Category Archives: Court Cases

Dealing with Director Compensation

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the views of the partners of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz or the firm as a whole. 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.

Due to a recent Delaware Chancery Court ruling, the topic of director compensation currently is facing an uncharacteristic turn in the spotlight. Though it receives relatively little attention compared to its higher-profile cousin—executive compensation—director compensation can be a difficult issue for boards if not handled thoughtfully. Determining the appropriate form and amount of compensation for non-employee directors is no simple task, and board decisions in this area are subject to careful scrutiny by shareholders and courts.

The core principle of good governance in director compensation remains unchanged: Corporate directors should be paid fair and reasonable compensation, in a mix of cash and equity (as appropriate), to a level that will attract high-quality candidates to the board, but not in such forms or amounts as to impair director independence or raise questions of self-dealing. Further, director compensation should be reviewed annually, and all significant decisions regarding director compensation should be considered and approved by the full board.

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Delaware Court: Compensation Awards to Directors Subject to Entire Fairness

Robert B. Schumer is partner, chair of the Corporate Department, and co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss Client Memorandum. 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 Calma v. Templeton, the plaintiff alleged that a board of directors breached their fiduciary duties in awarding themselves restricted stock units (RSUs) pursuant to a stockholder-approved equity incentive compensation plan. The Court of Chancery held on a motion to dismiss that (i) the directors were interested in the award of the RSUs, and (ii) although the stockholders had approved the plan under which the RSUs were awarded, stockholder approval of the plan could not act as ratification because the plan did not include enough specificity as to the amount or form of compensation to be issued. The court, therefore, held that the awards were to be reviewed under the non-deferential entire fairness standard, rather than under the business judgment rule, and declined to dismiss the plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim.

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The Importance of Merger Price and Process in Delaware Appraisal Actions

Jason M. Halper is partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and Gregory Beaman. 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 April 30, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a post-trial opinion in which it rejected an attempt by dissenting shareholders to extract extra consideration for their shares above the merger price through appraisal rights. See Merlin Partners LP v. AutoInfo, Inc., Slip. Op. Apr. 30, 2015, Case No. 8509-VCN (Del. Ch. Apr. 30, 2015). Vice Chancellor Noble’s decision in AutoInfo offers important lessons for companies, directors and their counsel when considering strategic transactions and/or defending against claims that they agreed to sell the company at an inadequate price. AutoInfo reaffirms that a negotiated merger price can be the most reliable indicator of value when it is the product of a fair and adequate process.

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Delaware Court Strengthens Protections for Independent Directors

J.D. Weinberg is a partner at Covington & Burling LLP. The following post is based on a Covington publication authored by Mr. Weinberg and Daniel Alterbaum. 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.

The Delaware Supreme Court held last week that a plaintiff seeking monetary damages from an independent, disinterested director protected by an exculpatory charter provision must specifically plead a non-exculpated claim against the director to survive a motion to dismiss. [1] This rule applies regardless of the standard of review applied to the board’s conduct in respect of a challenge to a corporate transaction and includes directors of any special committee negotiating a transaction with a controlling stockholder. As a result, for any corporation whose charter includes a director exculpation clause that mirrors Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law, an independent director can obtain dismissal of any claim seeking only monetary damages that does not specifically allege a breach of the fiduciary duties of loyalty and good faith or the prohibition against self-dealing.

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In re Kingate

David Parker is a partner in the Litigation and Risk Management practice at Kaplan, Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen, P.C. The following post is based on a Kleinberg Kaplan publication.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in In re Kingate Management Limited Litigation, recently made it significantly easier for plaintiffs in the Second Circuit and New York, Connecticut and Vermont state courts to bring class actions alleging violations of state law in litigation involving certain types of securities. By allowing these claims to proceed under state law, the Second Circuit has signaled that plaintiffs may now be able to avoid the rigorous pleading standards of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”), which requires that pleadings contain robust fraud allegations pleaded with particularity. The PSLRA also requires that plaintiffs allege the defendant acted with scienter—in other words, that the defendant knew the alleged statement was false at the time it was made, or was reckless in not recognizing that the alleged statement was false.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Revisits Creditor Derivative Standing

Paul K. Rowe and Emil A. Kleinhaus are partners at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Rowe, Mr. Kleinhaus, William Savitt, and Alexander B. Lees. 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 a significant decision, the Delaware Court of Chancery has rejected several proposed limitations on the ability of creditors to maintain derivative suits following a corporation’s insolvency. In doing so, however, the Court reaffirmed the deference owed to a board’s decisions, regardless of the company’s financial condition, and the high hurdles faced by creditors in seeking to prove a breach of fiduciary duty. Quadrant Structured Prods. Co. v. Vertin, C.A. No. 6990-VCL (May 4, 2015).

Quadrant, a creditor of Athilon Capital, brought a derivative action claiming that when Athilon was insolvent, its directors violated their fiduciary duties, including by authorizing repayments of debt owed to Athilon’s equity owner. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that Quadrant lacked standing to sue under the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation, Inc. v. Gheewalla (see memo of May 24, 2007), which permits creditors to sue directors for breach of fiduciary duty only on a derivative basis, and only once the corporation is insolvent.

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Increased Risk for Preferred Stockholders in Ensuring Mandatory Redemptions

Philip Richter is co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Abigail Pickering BombaJohn E. Sorkin, and Gail Weinstein. 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.

The Delaware Chancery Court’s holding in TCV v. TradingScreen (Feb. 26, 2015; redacted March 27, 2015) has increased the risk for preferred stockholders in their being able to exit their investments under mandatory redemption provisions. The decision is on interlocutory appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.

The Chancery Court held that a corporation’s ability to redeem preferred stock upon the occurrence of an event triggering mandatory redemption is implicitly restricted by the common law limitation that a corporation may not take action that would result in its not having the ability to continue as a going concern or to pay its debts as they come due. Thus, based on TradingScreen, a company cannot legally redeem preferred stock if, in the board’s judgment, doing so would render it unable to continue as a going concern and to pay its debts as they come due—even if:

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How United States v. Newman Changes The Law

Jon N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

In unsuccessfully seeking rehearing in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), reh’g denied, Nos. 13-1837, 13-1917 (2d Cir. Apr. 3, 2015), the Government acknowledged that the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Newman “will dramatically limit the Government’s ability to prosecute some of the most common, culpable, and market-threatening forms of insider trading,” and “arguably represents one of the most significant developments in insider trading law in a generation.” As we discuss below, Newman is a well-deserved generational setback for the Government. It reflects the Second Circuit’s reasonable reaction to Government overreach, and it establishes brighter lines to cabin prosecutorial and SEC discretion in bringing future criminal and civil insider trading actions.

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Over-Reaction to Use of Merger Price to Determine Fair Value

Philip Richter is co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Steven Epstein, John E. Sorkin, and Gail Weinstein. 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.

The Delaware Chancery Court has used the merger price in the underlying transaction as the primary or sole factor in determining the “fair value” of dissenting shares in two recent appraisal cases. The Delaware Supreme Court recently upheld one of those decisions. However, the court’s use of the merger price in both cases was based on the same limited fact situation, suggesting that—contrary to much of the recent commentary—the merger price will not frequently be used as a key factor in determining fair value in appraisal cases.

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Implications of the Supreme Court Omnicare Decision

Boris Feldman is a member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. This post is based on a WSGR alert authored by Mr. Feldman, Robert G. Day, Catherine Moreno, and Michael Nordtvedt.

On March 24, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Omnicare, Inc., et al. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund et al., addressing when an issuer may be held liable for material misstatements or omissions under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 for statements of opinion in a registration statement.

Among other things, the Supreme Court held that an issuer may be held liable under Section 11 for a statement of opinion, even one that is sincerely held, if its registration statement omits facts about the issuer’s inquiry into, or knowledge concerning, a statement of opinion and if those facts conflict with what a reasonable investor, reading the statement fairly and in context, would take from the statement itself.

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