Last month, in Vento v. Curry,[1] the Delaware Chancery Court preliminarily enjoined the Consolidated Communication Holding (“Consolidated”) shareholder vote[2] on the company’s all-stock acquisition of FairPoint Communications (“FairPoint”) due to Consolidated’s failure to adequately disclose the compensation its financial advisor would receive for participating in the acquisition financing. The court’s ruling ultimately had very little impact on the transaction – Consolidated subsequently disclosed that its financial advisor would receive $7 million in financing fees and the Consolidated shareholders overwhelmingly approved the transaction without any delay.[3]  Vento nonetheless provides important guidance for principals and financial advisors in evaluating whether disclosure of a financial advisor’s transaction-related compensation is required when seeking shareholder approval of an M&A transaction.    Continue Reading Assessing Financial Advisor Compensation Disclosure Following Vento v. Curry

The Delaware Supreme Court has affirmed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s ruling that Energy Transfer Equity L.P. (“ETE”) did not breach its agreement to merge with The Williams Companies, Inc. when ETE terminated the agreement on the grounds that its counsel was unwilling to deliver a tax opinion that was a condition to closing.

While the court’s decision has been eagerly anticipated, the larger impact of the ETE/Williams matter occurred back in May 2016 when the dispute became public: the dispute highlighted that tax-opinion closing conditions which are intended to protect the parties against tax risks could instead add to deal risks.

This alert memorandum briefly describes the facts in the case and the court’s decision, and then turns to a survey of what deal counterparties have been doing differently to mitigate “ETE/Williams risk”.  We end with a menu of features deal counterparties should consider using in future deals.  These features include:

—  No tax opinion required
—  Tax opinions prepared before signing
—  Closing condition limited to change in tax law
—  Obligation to accept opinion from other party’s counsel or an alternate counsel
—  Obligation to restructure if necessary to obtain tax opinion
—  Termination fee for termination because of inability to obtain opinion

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

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

Playing a Zynga game often requires patience.  Patience, and persistence, were a winning combination for the plaintiff Thomas Sandys who brought a derivative suit against Zynga for alleged breaches of fiduciary duties after the Zynga Board approved a secondary sale of company stock by insiders, including Zynga’s controlling shareholder and then-CEO (“controlling shareholder/CEO”) during a blackout period.  Shortly after the sale, a disappointing earnings announcement resulted in a significant stock price drop. Continue Reading From the Game Room to the Board Room – Reconsidering the Independence of Independent Directors

Several amendments were made to Section 251(h) of the Delaware General Corporation Law that became effective for merger agreements entered into on or after August 1, 2016.  Section 251(h) permits acquisitions of publicly listed Delaware corporations to be accomplished via a tender offer without the need to approve the second-step “squeeze-out” merger at a stockholder meeting if certain conditions are met, including that the acquiror of the tendered shares and its affiliates would be able to unilaterally approve the second-step merger if a meeting were to be held. Continue Reading Smoothing the Pathway to Use of Tender Offers in Private Equity Acquisitions

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

In a recent decision[1], Vice Chancellor Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery clarified certain issues related to the obligations of a controlling stockholder that often arise in connection with going private and similar transactions.  The case involved a relatively conventional proposal by a controlling stockholder (the Anderson family) to acquire the remaining shares of Books-A-Million, Inc. (“BAM”) from BAM’s minority stockholders.  The family structured the proposal with the goal of satisfying the conditions of the MFW decision so that any challenge to the transaction would benefit from the favorable “business judgment” level of judicial review.[2] Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Applies MFW to Dismiss Challenge to Going Private Transaction and Clarifies Obligations of Controlling Stockholders

A recent opinion from the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed the importance of bringing disclosure claims before closing (when steps can still be taken to achieve an informed stockholder vote), and the difficult hurdles faced by a plaintiff pursuing disclosure claims after closing. Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Reaffirms That Disclosure Claims Should Be Brought Before Closing

As the Delaware Supreme Court narrows the avenues for post-closing challenges to mergers (see our discussions of the implications of the Corwin and Cornerstone decisions here, here, here and here), we expect that plaintiffs’ lawyers will increasingly seek to base their merger suits on specific allegations of conflicts that may have tainted the oversight of processes to sell companies in hopes of supporting claims for breaches of the duty of loyalty and the applicability of the enhanced scrutiny of the entire fairness doctrine.  Given that virtually every merger includes some special merger benefits for directors that may be susceptible to an attempt at such a claim, it is timely that the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a decision over the summer of 2016 that provides useful guidance on how to evaluate the most common of special merger benefits to insiders:  protection against exposure to pre-merger claims. Continue Reading When Do Merger Benefits to Directors Constitute Disabling Conflicts?

As discussed in prior posts, recent applications of the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015) have emphasized the high bar for surviving a motion to dismiss in damages actions by stockholder plaintiffs after completion of a merger transaction, as “dismissal is typically the result” where informed, disinterested stockholder approval requires application of the business judgment rule to extinguish all claims except for waste.  See Singh v. Attenborough, 137 A.3d 151, 152 (Del. 2016).  Two recent Chancery Court decisions have further underscored the claim-extinguishing effect of informed, disinterested stockholder approval. Continue Reading Recent Applications of <em>Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC</em> Confirm High Bar to Pleading Post-Closing Damages Actions