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

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?

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

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>

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 the decisions of every other circuit court to consider the issue.  Those other courts have uniformly held that Section 14(e) claims require a plaintiff to demonstrate that defendants acted knowingly or with a reckless disregard of the truth, a significantly higher burden.  The Ninth Circuit’s ruling, thus, sets up a clear circuit split that may necessitate resolution by the Supreme Court.  In the meantime, however, it remains to be seen whether there will be a migration of tender-offer litigation to the Ninth Circuit.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

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

Last week, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued its first significant appraisal decision applying the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent Dell[1] and DFC[2] opinions, which we’ve previously discussed here and hereSee Verition Partners Master Fund Ltd. v. Aruba Networks, Inc., C.A. No. 11448-VCL (“Aruba”).  Although Dell and DFC both emphasized that deal price will often be the best evidence of fair value in appraisal actions involving open, competitive, and arm’s-length mergers of publicly traded targets, neither case involved a merger where the transaction resulted in significant synergies,[3] which are excluded statutorily from the determination of fair value.[4]  Picking up where those cases left off, the court in Aruba, despite finding that the deal price was the product of an uncompetitive and flawed process, nonetheless found fair value to be significantly below deal price because the merger resulted in significant synergies.  The court instead found fair value to be equal to the pre-announcement market trading price of the public shares, which was 30% below the deal price.  Subject to any appeal from this decision, Aruba continues, and in the context of strategic mergers expands upon, the trend of substantially reducing appraisal risk for buyers of public companies. Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Finds Fair Value in Appraisal Case To Be Unaffected Market Price

Cleary Gottlieb’s “2017 Developments in Securities and M&A Litigation” discusses major developments from 2017 and highlights significant decisions and trends ahead.

The trend of increased securities class action filings in federal courts continued from 2016 to 2017. The Supreme Court was particularly active in the securities field, ruling in CalPERS that the Securities Act’s repose period is not subject to class action tolling, holding in Kokesh that disgorgement in SEC proceedings is subject to the five-year statute of limitations for penalties, and granting three additional cert petitions to address important issues in the securities laws, with decisions expected in 2018. With respect to M&A litigation, the Delaware Supreme Court issued key rulings on appraisal issues in DFC Global and Dell, and is expected to provide further guidance in the coming months.

Please click here for a PDF version of 2017 Developments in Securities and M&A Litigation.