M & A Law Prof Blog

Editor: Brian JM Quinn
Boston College Law School

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Friday, December 10, 2010

Strine's term is up already?! Where has the time gone?

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! 

-bjmq

 

December 10, 2010 in Delaware | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chancellor Chandler and Airgas...

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.

-bjmq

December 3, 2010 in Cases, Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Airgas: Potato, potahto.

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. 

-bjmq

 

November 29, 2010 in Cases, Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Airgas bylaw reversed by Supreme Court

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.

-bjmq

 

November 23, 2010 in Cases, Delaware, Hostiles, Transaction Defenses | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Top-Up Options

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.”

-AA

October 11, 2010 in Delaware, Tender Offer | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Corporate Law Update - 2010

Prickett Jones' annual review of 2010 developments in the Delaware corporate law can be found here.  It's definitely worth downloading and reading.

-bjmq

September 13, 2010 in Corporate, Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yucaipa v Barnes & Noble (day 4)

Today is the last day of the Yucaipa v Barnes & Noble trial in Delaware with Vice Chancellor Strine presiding.  Once again, I get to watch courtesy of Courtroom View Network

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  Defense713
 

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?"  

- "Yes."

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?"  

"Yes."  

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.

Vcs713

 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.  

Delgiudice 

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.

DepoQ

    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. 

Chancery
 

Strine is venting (for the benefit of the viewing audience apparently) about the lack of tabs and readability of post-trial briefs.    

Strinereader 

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. 

-bjmq

July 13, 2010 in Cases, Delaware, Takeover Defenses | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Yucaipa v Barnes & Noble (day 3)

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:

Nachbar 


 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."

Courtroom
 

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:

Strine712  Birch
 
 

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.

BurchHarkinReports
 

 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. 

-bjmq

July 12, 2010 in Cases, Delaware, Takeover Defenses | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NOL Pill Arguments Set

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.

-bjmq

July 1, 2010 in Cases, Delaware, Takeover Defenses | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Loyalty Pleading Standards

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.  

-bjmq


June 30, 2010 in Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Litigator's Role in M&A

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.  

-bjmq

June 22, 2010 in Delaware, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Richards Layton on Freeze-outs

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.

MAW

May 28, 2010 in Deals, Delaware, Going-Privates, Leveraged Buy-Outs, Litigation, Management Buy-Outs, Mergers, Takeovers, Tender Offer, Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chancellor Strine on Board Effectiveness

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.
-  AA

May 18, 2010 in Corporate, Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A New "Must Have" - Exclusive Delaware Jurisdiction?

Delaware courts and corporate lawyers seem to be paying a lot of attention to the recent paper by John Armour, Bernie Black and Brian Cheffins entitled "Is Delaware Losing its Cases?"  We've blogged previously about this paper.  Now it looks like some firms may be advising clients to select "the Delaware Court of Chancery as the exclusive forum for the resolution of all intra-corporate disputes including claims asserting breach of fiduciary duty or seeking, under state law, to overturn directors’ business judgments concerning matters ranging from the routine to potential M&A or other transformative transactions."  According to a recent memo by Latham and Watkins, the firm is recommending that "Delaware companies consider adopting mandatory Delaware Chancery forum selection provisions in their charter or bylaws in connection with their regular review of governance practices." The Latham memo argues that, given Delaware's substantial expertise in corporate law, mandatory Delaware jurisdiction for intra-corporate suits benefits both public companies and their shareholders.  Latham's memo is based in part on dicta by Chancellor Laster in the recent In re Revlon, Inc. Shareholders Litig.  Scholar Faith Stevelman in a recent 2009 paper addressed some of the issues with this type of provision. 

Are other firms doing the same? And, will there be a backlash by plaintiffs' lawyers outside of Delaware?

-AA 

May 6, 2010 in Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Triggering Revlon Duties with Convertible Debt

One of the most common search terms to find this site in the past week or so has been "What triggers Revlon duties?"   Now, this has little to do with the business cycle and much more to do with the cycle of law school exams.  It's about this time when students are sitting in the library, looking over their incomprehensible notes, and asking themselves, "What triggers Revlon?"  I know.  I was in that same situation myself.

Almost as if on cue, the Chancery Court hands down decision in Binks v DSL.net dealing with Revlon duties in the context of the issuance of convertible notes (H/T Morris James).  It’s a nice review of the state of the law with a slight twist on the facts.  The case involves a transaction between DSL.net and MegaPath.  DSL was in financial trouble in 2006 and rather than enter bankruptcy entered into a transaction with MegaPath.  MegaPath lent DSL.net $13 million and took convertible notes.  A few months after the transaction, MegaPath converted its notes to equity and ended up with more than 90% of DSL's common stock.  Shortly thereafter MegaPath effected a short form merger to eliminate the minority stockholders.  

Plaintiffs argued at the motion to dismiss stage that issuance of the convertible notes represented a potential "change in control" and that the DSL.net directors had an obligation under Revlon to "obtain the best price reasonably available to shareholders."  The Plaintiff didn't argued that the board should have held an auction or that a successful auction was likely.  Rather, the plaintiff argued the deal the board made with MegaPath essentially permitted MegaPath to loot DSL and that there were a number of other reasonable alternatives that would have left DSL shareholders better off than the issuance of convertible notes (e.g. DSL.net had $50 million in NOLs that could have been used to engineer a transaction).  

First, to the question whether Revlon is the applicable standard in the case at the motion to dismiss stage, the court answers in the affirmative, noting that the issuance of the convertible notes can be interpreted as a change in control:

It is not unreasonable to review the Amended Complaint as alleging that the short-form Merger was an inevitable and foreseeable consequence of the MegaPath Financing Transaction.  As the Supreme Court in QVC pointed out, in determining whether the transaction constitutes a "change of control" for Revlon purposes, "the answer must be sought in the specific circumstances surrounding the transaction."  Inferring that the relevant events should be collapsed for analytical purposes into a single transaction is also consistent with this Court's earlier consideration of the issue:

I assume for purposes of deciding this case, without deciding, that the granting of immediately exercisable warrants, which, if exercised, would give the holder voting control of the corporation, is a transaction of the type that warrants the imposition of the special duties and special standard of [Revlon].

This assumption arose out of the Court's recognition that Revlon duties may arise when a board, as here, "approves a transaction having a change in control effect ( ... specifically ... where a corporate action plays a necessary part in the formation of a control block where one did not previously exist.)

In applying Revlon, the court finds that the plaintiffs did not offer sufficient evidence to support a finding that the board was not independent and disinterested.  The Court also noted that the plaintiff’s complaint was devoid of facts suggesting that the board was not adequately informed.  With all that in place, the court laid out its standard for deciding this case under Revlon:

Where a board is found to be independent, disinterested, and adequately informed, the decision to enter into a change in control transaction should be upheld unless the directors “utterly failed to attempt to obtain the best sale price … ‘Because there can be several reasoned ways to try to maximize value, the court cannot find fault so long as the directors a reasoned course of action.’  Here the board’s conclusion that the Megapath Financing Transaction was preferable to bankruptcy was within its business judgment.

The Court reiterates the basic holding in Lyondell, that good faith claims (essentially a claim that attempts to convert a care violation into a loyalty violation) are very hard to win and require extreme facts – facts that suggest “utter failure”.  These days when even the last kid on the bench of the last place team gets a trophy, it’s hard to imagine what “utter failure” might look like in the corporate context.

-bjmq

May 5, 2010 in Cases, Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Arbitration in Delaware

In the last couple of days there have been a couple of pieces on line (like this one) that suggest that arbitration proceedings in Delaware will be the end of the world for corporate law.   I'll admit, my first thought when I saw that Delaware was instituting voluntary arbitration was that perhaps too many litigants would take their disputes private, thus depriving the Delaware courts of the judicial oxygen required to keep the Delaware common law alive. Thinking about it now, I think that fear is over-stated for a couple of important reasons.  

First, it's voluntary.  Plaintiff cases may derive higher settlement values by staying public - if a director thinks that embarrassing testimony would be presented at trial, he may be more interesting in avoiding a trial.  If the  process is private, no one will know that you were a bad director, so there may be greater incentive to fight.  If I can figure that out, plaintiffs can as well.  So there's an incentive for them to resist agreeing to take cases dark.  

Second, the arbitration process only involves cases where the claim is one for a monetary remedy.  There are precious few of those cases out there.  Why?  If a plaintiff brings a derivative suit alleging some violation of the duty of care (in the takeover context) and the only claim is for monetary damages, that case will be quickly shown the door (BJR, 102(b)(7), ...).  The smart plaintiff attorney simply doesn't bring those cases.  Their cases always have some claim for injunctive relief in an attempt to survive a motion to dismiss. 

More likely than not, arbitration in Delaware will be limited to commercial disputes and not include many shareholder/corporate law actions.  That's my guess.  If we are worried about the common law atrophying I'd be more worried about the trend spotted by Armour, Black, and Cheffins noted (see below).  

-bjmq

April 5, 2010 in Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Is Delaware Losing?

John Armour, Bernie Black, and Brian Cheffins have a new paper, Is Delaware Losing its Cases? that argues Delaware may well be losing its competitive edge with respect to corporate litigation.  They focus their research on what Wachtell's Ted Mirvis has called the "Anywhere But Chancery" trend.   They put together a dataset of 729 corporate law opinions over 15 years and conclude that Delaware is losing its market share with respect to the types of cases that have typically called Delaware home.  Here's an interesting chart from their paper that makes this point:

 Losing Delaware
The big move over the past decade appears to be to the Federal courts.   That's consistent with other scholarship that suggests that states don't really compete for incorporations and that the only viable competition is with Federal regulators.  However, it looks like since the 2002 states have also begun to hear and apply Delaware cases. If I were sitting in Wilmington, this graph would be disturbing.  

Contrast the findings here with findings in Cain and Davidoff's paper, Delaware's Competitive Reach that looked at merger agreement and found that the overwhelming majority of agreements (60%) select Delaware as their choice of forum. 

State competition for incorporations and governing law it seems is still a live issue.

-bjmq

April 2, 2010 in Delaware | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Delaware's New Arbitration Rules


The Chancery Court in Delaware has proposed arbitration rules that go into effect on February 1, 2010 (
here).  The proposed rules would permit its members to arbitrate "all business disputes" as long as the dispute is valued at more than $1,000,000 for money claims, involves at least one Delaware entity and the parties agree to the arbitration process.  The proposed process is speedy - potentially huge cost saver - and so there might be a strong incentive for potential litigants to go the arbitration route.  Especially so since the arbitrators will be the same court personnel who would hear the case if it ended going the normal route.  The proposed arbitration rules also guarantee parties confidentiality.  Individual litigants may find the confidentiality aspect appealing as well.  After all, who wants the world the know that their directors stink? 

Here's hoping that Delaware's arbitration process doesn't become too successful.  Why?  Well, much of Delaware's value derives from the positive externalities that come from its corporate law jurisprudence.  If parties increasingly take disputes "private" via the Delaware courts, increased reliance on the confidentiality of the arbitration process might have the effect of degrading the continued development of the Delaware common law.  That's actually something worth paying attention, but difficult to track.  

-bjmq

January 27, 2010 in Delaware | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Interview with Chief Justice Steele

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

3Com-HP Lawsuit

You know what they say ... it's not a real deal unless there's a lawsuit.  Well, the 3Com/HP deal has its first lawsuit.  The $2.7 billion all cash deal was announced last week.  Here's the merger agreement.  Given that it's an all cash deal, the complaint alleges that the board failed to meet its fiduciary duties by not getting the highest price reasonably available to shareholders when it agreed to sell the company to HP.  That's a Revlon complaint.  I used to think that meant something, but following Lyondell, I now know that unless there's a claim of fraud or misrepresentation, short of an "utter failure" by the board to attempt to meet its duties, this kind of complaint is going nowhere.  Since the only question is price, then it appears the only available remedy for those who think the company got sold for less than its fair value is appraisal under Sec 262 of the DGCL.

Here's the appraisal language from the merger agreement (Section 2.7(c)): 

(c) Statutory Rights of Appraisal.

 
(i) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary set forth in this Agreement, all shares of Company Common Stock that are issued and outstanding immediately prior to the Effective Time and held by Company Stockholders who shall have neither voted in favor of the Merger nor consented thereto in writing and who shall have properly and validly perfected their statutory rights of appraisal in respect of such shares of Company Common Stock in accordance with Section 262 of the DGCL (collectively, “Dissenting Company Shares”) shall not be converted into, or represent the right to receive, the Per Share Price pursuant to Section 2.7(a). Such Company Stockholders shall be entitled to receive payment of the consideration that is deemed to be due for such Dissenting Company Shares in accordance with the provisions of Section 262 of the DGCL, except that all Dissenting Company Shares held by Company Stockholders who shall have failed to perfect or who shall have effectively withdrawn or lost their rights to appraisal of such Dissenting Company Shares under such Section 262 of the DGCL shall no longer be considered to be Dissenting Shares and shall thereupon be deemed to have been converted into, and to have become exchangeable for, as of the Effective Time, the right to receive the Per Share Price, without interest thereon, upon surrender of the certificate or certificates that formerly evidenced such shares of Company Common Stock in the manner provided in Section 2.8.
 
(ii) The Company shall give Parent (A) prompt notice of any demands for appraisal received by the Company, withdrawals of such demands, and any other instruments received by the Company in respect of Dissenting Company Shares and (B) the opportunity to control all negotiations and proceedings with respect to demands for appraisal in respect of Dissenting Company Shares. The Company shall not, except with the prior written consent of Parent, voluntarily make any payment with respect to any demands for appraisal, or settle or offer to settle any such demands for payment, in respect of Dissenting Company Shares.
I wonder if this lawsuit even has a nuisance value.

-bjmq

November 17, 2009 in Delaware, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)