March 30, 2017

Two Cleary Gottlieb senior M&A partners will be playing major roles at this year’s 29th Annual Tulane Corporate Law Institute, generally considered the leading M&A and Corporate Law conference in the country. Victor Lewkow, who was a Chair of the Tulane conference for four years, will be joining Delaware Chancellor Andre Bouchard to moderate a panel on the increasing importance of appraisal rights in M&A transactions, and how recent court decisions and statutory amendments are impacting deal-making in 2017. Ethan Klingsberg will be drawing on his experience, on behalf of corporate clients navigating corporate governance refreshment, stockholder activism, and strategic alternatives, to moderate the conference’s keynote discussion featuring Ed Garden, the Chief Investment Officer and Founding Partner of Trian Partners (one of the world’s most successful activist funds), and Gerald Hassell, the Chair and CEO of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (which has undergone significant internal transformation in recent years while Mr. Garden has served on its board and Trian has been a shareholder).

Additional details about this event may be found here.

We were glad to see over 195 of you in San Francisco a month ago for the lively discussions on “M&A, Antitrust and The Board Room in 2017: Challenges and Conundrums for the West Coast” among senior personnel from in-house corporate development and legal teams, law firms, financial advisory and investment banking firms, proxy solicitors, and shareholder engagement consultants, as well as the Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, the Chief Economist of Google, the investment director at CalPERS, former senior officials from Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, the author of the best seller Chaos Monkeys, and professors from a number of graduate programs, including the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy, the event’s co-sponsor with Cleary Gottlieb.

Key takeaways from the day’s discussions, the agenda and participants can be found here.

Please do not hesitate to contact any of your friends at Cleary Gottlieb to follow up on any of the matters raised at the conference.

Several sources have reported that Acting SEC Chair Michael Piwowar recently issued a directive mandating that only the Acting Director of the Division of Enforcement can authorize the issuance of formal orders of investigation, the means by which the SEC authorizes its investigative staff to issue subpoenas.[1]  The change—which reportedly strips approximately 20 Enforcement Division senior officers of the power to authorize formal orders—was not announced publicly and is not reflected in the SEC’s Enforcement Manual.

Continue Reading Acting SEC Chair Michael Piwowar Takes Steps to Centralize the Process of Issuing Formal Orders – Are Commentators Drawing the Right Lessons?

Earlier this month, following three hours of deliberation, a California federal jury found that Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. had violated the federal whistleblower provisions by unlawfully firing Sanford Wadler, its former general counsel, and awarded Wadler nearly $11 million in damages.  Wadler had sued his former company under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the Dodd-Frank Act and California state law, asserting that he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for investigating and reporting to senior management potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in China.  The pre-trial proceedings and three-week trial involved several whistleblower-friendly rulings that promise to generate additional litigation.  Those legal determinations, as well as the jury’s prompt finding of liability and imposition of a substantial award in the face of an aggressive corporate defense, bring to the forefront significant issues relevant to public companies, directors and other corporate stakeholders – not the least of which is the precedent of a general counsel in the role of whistleblower.  Continue Reading Jury Awards Ousted General Counsel Nearly $11 Million in Whistleblower Retaliation Action – Key Takeaways

President Trump has repeatedly used his Twitter account to single out companies for criticism of their business practices, raising the question for a broad range of public companies of how to prepare for and potentially respond to such criticism. Of course, rhetorical attempts by politicians to influence the conduct of private enterprise – commonly referred to as “jawboning” – are an old political tactic. The nature and frequency of jawboning in the current environment makes this a serious issue for boards and management at a wide variety of public companies, in a way that it has not been in the recent past.

Crisis plans maintained by public companies for other circumstances may provide useful guidance for how to respond to a politician’s social media attack (an “SMA”). However, every type of crisis raises unique concerns and considerations. Many companies should carefully consider the appropriate response to an SMA in advance.

This note is intended to aid public companies for a discussion at the board level concerning SMAs. It covers three main areas that public companies should specially consider: (i) governance, (ii) executive compensation- and employment-related issues and (iii) communications, and provides senior legal advisors with an outline of relevant considerations. While the principal considerations relevant to responding to an SMA will not typically be legal concerns, corporate governance considerations constitute threshold legal issues and employment-related and communications considerations implicate important legal issues.

Please click here to read the full memo.

The review of financial regulation under the new administration has its first victim.  On February 3, the Senate passed a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that disapproves the SEC’s rule on resource extraction payments. The House of Representatives had already passed the resolution, so the SEC’s rule is no longer in effect.

The target of the joint resolution is a rule requiring each SEC reporting company engaged in commercial development of oil, natural gas or minerals to file annual disclosures on payments it makes to governments.  The rule has already had a tortured history, which left it vulnerable to action under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Continue Reading Congress Rolls Back SEC Resource Extraction Payments Rule

M&A transaction documents often contain an exclusion or limitation of the seller’s liability for “consequential”, “indirect” or “special” losses suffered by the purchaser.   For instance, a purchase agreement will often provide that the liability of the seller under the warranties does not extend to these types of losses.

It appears that purchasers often agree to an exclusion or limitation of this type on the assumption that such exclusion has a well-established and relatively narrow meaning which excludes only losses which arise in a small minority of cases.  This assumption, although historically supported by decisions of the UK courts, has appeared over the past handful of years to be increasingly less tenable. A recent UK High Court decision in Star Polaris LLC v HHIC-Phil Inc. now casts further doubt on the appropriateness of making this assumption.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

 

By the end of 2016, the world was facing a considerably greater level of global uncertainty than it had experienced in recent years. It is clear that while some old challenges will continue, new challenges will also be brought into the boardroom in 2017. The trends discussed in each of the sections below will increasingly be a focus of boards of directors and companies in the United States and across the globe, particularly as boards consider how best to assess and assist in mitigating associated risks. A strong understanding of the issues and challenges facing boards and companies over the next year and beyond will assist boards in addressing the issues and complexities that will undoubtedly arise in 2017.

Following the international record set in 2015, the M&A market in 2016 has proven to be robust. External influences such as the Brexit referendum in early summer and the U.S. presidential election in November did in fact have an impact, but the M&A market has held its own despite the apprehension on several fronts. In particular, the announced Bayer/Monsanto transaction caught the attention of market participants worldwide. Even though this was the largest foreign investment by a German company, it was just one deal in an eventful year for M&A in Germany. Continue Reading

 

In 2015, Section 115 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) was added to clarify that Delaware corporations may adopt bylaws requiring that any litigation regarding internal corporate claims be filed in Delaware (commonly referred to as “forum-selection bylaws”).  At the same time, Section 109(b) of the DGCL was amended to make clear that Delaware corporations (other than non-stock corporations) may not adopt bylaws that would shift litigation expenses onto unsuccessful stockholder-plaintiffs in internal corporate litigation (commonly referred to as “fee-shifting bylaws”).  These simultaneous amendments left open the question of whether a limited fee-shifting bylaw, which would only be triggered if the stockholder filed an internal corporate claim outside of Delaware in violation of the corporation’s forum-selection bylaw, would be valid under Delaware law. Continue Reading Chancery Court Invalidates Bylaw Purporting to Shift Litigation Expenses onto Stockholders Who Violate a Valid Forum-Selection Bylaw