On December 19, 2018, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion holding that Delaware law does not permit corporations to use charter provisions to require stockholders to litigate certain claims brought under the federal securities laws in a specific forum.  In Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, Vice Chancellor Laster determined that such forum-selection provisions are invalid and unenforceable to the extent that they require any claim under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “1933 Act”) to be filed only in federal court.

The decision built on case law providing that a corporation may include forum-selection clauses in its governing documents where the claims involve intra-corporate disputes stemming from the rights and relationships established under Delaware corporate law (including between corporations and stockholders), but may not do so for claims that are external to the corporate relationship, like those based on tort, contract, labor or environmental law.  The decision may have implications for the use of other forum-selection provisions that mandate arbitration or contain class action waivers.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

In In re Xura, Inc. Stockholder Litigation,[1] decided earlier this week, the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the target CEO’s motion to dismiss claims that he breached his fiduciary duties by “steer[ing]” the company into an allegedly unfair acquisition by a private equity firm that promised to retain him post-acquisition, while knowing that his job was in jeopardy if the target remained independent.  This case is yet another example of why disclosures are so important in the post-Corwin[2] era:  Vice Chancellor Slights rejected the CEO’s argument that the claims against him were extinguished by the stockholder vote approving the transaction, finding that a number of material omissions precluded a finding that the stockholders’ vote was fully informed.  The vote was thus ineffective to invoke the business judgment rule at the pleading stage. Continue Reading Claim Against Target CEO Survives Dismissal, While Aiding and Abetting Claim Against Private Equity Buyer is Dismissed

Voting rights held by shareholders who are “acting in concert” are mutually attributed for purposes of the German Securities Trading Act (“WpHG”) and the German Takeover Act (“WpÜG”).  Such attribution may thus not only trigger (additional) voting rights notifications, if the relevant voting rights thresholds are reached or crossed, but also the obligation to launch a mandatory offer, if based on the voting rights so attributed a shareholder acquires control of a company.  In light of these implications, the question of what type of behavior constitutes acting in concert is of high practical relevance.  Unfortunately, the definition in statutory law is open-ended, and several details are heavily disputed.  In its decision of September 25, 2018 (II ZR 190/17), the German Federal Court of Justice (“FCJ”) had the opportunity to clarify two important questions:

First, the coordination of shareholder behavior in an individual case does not qualify as acting in concert. According to the FCJ, the question of whether coordination among shareholders is limited to an “individual case” is to be determined applying a formal rather than substantive test. Second, mutual coordination of conduct among shareholders does not constitute acting in concert if it is aimed at maintaining an existing corporate strategy (or defining it for the first time), rather than at bringing about a permanent and material change to an existing corporate strategy. Continue Reading German Federal Court of Justice on Acting in Concert of Shareholders

The Delaware Court of Chancery recently denied Corwin cleansing[1] in a case involving the sale of a public company while it was engaged in a restatement of its prior audited financial statements.  See In re Tangoe, Inc. S’holders Litig., C.A. No. 2017-0650-JRS (Del. Ch. Nov. 20, 2018).  If this sounds familiar, that is because it is the second time in two years that the Court of Chancery has denied a motion to dismiss shareholder litigation on Corwin grounds where the target was in the middle of a restatement process.[2]  Together, these decisions suggest that if a board decides to sell the company while under a cloud of an ongoing restatement process, it would need to satisfy a heightened level of scrutiny of its disclosures in order to obtain the benefit of Corwin.  The court in Tangoe, however, sought to reassure practitioners that it is not impossible to satisfy Corwin in a case involving an ongoing restatement by the target, and provided a checklist of the kinds of facts that, if disclosed, would result in pleading stage dismissal of a shareholder lawsuit in such a case. Continue Reading <i>Corwin</i> Cleansing Denied For Company Sold During Restatement Process—Sound Familiar?

Last month, former Uber executive Eric Alexander filed a complaint (the “Complaint”) against another former Uber executive, Rachel Whetstone.  The Complaint alleges breach of a mutual non-disparagement clause in Whetstone’s separation agreement with Uber; a clause that Whetstone, during her negotiation with Uber, apparently insisted specifically name Alexander and preclude them from disparaging each other.  In the Complaint, Alexander alleges that he is a third party beneficiary of the contract and can therefore enforce the non-disparagement obligation against Whetstone.

Continue Reading Shut Up! (Someone Is Actually Suing on the Basis of a Non-Disparagement Clause)

This memo provides further analysis and expands upon the discussion of the Synutra decision included in our prior post (which can be found here).

In its recent Synutra opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court clarified that take-private transactions will be reviewed under the business judgment rule, so long as the controlling stockholder commits to special committee approval and a majority-of-the-minority vote before “substantive economic negotiations” take place, even if the controlling stockholder fails to self-disable in its initial written offer.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice Strine, explained that the touchstone of the analysis is whether there was any “economic horse trading” before the conditions were put in place.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

The Delaware Court of Chancery yesterday found an activist investor aided and abetted a target board’s breaches of fiduciary duty, most significantly by concealing from the target board (and from the stockholders who were asked to tender into the transaction) material facts bearing on a potential conflict of interest between the activist investor and the target’s remaining stockholders. See In re PLX Technology Inc. S’holders Litig., C.A. No. 9880-VCL (Del. Ch. Oct. 16, 2018). This decision serves as a reminder of the importance of full disclosure of material facts in cases involving potential conflicts (and not just of the potential conflicts themselves, but also of the ways in which such potential conflicts manifest themselves)—both at the board level and at the stockholder level. As this decision also demonstrates, in addition to the more familiar allegations of financial advisor conflicts, the court may find potential conflicts exist where an activist investor in the target with short-term interests that could be perceived to diverge from the interests of other stockholders is involved in merger negotiations. Continue Reading Delaware Decision Provides Further Lessons for Directors, Activist Investors, and Financial Advisors in Negotiating Mergers

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 <i>Akorn v. Fresenius</i>: A MAC in Delaware

The Delaware Supreme Court has clarified that controlling stockholder take-private transactions will be reviewed under the business judgment rule, rather than the less deferential entire fairness standard, if the controlling stockholder self-disables by committing to special committee and majority-of-the-minority approval before “economic negotiations” take place, even if the controlling stockholder fails to do so in its initial written offer.  See Flood v. Synutra Int’l, Inc., No. 101, 2018 (Del. Oct. 9, 2018).[1]

The Delaware Supreme Court first announced in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) that business judgment review applies to a merger proposed by a controlling stockholder conditioned “ab initio” on two procedural protections: (1) the approval of an independent, adequately-empowered Special Committee that fulfills its duty of care; and (2) the uncoerced, informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders.[2] Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Provides Significant Guidance on Timing Requirement Under <i>MFW</i>

On May 29, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unanimous opinion in Lagos v. United States. Lagos presented the issue of whether costs incurred during and as a result of a corporate victim’s investigation (rather than a governmental investigation) must be reimbursed by a criminal defendant under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”). Resolving a circuit split, the Court narrowly held that restitution under the MVRA “does not cover the costs of a private investigation” commenced by a corporate victim on its own initiative and not at the Government’s invitation or request.

The Court’s decision is notable for rejecting the Government’s broad interpretation of the MVRA and for recognizing the “practical fact” that such a broad interpretation would invite “significant administrative burdens.” But the opinion is also notable for what it does not decide. The Court’s opinion expressly leaves unaddressed the question of whether professional costs incurred during a private investigation performed at the Government’s request would be covered by the MVRA.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.