Category Archives: Court Cases

Banker Loyalty in Mergers and Acquisitions

Andrew F. Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Tuch, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

As recent decisions of the Delaware Court of Chancery illustrate, investment banks can face conflicts of interest in their role as advisors on merger and acquisition (“M&A”) transactions. In a trilogy of recent decisions—Del Monte[1] El Paso [2] and Rural Metro [3]—the court signaled its concern, making clear that potentially disloyal investment banking conduct may lead to Revlon breaches by corporate directors and even expose bank advisors (“M&A advisors”) themselves to aiding and abetting liability. But the law is developing incrementally, and uncertainty remains as to the proper obligations of M&A advisors and the directors who retain them. For example, are M&A advisors in this context properly regarded as fiduciaries and thus obliged to act loyally toward their clients; gatekeepers, and thus expected to perform a guardian-like function for investors; or simply arm’s length counterparties with no other-regarding duties? [4] The Chancery Court in Rural Metro potentially muddied the waters by labelling M&A advisors as gatekeepers and—in an underappreciated part of its opinion—by also suggesting they act consistently with “established fiduciary norms.” [5]


New Direction from Delaware on Merger Litigation Settlements

David A. Katz is a partner specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In a series of rulings culminating in a recent memorandum opinion, the Delaware Court of Chancery has reset the rules for settling merger-related litigation. In re Riverbed Tech. Inc. S’holders Litig., C.A. No. 10484-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 17, 2015).

Nearly every public company merger now draws class action litigation, and the great majority of these suits have long been resolved by “disclosure-only” settlements in which the target company makes supplemental disclosures related to the merger in exchange for a broad class-wide release of claims. The only money that changes hands is an award of fees for the plaintiff’s lawyers. In recent bench rulings, members of the Court of Chancery have noted that these settlements seem to provide very little benefit to stockholders and questioned whether plaintiffs and their counsel had investigated their claims sufficiently to justify what some judges call the customary “intergalactic” release of all potential claims relating to a challenged merger.


In re Dole Food Company, Inc. and the Cost of Going Private

James Jian Hu is an associate in the corporate and mergers & acquisitions practice at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The views expressed in this post represent solely those of the author. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On August 27, 2015, Vice Chancellor Laster authored a widely anticipated opinion providing valuable guidance on steering clear of a flawed process in a going-private transaction. David H. Murdock, the CEO and Chairman of Dole and a 40% shareholder, and C. Michael Carter, the General Counsel, President and COO of Dole and characterized as Murdock’s right-hand man, were found personally liable for $148 million to Dole shareholders. A number of considerations detailed in the court’s opinion serve as valuable reminders for practitioners guiding a controlling stockholder in a going-private process in the interest of minimizing post-closing litigation risk and liability exposure.


Federal Court Dismisses Madoff Investors’ Claim

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Stephen R. DiPrimaEmil A. Kleinhaus, and Noah B. Yavitz

In a significant decision addressing claims arising out of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has dismissed federal securities and other claims asserted by Madoff investors. Dusek v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., No. 2:14-cv-184 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 17, 2015). The decision applies and enforces key principles of federal securities law that, taken together, limit the scope of liability for financial institutions sued in connection with frauds perpetrated by their customers, especially Ponzi schemes.


Circuit Split on Dodd-Frank Act Whistleblower Provision

Aaron M. Katz and Eva Ciko Carman are partners at Ropes & Gray LLP. This post is based on a Ropes & Gray Alert.

On Thursday, September 10, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its highly anticipated decision in Berman v. Neo@Ogilvy LLC. The plaintiff-appellant, Daniel Berman, had been the finance director of Neo@Ogilvy. Mr. Berman’s lawsuit alleged that Neo@Ogilvy had unlawfully terminated him because he had reported internally, to senior company officers, supposed violations of GAAP and other accounting irregularities. The question of law presented was whether the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower anti-retaliation provision offers protection to an employee who, like Mr. Berman, is fired after he reports possible financial misconduct internally but before he makes a report to the SEC. The district court had answered that question in the negative and dismissed Mr. Berman’s wrongful termination lawsuit. On appeal, the SEC, participating as amicus curiae, argued that the Dodd-Frank Act’s statutory language is ambiguous and that the SEC’s agency regulation answering that question in the affirmative, Exchange Act Rule 21F-2, is a reasonable interpretation of the statute. The Second Circuit agreed with the SEC, thereby creating a circuit split on the issue and raising the possibility that the Supreme Court will soon weigh in.


Delaware Court Imposes Damages for Breach of Fiduciary Duties

Ariel J. Deckelbaum is a partner and deputy chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum by Mr. Deckelbaum, Justin G. Hamill, Stephen P. Lamb, Jeffrey D. Marell, and Frances Mi. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In In re Dole Food Co. Inc. Stockholder Litigation, in connection with a take-private transaction with the controlling stockholder, the Delaware Court of Chancery held in a post-trial opinion that the President of the company and its controlling stockholder undermined the sales process by depriving the special committee of the ability to negotiate on a fully informed basis and the stockholders of the ability to consider the merger on a fully informed basis. The court held that the President and the controlling stockholder intentionally acted in bad faith (with the President also engaging in fraud) and that they were jointly and severally liable for damages of $148,190,590. Because fiduciary breaches of this nature are not exculpable or indemnifiable under Delaware law, the controlling stockholder and the President are personally liable for the damages imposed.


D.C. Circuit Rules Against Conflict Minerals Disclosure Requirement

The Honorable Mario Mancuso is a corporate partner and of the International Trade and Investment Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Mancuso, Michael T. Gershberg, and Jocelyn Ryan.

On August 18, 2015, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit confirmed its earlier ruling striking down part of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Conflict Minerals Rule (the “Rule”) as unconstitutional. Nat’l Ass’n. of Mfrs. v. SEC, No. 13-5252 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 18, 2015). The court again held that requiring issuers to describe their products as “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free’” in reports filed with the SEC and posted on issuers’ websites violates the First Amendment.

The Decision

The ruling dealt only with the requirement in the Rule that issuers characterize their products using the label “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free,’” and the court held that this requirement amounts to compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. The decision is a narrow one and leaves unaffected the remaining disclosures required under the Rule, such as disclosure of facilities used by the issuer, country of origin of the issuer’s products and the efforts undertaken by the issuer to obtain such information.


Price Impact in Securities Class Actions Post-Halliburton II

Jorge Baez and Dr. Renzo Comolli are Senior Consultants at NERA Economic Consulting. This post is based on a NERA publication authored by Mr. Baez and Dr. Comolli. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Rethinking Basic by Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 25, 2015, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued the much-anticipated ruling on class certification in Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co. The economic analysis of price impact was front and center in the Court’s ruling.

This ruling follows the Supreme Court’s decision on price impact that is widely known as Halliburton II. Although this ruling involves facts that are unique to Halliburton’s particular disclosures, attorneys may look at it as a roadmap for guiding economic analysis of price impact in future cases in the post-Halliburton II world.


England and Germany Limit Bank Resolution Obligations

Solomon J. Noh and Fredric Sosnick are partners in the Financial Restructuring & Insolvency Group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication.

In two recent decisions, European national courts have taken a narrow view of their obligations under the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD)—the new European framework for dealing with distressed banks. The message from both the English and the German courts was that resolution authorities must adhere strictly to the terms of the BRRD; otherwise, measures that they take in relation to distressed banks may not be given effect in other Member States.

Goldman Sachs International v Novo Banco SA

In August 2014, the Bank of Portugal announced the resolution of Banco Espírito Santo (BES), what at the time was Portugal’s second largest bank. That announcement followed the July disclosure of massive losses at BES, which compounded a picture of serious irregularities within the bank that had been developing for several months. As part of the resolution, BES’s healthy assets and most of its liabilities were transferred to a new bridge bank, Novo Banco (the so-called “good bank”), which received €4.9 billion of rescue funds—while troubled assets and “Excluded Liabilities,” categories specifically identified in the BRRD, remained at BES (the “bad bank”). Amongst those liabilities initially deemed to have transferred to Novo Banco in August was a USD $835 million loan made to BES via a Goldman Sachs-formed vehicle, Oak Finance.


D.C. Circuit Court Upholds Conflict Minerals Decision

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

In the ongoing challenge to the SEC’s conflict minerals rule, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, issued an opinion on August 18 upholding its April 2014 finding that a key aspect of the rule violates constitutional free-speech guarantees, a decision we discussed in this client newsflash.

Last year, the SEC asked the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case in light of the outcome of an unrelated First Amendment lawsuit, American Meat Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture, which addressed the proper standard of review for compelled commercial speech. Stating that it saw no reason to change its analysis in light of the American Meat decision, the court affirmed that it would adhere to its original judgment that portions of the Dodd-Frank Act, under which the rule was promulgated, and the SEC’s final rule, “violate the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have ‘not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’’”


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