In a recent decision, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the board omitted material information from its proxy statement recommending stockholders vote in favor of an all-cash acquisition of the company, and thus “Corwin cleansing”[1] did not apply.  Nonetheless, the court dismissed all claims against the directors because the complaint failed to adequately allege that they acted in bad faith, as required by the company’s Section 102(b)(7) exculpation provision.  See In re USG Corp. S’holder Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 2018-0602-SG (Del. Ch. Aug. 31, 2020).

This decision provides helpful guidance regarding the kind of information that should be included in a merger proxy statement.  It also provides a reminder that Corwin is not the only defense available to directors at the motion to dismiss stage.  In particular, Section 102(b)(7) remains a powerful tool to support dismissal of stockholder claims against directors, even in cases where the proxy omits material information and/or the transaction is subject to “Revlon duties.”[2] Continue Reading Stockholder Claims Dismissed Even After <i>Corwin</i> Defense Fails

On September 3, 2020, the Antitrust Division of the DOJ issued a revised Policy Guide to Merger Remedies, following shortly after it announced a reorganization of its civil enforcement to create an Office of Decree Enforcement and Compliance.

The Policy Guide to Merger Remedies largely codifies a trend towards strengthening of the Division’s preference for structural remedies—such as divestitures—over conduct remedies—such as firewalls. This revision now expressly states that “[s]tructural remedies are strongly preferred in horizontal and vertical merger cases because they are clean and certain, effective, and avoid ongoing government entanglement in the market” (emphasis added), responding to a perception within the bar that vertical mergers (involving firms at different levels of the distribution chain that do not compete directly) are more amenable to conduct-only remedies. The Policy Guide also lays out conditions when the Division may accept a conduct-only remedy: (1) a transaction generates significant efficiencies that cannot be achieved without the merger; (2) a structural remedy is not possible; (3) the conduct remedy will completely cure the anticompetitive harm, and (4) the remedy can be enforced effectively.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

On August 26, the SEC revised several disclosure requirements applicable to reporting companies. The amendments embrace a “principles-based” approach in the hope that it will elicit more focused and useful disclosures.  They will also require issuers to focus on human capital disclosures and on the organization of risk factor disclosures, and some will have to do so quickly because the amendments will take effect 30 days after they appear in the Federal Register.  Two dissenting commissioners objected to the SEC’s unwillingness to adopt specific disclosure requirements on diversity and on climate risk.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

A recent decision of the Delaware Court of Chancery in the ongoing WeWork/SoftBank litigation addressed a previously unresolved question:  can management withhold its communications with company counsel from members of the board of directors on the basis that such communications are privileged?  Building on past Delaware decisions concerning directors’ rights to communications with company counsel, including in the CBS case we previously discussed here, the court clarified that directors are always entitled to communications between management and company counsel unless there is a formal board process to wall off such directors (such as the formation of a special committee) or other actions at the board level demonstrating “manifest adversity” between the company and those directors.  See In re WeWork Litigation, C.A. No. 0258-AGB (Del. Ch. August 21, 2020).  In other words, management cannot unilaterally decide to withhold its communications with company counsel from the board (or specified directors management deems to have a conflict).

Continue Reading Recent Decision Confirms Directors’ Right to Access Privileged Communications Between Management and Company Counsel

Following completion of a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”), President Trump recently issued an Executive Order requiring ByteDance to, among other things, divest itself of assets and property that enable or support operation of the TikTok application in the United States within 90 days (the “CFIUS Order”).  This was not an unexpected outcome.  We previously reported on the unusual nature of CFIUS’s review here.  The week before, President Trump issued a different Executive Order authorizing the Commerce Department to prohibit transactions involving a U.S. person or within the jurisdiction of the United States with ByteDance (the “Commerce Order”), with details of the restrictions to come in 45 days.  We previously reported on the Commerce Order here.  According to press reports, negotiations for a possible acquisition of TikTok continue, and it remains to be seen whether those restrictions will come to fruition and on what timetable. Continue Reading President Trump Orders TikTok Divestment; Sweeping Order Appears to Indicate a Broadening of CFIUS’s Jurisdiction

On July 23, 2020, The Conference Board and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP hosted a panel discussion on the 2020 proxy season highlights and trends, including the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 proxy season and offseason engagement. The panelists were Francesca L. Odell, Partner, Cleary Gottlieb, Helena K. Grannis, Counsel, Cleary Gottlieb and Rick E. Hansen, Assistant General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, General Motors Company. The panel was moderated by Paul Washington, Executive Director, ESG Center, The Conference Board. Continue Reading Cleary Gottlieb Participates in Panel Discussion on Highlights of the 2020 Proxy Season

For more than a decade, the SEC has been wrestling with whether and how to regulate the activities of the proxy advisory firms – principally ISS and Glass Lewis – that have come to play such an important role in shareholder voting at U.S. public companies.  On July 22, 2020, the SEC adopted rules and interpretive guidance that, together, are probably as far as it will go.

Very generally, the main impact of last week’s actions is that, beginning in the 2022 proxy season:

  • When a proxy advisory firm gives its clients voting advice about a typical shareholders’ meeting, it will have to provide the advice simultaneously to the company.
  • In case the company decides to respond to the proxy voting advice, the proxy advisory firm will need to develop procedures to alert its clients to the company’s response before the vote is cast.
  • If the client is a registered investment adviser, it will need to have procedures to consider any company response.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

Three recently filed shareholder derivative lawsuits contain intentionally provocative allegations that, despite public statements emphasizing the importance of diversity within their respective organizations, the boards and executive management teams of Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcomm remain largely white and male, and have failed to deliver on their commitments to diversity.  While calls to strengthen commitments to diversity at public companies have steadily increased, these complaints go a step further and seek to reshape the boards and executive teams through litigation and hold directors and executive officers personally liable for perceived diversity shortcomings. The plaintiffs will need to overcome a number of hurdles in order to sustain their novel claims.  But the complaints touch upon serious issues at the center of a broader conversation, and the complaints against the Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcomm boards serve as a reminder that stakeholders of companies making public commitments to diversity are increasingly expecting those companies to follow through, and for their boards to focus on diversity and inclusion at all levels within their organizations.  The recent complaints also serve as a reminder that those stakeholders – including stockholders – may pursue litigation in their attempts to hold directors and officers accountable.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

The Securities and Exchange Commission held a roundtable on July 9, 2020 on investing in emerging markets.

Participants with a very wide range of perspectives addressed three concentric circles of topics:

  • At the core is the regulatory impasse between the United States and China over the ability of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to conduct inspections and investigations of Chinese auditing firms.
  • More broadly, many participants discussed whether there are specific risks involved in investing in Chinese businesses with equity securities trading on U.S. exchanges.
  • At the most general level, the discussion addressed risks of “investing in emerging markets,” a term that participants used in different ways.

This memorandum summarizes some themes from the discussion and identifies questions about possible future regulatory developments.