In a recent decision, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the board omitted material information from its proxy statement recommending stockholders vote in favor of an all-cash acquisition of the company, and thus “Corwin cleansing”[1] did not apply.  Nonetheless, the court dismissed all claims against the directors because the complaint failed to adequately allege that they acted in bad faith, as required by the company’s Section 102(b)(7) exculpation provision.  See In re USG Corp. S’holder Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 2018-0602-SG (Del. Ch. Aug. 31, 2020).

This decision provides helpful guidance regarding the kind of information that should be included in a merger proxy statement.  It also provides a reminder that Corwin is not the only defense available to directors at the motion to dismiss stage.  In particular, Section 102(b)(7) remains a powerful tool to support dismissal of stockholder claims against directors, even in cases where the proxy omits material information and/or the transaction is subject to “Revlon duties.”[2]
Continue Reading Stockholder Claims Dismissed Even After Corwin Defense Fails

A recent decision of the Delaware Court of Chancery in the ongoing WeWork/SoftBank litigation addressed a previously unresolved question:  can management withhold its communications with company counsel from members of the board of directors on the basis that such communications are privileged?  Building on past Delaware decisions concerning directors’ rights to communications with company counsel, including in the CBS case we previously discussed here, the court clarified that directors are always entitled to communications between management and company counsel unless there is a formal board process to wall off such directors (such as the formation of a special committee) or other actions at the board level demonstrating “manifest adversity” between the company and those directors.  See In re WeWork Litigation, C.A. No. 0258-AGB (Del. Ch. August 21, 2020).  In other words, management cannot unilaterally decide to withhold its communications with company counsel from the board (or specified directors management deems to have a conflict).

Continue Reading Recent Decision Confirms Directors’ Right to Access Privileged Communications Between Management and Company Counsel

These days, most public company mergers continue to attract one or more boilerplate complaints, usually filed by the same roster of plaintiffs’ law firms, asserting that the target company’s proxy statement contains materially false or misleading statements.  These complaints usually also assert that the stockholder meeting to approve the merger should be enjoined unless and until the company “corrects” the false or misleading statements by making supplemental disclosures.  While not too long ago cases like this tended to be filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery and other state courts asserting breaches of state-law fiduciary duties, including the duty of disclosure, after Trulia the vast majority of these cases today are filed in federal court under Section 14 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.[1]
Continue Reading Rare Federal Court Decision Casts Doubt On Merger Disclosure Claims, But Will It Change Anything?

In an important decision for M&A professionals and other board advisors, the Delaware Court of Chancery addressed a stockholder plaintiff’s claims that the target board’s financial advisor and law firm, as well as the private equity buyer, aided and abetted a breach of fiduciary duty by the target board in connection with a take-private merger.  See Morrison v. Berry, C.A. No. 12808-VCG (Del. Ch. June 1, 2020).  While the claim against the financial advisor was allowed to proceed, the claims against the law firm and buyer were dismissed.  These diverging results provide early guidance as to when the Delaware courts will (and when they will not) dismiss aiding and abetting claims.  In many cases, the determining factor will be whether the complaint pleads facts raising a reasonably conceivable inference that the advisor, buyer, or other third party knew the board was engaging in a breach of its fiduciary duty.  This has important implications for the way board advisors and M&A buyers should approach a situation in which they become aware that the board of a target company is unaware of some material fact that could conceivably affect its ability to fulfill its fiduciary duties.
Continue Reading Knowledge Is Key: Recent Decision Addresses Aiding and Abetting Claims Against Board Advisors And Buyer

On March 18, 2020, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an opinion in the closely watched appeal in Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, a case involving a challenge to charter provisions of three Delaware corporations requiring stockholder plaintiffs to litigate claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “1933 Act”) in federal court. The en banc Supreme

Cleary Gottlieb’s “2019 Developments in Securities and M&A Litigation” discusses major developments from 2019 and highlights significant decisions and trends ahead.

In Lorenzo, the most significant securities decision of 2019, the Supreme Court clarified the scope of “scheme liability” under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c). The Court also declined to rule on several

Cleary Gottlieb’s “2019 Mid-Year Developments in Securities and M&A Litigation” discusses major developments from the first half of 2019 and highlights significant decisions and trends ahead.

In Lorenzo, the most significant securities decision in 2019 so far, the Supreme Court clarified the scope of “scheme liability” under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c). The

After the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent Aruba decision,[1] many commentators predicted that, going forward, the Court of Chancery would not rely on the target’s unaffected market trading price to determine fair value in appraisal cases, other than as a “check” on other valuation methodologies.  It may therefore come as a surprise that in a decision issued last Friday, the Court of Chancery determined fair value to be equal to the target’s unaffected trading price.  See In re: Appraisal of Jarden Corporation, Consolidated C.A. No. 12456-VCS (Del. Ch. July 19, 2019).  Although still subject to appeal, this decision is also notable because the fair value determination came out 18% below the deal price despite the petitioners having some success in attacking the target board’s sale process, which involved no pre- or post-signing market check. 
Continue Reading Appraisal Update: Unaffected Market Price Makes a Comeback

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]
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Provides Further Guidance on Timing Requirement Under MFW

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.
Continue Reading The Rise of Books and Records Demands Under Section 220 of the DGCL