In a May 31, 2024 opinion, the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a complaint challenging the sale of a public company with a controlling private equity sponsor to an unrelated, arms-length buyer, finding that the sale was potentially tainted by conflicts of interest.[1]  In particular, the court found that it was reasonably conceivable that the private equity sponsor’s receipt of an early termination payment under a tax receivable agreement put into place upon the target company’s initial public offering was a material non-ratable benefit, which may have led the sponsor to push for a sale (which would trigger the early termination payment), even if remaining a standalone company would have been better for the minority stockholders. The opinion also touches on important issues relating to financial advisors’ advice in connection with such a sale. While tax receivable agreements (“TRAs”) are common in sponsor-backed and “Up-C” IPOs, this case highlights a rarely considered issue involving these agreements, and the need for careful navigation of related potential conflicts of interest in a sale process where a private equity sponsor, and TRA beneficiary, continues to control the public company.Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Finds Private Equity Sponsor’s Tax Receivable Agreement Potentially Led to Conflicted Sale Process

In a February 28, 2024 opinion, the Delaware Court of Chancery confirmed an arbitrator’s award resulting in a seller of a $40 million company unexpectedly having to pay a buyer over twice that amount – $87 million – in a customary post-closing purchase price adjustment. The adjustment seems to have resulted from an ambiguity in the purchase agreement involving a drafting technicality in the definition of “Closing Date Indebtedness” and seller and buyer taking a different view of the pre- and post-closing accounting treatment of indebtedness of a joint venture in which the target company held a one-third interest due to an internal reorganization conducted at buyer’s request. Despite the court’s view that the award was economically divorced from the intended goals of the purchase agreement, it awarded summary judgement for the buyer, concluding that the arbitrator acted within the scope of his authority. The case illustrates the importance of understanding the accounting implications of legal drafting in the customary purchase price adjustment sections of a purchase agreement, as well as the choice of what type of dispute resolution mechanism is selected by the parties for purchase price adjustment disputes.Continue Reading Raw Deal: Seller Ordered to Pay Buyer Over Twice the Purchase Price in Post-Closing Purchase Price Adjustment Dispute

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

In a May 29, 2023 opinion by the Delaware Chancery Court addressing a claim by sellers for specific performance under a merger agreement following buyer’s termination for breach of the capitalization representation, the court found that sellers breached the capitalization representation under the merger agreement based on the post-signing discovery that a former employee held phantom equity in a subsidiary of the target company.  Despite buyer’s concession that the financial value of the former employee’s interest in the subsidiary was “minor relative to the deal value,”[1]  the court concluded that buyer was entitled to terminate the merger agreement since the capitalization representation was brought down flat at closing (and not subject to any de minimis or materiality qualifier).Continue Reading Private Equity Buyer Permitted to Walk From Deal Based on Capitalization Representation Breach

In a recent decision, the Delaware Court of Chancery grappled with the question whether—and to what extent—claims for breach of fiduciary duty can be waived ex ante in a corporate shareholder agreement.  Specifically, in New Enterprise Associates 14 LP v. Rich, the court denied a motion to dismiss claims for breach of fiduciary duties brought against directors and controlling stockholders of Fugue, Inc. (the “Company”) by sophisticated private fund investors who had agreed to an express waiver of the right to bring such claims.[1]  Importantly, the court found that fiduciary duties in a corporation can be tailored by parties to a shareholders agreement who are sophisticated, and were validly waived by the voting agreement in this case (which specifically addressed the type of transaction at issue).  The court, however, held that public policy prohibits contracts from insulating directors or controlling stockholders from tort or fiduciary liability in a case of intentional wrongdoing, which the court found was plausibly alleged in this case. The court’s opinion has implications for sophisticated investors in venture capital and other private transactions involving Delaware corporations. The opinion cautions against overreliance on express contractual waivers, on the one hand, while also serves as a reminder that at least in some circumstances sophisticated parties can contract around default legal principles (including fiduciary duties), even with respect to corporations.Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Highlights Tension Between Freedom of Contract and Corporate Fiduciary Duties

In a recent opinion addressing breaches of fiduciary duties and disclosure violations in connection with a take-private of Mindbody, Inc. by Vista Equity Partners, the Delaware Court of Chancery reinforced the significance (to both buyers and sellers) of avoiding conflicts in a sell-side process and ensuring all material facts are disclosed to the target’s board 

In a noteworthy new post-sale appraisal ruling, the Delaware Court of Chancery in BCIM Strategic Value Master Fund, LP v. HFF, Inc.[1] awarded the petitioner additional consideration based on an increase in the value of the target company that arose between signing and closing.  The unique facts of this case, and particularly the sustained outperformance of the target in the interim period before closing, are worth keeping in mind in evaluating the risk that a successful appraisal proceeding can increase the amount of consideration payable in a public company acquisition.  Below we break down the Court’s analysis in determining fair value, how changes in each merger party’s valuation drove the appraisal result, and key takeaways.
Continue Reading Appraisal Update: Post-Signing Value Changes Drive Appraisal Result