In Snow Phipps v. KCAKE Acquisition, the Delaware Court of Chancery ordered the buyer (Kohlberg) to close on its $550 million agreement to purchase DecoPac, a cake decorations supplier. In doing so, the court easily rejected the buyer’s claims that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a material adverse effect (“MAE”) and that the steps taken by the company to respond to the pandemic breached the ordinary course covenant. More novel was the way in which the court sidestepped the near-universal construct in leveraged buyouts that the seller will be entitled to a specific performance remedy requiring the buyer to close only if the buyer’s debt financing is also available. The court—pointing to the “prevention doctrine”—concluded that the buyer’s failure to use reasonable best efforts to obtain the debt financing was a breach of the agreement and, therefore, the buyer could not rely on the unavailability of debt financing to avoid being required to specifically perform its obligations under the contract. While alternative financing for the DecoPac transaction proved to be available and Snow Phipps and Kohlberg have agreed to close later this week, financial sponsor buyers will need to continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the prevention doctrine does not erode the remedies architecture that has become ubiquitous in leveraged buyouts.
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