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

This is the fourth in a series of posts discussing certain issues and lessons for practitioners arising out of the recently settled dispute between CBS and its controlling stockholder.[1]  Relevant background can be found here and additional posts in this series can be found here.

In the first week of the CBS-NAI litigation, the Court of Chancery denied CBS’s request for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), which would have prevented NAI from exercising its rights as a controlling stockholder to protect its voting control before the CBS board could meet and vote on a proposed stock dividend to dilute such voting control.[2]  In so ruling, the Court of Chancery resolved an “apparent tension” in the law between, on the one hand, past decisions suggesting the possibility that a board might be justified in diluting a controlling stockholder in extraordinary circumstances (arguably implying that, in such circumstances, the board should be permitted to act without interference by the controlling stockholder) and, on the other hand, cases recognizing the right of a controlling stockholder to have the opportunity to take action to avoid being disenfranchised.  The court found the well-established right of a controlling stockholder to take measures to protect its voting control “weigh[ed] heavily” against granting a TRO that would restrain it from doing so, and that “truly extraordinary circumstances” would therefore be required to support such a TRO.  At the same time, the court noted that it had the power to review and, if necessary, “set aside” any such action taken by the controlling stockholder after the fact (itself another reason why a TRO in these circumstances was not warranted). Continue Reading Lessons from the CBS-NAI Dispute: When (If Ever) Will the Court of Chancery Grant a TRO To Restrain a Controlling Stockholder From Taking Action to Prevent a Board From Diluting Its Voting Control?

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

This is the third in a series of posts discussing certain issues and lessons for practitioners arising out of the recently settled dispute between CBS and its controlling stockholder.[1]Relevant background can be found here and additional posts in this series can be found here.

As described in a prior post, on May 17, 2018, the majority of the CBS board (other than the three directors with ties to NAI) considered and purported to approve a dividend of a fraction of a Class A (voting) share to be paid to holders of both CBS’s Class A (voting) common stock and Class B (nonvoting) common stock for the express purpose of diluting NAI’s voting interest in CBS, with the payment of such dividend conditioned on Delaware court approval.  In addition to diluting NAI’s voting power from about 80% to about 20%, such dividend would have also diluted the voting rights of other Class A stockholders. Continue Reading Lessons From the CBS-NAI Dispute: Can Stockholders Rely on Stock Exchange Rules to Prevent Dilution of Their Voting and Economic Interests?

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>

This is the second in a series of posts discussing certain issues and lessons for practitioners arising out of the recently settled dispute between CBS and its controlling stockholder.[1] Relevant background can be found here and additional posts in this series can be found here.

The vast majority of public company shares are owned in “street name” – e.g., through a broker.  When holding shares in “street name,” a stockholder’s brokerage account reflects his or her ultimate beneficial ownership of such shares, but the records of the issuer (maintained by the issuer’s transfer agent) indicate that the broker (or more often, another intermediary through which the broker holds the shares) is the record holder of such shares.  In the typical case of “street name” registration, Cede & Co., as nominee for the Depository Trust Company (“DTC”), is listed on the issuer’s records as the holder of record of most of the issuer’s shares.  DTC, in turn, keeps its own account records, which list the DTC participants that hold those shares through DTC, including a number of brokers.  Finally, those brokers keep their own account records, listing the ultimate beneficial owners of such shares.  Contrast this with direct registration, sometimes referred to as “record ownership,” where the ultimate beneficial holder holds the shares directly and therefore the records of the issuer indicate that such person is also the holder of record of such shares. Continue Reading Lessons From the CBS-NAI Dispute: The Limitations of “Street Name” Ownership in Effectively Exercising Stockholder Rights

This is the first in a series of posts discussing certain issues and lessons for practitioners arising out of the recently settled dispute between CBS and its controlling stockholder.

Introduction

  • National Amusements, Inc. (“NAI”) owns approximately 80% of the voting shares of CBS Corporation and Viacom Inc., and in early 2018, NAI proposed that CBS and Viacom consider a merger. Each of the boards of CBS and Viacom formed a special committee of independent directors unaffiliated with NAI to consider and potentially negotiate such a merger.[1]
  • On Sunday, May 13, 2018, the CBS special committee met and took steps:
    • to call a special meeting of the full CBS board on May 17 to consider and vote on a dividend of a fraction of a Class A (voting) share to be paid to holders of both CBS’s Class A (voting) common stock and Class B (nonvoting) common stock for the express purpose of diluting – very substantially – NAI’s voting interest in CBS; and
    • to commence litigation against NAI in the Chancery Court of Delaware seeking approval of the proposed dilutive dividend and moving for a temporary restraining order to block NAI from taking certain steps as the controlling stockholder of CBS, including any actions prior to the special board meeting that would interfere with the proposed dilutive dividend.
  • On May 16, prior to the special board meeting (and prior to a scheduled court hearing on the directors’ motion for a TRO), NAI exercised its right as the holder of a majority of CBS’s voting shares to act by written consent to adopt amendments to the CBS bylaws (the “Bylaw Amendments”).[2] These Bylaw Amendments imposed a 90% supermajority voting requirement on any Board declaration of dividends or any board adoption of bylaw amendments, and also imposed certain procedural requirements for any such actions.  Since three of the fourteen CBS directors were individuals with ties to NAI, the Bylaw Amendments, if valid and in effect, would effectively preclude the declaration and payment of the proposed dilutive dividend.
  • The CBS board met the next day as scheduled (and following the court’s decision not to grant the TRO) and purported to approve the dilutive stock dividend by a majority vote of less than 90% of the directors, which would dilute the voting power of NAI to about 20% (and also dilute the voting rights of other Class A stockholders), the payment of such dividend conditioned on Delaware court approval.
  • On September 9 (after several months of motion practice and discovery), CBS and NAI entered into a settlement agreement providing for the rescission of the dividend, a reconstitution of the CBS board and dismissal of the litigation.

Continue Reading Lessons From the CBS-NAI Dispute: The Applicability of Rule 14c-2 and the 20-day Waiting Period to Stockholder Actions by Written Consent

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.  Continue Reading <i>Caremark</i> and Reputational Risk Through #MeToo Glasses

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.

Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Denies Motion to Dismiss and Permits Discovery into 22.1% Minority Stockholder’s Controller Status

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