in the director’s discretion, may consider any of the following:
(1) The interests of the corporation’s employees, suppliers, creditors, and customers;
(2) The economy of the state and nation;
(3) Community and societal considerations;
(4) The long-term as well as short-term interests of the corporation and its shareholders, including the possibility that these interests may be best served by the continued independence of the corporation.
Now, that's pretty management friendly language. The interests of shareholders always have to be considered and in the director's discretion other interests can be weighed against that, just in case the interests of the shareholders and other constituencies don't entirely mesh. This isn't inconsistent with the liberty that a Delaware director is given to consider all sorts of factors before the corporation undertakes an action. That's the value of the business judgment presumption.
(5) When evaluating any offer of another party to make a tender or exchange offer for any equity security of the corporation, or any proposal to merge or consolidate the corporation with another corporation or to purchase or otherwise acquire all or substantially all the properties and assets of the corporation, the directors of the corporation may, in determining what they believe to be in the best interests of the corporation, give due consideration to the social, legal and economic effects on employees, customers and suppliers of the corporation and on the communities and geographical areas in which the corporation and its subsidiaries operate, the economy of the state and nation, the long-term as well as short-term interests of the corporation and its shareholders, including the possibility that these interests may be best served by the continued independence of the corporation, and other relevant factors.
Certain judicial decisions in Delaware and other jurisdictions, which might otherwise be looked to for guidance in interpreting Indiana corporate law, including decisions relating to potential change of control transactions that impose a different or higher degree of scrutiny on actions taken by directors in response to a proposed acquisition of control of the corporation, are inconsistent with the proper application of the business judgment rule under this article. Therefore, the general assembly intends:
(2) to protect both directors and the validity of corporate action taken by them in the good faith exercise of their business judgment after reasonable investigation.