Friday, January 10, 2014
The Delaware Grapevine pumps the brakes a bit:
As conventional a choice as Strine seems, his elevation would still be something of an act of faith, because he does not come with the standard judicious temperament. Instead, he is a grandiose and contradictory figure, as brilliant and comic as he can be defensive and browbeating.
When Strine went on the bench as a vice chancellor in 1998, he described himself as a "mad wizard," and it is never certain which Strine will show up, either the judicial wizard or the madman.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Reuters: Do you think that once you join the Supreme Court you’ll change the views you held on the Court of Chancery?
Strine: An absurd scenario, at best fit for a discussion by a Red Bull-fueled group of nerdy second-year law school corporate law junkies, who find themselves dateless (big surprise) on yet another Saturday night.
My guess is that we will have less of this on the Supreme Court than we had at the Chancery Court - the opportunities for judges to riff from the bench are more limited - so enjoy it while you can.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
I took advantage of the brief time between exams and the holidays to hop down to Delaware to sit in on the appellate arguments in MFW Shareholder Litigation. You'll remember that in MFW Chancellor Strine was presented with a question - in a controlling shareholder transaction which is conditioned on both negotiation and approval by an independent, special committee and a fully-informed, uncoerced vote of the majority of the minority what is the proper standard of review. Chancellor Strine held that the proper strandard of review for a transaction in which the controller essentially disables itself is business judgment.
[If you don't need any of this background and just want a quick summary of the argument, feel free to skip down.]
Since Weinberger, entire fairness has been the standard for transactions involving controlling shareholders. In Kahn v Lynch, the Supreme Court provided a gloss on Weinberger's entire fairness standard for controlling shareholder transaction. Where the controller does the transaction in reliance on either a special committee or a vote of the majority of the minority, the burden shifts from the controller to plaintiff to prove that the transaction was not entirely fair. But, as Chancellor Strine noted in Cox Communications, the decision by the Supreme Court to keep the entire fairness standard in play made it impossible to get even weak complaints dismissed at an early stage. In no small part, Kahn v Lynch was a contributor to the 'litigation industrial complex' - generating almost guaranteed valuable settlement opportunities at the mere announcement of a controlling shareholder transaction no matter how valuable the underlying transaction for minority shareholders.
In MFW, Chancellor Strine had an opportunity to directly address the question of the proper standard of review in a controlling shareholder transaction where the controller conditioned the deal on robust procedural protections that essentially disabled the controller. The question for the corut was whether additional protections should give the board any credit - perhaps even sufficient credit to get weak claims dismissed early. Chancellor Strine put the 'credit' problem this way:
Uncertainty about the answer to a question that had not been put to our Supreme Court thus left controllers with an incentive system all of us who were adolescents (or are now parents or grandparents of adolescents) can understand. Assume you have a teenager with math and English assignments due Monday morning. If you tell the teenager that she can go to the movies Saturday night if she completes her math or English homework Saturday morning, she is unlikely to do both assignments Saturday morning. She is likely to do only that which is necessary to get to go to the movies—i.e., complete one of the assignments—leaving her parents and siblings to endure her stressful last-minute scramble to finish the other Sunday night.
Plaintiffs in MFW improvidently decided not to settle, rather seeking the option of going for post-closing damages. Their mistake. That gave Chancellor Strine the opportunity to address the question that eluded him in Cox. In MFW, Chancellor Strine announced that where a transaction with a controller is conditioned on both negotiation and approval by an independent, special committee and a fully-informed, uncoerced vote of the majority of the minority that business judgment is the proper standard of review.
[Appeal before Delaware Supreme Court]
OK. So that brings us to today in Dover where the Supreme Court met en banc to hear the plaintiff's appeal. I went down to watch the arguments and seem the wheels of corporate justice turn. Justice Holland sat as acting chief. Judge Jan Jurden sat by designation (Someone trying her out? Just sayin'...).
Justice Holland noted for the plaintiffs benefit that the court decided to hear the case en banc because, well, maybe the court wanted to write a new rule... Was that big enough of a hint that the court is looking to make some new law here? Justice Jacobs made the issue more explicit for the plaintiffs - forget about the particular facts of this case, what is the policy reason why the Supreme Court should accept or reject the Chancellor's reasoning.
Unfortunately, the plaintiffs weren't really up to the task of articulating a good reason why the procedural protections in MFW aren't robust enough to generate the business judgment presumption for a special committee. Plaintiffs asserted that special committees are structurally biased in favor of controllers in almost all circumstances. OK, so I am generally pretty cynical, but I still believe in the court's presumptions. Near as I can tell, special committees still get the presumption of independence until plaintiffs present facts that they aren't. Plaintiffs, it seemed, wanted the court to toss the presumption of independence of special committees altoghether in controlling shareholder transactions. Why? Not sure exactly why. But, if you are proposing to the court that directors shouldn't have the presumption of independence, then one really should have a strong articulated reason why. In any event, it didn't seem like the court was entertaining that notion.
Rather, the court quickly turned to the power of the fully-informed, uncoerced vote of a majority of the minority. Why isn't that powerful enough - together with the special committee - to get the business judgment presumption Justice Jacobs wondered? Well, well, because arbs! Oh, wait. Aren't arbs stockholders? Yes, but they just want to make money. So, shareholder votes shouldn't get credit? Again...the plaintiffs failed to clearly articulate a policy reason why a fully-informed, uncoerced vote of the majority of the minority isn't going to work. In general the plaintiffs struggled to provide the court with any reasons to overturn Chancellor Strine's reasoning.
When counsel for the special committee got their chance, they did a much better job of articulating reasons to uphold Chancellor Strine ruling. Justice Berger asked whether with the procedural safeguards the result of the special committee/majority of minority process was equivalent to an arm's length deal? No, was the response, but for the purposes of judicial review the precedural protections that disable the controller put the special committee in the same place as an independent board that would otherwise get the protection of business judgment. There was some push-back from Justice Berger on that point - particularly that even though the controller disabled itself, it's the controller who is the impetus for the transaction, not the special committee.
If the plaintiffs manage to get the Supreme Court to overturn the Chancery Court's opinion in MFW Justice Berger's point will likely be the reason. While, the special committee and the unaffiliated shareholders can still say no, it's the controller (and only the controller) who always gets the ball rolling. Because only the controller is permitted to 'set the scene' for the sale, the special committee process and the following shareholder votes are irretrievably infected by a structural bias that requires entire fairness to be the standard rather than business judgment. There, I made the plaintiff's argument for them.
As in previous cases, I won't hazard a guess on the actual outcome of this argument. However, I will note the old saying that 'you can't win an appeal at oral argument, but you can lose one.'
Friday, December 13, 2013
Following along the same theme as yesterday - multi-forum litigation, we have a ruling from Chancellor Strine in the Cheap Trick litigation.
In short, Chancellor Strine dismissed the case without prejudice in favor of the parties resolving their issues in front of a Federal judge in Illinois. This litigation is really a pretty garden variety issue at heart -- board members of a corporation with a voting rule that requires unanimous consent of all the members of the board fight with each other about the removal of one member of the board. Deadlocked, they turn to the courts to help them resolve their mess. Or, in other words, "What do mean I'm not in the band anymore?"
From the Delawareonline piece:
In August 2013, band members Richard Nielsen, Thomas Peterson and Robin Zander sued drummer Brad Carlson in Delaware Chancery Court seeking to remove him as a member of the group’s board of directors, claiming he left the band in 2010 by no longer performing with them on tour.
A month earlier Carlson had sued Nielsen, Peterson and Zander in U.S. District Court in Illinois over his removal...
In a bench ruling, Strine dismissed the Delaware action in favor of the earlier filed Illinois action.
Strine said Illinois, where the band formed in the 1970s and where two members still live, was a logical jurisdiction for resolving "garden-variety" questions of contract interpretation, including whether Carlson is still a member of the band.
So, while Delaware may have an institutional interest to keep as much corporate litigation at home as possible, this interest does not prevent Delaware courts from letting go of high-profile litigation when it was clearly filed earlier in another jurisdiction and it doesn't implicate novel issues of Delaware law.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
I have just about fallen down the rabbit hole that is the end of the law school semester and will soon be up to my ears in law school exams. But, before I disappear, here's a new paper from Eric Chiappinelli, The Underappreciated Importance of Personal Jurisdiction in Delaware's Success:
The judges of the Delaware Court of Chancery are aggressively trying to stop stockholder/plaintiffs from filing corporate law cases outside of Delaware. Delaware believes that its position as the center of corporate litigation is in danger because cases are no longer filed exclusively there. If litigation continues to flow away from Delaware, it would jeopardize Delaware’s prominence in corporate law and the large revenues Delaware receives from out of state businesses that are incorporated there.
I argue that scholars and the Delaware judges underappreciate the vital importance of personal jurisdiction over corporate directors in Delaware’s quest to become and remain the center of corporate litigation. I show that Delaware’s dominance in litigation in large part stemmed from, and is now dependent upon, its unique system of personal jurisdiction.
None of Delaware’s attempts to stop cases from flowing out of Delaware will be enduringly successful without addressing the weaknesses in its current personal jurisdiction statute. I argue that Delaware should adopt a new statute that both will remedy the current flaws and will be effective in encouraging stockholder/plaintiffs to litigate in Delaware.
This is a new look on what is a now growing field of research - how to think about multi-jurisdictional litigation.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
You probably missed the quiet retirement dinner for the Chief Justice at the Wilmington Club last week. Earlier this week, Delaware's Judicial Nominating Committee passed on all four names (Berger, Jurden, Strine, and Vaughn) to the governor for his consideration. For now, Justice Holland is the senior justice on the court and the rest of us await Governor Markell's decision. The Delaware Grapevine has all the inside info here.
OK, so here is the probably the first of what might ultimately be a handful of appraisal pettions filed with the Delaware Chancery Court. This one was was entered at the end of October. OK, so the thing that strikes me immediately is that the petitioner holds only 100 shares. Really?! 100 shares?! Definitely someone was drinking the Icahn appraisal kool-aid. The petitioner looks to get their attorney fees paid for by Dell. I should hope so. With 100 shares at stake, the fees just to file the peition have probably wiped out the economic value of the petitioner's position. The only way this petition makes a lick of sense is if there is a large class of petitioners that this one can join.
Turns out that the class of shareholders who are seeking appraisal is 47,529,513. Here's the list of petitioners (verified list of petitioners). Of those shareholders seeking appraisal, 14% failed to perfect their rights (either by not holding continuously, or by not signing their demand letter, or by submitting the demand letter too late). That leaves almost 41 million shares seeking appraisal. Sounds like a lot!
Actually, it turns out that the 41 million who have perfected their rights represent only 2% of the outstanding shares of Dell. In many states (but not Delaware), the appraisal statutes require that a minimum percentage (typically 5%) of shareholders seek appraisal before the court will entertain an appraisal petition.
Icahn himself held over 156 million shares of Dell. When he decided to take the merger consideration that really took the steam out of appraisal push.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
WHYY reports that the Delaware Supreme Court has begun to post mp4/video recordings of all arguments. Right now, video recordings are available back to October 9. You can find them at the Delaware Supreme Court's website. Going forward the video recordings will be posted as a matter of course, although they will be one or two days delayed. Nevertheless, they will be a great resource for lawyers, students, and others interested in the corporate law.
Even though, one can now watch the arguments from afar, I'm still likely going to find myself going to Dover for the arugments in the pending MFW and Cooper appeals (December 18/19). Corporate geek.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
According to the Delaware Law Weekly, it's down to two:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
So, notwithstanding statements that Delaware was considering filing an appeal of the third circuit's opinion declaring the Chancery Court's arbitration procedure unconstitutional, it has allowed the first deadline to pass:
Attorneys for Delaware and the Chancery Court could have demanded that all the judges on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals review the case, a procedure called an “en banc” review, but the deadline to make that request expired Nov. 6, leaving only a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which must be done by January 21.
We'll see. My personal opinion: Delaware should permit the arbitration procedure to go forward, but require the proceedings to remain open to the public.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
So there you have it. Just hit PACER today (h/t KWC). Here's the opinion (DCOGvStrine). Lengthy exploration of civil trials and arbitrations in the opinion. I'm reading now...
From the opinion:
Finally, Appellants argue that opening the proceeding would effectively end Delaware’s arbitration program. This argument assumes that confidentiality is the sole advantage of Delaware’s proceeding over regular Chancery Court proceedings. But if that were true—if Delaware’s arbitration were just a secret civil trial—it would clearly contravene the First Amendment right of access. On the contrary: as the Appellants point out in the rest of their brief, there are other differences between Delaware’s government-sponsored arbitration and regular Chancery Court proceedings. Arbitrations are entered into with the parties’ consent, the parties have procedural flexibility, and the arbitrator’s award is subject to more limited review. Thus, disputants might still opt for arbitration if they would like access to Chancery Court judges in a proceeding that can be faster and more flexible than regular Chancery Court trials.
Funny, I think someone I know argued just that same argument not long ago.... More from the opinion:
Delaware’s proceedings are conducted by Chancery Court judges, in Chancery Court during ordinary court hours, and yield judgments that are enforceable in the same way as judgments resulting from ordinary Chancery Court proceedings. Delaware’s proceedings derive a great deal of legitimacy and authority from the state. They would be far less attractive without their association with the state. Therefore, the interests of the state and the public in openness must be given weight, not just the interests of rich businesspersons in confidentiality.
Like history, logic weighs in favor of granting access to Delaware’s government-sponsored arbitration proceedings. The benefits of access are significant. It would ensure accountability and allow the public to maintain faith in the Delaware judicial system. A possible decrease in the appeal of the proceeding and a reduction in its conciliatory potential are comparatively less weighty, and they fall far short of the “profound” security concerns we found compelling in North Jersey Media Group. See 308 F.3d at 220.
Because there has been a tradition of accessibility to proceedings like Delaware’s government-sponsored arbitration, and because access plays an important role in such proceedings, we find that there is a First Amendment right of access to Delaware’s government-sponsored arbitrations. We will therefore affirm the order of the District Court.
Boom. There you have it. A resounding victory for my profession...in that there will continue to be a corporate law for me to teach going forward...
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Last month, I posted a little blurb on Vice Chancellor Laster's denial of a motion to consolidate based in part entirely on the fact that plaintiffs had captioned the consolidated case "shareholder litigation" and not "stockholder" litigation. The Vice Chancellor's comments were succinct, "Under whose law do you think you are litigating?"
Me? I find that kind of thing entertaining and on the whole not troublesome. Afterall, I remember my brief experience as an associate. In my first drafting project, I used shareholder and stockholder interchangeably. Using the same word all the time seemed so ... boring. Of course, there was a sea of red ink on the document when it came back. OK, lesson learned - consistency in drafting. The next version of the document went up and came back in another sea of red ink! Stockholder, not shareholder.... grumbles among the associate ranks, but okay. In a later assignment, I decided to show how much I learned, so I was consistent and only used 'stockholder'. The joke was on me, though. More red ink ... it's shareholder for California corporations!
What? You've never had an experience like this? I find that odd. Of course you have. Who instructs their associates to draft in any which way they please? No one, that's who.
In any event, the whole tomato/tomahto thing generated a little bit of a kerfluffle in ways that my regular posts of insider trading or LBOs just don't.
My take? This is an internal affair of the State of Delaware. If the courts of Delaware have decided that plaintiffs should caption their litigation "stockholder litigation" and not "shareholder litigation", so be it. Who am I to complain? No substantive rights are affected either way, so let Delaware have its way.
It's not like last month's denial was the first time Vice Chancellor Laster has been tilting at this particular windmill. Last year, he observed in a settlement hearing in Adams Shareholder Litigation:
"Today's hearing is so that I can consider the proposed class action settlement in In re Adams Golf Shareholder Litigation, C.A. No. 7354. I note, for the benefit of everyone who captions these cases, that with the 2010 amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law, there are no longer any stray references in the DGCL that use the term 'shareholder.' The DGCL uniformly uses the term 'stockholder.' 'Shareholder' is a model act concept, although it did slip in in Section 203 for a few years. And certainly our decisions are not always scrupulous in observing the distinction. Nevertheless, I will humor myself, if no one else, by thinking of this privately as In re Adams Golf Stockholder Litigation."
A check of the Delaware code turns up only one reference to shareholder -- a stray parenthetical reference in the new Section 251(g) (hey, someone get on that!). Otherwise, the word shareholder is nowhere to be found.
What to make of all this? It's not as if stockholders of Delaware corporations lose or are otherwise denied substantive rights if they call themselves shareholders. The two words are, afterall, synonyms in normal parlance. However, if attention to detail is the stock and trade of a transactional lawyer's craft -- and it is, it is -- then it's surprising to me that there might be even the slightest pushback in a demand that we pay attention to detail.
So...tomato, tomahto I guess...but if you are in front of a Delaware court, you better make sure it's stockholder all the same.
Monday, October 14, 2013
The Delaware News Journal (via Delaware Online) handicaps the pick for Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. Although there are a number of possibles, the News Journal thinks it comes down to a choice between Chancellor Leo Strine and Justice Randy Holland. Of course, a selection of Randy Holland as Chief Justice doesn't preclude elevating Chancellor Strine to the Supreme Court. More and more signs seem to be pointing to Strine at least getting elevated to the Supreme Court. I wonder if he even wants that particular job. I suppose he might. If he does get a nod, then that leaves his seat as Chancellor open. Any takers there?
Friday, September 27, 2013
So...what? You think you know who is going to get nominated to fill Chief Justice Steele's soon to be empty seat? Ha. You know nothing. Want some informed speculation, beyond, "Well, it's Strine, right?" then go here to the Delaware Grapevine. You'll get tidbits like this:
For now, there is no telling who will be next to assume the Supreme Court's center seat.
Within the state's legal circles, it would not be seen as a surprise if all four justices apply. Other names being mentioned are: Leo Strine Jr., the chancellor from the Court of Chancery; Jim Vaughn Jr., the president judge of the Superior Court; and Jan Jurden, a Superior Court judge.
Or even better, insight like this that might really inform who gets the nod:
All eyes are primarily on Leo Strine Jr., the chancellor on Chancery, and Jan Jurden, a judge on the Superior Court, as the major contenders for chief justice, although the field easily could include any or all of the justices, the presiding judges of other courts and various senior partners, particularly the ones with corporate law practices.
Strine is as aggressively brilliant as Jurden is logistically grounded, his Slytherin to her Gryffindor.
Before they were judges, they did a turn in the political trenches, Strine as the counsel to Tom Carper, when the Democratic senator was the governor, and Jurden as an officer for the New Castle County Democratic Party.
They practiced at firms known as incubators for judges, Strine at Skadden, the out-of-state behemoth, and Jurden at Young Conaway Stargett & Taylor, the homegrown powerhouse.
Strine has been through a cutthroat confirmation war already. Carper wanted to make him a vice chancellor in 1998, but Strine as his counsel was not known for suffering fools, and this attitude was perhaps not the best approach for dealing with the legislature, kind of known as a ship of fools. There were hard feelings.
Strine did get confirmed, but not before Carper agreed to name one senator's son a judge and another senator's nephew a Family Court commissioner.
Jurden had no such trouble when Ruth Ann Minner, the Democratic governor, put her on the bench in 2001. All she had hanging out there were the editorial cartoons drawn by Jack Jurden, her father. Her confirmation went easily.
It's cheaper than getting on the Acela and probably much better informed than what you'll hear in the Club Car.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Kyle Wagner Compton's deep dive into the Delaware Chancery Court turns up another example of Vice Chancellor Laster trying to move mountains - in this case trying to get lawyers to refer to shareholder litigation as stockholder litigation. Vice Chancellor Laster denied a proposed order to consolidate a series of cases into a single case titled " In re Astex ShareholderLitigation" with the following:
"Shareholders litigation? Under what state's corporate law do you believe you are litigating?"
Laster has been trying to change conventions for while now. Students sometime ask what's the difference between shareholder and stockholder. The correct answer is, well, nothing, but...but...corporate law drafting isn't creative writing. To the extent one is looking at the statute, it's probably always better practice to rely on the language of the statute. Laster's effort is a small one to move away from the convention of calling representative litigation in Delaware shareholder litigation. Since the corporate code refers only to stockholders, proper usage should indicate captioning shareholder litigation, stockholder litigation.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Although the vote is not until September 12, Icahn threw in the towel today. From his letter to stockholders:
Well...okay then. What happened to the appraisal threat? I guess that's not going to happen, either?
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Statement from the Governor's office on Chief Justice Steele's retirement ann0uncement:
“A judiciary is only as good as the men and women who serve in it, and quite simply, Chief Justice Steele is as good as they get. In addition to serving as Chief Justice, he has been a Superior Court judge, a Vice Chancellor on our Court of Chancery, and a member of the Supreme Court,” said Gov. Jack Markell (D-Delaware). “He has been a tireless and forceful advocate for our state’s judiciary and indeed, for the entire State of Delaware. It is no secret that Delaware’s judiciary is the finest in the nation. I want to thank Chief Justice Steele for his tireless efforts in building and maintaining a court system that is truly a national model.”
Friday, September 6, 2013
Friday, August 9, 2013
The Deal Professor has a nice run down of the issues in Monday's motion to expedite hearing in Delaware. I just had some thoughts about three possible outcomes on Monday -- now I'm not necessarily predicting any of these outcomes, I am usually pretty bad at that, but because there are a range of possible outcomes and each of them tells us something about how the court is thinking about the substantive issues in the case. I think the range looks something like this:
Worst Case Scenario for Dell Board/Total Icahn Victory: The court hears the arguments and says,"Mr. Icahn, you are totally correct. It has been more than 13 months since the last annual shareholder meeting. Under Section 211(c) upon application by a shareholder - that's you, Mr. Icahn - I can and hereby do order a meeting. Oh, and let's have that meeting right now. Who's present? What business do you want the corporation to entertain?"
OK, so that's an extremely low likelihood outcome, the court saves the summary proceeding for the worst of the worst boards. It would be really bad for Dell, but I don't think this is going to happen. the Dell board just isn't bad enough to merit a summary proceeding. Best to ensure against this by making sure Michael Dell and the Silver Lake boys are hanging around the DuPont in Wilmington on Monday. And, better make sure some associate packs a pile of proxies, just in case.
More Pain for Dell/Almost Victory for Icahn: The court hears the arguments and says,"OK, so it's been 13 months since your last meeting, so I am going to order a meeting and that such meeting been held coincident with the special meeting of the shareholders. Yes, yes, counsel, I know I am not required to hold the meetings on the same day and that it might be inconvenient for you. But, I relied on the fact that you had built in procedural protections into the merger agreement the last time you were here. I know, counsel, I know, you weren't required under Delaware law to have majority of unaffiliated shareholders vote in favor, I know all of that. But, I am can order the meeting anytime I want, and I want to order it on the same day as the special meeting. If the shareholders with all their knowledge decide that Mr. Icahn is correct, well, they will vote for him. If not, then not. Good day counsel."
If this is outcome, well then it's pretty clear that the whole changing of the voting rules didn't go over well with Strine who might have felt had because he leaned on all the procedural protections the last time Icahn was in front of him looking for a motion to expedite.
Total Victory Dell/Icahn Loss: The court hears arguments and says,"Why, Mr. Icahn, in all my years of judging, I have never heard a more lucid and compelling argument. You are absolutely correct. I can't help but agree. I am hereby ordering that an annual meeting of the shareholders be held on a date not later than three days after the previously scheduled special shareholder meeting. Is that convenient for you, counsel for Dell?"
"Uh..yes your honor. Very convenient."
"Then, so ordered."
Scheduling the shareholder meeting after the special meeting would bascially be the end of the road for Icahn. Delaware does this kind of thing a lot - hand out Pyhrric victories. If it does so in this case, then it's pretty clear that Strine wasn't all that concerned with the voting changes and the adjournments. It was business judgment all the way, so absent compelling facts or a bona fide comepting bid, let's just get this thing going.
So...we'll see on Monday.