As passive investing via funds that track market indices continues to grow, the terrain where investors are fighting battles over governance reform is now expanding beyond contested stockholder meetings and into debates over the criteria for eligibility of issuers for inclusion in these indices.  Indeed, in this era of index fund investing, a company focused on the future trading price of its shares should be much more concerned about gaining entry into and maintaining eligibility for indices than whether there will be a withhold vote recommendation on the members of its governance committee.  If this direction continues to gain traction, we could end up with a market dominated by passive strategy investing where the current importance of familiarity with the hot button governance concerns of proxy advisory firms and institutional investors becomes subsidiary to understanding how to navigate new, governance-related eligibility requirements of major equity indices. Continue Reading Index Eligibility as Governance Battlefield: Why the System is Not Broken and We Can Live With Dual Class Issuers

Investors frequently negotiate for a redemption right to ensure at least some return on preferred stock investments in a “sideways situation”—where the target company is neither a huge success nor an abject failure.  Continuing a consistent theme in recent Delaware jurisprudence, the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to dismiss a complaint alleging directors breached their duty of loyalty in taking steps to satisfy an investor’s redemption request.

Continue Reading Between Contractual and Fiduciary Duties: ODN Holding and the Rights of Preferred Stockholders

When a corporation sells corporate assets to its (or an affiliate of its) controlling stockholder, Delaware courts generally will review that transaction under the exacting “entire fairness” standard.[1]  But what if the corporation’s minority stockholders are given the opportunity to participate along with the controlling stockholder in the purchase of the corporate assets pro rata to the extent of their stock ownership? Continue Reading Chancery Court Suggests that Rights Offerings May Limit Liability in Transactions with Controlling Stockholders

Questions for Boards and Management

On April 10, 2017 Wells Fargo released the independent directors’ report on sales practices at its community bank. While the report covers familiar elements of the widely-publicized accounts-creation  problems at the bank, it also takes an inside look at the organization to determine what caused the problems in the first place and what allowed them to persist for years before last fall’s regulatory enforcement actions.  The report cites the following as principal causes: Continue Reading With the Benefit of Hindsight: The Wells Fargo Sales Practices Investigation Report

When reviewing a corporation’s financial statements and internal controls, independent auditors frequently request copies of materials that were prepared for ongoing or anticipated litigation.  Auditors may wish to examine reports from internal investigations, legal opinions addressing potential liabilities, or presentations about prospective litigation prepared for the board of directors, among other materials.  Indeed, it is becoming more and more common for auditors to conduct their own “shadow investigation” of a company’s internal investigation and, as part of that shadow investigation, to request access to the internal investigation’s underlying work product:  the collection of documents that the company’s lawyers have deemed “key,” the analysis of transactions tested by forensic accountants working at counsel’s direction, and notes from interviews conducted by counsel in the course of the investigation.  Auditors may make similar requests when investigating the possibility of “illegal acts” at a company, as required under Section 10A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Continue Reading Audits and Adversaries: Making Disclosures to Your Auditors Without Waiving Your Privilege

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 Supreme Court’s unanimous decision this week in Salman v. United States, No. 15-268, 580 U.S. __ (Dec. 6, 2016), clarified what constitutes a “personal benefit” for purposes of insider trading liability.  In its first merits ruling in an insider trading case in two decades, the Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s holding that the personal benefit requirement may be met when an inside tipper simply gifts confidential information to a trading relative or friend.  In so holding, the Supreme Court significantly narrowed a key aspect of the Second Circuit’s landmark insider trading decision in United States v. Newman, which had required prosecutors to prove that the tipper received something “of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature”—a more difficult standard to meet.

Before Newman was decided, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York had prioritized insider trading prosecutions, obtaining dozens of convictions and over a billion dollars in fines since 2009.  After Newman, however, prosecutors were forced to dismiss several indictments, and some commentators wondered what the future held for insider trading prosecutions.  The Supreme Court’s recent decision should reduce that uncertainty and may bring a renewed focus on insider trading investigations. Continue Reading Supreme Court Clarifies Insider Trading Liability for Confidential Tips

Appraisal rights in public M&A transactions have recently garnered greater attention, particularly in Delaware.  As a result, more attention is being paid to the possible inclusion of a closing condition protecting the acquiror against excessive use of appraisal rights, and this should lead to careful attention being paid to the negotiation and drafting of any such conditions and related provisions.  Discussed below are some of the reasons for this greater attention, and suggestions regarding negotiating and drafting such provisions. Continue Reading Negotiating Appraisal Conditions in Public M&A Transactions

Part 2:  Risks Associated with Transfers of Personal Data and Post-Closing Integration

One aspect of mergers and acquisitions that is receiving growing attention is the relevance of privacy issues[1] under U.S. and European Union (“EU”) laws as well as the laws of a growing number of other jurisdictions.[2]  This two-part blog post discusses the principal M&A-related privacy risks and highlights certain “traps” that are often overlooked.  In Part 1, we discussed risks associated with a target’s pre-closing privacy-related liabilities and considered ways to mitigate these risks through adequate diligence and privacy-related representations in M&A agreements.  In this Part 2, we discuss the risks associated with transferring or disclosing personally-identifiable information (“personal data”) of an M&A target (or a seller) to a purchaser (or prospective purchaser) and those associated with the purchaser’s post-acquisition use of such personal data.

Continue Reading Privacy in M&A Transactions: Navigating the Traps, Part 2

Part 1: Risks Associated with the Target’s Pre-Closing Privacy-Related Liabilities

One aspect of mergers and acquisitions that is receiving growing attention is the relevance of privacy issues[1] under U.S. and European Union (“EU”) laws as well as the laws of a growing number of other jurisdictions.[2]  This two-part blog post discusses the principal M&A-related privacy risks and highlights certain “traps” that are often overlooked.  In this Part 1 of the post, we discuss risks associated with a target’s pre-closing privacy-related liabilities and consider ways to mitigate these risks through adequate diligence and representations in M&A agreements.  In Part 2, we will discuss the risks associated with transferring or disclosing personally-identifiable information (“personal data”) of an M&A target (or a seller) to a purchaser (or prospective purchaser) and those associated with the purchaser’s post-acquisition use of such personal data.

Continue Reading Privacy in M&A Transactions: Navigating the Traps