Sunday, June 5, 2011
According to the Delaware Grapevine, Delaware Governor Markell now has before him a short-list of potential candidates to replace retiring Chancellor Chandler. It's indeed a short list:
1. Leo Strine Jr., a vice chancellor who could move up to chancellor
2. Sam Glasscock III, already on the chancery court as a special master, and
3. Karen Valihura, a partner in the Wilmington office of Skadden Arps.
A couple of things worth noting. Since Chandler is a Republican, Delaware's court rules require that he be replaced by a Republican. So, if Strine is moved into the role of Chancellor, Markell will have to appoint a Republican Vice Chancellor to replace Strine. Glasscock and Valihure are reportedly Republicans. Also, The Deal reported some info regarding Glasscock last year when Governor Markell was considering a replacement for Vice Chancellor Lamb - that eventually went to now Vice Chancellor Laster. Here was the scuttlebut from last summer:
One theory making the rounds in Wilmington is that Sam Glasscock III will succeed Chandler. Currently a special master in Chancery, Glasscock was born in Erie, Pa., and grew up in Lewes, Del. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a B.A. in history in 1975 and earned a law degree at Duke University in 1983 and a master's in marine policy from the University of Delaware in 1989. Glasscock was a litigation associate at Prickett, Jones, Elliott, Kristol & Schnee, a special discovery master in Delaware's Superior Court and a deputy attorney general in the state's Department of Justice before being appointed a special master, a position in which he hears some of his own cases, especially those involving property and trust disputes, and assists the Chancery judges on discovery and procedural matters.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Here's the job announcement as posted on the employment section of the Delaware Courts' website.
There are requirements of political balance under the Delaware Constitution Art. IV § 3 and, in this case, the appointee must be either a Republican (including a current judicial officer who is a Republican) or a Democrat who is a current Vice Chancellor or Supreme Court Justice. There also is a requirement that the appointee be a resident of the State of Delaware. There are no other geographical requirements for this office. The position provides a current annual salary of $185,750. The Commission solicits candidates for this office.
Candidates for Chancellor also will be simultaneously considered by the Commission for a potential derivative vacancy in the office of Vice Chancellor if a sitting Vice Chancellor is nominated to be Chancellor. In the event a sitting Vice Chancellor is nominated to be Chancellor, the Commission may not solicit further applications for the office of Vice Chancellor. Applicants for Vice Chancellor must be a resident of the State of Delaware and a Republican (including a current judicial officer who is a Republican) or a Democrat who is a current Supreme Court Justice. There are no other geographical requirements for the office of Vice Chancellor. The position provides a current annual salary of $174,950.
In the event a sitting member of a court other than the Court of Chancery is appointed to the office of Chancellor or to a derivative vacancy in the office of Vice Chancellor, the Commission will provide a separate notice soliciting candidates for the vacancy caused thereby.
Delaware residents only!
Monday, April 25, 2011
According to Delaware online:
In a surprise announcement, Chancellor William B. Chandler III, one of the most influential business court judges in the world, has announced he will leave the bench.
Chandler has been speaking his mind recently about the Airgas opinion and the steady erosion of Unocal over time. He'll be hard to replace.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
David Marcus over at The Deal has a really good piece on how Vice Chancellor Travis Laster is pushing everyone's buttons these days -- in a good way! His ruling in Del Monte got a lot of attention, but what looks the case that will define his early days his is ruling in In re Revlon from last Spring. There he ordered a change in lead plaintiff's counsel in a ruling that got a lot of attention. From Marcus' piece:
Actual litigation, Laster emphasized, is what he wants. Shareholder suits "serve as a valuable check on managerial conflicts of interest," he wrote in Revlon, and therefore should be treated seriously by both lawyers and courts.
"Traditional plaintiffs' law firms who bring lawsuits on behalf of stockholders without meaningful economic stakes can best be viewed as entrepreneurial litigators who manage a portfolio of cases to maximize their returns through attorneys' fees," he wrote. "A systemic problem emerges when entrepreneurial litigators pursue a strategy of filing a large number of actions, investing relatively little time or energy in any single case, and settling the cases early to minimize case-specific investment and maximize net profit." Replacing counsel who engage in such practices should encourage other lawyers to bring more meritorious cases.
Laster admitted that such an approach risks driving plaintiffs' lawyers to other jurisdictions. But, he wrote in response, "While in the short run policing frequent filers may cost some members of the bar financially, in the long run it enhances the legitimacy of our state and its law." In this view, stingy fee awards to lawyers who are generally looking to turn a quick profit for opportunistic strike suits will drive that less desirable work to other courts, while generous fee awards for good work will only make Delaware a more appealing venue for meritorious suits.
Laster shifted his focus to company-side lawyers in a case that immediately got their attention. In a piece of shareholder litigation last fall, Laster focused his ire on David Berger, a litigation partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati PC in Palo Alto, Calif. Laster threatened to bar Berger from litigating in Delaware by removing his pro hac vice status because of how Berger represented NightHawk Radiology Holdings Inc. in settling shareholder litigation arising from the company's merger with Virtual Radiologic Corp. (Pro hac vice allows lawyers not admitted in a jurisdiction to appear before its courts.) Shareholders initially sued NightHawk in Chancery, and in oral argument Laster found "there were meaningful, litigable" issues in the deal that the plaintiffs opted not to pursue. Instead, they focused on weak disclosure claims.
"So imagine my surprise," Laster told lawyers at a Dec. 17 hearing in the case, upon learning that NightHawk and its shareholders had agreed to a disclosure-based settlement approved by an Arizona state court that probably didn't know about Laster's view of the case. The parties settled the claims that Laster rejected and passed over those he'd told them might have merit.
In the judge's view, the settlement raised the specter of "collusive forum shopping." Once a public company announces a sale, different shareholders often sue for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty in different jurisdictions. Defense lawyers complain about the resulting inefficiency and expense, but the multiple forums may allow defendants "to force plaintiffs to reverse-bid for the lowest possible settlement," Laster said at the hearing. In other words, the company settles with the plaintiffs' lawyer who often accepts the smallest settlement -- and, possibly, the smallest fee, but one that on an hourly basis may be quite lucrative. "Defense lawyers benefit from this game, too," Laster said. "They get to bill hours without any meaningful reputational risk from a loss. They then get a cheap settlement for their client. Disclosures are cheap."
It's worth reading the whole piece here.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The Takeover Panel in the UK is moving forward with reforms adopted in the wake of Kraft's acquisition of Cadbury. One of the reforms is a near ban on termination fees.
Among the biggest changes will be a tightened “put up or shut up” period, requiring a publicly named bidder to declare its formal intentions within 28 days, from a system where the clock starts ticking at the request of the target company.
Other changes include banning incentives that give special protection to the first bidder, commonly known as break fees.
This move highlights two different directions that regulatory bodies have moved with respect to the question of deal protections. On the one hand, we have Delaware. It's reasonableness standard with respect to any ex post review of deal protections is pretty deferential of board action. Absent allegations of loyalty conflicts, a board acting in good faith basically has a green light to grant deal protection measures. On the other, we have an series of ex ante rules that govern what a board can or cannot do in advance of an acquisition, including setting strict limits on termination fees. These are two very different ways of looking at the world. If you were to only read Delaware case law, you'd think that no bidder would ever come forward absent strong deal protection measures. But, when you look at the UK's takeover market you know that it's just not the case. There is room for diversity in regulatory approaches.
Monday, January 24, 2011
So, tomorrow Chancellor Chandler will take up the question of whether to order the Airgas board to pull its pill. Air Products, you'll remember, has been pursuing Airgas for many months now. Airgas has steadfastly said "No." In the fall Air Products elected three members to the board and got shareholders to vote to approve a new bylaw that would have moved up the next annual meeting to January - thereby cutting short the defense that time provides in the classified board. The Chancery Court upheld the bylaw change. But then, in a little bit of a stunner, the Delaware Supreme Court overruled the Chancery Court's opinion. The Chancellor, I assuming confident that his opinion wouldn't be overruled, had put off the question of whether to order the rights plan pulled to a date just past the accelerated shareholder meeting date. That was a nice way to avoid the question of the pulling the pill -- had the Chancery Court's opinion not been overruled, the shareholders would have met by now, and presumably, voted in a new majority for the board, thus making the question of the pill moot. The Delaware Supreme Court decision ensured that this was not to be.
So, Chancellor Chandler is put in the uncomfortable position of having to consider whether to order a board that has lost the first round in a proxy contest whether it must pull its rights plan. Of course, Chancellor Chandler is not opposed to issuing such an order in the right circumstances. In the Craigslist case he order the board to pull its pill. Craigslist was a bit of a unique case. How many closely-held firms have shareholder rights plans anyway? Probably just Craigslist. The Airgas case is more difficult. Why? Well because it's precisely the kind of case that the Chancery Court has studiously avoided hearing for year. In his 2002 paper, which is a response to a paper from Profs. Bebchuk, Coates, and Subramanian, Vice Chancellor Strine described just this scenario as the "professorial bear hug" intended to forces judges to deal directly with the fiduciary duty issues related to the pill.
The question the authors ask us to decide affirmatively is fundamental: Can control of the corporation be sold over the objections of a disinterested board that believes in good faith that the sale is inadvisable? That is, at bottom, the authors want to force the hand of the Delaware courts to decide, once and for all, that impartial and well-intentioned directors do not have the fiduciary authority to "just say no" for an indefinite--even perpetual--period to a noncoercive tender offer made to their company's shareholders. ...
... When the stockholders of a corporation with an ESB have expressed their desire to receive a fully funded, all-shares tender offer in a fair, noncoercive board election that was preceded by an adequate opportunity for the incumbent board to develop a better strategy and make their case to the target stockholders, does a well-motivated and well- informed majority of independent, incumbent directors who believe that the offer is inadequate have the power to block that tender offer by continuing to deploy a poison pill?
And that, in essence, is what is at stake tomorrow in Chancellor Chandler's courtroom. A couple of months ago, I predicted that we'd never get to see this day. I also predicted that the Del. Supreme Court wouldn't overturn Chancellor Chandler's bylaw decision and that the Pats would beat the Jets (not cover the spread, just beat them). Clearly, I'd be a mess if I had to make my living in Vegas, so I'm making no predictions. Chancellor Chandler has shown himself to be sufficiently peeved at being overruled in his earlier decision that I think most bets are off. I continue to be amazed that the Delaware Supreme Court wasn't able to look ahead to tomorrow and realize that by knocking down the bylaw they set up this Just-Say-No case to come before Chandler, and inevitably them. Why is that a better outcome than letting the bylaw survive? I don't know. Anyway, tune in tomorrow for all the fun.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
I wasn't paying attention. I figured he'd be around forever. This piece on the Delaware Grapevine blog reminds that Vice Chancellor Strine's 12 year term on the Chancery Court recently expired:
His 12-year term expired Nov. 9. A judge is allowed by the state constitution to stay on for another 60 days but emphatically no longer. "In no event," the constitution says.
Strine would be out three days before the General Assembly normally would be back in. The constitution has a remedy. It instructs the governor to summon the Senate to a special session, so that is what Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, did.
A constitution can be so inconvenient.
The senate will be meeting on December 14. Strine's reappointment will be one of the first things on the agenda. Though before dealing with Strine, there is apparently a coup going on with respect to senate leadership. I'll leave that to the Delaware politicos. With all the turmoil, is Strine in jeopardy?
... Strine is expected to glide into his next term. This is not what happened when he was last nominated in 1998 by Tom Carper, the Democratic governor now in the U.S. Senate.
At the time, Strine was the 34-year-old counsel to Carper. Both then and today, Strine was known for his braininess, demolishing wit and little compunction about sandpapering others, no matter if they were state senators with the power of advice and consent or million-dollar lawyers in his courtroom.
Tom Sharp, a Democratic senator when Strine was first considered for the bench, told him, "Maybe the problem is some of us have gotten to know you very well."
We'll check in next Wednesday to make sure Strine is still there!
Friday, December 3, 2010
I don't know, but I think Chancellor Chandler isn't all that impressed with the Supreme Court reversing his decision in the Airgas case. He sent a letter to the parties yesterday (Letter here) with a number of questions seeking supplemental information relevant to the next part of the case - the redemption of Airgas' pill. To give you a sense of how he is feeling, here's question number 7:
Please identify specific evidence in the record bearing upon the Airgas stockholder profile that suggests that the Airgas stockholders are unable to make a decision for themselves or that suggests that Airgas stockholders are vulnerable to mistakenly rejecting the Airgas board’s advice about the firm’s alleged higher intrinsic value. In other words, what evidence in the record developed during the trial in this case indicates or suggests that Airgas stockholders are likely to accept an inadequate offer?
I recognize that the Delaware Supreme Court apparently has concluded that stockholders may be simultaneously intelligent enough to decide whether to oust directors from office but not intelligent enough to decide whether an offer to purchase their property is in their best economic interest,[...] but exactly what is it about the Airgas stockholders (or about the Airgas business strategy, or about the Air Products tender offer) that would make the Airgas stockholders uniquely incapable of properly making an economic judgment in their own self- interest?
I guess he's not all that impressed with the Supreme Court's opinion. In another question, Chandler suggests asks for arguments why, if the only issue is price, shouldn't shareholders be permitted to decide on their own whether to take the offer, particularly since Airgas hasn't offered them an alternative. Interco anyone? [But see Time.]
OK, OK, I've learned my lesson about prognosticating too much with this case. But, could Chandler, in a pique, order Airgas to pull its pill? I know it's a low probability, OK, a really low probability and highly unlikely, sure. Still ... who predicted that the Supremes would reverse the trial opinion? I'm assuming nothing. But yet, it's another reason to keep paying attention to this case.
Monday, November 29, 2010
The Deal Prof has a run-down on the Airgas decision. He has it about right:
The signal this reversal sends is that it basically says don’t worry about the language of your contracts so long as everybody “knows” what it means.
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto. Let's call the whole thing off ... But you know, for the life of me, I can't figure out what motivated the court to take this path with the decision.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
See that there? That's egg on my face (ARG-DelSupCtOpinion). It's a total victory for Ted Mirvis and Wachtell. The Supreme Court even cited approvingly to the ABA's form book.
The Supreme Court overturned the Chancery Court, basically holding that since everyone has always assumed the language "in the third year following the year of their election" means a "three year term" for directors, then four months between annual meetings is too truncated to count as an annual meeting. So a bylaw that moves the annual meeting to a date that isn't near the "traditional" date, but still "in the third year following the year of their election" is invalid. That seems like a victory for poor (or sloppy) drafting: "in the third year following the year of their election" or "three year term" ... whatev's.
Of course, the court leaves unanswered the next question - okay, so what's the minimum amount of time between annual meetings? Five months? Six months? More?
So the good news? By ruling against the bylaw, the Supreme Court has given new life to Air Products challenge to Airgas' "just-say-no" defense. Could it be that we might finally get "just-say-no" litigated? We'll see. Air Products' challenge to Airgas' poison pill is next up in the docket.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Top-Up options are fairly standard in friendly tender offers. A top-up option provides that so long as x% of shareholders tender in the offer, the target will issue the remaining shares to put the acquirer over the 90% threshold so that it can complete a short-form squeeze-out merger. The minimum number of shares triggering the top-up varies but the target share issuance can be no more than 19.9% of the target's outstanding shares due to stock exchange rules (although it's debatable whether this really matters or not). Also, as Brian has pointed out before, make sure you do the math to determine if the target has enough authorized but unissued stock so that the top-up is possible (this should really make you remember the importance of paying attention in your basic Business Associations class).
Now, for people interested in learning more about Top-ups, Davis Polk has issued a client memo on two recent Delaware cases touching upon top-ups. As the Deal Professor notes, Chancellor Parsons’ recent opinion in the In re Cogent, Inc. S'holders Litig. case provides a good “road map for how deal lawyers should negotiate and structure top-up options in order for them to comply with Delaware law.”
Monday, September 13, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
B&N's outside counsel from Cravath, Scott Barshay is back on the stand. Says that the "family transfer provisions" that got Burkle so upset early on weren't the idea of anyone in the company and that it all came from Cravath. Barshay is walking through the process of adoption of the rights plan and its amendments. And very quickly the defense is done.
Barshay is now on cross examination.
- "Mr. Barshay, isn't it a fact that the first time you met any members of the board was five minutes before the pill was adopted?"
Five minutes? Ouch.
Counsel is trying to tag Barshay for immediately considering adoption of a rights plan once Burkle surfaced. There's an objection. Strine steps in to calm the children, noting that considering the adoption of a pill would not be an altogether uncommon response.
Pushing Barshay again on his knowledge of the board before he met them for the first time. It sounds like he had no idea who was going to be in the room or the background of anyone on the board. How is that possible? He certainly didn't give a lot of push back on that line of questioning.
Lots of questions regarding the presentations on the rights plan that Barshay prepared for Daniels (24 pages) and the 2 page presentation for the board. Seems like a pretty standard overview of how pills work. Hope B&N didn't pay too much for it. I could have told them the same for less.
Shoutout for Chuck Nathan! An article by Chuck Nathan gets commended to the viewing audience. I guess that's me. I suppose I should find out which article they are talking about.
"Does the pill as it stands does not prevent Riggio and his family from acquiring more stock. Is that correct?"
Because Riggio's adult children aren't living with him, they are not affiliates and don't trigger the beneficial ownership definition under the pill. Barshay tries to push back by pointing to the 13D group requirements, but concedes the defense's general point. Tries to argue that Burkle's kids could buy stock and not trigger the beneficial ownership rules. Defense counsel corrects him by noting that Burkle's kids live with him so, no. Now working through some pill math. Counsel makes the point that the board can accumulate stock without triggering the rights plan while Yucaipa's acquisition of stock would trigger the plan. Cross examination is done.
On re-direct - discussion of whether or not a pill can impede a proxy contest. Barshay's view is that a pill is not triggered by a proxy contest. Indeed, notes that no pill as ever been triggered by a proxy contest.
Strine asking some questions regarding setting of the trigger for the pill at 20%.
Mr. Barshay is excused. B&N lead director Michael Del Giudice is called.
Lots of questions regarding Del Giudice's background and how he came to the board. Everybody - including Strine - is reliving the unfortunate Dukakis presidential campaign and the "tank" incident for which Del Giudice disclaims any responsibility.
Back from the morning break and the plaintiffs object to agreement that has not been produced. The agreement disclaims Del Giudice's financial interest accruing to Rockland that result from any Riggio investment in Rockland. Strine doesn't appear happy that the document hasn't been produced and rules as such.
OK, back to direct testimony. Discussion of the board meeting at which the pill was adopted. Interesting, but not surprising - Riskmetrics' reaction to a pill adoption was a topic of conversation in the boardroom and that the pill was designed in order to be as "Riskmetrics friendly" as possible.
Now on cross, plaintiff's counsel is all geared up for a "Law & Order" gotcha moment, but technical difficulties screw it up. That, and the fact that Del Giudice immediately offers up that he was wrong in his deposition that mistated that Zivaly was not an independent director. You could almost see plaintiff's counsel say - not so soon! I'm not there yet!
I suspect the next couple of minutes will be anticlimatic.
Why are they dragging up the ghost of the Dukakis campaign again? Do they have to ask whether Dukakis won 10 states? Really, where does that get us? Painting Del Giudice as a political fund raiser and Riggio as one of his "go-to" money guys in NY Democratic circles. Don't think that'll go far. Plaintiff's counsel have moved on to describe the various investments that Riggio has made in Del Giudice's Rockland entities. This might have more legs. Riggio made a $20 million investment in Rockland.
I think plaintiffs might be confusing (or obfuscating) good corporate governance with the corporate law. Plaintiffs seem to be implying that because the B&N board is waiting for the SEC to implement rules with respect to independent compensation consultants before it changes its own policy that there is some sort of conflict. That's a weak argument.
Q: If stockholders got together and voted to pull the pill, would that trigger the pill?
A: If there is an arrangement or understanding to vote against the pill, that would trigger the pill.
That seems like the wrong answer. What good is stockholder approval of the pill if stockholders can't organized to vote against it? This question is better asked of the Cravath lawyer. Del Giudice isn't a legal expert and shouldn't be permitted to provide a legal opinion on the mechanics of the pill. Del Giudice has clearly moved beyond his level of knowledge and he knows it.
Break for lunch.
Back from lunch. Couple of questions about whether a group of stockholders representing 20% of all the shares might be required to pay a premium to vote their shares for a director. I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but whatever. Plaintiffs are done.
Del Giudice is now on re-direct. Turns out Riggio's $20 million investment is not yet funded.
Del Giudice is excused and defense rests. Various motions regarding admission of evidence.
Strine is venting (for the benefit of the viewing audience apparently) about the lack of tabs and readability of post-trial briefs.
Look at this thing -- no tabs!
Strine is now riffing on the European takeover directive and creeping takeovers. The pill here is being used in a somewhat unusual circumstance. Now you have two block-holders and how to do you deal with them? Eichler and Aletheia seems a mystery to Strine. Why do they refuse to vote their shares? He thinks they may have their own fiduciary issues. He's giving hints for post-trial briefs.
There is skepticism factor that Yucaipa will face in a proxy contest because they are unwilling to make an offer or go on the board.
Snooki?! Yes, Snooki is a character on that Jersey show. How did Snooki make an appearance in Strine's comments? Anyway.
The 20% threshold is sticking in his mind - because Riskmetrics will focus on it - that why the board went for that number. What's not sticking in his mind is whether the board considered or should have considered a larger trigger because of the Riggio block already in place.
It's clear that the differential trigger has gotten Strine's attention - and not in a good way.
Yucaipa needs to sharpen what it wants in this trial - do you want to acquire more shares? Do you just want to feel love? Compares Yucaipa to an adolescent who wants to ask a girl out, but only if she will say yes...
And thus ends Strine's rambling. Briefs are due on Friday evening and then answering briefs on Monday evening. Post-trial arguments will occur late next week.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Once again thanks to the folks at Courtroom View Network, court in Yucaipa v Barnes & Noble is back in session with VC Strine presiding. Nachbar has some initial objections with respect to demonstratives used with those reports.
Kenneth Nachbar making his objections:
VC Strine sounds like a guy who bet on the Netherlands. Not happy about a demonstrative prepared over the weekend. Oh, no. We're back at 6th grade math. The objection is to a demonstrative prepared by the plaintiff to walk through the 6th grade math that caused Strine to break out in a cold sweat on Friday.
VCS: "It's out. ... Honestly speaking, if it's so simple, you could have gotten [the demonstrative] to them on Saturday."
OK, moving on. Now, Daniel Burch, plaintiff's expert, is back on the stand discussing proxy contests and solicitation of proxies. VC Strine is now questioning Burch regarding how one puts together a proxy contest without triggering a 13D filing. Burch is now on cross. Lot's of challenges to the fact that the first draft of his report was prepared by an associate and that he made subsequent corrections to it.
Colloquy between Strine and Burch:
On re-direct. I'm surprised that actual ownership percentages of B&N are really still in issue. Now some discussion about probable votes in the case of a proxy contests. Here's a demonstrative chart comparing Burch's report and the defendant's expert (Harkin). We'll hear from Harkin later.
Nachbar objects to leading questions. Sustained. But, with a warning - if Nachbar wants to be "persnickety" then Strine will let the plaintiffs be persnickety later. I expect there will be fewer of these objections going forward.
VCS to Burch: You are free to stretch your legs and enjoy the Dunkin Donuts on the subterranean level of the courthouse. Burch is excused.
And that's it for the plaintiff's witnesses.
Defense calls their expert, Peter Harkins. While the plaintiff's experts have tried to make the argument that the shareholder rights plan would make it impossible for a dissident to win a proxy contest, Harkins is making the argument that a dissident can win a proxy contest.
On cross: generating these table and charts just requires math, right? Right. Why are we talking about math, again? VC Strine is quiet this morning...maybe mulling the World Cup.
Breaking for lunch.
Back. Harkins is back on the stand under cross. Lots of questions about Alethia's voting (or no-voting) policy.
Strine interrupts to give both sides a hint about what he's thinking. He wants some help with his "limited mind" in post-trial briefings. Specifically, how or why people on either side think that Alethia might at the same time have a policy not to vote its shares and at the same time help finance a proxy contest. It doesn't make sense to him and he'd like people to think about it and explain it to him in post-trial briefs.
Back to cross. Harkins is dismissed after a brief colloquy with Strine regarding the scope of his expert testimony.
Next up for the defense - Jennifer Daniels, former GC for B&N.
She is testifying about the early stages of B&N's adoption of the pill. The argument that the defense is making here is that Jennifer Daniels, as a good GC, moved on her own to start things moving on the adoption of the pill - it's all good corporate stewardship and nothing to do with Riggiio actively seeking to stop Burkle from running a proxy contest.
On cross -
PL Lawyer: Ms. Daniels, did you think you might be a witness in Delaware on this issue?
JD: I was told I might have to give a deposition, and that a I might be required at trial, but was told at the time that "we're not there yet" ...
VCS: Oh, but now the dream has come true and here you are...
Since Daniels is no longer an employee of B&N (she's at NCR now), she's appearing voluntarily. Plaintiffs appear to be trying to make her look like a tool of Cravath and an incompetent lawyer.
You didn't advise the board that Morgan Stanley had been paid $4 million for its work in the College Books transaction? Morgan Stanley also advised on the rights plan.
Don't know if that will fly. Anyway, she's getting annoyed. Strine injects some more levity and then orders a recess.
Back again. Plaintiffs return to the line of questioning suggesting that hiring MS was a conflicted transaction because Riggio had previously hired MS in the College Books transaction and that Daniels is a bad lawyer because she listened to outside counsel on the issue of MS. The independent directors didn't get their own counsel - separate from company counsel - with respect to the question of adopting the rights plan. This issue is potentially problematic, but will it have legs?
On cross, plaintiff's attorneys are now trying to paint Daniels as being motivated by how to protect Riggio's position when she was having discussions with Cravath. She answers that she was thinking about all the possible questions that she might be asked. I wonder if this impresses Strine. Surely, he's hand plenty of contact with GC's like Daniels. We'll see. He's been quiet.
Ouch. Draft minutes of board meeting are in evidence. OK, you're all on notice - never let a junior lawyer draft minutes of a board meeting cause the other side is going to enter them into evidence. And the plaintiffs are done for the day.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
The Delaware Supreme Court has set July 7 for arguments in Versata's appeal of Vice Chancellor Noble's ruling in Selectica v Versata. Briefs in the case are available via the Harvard Corporate Governance Blog. (Versata's brief and Selectica's answering brief). The issue at stake is the legality of a shareholder rights plan with a 4.99% trigger adopted to protect Selectica's NOLs. The Chancery Court held that board's adoption of the plan was consistent with their obligations under Unocal. Hopefully the argument will be carried on CVN so we can watch from the luxury home.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Chancellor Chandler reminds us in a letter opinion in Monroe County Employee Retire. Sys. v Carlson, et al (H/T Morris James) that at the pleading stage it isn't enough for plaintiffs to simply point to a transaction where directors or insiders sit on both sides. Plaintiffs also have to plead some facts to suggest that the transaction itself is unfair before the defendants are required to shoulder the exacting entire fairness burden.
[The parties] agree about defendants’ burden at the proof stage of the proceedings. The parties sharply disagree, however, about plaintiff’s burden at the pleading stage of the proceedings; the stage in which we find ourselves situated. Plaintiff argues that to survive a motion to dismiss the complaint need only allege that a transaction between the controlling shareholder and the company exists. Defendants argue that this is insufficient, that plaintiff must make factual allegations in its complaint that, if proved, would establish that the challenged transactions are not entirely fair. Defendants have the winning argument on this point. Delaware law is clear that even where a transaction between the controlling shareholder and the company is involved—such that entire fairness review is in play—plaintiff must make factual allegations about the transaction in the complaint that demonstrate the absence of fairness. Simply put, a plaintiff who fails to do this has not stated a claim. Transactions between a controlling shareholder and the company are not per se invalid under Delaware law. Such transactions are perfectly acceptable if they are entirely fair, and so plaintiff must allege facts that demonstrate a lack of fairness.In the context of a going private transaction, it isn't enough that the plaintiffs plead that there is a controlling shareholder on both sides of the transaction. In order to survive the pleading stage, the plaintiff will also have to plead some facts that demonstrate the unfairness of the transaction. That's not the same as proving unfairness, but you have to have some facts. Remember entire fairness includes both fair dealing and fair price. Facts that demonstrate a flawed process are helpful in making the case, but if the flawed process nevertheless resulted in a fair price as a plaintiff you might find yourself out of luck.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
OK, so you're a summer associate or a junior litigation associate in a NY firm. Probably the highest stakes litigation around for your clients may well entail a proposed merger and a challenge to it. Your not uncommon reaction to realizing that most of your litigation work will be focused on corporate related matters may well be - "But, uh, I didn't take corporate law. ... I'm a litigator." If you're a summer associate, don't worry, that's what your 3L year is for. If you happen to have gotten out of law school with taking corporate law or M&A, there's always this: Courtney Rosen's The Litigator's Role in M&A Transactions. It's a quick review (42 pages) of everything a litigator needs to know after getting tossed into litigation over an M&A transaction. It's no substitute for taking an M&A class, but its focus on the process of litigation, including privilege and discovery issues will be useful.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Richards Layton just released this client alert on In re CNX Gas Corp. Shareholders Litigation, in which the Delaware Chancery Court attempts to clarify the standard applicable to controlling stockholder freeze-outs (a first-step tender offer followed by a second-step short-form merger). In short, the Court held that the presumption of the business judgment rule applies to a controlling stockholder freeze out only if the first-step tender offer is both
(i) negotiated and recommended by a special committee of independent directors and
(ii) conditioned on a majority-of-the-minority tender or vote.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Last night I attended a fascinating lecture at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance by Delaware Vice Chancellor Strine about the lack of alignment in the corporate governance system. Speaking to a packed crowd, Chancellor Strine made a compelling case for a deeper understanding of what we are asking of boards through our various corporate governance reforms. Among his many interesting points, he made two important insights about the role of directors on boards. First, he asked academics to work on “a more or less study” that looks at (i) what more have we given managers to do? and (ii) what less have we required of them? His point was essentially that we have imposed stringent independent director requirements and then heaped more and more responsibility on these independent directors. One worry is of course that humans are bound to make mistakes especially when they have too much on their plates. The other worry is whether these independent directors have the time, skills and company-specific knowledge to effectively manage and monitor risks.
Chancellor Strine’s second point about independent directors was that the increasing push for independent directors has resulted in independent director politicians that serve on many boards and may be beholden to other interests outside of the interests of the particular company that they are serving. These latter comments made me think about a recent paper entitled, The Dark Side of Outside Directors: Do They Quit When They are Most Needed? by Rüdiger Fahlenbrach, Angie Low and Rene M. Stulz. It’s worth a read:
Abstract: Outside directors have incentives to resign to protect their reputation or to avoid an increase in their workload when they anticipate that the firm on whose board they sit will perform poorly or disclose adverse news. We call these incentives the dark side of outside directors. We find strong support for the existence of this dark side. Following surprise director departures, affected firms have worse stock and operating performance, are more likely to suffer from an extreme negative return event, are more likely to restate earnings, and have a higher likelihood of being named in a federal class action securities fraud lawsuit.
Tomorrow, I’ll post about how Chancellor Strine’s comments relate to some important issues in corporate governance reforms outside of the United States.