Tag: Controlling shareholders


Corporate Litigation: Disinterested Directors and “Entire Fairness” Cases

Joseph M. McLaughlin is a Partner in the Litigation Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. The post is based on a Simpson Thacher client memorandum by Mr. McLaughlin, 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.

Under Delaware law, where a controlling shareholder stands on both sides of a corporate transaction that is challenged by minority stakeholders, the controller presumptively bears the burden of proving the entire fairness of the transaction, i.e. “both fair dealing and fair price.” Conversely, disinterested directors—those with no financial stake in the transaction—may be liable for breach of fiduciary duty only where they have breached a non-exculpated duty in connection with the negotiation or approval of the transaction.

Delaware General Corporation Law §102(b)(7) authorizes corporations to include a provision in the certificate of incorporation exculpating their directors from money damages claims based on breach of the duty of care, but not the duty of loyalty. Delaware courts have long held that a §102(b)(7) charter provision “entitles directors to dismissal of any claims for money damages against them that are based solely on alleged breaches of the board’s duty of care.” [1] The overwhelming majority of Delaware corporations have adopted exculpatory provisions.

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Related Party Transactions: Policy Options and Real-world Challenges (with a Critique of the European Commission Proposal)

Luca Enriques is Allen & Overy Professor of Corporate Law at University of Oxford, Faculty of Law.

Transactions between a corporation and a “related party” (a director, the dominant shareholder, or an affiliate of theirs) are a common instrument for those in control to divert value from a corporation, especially in countries with concentrated ownership. While direct evidence of value diversion via related party transactions (RPTs) is obviously hard to obtain, widespread use of RPTs has been observed for example in China (in the form of inter-company loans) and South Korea (also as a tool to transfer wealth from one generation of controllers to the next in avoidance of inheritance taxes), has been vividly reported for post-privatization Russia and Italy (where corporate scandals, such as Parmalat and, more recently, Fondiaria-Sai, often go together with significant RPT activity). Anecdotal evidence of value extraction via RPTs also exists with regard to the US (think of the Hollinger case and those reported in Atanasov et al.’s paper on law and tunneling, available here). Their (ab)use at Russian and East-Asian companies listed in the UK has recently prompted the UK Listing Authority to stiffen its already strict provisions on RPTs (see here; for a news report on RPTs at one of these East-Asian companies—Bumi, now renamed Asia Mineral Resources—see here).

In my article Related Party Transactions: Policy Options and Real-world Challenges (with a Critique of the European Commission Proposal), published in 16 European Business Organization Law Review 1 (2015), and available here (and here as a working paper), I provide a comparative and functional overview of how laws deal with RPTs and criticize a recent European Commission proposal for a harmonized EU regime on RPTs (see Article 9c of the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directives 2007/36/EC and 2013/34/EU, available here).

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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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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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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