The Delaware Supreme Court issued a decision last week that further clarifies when MFW’s “dual protections” must be put in place in order to qualify the transaction for deferential business judgment review.  See Olenik v. Lodzinski, No. 392, 2018 (Del. April 5, 2019).

Under MFW, 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.  If the controlling stockholder does not commit to these dual protections ab initio, i.e., from the beginning of negotiations, then the traditional entire fairness standard applies instead.[1]
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In recent years, in part in response to decisions like Corwin that have raised the pleading standard for stockholder plaintiffs, the Delaware courts have encouraged stockholders to seek books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) before filing stockholder derivative or post-merger damages suits, and – in response – each year more stockholders have done so.  As a result of this trend, we have already seen several important decisions addressing books and records demands in 2019.  These decisions have (i) clarified the types of documents that may be obtained, including (in some limited circumstances) personal emails or text messages; (ii) explained when a stockholder’s demand will be denied as impermissibly lawyer-driven (and when it will not be); and (iii) described the threshold showing of suspected wrongdoing that stockholders must make.  As the plaintiffs’ bar makes more use of Section 220, these are important issues for boards of directors to consider.
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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

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.
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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.
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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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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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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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