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.

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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. (This memo expands upon our prior discussion of the Synutra decision, which was posted to the Cleary M&A and Corporate Governance Watch on October 10, 2018.)
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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.
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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.
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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]
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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”).

Public and private businesses today face many decisions that do not arise from, and have consequences far beyond, solely financial performance.  Rather, these decisions are primarily driven by, and implicate, important social, cultural and political concerns.  They include harassment, pay equity and other issues raised by the #MeToo movement; immigration and labor markets; trade policy; sustainability and climate change; the manufacture, distribution and financing of guns and opioids; corporate money in politics; privacy regulation in social media; cybersecurity; advertising, boycotts and free speech; race relations issues raised by the pledge of allegiance controversy; the financing of healthcare; the tension between religious freedom and discrimination laws; and the impact of executive pay on income inequality, among others.  If the nature of the issues is not unprecedented, the number, diversity and polarization seem to be. 
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In Varjabedian v. Emulex, the Ninth Circuit recently held that plaintiffs bringing claims under Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”)—which prohibits misstatements, omissions or fraudulent conduct in connection with a tender offer—need only show that defendants acted negligently, rather than with scienter.

This decision marks a conspicuous divergence from

A challenge to a transaction between a Delaware corporation and its controlling stockholder generally will be subject to the highest level of judicial review—“entire fairness”.  As a result, a critical factual question often is whether a significant, but minority, stockholder could be viewed as controlling the corporation.

In a recent decision,[1] the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) concluded that it was reasonably conceivable that Elon Musk, the founder and the owner of 22.1% of the stock of Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”), was a controlling stockholder of Tesla and controlled Tesla’s board of directors in connection with its decision to acquire (the “Acquisition”) SolarCity Corporation (“SolarCity”), another company founded by Musk and his cousins and of which Musk owned 21.9% of its stock.  As a result, the transaction could be subject to the heightened entire fairness standard of review notwithstanding that it was approved by the holders of a majority of Tesla’s disinterested shares.


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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.
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