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.
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.
Friday, November 8, 2013
So a couple of days ago, I noted another challenge to an exclusive forum provision (this one in a corporate charter) in connection with the acquisition of Edgen Group by Sumitomo. So, Edgen had its day in Chancery Court where it argued that the Vice Chancellor should issued an injunction against the plaintiff stockholder to prohibit him from purusing a law suit outside of Delaware. In considering the whether to issue the order, Vice Chancellor Laster made it clear that Delaware believes exclusive forum provisions are binding on stockholders. There are no issues for the court with respect to the legality of these provisions. But...no injunction for Edgen. Why? Well, on the balance of the equities analysis, the court felt that it wasn't the court's place to tell a court in Louisiana what to do. Edgen can raise the forum provision in front of the Louisiana court and the court - if fairly applying Delaware law - should toss the case out. Ahem...we shall see...
Now, what I thought was really interesting about Vice Chancellor Laster's hearing in Edgen was his statements about the nature of plaintiff shareholders. To get the context, Edgen and their counsel appeared before Laster for the hearing. Genoud, the plaintiff, however did not appear. Genoud's counsel was in fact there, but without authorization to speak on behalf of his client in the Delaware action. There was a lot of 'we love to appear, but our client hasn't authorized us to appear in Delaware' etc. To that, Laster had this to say (Transcript Hearing):
Now, Mr. Genoud has not responded to the complaint. Extraordinary efforts have been made by Mr. Slights and his colleagues to track down Mr. Genoud, including the hiring of two process servers and the hiring of a private investigator. His residential address cannot be found.
The Louisiana counsel who represent Mr. Genoud for purposes of that action have declined to accept service. And the Robbins Geller firm, a firm that I generally have great respect for, has engaged in unsatisfying and, dare I say, pathetic representational contortions in which they have maintained that although they represent Mr. Genoud for purposes of challenging the merger and bringing the lawsuit in Louisiana, they do not represent Mr. Genoud for the clearly-related subject matter of this proceeding.
Now, anyone remotely familiar with this type of stockholder litigation understands that Robbins Geller is not taking its direction from a nominal client on these issues but rather is calling the shots itself. And the idea that Robbins Geller and Louisiana counsel have not been able to reach their client, even though they sued in Louisiana and sought expedited proceedings and have a status conference tomorrow, is either, one, not credible, or two, confirmatory that Robbins Geller is not taking direction from its client about how to handle this litigation.
Frankly, it's quite disappointing behavior from a firm that otherwise has done a great deal to build up reputational capital and credibility with the Delaware courts. It would not have been, I think, any impairment at all to enter an appearance and reserve the ability to fight the jurisdictional issue. It is much more credibility-straining to claim that you can't contact your client, and that although you have been engaged to handle a broad and expedited attack on a merger and to sue in a jurisdiction internationally removed from your client's residence, you have nevertheless not been retained to handle a related proceeding in another court that, although I haven't done the math, is probably equidistant, if not closer, to the plaintiff's residence.
The Louisiana court held a hearing in this case yesterday. I'm assuming the plaintiff (or his counsel) turned up for that hearing. No word yet on the outcome of that hearing.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
I started a paper like this once. After a colleague warned me that I might want to hire legal counsel before I published it I thought better of finishing it. I'm happy to say, however, the world is full of brave people. Jessica Erickson has published The New Professional Plaintiffs in Shareholder Litigation:
In 1995, Congress solved the problem of professional plaintiffs in shareholder litigation — or so it thought. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) was designed to end the influence of shareholder plaintiffs who had little or no connection to the underlying suit. Yet it may have failed to accomplish its goal. In the wake of the PSLRA, many professional plaintiffs simply moved into other types of corporate lawsuits. In shareholder derivative suits and acquisition class actions across the country, professional plaintiffs are back. They are repeat filers involved in dozens of lawsuits. They are the attorneys’ spouses, parents, and children. They may even be entities created for the primary purpose of filing litigation. These new professional plaintiffs have flown almost entirely under the radar of corporate law scholarship. This Article pulls back the curtain on professional plaintiffs, examining court filings and other public records in the first comprehensive study of professional plaintiffs’ role in corporate law. In most instances, professionalism is a good thing — but not when it comes to choosing plaintiffs.
Download the paper and meet the "mythical" Alan Kahn, as well as Doris & Steven Staehr among others!
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The Delaware Supreme Court just issued its opinion in response to a certified question posed to it by the Ninth Circuit in the Countrywide shareholder litigation. The question posed to the court:
Whether, under the “fraud exception” to Delaware’s continuous ownership rule, shareholder plaintiffs may maintain a derivative suit after a merger that divests them of their ownership interest in the corporation on whose behalf they sue by alleging that the merger at issue was necessitated by, and is inseparable from, the alleged fraud that is the subject of their derivative claims.
Short answer: No, affirming Lewis v Anderson. While shareholders' direct claims survive the merger, deritivate claims are extinguished. In answering the certified question, the Supreme Court takes the time to remind us all that dictum is, well, just dictum, not new law.
Monday, June 3, 2013
[Updated] Here are a handful of law firm memos on the MFW Shareholders Litigation (in which the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the Business Judgment Rule applied to a freeze-out merger that was conditioned on the approval of both an independent Special Committee and a Majority-of-the-Minority stockholder Vote). Brian discussed the same case here.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Thinking about it now, it turns out that the 2011 settlement approval of In re Sauer Danfoss Shareholder Litig is an important case. Why? Did it set out any special new points in the law? No. But it did one thing of real value for the courts. In Appendix A to the opinion, it set out a chart of recent settlements with identification of the work accomplished by plaintiffs counsel, the benefit achieved, and the fee approved by the court. It's a price list. And, like a price list, the Delaware courts are now regularly referring to it when they are reviewing requests for attorneys fees in disclosure only cases. I suppose that's a good thing. The downside? Well, now Vice Chancellor Laster has to remember to update the appendix every now and again!
Monday, April 1, 2013
(b) Rules adopted under this chapter must provide that in a class action, if any portion of the benefits recovered for the class are in the form of coupons or other noncash common benefits, the attorney's fees awarded in the action must be in cash and noncash amounts in the same proportion as the recovery for the class.
The court ruled that where the only benefit for shareholders in a settlement is additional disclosure, then attorneys cannot be awarded fees. Now, another Texas court has done it again. This time in Kazman v Frontier Oil the plaintiffs will get nothing following a disclosure settlement. So, if a case if typical merger related flotsam, the plaintiffs might be hoping to get a couple of minor disclosures and/or reduction in a termination fee in exchange for legal fees and giving the board a global release. In Texas, that kind of settlement will no longer result in fees for plaintiffs counsel. That pretty much makes such cases -- or settlements in Texas -- a non-starter from now on.
The coupon settlement legislation in Texas appears to be having a big impact on the development of merger litigation Texas. One only need to look at Dell. To be honest, I was a little surprised by the low number of Texas suits followed in connection with this transaction. Of the 25 suits filed, only 5 of them were filed in Texas. Of course, coupon settlement legislation is not the answer to multiforum litigation, but it does make Texas uneconomic as a forum for a lot of transaction related litigation.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
This client alert from Gibson Dunn discusses Chancellor Strine's bench ruling rejecting a disclosure-only, negotiated settlement of an M&A stockholder lawsuit. According to the authors,
The decision, in In re Transatlantic Holdings Inc. Shareholders Litigation , Case No. 6574-CS, signals that the Chancery Court will carefully scrutinize the terms of negotiated settlements to ensure that named stockholder plaintiffs are adequate class representatives and that the additional disclosures provided some benefit to the purported stockholder class. At the same time, the decision represents an unmistakable warning to plaintiffs’ firms that they cannot continue to count on paydays through the settlement of meritless lawsuits filed in the wake of announced deals.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I'll admit to being disappointed by the work ethic of the plaintiff's bar -- so far only 6 complaints have been filed against the Dell transaction. My guess was 9. Six, though, is still above average. Steven Davidoff and Matt Cain have released their statistical compendium of transaction-related litigation for 2012 (SSRN: Takeover Litigation in 2012). This is the second iteration of this statistical compilation and it has quickly become a must read for those of us interested in the issue of transaction-related litigation.
We see the steady upwards trend in transaction-related litigation and how it has really exploded since 2005. Now, almost 92% of all transactions are accompanied by litigation of some sort and 50% of that involved multi-forum litigation. Davidoff and Cain also report median attorneys’ fees for settlements of $595,000 in 2012.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
... and rightly so. From Bloomberg:
Michael Dell, the special committee of the company’s board and their advisers are finalizing details of the equity financing while making sure they have explored all possible alternative options, including a sale to other buyers, said two of the people familiar with the situation. Given the potential for conflicts in a deal where Michael Dell helps take his company private, financial advisers and Dell’s board are being extra cautious, said these people.
Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR), which is advising the special committee of the board, has approached other potential buyers and no alternative bids have emerged so far, said one of the people. Dell and its advisers have also explored the possibility of a dividend recapitalization, which would involve taking on debt to help pay for a special dividend, as a way to increase shareholders’ value, said another person.
What's the over/under on the number of suits filed once this transaction is announced regardless of how good the process? I say 9.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
For all you law students out there who are mystified by the procedural niceties of derivative litigation (actually, I should include a pile of politicians and media types in this group as well), AIG has filed a copy of its demand refusal with the SEC. It's right here. You'll also find a copy of the plaintiff's demand letter that kicked this whole thing off. I'll probably be using these materials in the future when I next walk through derivative litigation.
What does the filing tell us? Well, after plaintiffs filed their demand that the board took its time and didn't rush its decision with respect to the litigation. When it took up the litigation, it had informed itself of the issues and decided that pursuing Starr's claims in any form wouldn't be in the best interests of the corporation. That's pretty straightforward.
For those of you paying attention to the back and forth related to the H-P/Autonomy acquisition, the question of the potential liability of advisors has popped up more than a couple of times. How could H-P's advisors (investment bankers, lawyers, and accountants) let slip by the alleged accounting fraud that caused H-P to write down more than $5 billion? Close on the heels of that question is whether the advisors should face any liability for not picking up on the fact that Autonomy might not be a good candidate for an acquisition.
Well, for a partial answer as to the liability exposure of M&A advisors when the transaction goes wrong look no further than Baker v. Goldman Sachs, just decided by a jury in federal district court in Boston. There, the founders with Goldman's assistance sold their company, Dragon Systems to Belgium-based Lernout & Hauspie for $580 million in L&H stock. Not long after the transaction closed, fraud at the acquirer was discovered and the acquirer quickly went bankrupt leaving Dragon stockholders holding worthless stock.
Having lost everything, including their tech company, founders Janet and Jim Baker sued Goldman for allegedly failing in its duties to them, their clients, when it brokered the deal. Here's the original complaint (Baker v Goldman) - filed in state court and then removed to federal district court. The jury heard the evidence and the arguments in this case and found that Goldman had not breached any duties to the Bakers.
If H-P is thinking about going after its advisors for its ill-fated Autonomy deal, it will have to be more successful than the Bakers were in convincing a jury that M&A advisors should bear liability for a deal gone wrong.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
This post is not about football, though I will admit to being amused by the circus that presently calls itself the NY Jets. No, it's about an article by David Marcus who points out how Vice Chancellor Laster has lined up with Chancellor Strine on the other side of Chief Justice Myron Steele and the Delaware Supreme Court over the issue of default fiduciary duties in LLCs. It's really not about the issue at hand -- whether managers in an LLC are subject to fiduciary duties by default -- but a larger issue that relates to sometimes tense relationship between the Chancery Court and the Supreme Court. The default fiduciary duty issue is an interesting one with some important ramifications (e.g. can you have federal insider trading liability in a publicly-traded LLC where managers don't have fiduciary duties?, etc), but I'll leave that for another day.
In a per curiam decision last month in Gatz Properties LLC v Auriga Capital, the Supreme Court attempted to put Chancellor Strine back on a short leash:
The opinion suggests that “a judicial eradication of the explicit equity overlay in the LLC Act could tend to erode our state’s credibility with investors in Delaware entities.” Such statements migh be interpreted to suggest (hubristically) that once the Court of Chancery has decided an issue, and because practitioners rely on that court’s decisions, this Court should not judicially “excise” the Court of Chancery’s statutory interpretation, even if incorrect. That was the interpretation gleaned by Auriga’s counsel. During oral argument before this Court, counsel understood the trial court opinion to mean that “because the Court of Chancery has repeatedly decided an issue one way, . . . and practitioners have accepted it, that this Court, when it finally gets its hands on the issue, somehow ought to be constrained because people have been conforming their conduct to” comply with the Court of Chancery’s decisions. It is axiomatic, and we recognize, that once a trial judge decides an issue, other trial judges on that court are entitled to rely on that decision as stare decisis. Needless to say, as an appellate tribunal and the court of last resort in this State, we are not so constrained.
It seems that too many people are forgetting that the Chancery Court is a trial court and not an appellate court, the Supreme Court is reminding us, and practitioners, and the Chancery. OK, got it. Oh, and then the court adds this:
Fifth, and finally, the court’s excursus on this issue strayed beyond the proper purview and function of a judicial opinion. “Delaware law requires that a justiciable controversy exist before a court can adjudicate properly a dispute brought before it.” We remind Delaware judges that the obligation to write judicial opinions on the issues presented is not a license to use those opinions as a platform from which to propagate their individual world views on issues not presented. A judge’s duty is to resolve the issues that the parties present in a clear and concise manner. To the extent Delaware judges wish to stray beyond those issues and, without making any definitive pronouncements, ruminate on what the proper direction of Delaware law should be, there are appropriate platforms, such as law review articles, the classroom, continuing legal education presentations, and keynote speeches.
Uh, ouch. OK, but Marcus points to a recent opinion, Feely v NHAOCG LLC by Vice Chancellor Laster in which he lines up with Chancellor Strine and takes issue with the Surpreme Court that Chancellor Strine's analysis of default fiduciary duties in the LLC context are "dictum without any precendential value." He points to the long line of Chancery cases on this issue as persuasive and until such point as the Supreme Court rules on the issue, those cases and Chancellor Strine's analysis of default fiduciary duties will be good enough for him:
The Delaware Supreme Court is of course the final arbiter on matters of Delaware law. The high court indisputably has the power to determine that there are no default fiduciary duties in the LLC context. To date, the Delaware Supreme Court has not made that pronouncement, and Gatz expressly reserved the issue. Until the Delaware Supreme Court speaks, the long line of Court of Chancery precedents and the Chancellor's dictum provide persuasive reasons to apply fiduciary duties by default to the manager of a Delaware LLC. As the managing member of Oculus, AK-Feel starts from a legal baseline of owing fiduciary duties.
Is any of this earth shattering or new? No, but it's an example of the real tension between the Chancery Court and the Supreme Court as it plays out in the opinions of both courts. This dynamic has existed for some time now - predating Strine and Laster. Court watchers - and court anthropoligists - shouldn't be surprised by this.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The typical M&A confidentiality agreement contains a standstill provision, which among other things, prohibits the potential bidder from publicly or privately requesting that the target company waive the terms of the standstill. The provision is designed to reduce the possibility that the bidder will be able to put the target "in play" and bypass the terms and spirit of the standstill agreement.
In this client alert, Gibson Dunn discusses a November 27, 2012 bench ruling issued by Vice Chancellor Travis Laster of the Delaware Chancery Court that enjoined the enforcement of a "Don't Ask, Don't Waive" provision in a standstill agreement, at least to the extent the clause prohibits private waiver requests.
As a result, Gibson advises that
until further guidance is given by the Delaware courts, targets entering into a merger agreement should consider the potential effects of any pre-existing Don't Ask, Don't Waive standstill agreements with other parties . . .. We note in particular that the ruling does not appear to invalidate per se all Don't Ask, Don't Waive standstills, as the opinion only questions their enforceability where a sale agreement with another party has been announced and the target has an obligation to consider competing offers. In addition, the Court expressly acknowledged the permissibility of a provision restricting a bidder from making a public request of a standstill waiver. Therefore, we expect that target boards will continue to seek some variation of Don't Ask, Don't Waive standstills.
December 4, 2012 in Cases, Contracts, Deals, Leveraged Buy-Outs, Litigation, Lock-ups, Merger Agreements, Mergers, State Takeover Laws, Takeover Defenses, Takeovers, Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 3, 2012
The Chancery Court approved a settlement in the El Paso case. Here's the El Paso Settlement. Something I thought was interesting - the transaction attracted 22 lawsuits - 13 in Delaware, 8 in Texas, and one in New York. That's quite a crowd. Then again, the facts in the case were the type that made it an attractive target for litigation. In the settlement, El Paso will pay $110 to the class fund and Goldman will give up its $20 million fee. Plaintiff counsel received $26 million in fees to split amongst all the counsel.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Bingham just issued this interesting Legal Alert on Pharos Capital Partners, L.P. v. Deloitte & Touche.
In that case, on Oct. 26, 2012, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted summary judgment in favor of Credit Suisse, holding that, under New York or Ohio law, plaintiff Pharos Capital Partners failed to prove it justifiably relied on Credit Suisse in connection with its private equity investment in National Century Financial Enterprises (a business that was later found to be fraudulent) because Pharos expressly disavowed any such reliance in a letter agreement with Credit Suisse.
According to Bingham:
The decision is significant for the financial industry because it enforces a party’s representations in an agreement that it was relying on its own due diligence investigation in connection with its investment, rather than any alleged representations made by a placement agent. Prior to the decision in Pharos, many courts have been reluctant to enforce such agreements to defeat claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The Southern Copper case has generated lots of attention - and for good reason. The courts don't often hand out $2 billion verdicts. Over at the WSJ Dealpolitik column, Ronald Barusch takes a look at the hefty legal fee - an eye popping $304 million (or an approximate $35,000/hour fee) and suggests it might be time for state legislatures to step in and reform shareholder litigation -- perhaps by relyiong on administrative remedies against directors. That's not altogether a unique recommendation. My colleague, Renee Jones, recently published a piece in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law recommending director bars as an alternative administrative remedy for director violations of the duty of care. It's an idea worth pursuing especially given the ubquity of 102(b)(7) protections.
In any event, I'm getting far afield. Rather than see Southern Copper as an example of judicial overreach, it might be better to put it in the context of Delaware trying to muddle through the problem of transaction-related litigation. By now, it's pretty well known that almost every public transaction is bound to be the subject of litigation. Most of that litigation is, to be perfectly frank, nuisance litigation. That said, shareholder litigation remains an important quiver in the corporate governance arrow. So, how to encourage good suits and discourage bad ones? There have been lots of attempts to get a handle on this problem - PSLRA for example. In recent years, the courts in Delaware have (I supposed relying on the hive-mind) decided that policing down fees on "bad" cases and being generous with fees on "good" cases is one way to set the incentives. Southern Copper falls into the "good" case category. Chancellor Strine presumably wants to signal to potential litigants that these kinds of cases, where the duty of loyalty is at issue, will be cases that pay off and that plaintiffs should invest their resources in pursuing these cases over the garden variety disclosure cases that often accompany merger announcements.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Ok, news for corporate law geeks. The Corporate & Securities Law Blog reports this morning that the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court in Yudell v Gilbert has discarded its previous case-by-case approach to determining whether shareholder litigation is direct or derivative. Rather, it held that going forward the test to apply is the test announced in the Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (Delaware Supreme Court). The Tooley test asks a court to consider two things: 1) who suffered the harm in question; 2) to the extent there is a remedy, who will receive it. Where the answers to those questions are "the corporation", then the litigation is derivative. Where the answers are "the shareholder", then the litigation is direct.
The question of whether shareholder litigation is direct or derivative is a go-to for law professors at exam time. I guess the beginning of a new academic year is the right time to iron our some of the jurisdictional differences in favor of a more "common sense approach" (NY's words).
Thursday, July 12, 2012
You'll remember back in May we posted about Vice Chancellor Laster's innovation in settlement of a derivative suit. Back then objectors to a settlement appeared. VC Laster challenged them to put up a bond if they really thought the claim was worth more than the settlement. At the time, I really didn't know if the objectors would step up and take over the suit. Afterall, VC Laster made it clear that if the objectors took up the suit and won, they would only receive their pro-rata share of any settlement or judgment. So, the delta between what they think it is worth and the initial settlement would have to be pretty large to induce them to put up a bond. Lo and behold, Reuters is reporting that the objectors put up a bond yesterday:
To the surprise of many lawyers who followed the case, the objectors said in court documents last week they had found the money to keep the case going. They said they would post a $13.25 million bond funded in part by a unit of UK litigation finance firm Burford Capital.
Now, I know from the comments last time that not everyone thinks this kind of innovation in shareholder litigation is a good thing. I get that. But, I think it's worth experimenting. Cause what we've got going now is definitely in need of improvement.