Tag: Controlling shareholders


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.

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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Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Protections of Exculpatory Provisions

Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Mirvis, Paul K. Rowe, William Savitt, and Ryan A. McLeod. 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.

Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Mirvis, Paul K. Rowe, William Savitt, and Ryan A. McLeod. 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 yesterday [May 14, 2015] unanimously held that a claim for damages against independent, disinterested directors of corporations with exculpatory charter provisions must be dismissed absent allegations of disloyalty or bad faith—even in controlling stockholder cases and no matter what standard of review governs the challenged transaction. In re Cornerstone Therapeutics Inc. Stockholder Litig., No. 564, 2014 (Del. May 14, 2015).

Clarifying a long-uncertain area of Delaware law, yesterday’s opinion establishes that a plaintiff “must plead non-exculpated claims against a director who is protected by an exculpatory charter provision to survive a motion to dismiss, regardless of the underlying standard of review for the board’s conduct—be it Revlon, Unocal, the entire fairness standard, or the business judgment rule.” Specifically, to survive dismissal, a plaintiff must plead “facts supporting a rational inference that the director harbored self-interest adverse to the stockholders’ interests, acted to advance the self-interest of an interested party from whom they could not be presumed to act independently, or acted in bad faith.” Chief Justice Strine’s opinion for the Court highlighted that “each director has a right to be considered individually when the directors face claims for damages in a suit challenging board action” and that “the mere fact that a director serves on the board of a corporation with a controlling stockholder does not automatically make that director not independent.”

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Multiple Voting Shares and Private Ordering: Should Old Taboos Be Abolished? The Recent Italian Reform

The following post comes to us from Marco Ventoruzzo of Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law, and Bocconi University.

The following post comes to us from Marco Ventoruzzo of Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law, and Bocconi University.

Italian Law No. 116 of 2014 introduced several rules designed to make corporate law more flexible, create incentives to corporations to go public, and might also allow controlling shareholders and directors to entrench themselves more effectively, limiting the risk of hostile acquisitions. The new rules, which became effective a few weeks ago, are both interesting and controversial. They can be seen as a response to the increase of regulatory competition in Europe, epitomized by the reincorporation of Chrysler-Fiat, which last year moved its registered seat from Italy to The Netherlands, thus becoming subject to Dutch law.

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Comparative Study on Economics, Law and Regulation of Corporate Groups

The following post comes to us from Klaus J. Hopt, a professor and director (emeritus) at the Max-Planck-Institute for Comparative and International Private Law, in Hamburg and was advisor inter alia for the European Commission, the German legislator and the Ministries of Finance and of Justice.

The following post comes to us from Klaus J. Hopt, a professor and director (emeritus) at the Max-Planck-Institute for Comparative and International Private Law, in Hamburg and was advisor inter alia for the European Commission, the German legislator and the Ministries of Finance and of Justice.

The phenomenon of the groups of companies is very common in modern corporate reality. The groups differ greatly as to structure, organization, and ownership. In the US, groups with 100-per cent-owned subsidiaries are common. In continental Europe, the parents usually own less of the subsidiaries, just enough to maintain control. In Germany and Italy pyramids are frequent, i.e., hierarchical groups with various layers of subsidiaries and subsidiaries of subsidiaries forming very complicated group nets. The empirical data on groups of companies are heterogeneous because they are collected for very different regulatory and other objectives, for example for antitrust and merger control regulation or for bank supervision.

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Vice Chancellor Laster and the Long-Term Rule

The following post comes to us from Covington & Burling LLP and is based on a Covington article by Jack Bodner, Leonard Chazen, and Donald Ross. 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 following post comes to us from Covington & Burling LLP and is based on a Covington article by Jack Bodner, Leonard Chazen, and Donald Ross. 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.

Vice Chancellor Laster has been writing for several years about the fiduciary duties of directors who represent the interests of a particular block of stockholders. In his opinion in the Trados Shareholder Litigation he found that directors, elected by the venture capital investors who held Trados’s preferred stock, had a conflict of interest in deciding on a sale of the corporation in which all the proceeds would be absorbed by the liquidation preference of the preferred and nothing would go to the common. [1] As a result of this finding, Vice Chancellor Laster applied the entire fairness standard of review to the Trados board’s decision. He concluded that while the directors failed to follow a fair process, the transaction was fair because the common stock had no economic value before the sale and so it was fair for the common stock to receive nothing from the sale. [2] In a recent Business Lawyer article which he co-authored with Delaware practitioner John Mark Zeberkiewicz, [3] Vice Chancellor Laster extended his Trados conflict of interest analysis to other situations in which directors represent stockholder constituencies with short-term investment horizons, including directors elected by activist stockholders seeking immediate steps to increase the near term stock price of the corporation. He states that such directors can face a conflict of interest between their duties to the corporation and their duties to the activists.

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Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings

The following post comes to us from Sabrina Bruno at University of Calabria and Fabio Bianconi at Georgeson Srl.

The following post comes to us from Sabrina Bruno at University of Calabria and Fabio Bianconi at Georgeson Srl.

Our paper, Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings: Results and Future Perspectives, provides an analysis of the empirical data of shareholders’ say on pay in Italian general meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Say on pay, a shareholders’ advisory vote on a company’s remuneration policy, was introduced in Italy following the European Commission (EC) Recommendations N. 2004/913/EC, N. 2005/162/EC, N. 2009/384/EC and N. 2009/385/EC, which allowed member States to choose between implementing a binding or non-binding advisory shareholder vote on a company’s remuneration policy. Like most European states, Italy has opted for the “weaker” non-binding option. Reference is made to both approval votes (by controlling shareholders) and dissenting votes sometimes casted by minority shareholders (mainly, foreign institutional investors). The dissenting vote, in particular, shows a paramount critical value as originating by shareholders who are independent from the directors involved by the resolution—unlike the controlling shareholders who have nominated and subsequently elected the directors (to whom may often be linked by family or economic ties). In recent years, a significant increase in voting by minority shareholders, mainly foreign institutional investors, regarding—but not limited to—remuneration policies has been noted. This is a direct consequence of the procedural changes introduced by the Shareholder Rights’ Directive n. 36/2007/EC (e.g. record date, reduction of threshold to call special meeting, relaxation of proxy voting and solicitation rules, extension of time—prior to general meeting—to release relevant information for the items of the agenda and translation of documents into English, etc.).

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Delaware Court: 17.3% Stockholder/CEO may be a Controlling Stockholder

Toby Myerson is a partner in the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and co-head of the firm’s Global Mergers and Acquisitions Group. The following post is based on a Paul Weiss 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.

Toby Myerson is a partner in the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and co-head of the firm’s Global Mergers and Acquisitions Group. The following post is based on a Paul Weiss 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 In re Zhongpin Inc. S’holders Litig., the Delaware Court of Chancery denied motions to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against an alleged controlling stockholder and members of the company’s board of directors, holding that the plaintiffs had raised reasonable inferences that (i) although the stockholder held only 17.3% of the company’s outstanding common stock, as CEO and Chairman of the Board, he possessed “both latent and active control” over the company, and (ii) the sales process was not entirely fair.

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Minority Shareholders and Board Domination

The following post comes to us from Daniel J. Dunne, partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Dunne and Peter J. Rooney. 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 following post comes to us from Daniel J. Dunne, partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Dunne and Peter J. Rooney. 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.

Emphasizing the demanding pleading standards a shareholder must meet to show that a minority shareholder controls a board of directors, on November 25, Vice Chancellor Glasscock dismissed claims for breach of fiduciary duties against the directors of Sanchez Energy Corporation in connection with a corporate acquisition of assets. The decision in In Re Sanchez Energy Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 9132 VEG, reinforces the Chancery Court’s insistence that shareholder plaintiffs plead specific facts to raise reasonable doubts whether directors lack independence, especially when it comes to longstanding personal and business relationships. To sustain a claim that minority shareholders exercised domination and control over a board of directors, plaintiffs must plead specific facts demonstrating actual control of the board in the transaction at issue in the lawsuit.

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Executive Compensation in Controlled Companies

Kobi Kastiel is a fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. His article, Executive Compensation in Controlled Companies, is forthcoming in the January 2015 issue of Indiana Law Journal and available here. Additional work from the Program on Corporate Governance on executive compensation includes Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, discussed on the Forum here.

Kobi Kastiel is a fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. His article, Executive Compensation in Controlled Companies, is forthcoming in the January 2015 issue of Indiana Law Journal and available here. Additional work from the Program on Corporate Governance on executive compensation includes Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, discussed on the Forum here.

More than a decade ago, Professors Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried published the seminal work on the role and significance of managerial power theory in executive compensation. Their work cultivated a vivid debate on executive compensation in companies with dispersed ownership. The discourse on the optimality of executive pay in controlled companies, however, has been more monolithic. Conventional wisdom among corporate law theorists has long suggested that the presence of a controlling shareholder should alleviate the problem of managerial opportunism because such a controller has both the power and incentives to curb excessive executive pay.

My Article, Executive Compensation in Controlled Companies, forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal, challenges that common understanding by proposing a different view that is based on an agency problem paradigm, and by presenting a comprehensive framework for understanding the relationship between concentrated ownership and executive pay. On the theoretical level, the Article shows that controlling shareholders often have incentives to overpay professional managers instead of having an arm’s-length contract with them, and therefore it suggests that compensation practices in a large number of controlled companies may have their own pathologies.

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Controlling Stockholders in Delaware—More Than a Number

Daniel Wolf is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis focusing on mergers and acquisitions. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf and David B. Feirstein. 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.

Daniel Wolf is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis focusing on mergers and acquisitions. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf and David B. Feirstein. 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.

Two recent Chancery Court decisions, Crimson Exploration and KKR Financial, confirm that Delaware takes a flexible and fact-specific approach to determining whether a stockholder is deemed to be “controlling” for purposes of judicial review of a transaction. It is important for dealmakers to understand when the courts may make a determination of control, both to properly craft a defensible process and to understand the prospects for resulting deal litigation.

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