With a stroke of the pen, the Delaware Court of Chancery invalidated commonplace provisions in scores of stockholder agreements relating to public corporations and likely many more relating to private corporations.  In West Palm Beach Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Moelis & Company (“Moelis”)[1], Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster, struck down an entire package of stockholder veto rights and held that provisions in a stockholder agreement purporting to restrict the size of the board of directors, requiring the board to recommend in favor of a stockholder nominee, requiring the board to fill any vacancy on the board with a stockholder nominee or to include a stockholder nominated director on committees of the board, are all facially invalid as a matter of Delaware law.  Vice Chancellor Laster noted that many of these provisions would have been valid if set out in the corporation’s certificate of incorporation, rather than in the stockholder agreement.Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Invalidates Common Provisions in Stockholder Agreements

Until Vice Chancellor Laster’s decision last week in Akorn Inc. v. Fresenius KABI AG,[1] no Delaware court had released an acquiror from its obligation to close a transaction as a result of the occurrence of a “Material Adverse Effect.”[2]  The cases previously adjudicated in Delaware all had required the acquiror to close, often despite a significant diminishment in target value and, in some, the court criticized the acquiror for seeking to avoid its obligations based on little more than buyer’s remorse.  Against this weight of precedent, the Vice Chancellor found that the grievous decline of generics pharmaceutical company Akorn, Inc. after it agreed to be acquired by Fresenius constituted a MAC.  While Akorn presents a stark set of facts and the Delaware Supreme Court has yet to have the final word in the case,[3] the decision nonetheless provides useful guidance to practitioners in shaping and navigating MAC clauses and related contractual provisions.
Continue Reading Akorn v. Fresenius: A MAC in Delaware

The general policy of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (the “Act”) is “to give the maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract and to the enforceability of limited liability company agreements.”[1]  Specifically, with respect to duties, the Act provides that to the extent law or equity would impose a fiduciary or other duty on a member or manager of an LLC, that duty may be “restricted or eliminated by provisions in the limited liability company agreement.”[2]  This flexibility makes LLCs an especially attractive vehicle for private equity investors, in particular with respect to allowing management and other minority holders to participate in an investment.

An LLC agreement, however, cannot eliminate the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing that inheres in all contracts under Delaware law.[3]  As a result, for private equity funds and other controlling investors, a lurking concern has been whether the implied covenant potentially provides a mechanism for a minority investor to undermine or change the terms of an LLC agreement, including through the imposition of otherwise waived fiduciary duty-like obligations.
Continue Reading The Peril of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith in LLC Agreements

Courts have long applied the exacting “entire fairness” standard to one-step, going-private merger transactions.  In Delaware, after years of agonizing by courts and commentators, this changed in 2013 in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp. (“MFW”).[1]  MFW held that if certain procedural protections were observed in the course of the transaction the far more deferential business judgment standard would be applied.  The required safeguards included, most notably, negotiation and approval of the transaction by a committee of the target’s independent directors and subsequent approval by an informed majority vote of target stockholders unaffiliated with the acquiror.  Last week, the New York Court of Appeals adopted Delaware’s MFW approach in its review of the Kenneth Cole Productions going-private transaction.[2] 
Continue Reading Business Judgment Rule Applied to Going-Private Mergers in New York

In two recent cases, the Delaware courts addressed the question of when a minority stockholder has sufficient influence over a corporation to be deemed a controlling stockholder.  The issue typically arises in the context of a transaction between the minority stockholder and the corporation, such as an attempt to acquire the corporation’s publicly held shares.  In such cases, the stakes for the minority stockholder can be quite high as transactions between a corporation and a controlling stockholder may be subject to the exacting  “entire fairness” standard. 
Continue Reading Controlling Minority Stockholders — When Does a Minority Constitute a Majority?