Tag: Delaware cases


Delaware Court: Seating Board Designee Subject to Reasonable Conditions Not a Breach

Steven Epstein is a partner and Co-Head of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Epstein, Robert C. Schwenkel, 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.

In Partners Healthcare Solutions Holdings, L.P. v. Universal American Corp. (June 17, 2015), the Delaware Chancery Court granted summary judgment to defendant Universal American Corp. (“UAM”), rejecting the contentions of one of UAM’s largest stockholders, Partners Healthcare Solutions Holdings (“Partners”), that UAM had breached a board seat agreement by imposing conditions on the seating of Partners’ designee to the UAM board that were not provided for in the agreement. Partners, a subsidiary of a private equity firm, acquired its stake in UAM through, and the board seat agreement had been entered into in connection with, UAM’s acquisition of a subsidiary of Partners (the “Portfolio Company”). The dispute relating to the seating of Partners’ board designee arose at the same time that UAM and Partners were involved in a separate fraud litigation arising from the Portfolio Company’s performance after the merger.

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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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D&O Liability: A Downside of Being a Corporate Director

Alex R. Lajoux is chief knowledge officer at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). This post is based on a NACD publication authored by Ms. Lajoux. 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.

One of the few downsides to board service is the exposure to liability that directors of all corporations potentially face, day in and day out, as they perform their fiduciary duties. The chance of being sued for a major merger decision is now 90 percent; but that well known statistic is just the tip of an even larger iceberg. The Court of Chancery for the state of Delaware, where some one million corporations are incorporated (among them most major public companies), hears more than 200 cases per year, most of them involving director and officer liability. And given the high esteem in which Delaware courts are held, these influential D&O liability decisions impact the entire nation.

This ongoing story, covered in the May-June issue of NACD Directorship magazine, recently prompted the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to take action. Represented by the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, NACD filed an amicus curiae (“friend-of-the-court”) brief in the matter of In re Rural/Metro, a complex case likely to continue throughout the summer. Essentially, the Court of Chancery ruled against directors and their advisors, questioning their conduct in the sale of Rural/Metro to a private equity firm.

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Integration Clauses and Letters of Intent

John A. Fisher is counsel in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Sidley Austin LLP. This post is based on a Sidley update by Mr. Fisher, Sharon R. Flanagan, and Jack B. Jacobs. 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.

Shareholders of an acquired company in a merger transaction sued the purchaser, arguing that certain provisions of a pre-merger letter of intent survived the merger. The Supreme Court of Delaware held that although the merger agreement provided for the survival of portions of the letter of intent, the integration clause of the merger agreement did not transform non-binding provisions of the letter of intent into binding obligations of the purchaser.

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“Dead Hand Proxy Puts”—What You Need to Know

F. William Reindel is partner and member of the Corporate Department at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Reindel, Stuart H. Gelfond, Daniel J. Bursky, 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.

There has been much recent concern and confusion over the inclusion of “dead hand proxy puts” (and even proxy puts without a “dead hand” feature) in debt agreements. Dead hand proxy puts (sometimes called “poison puts” or “board change of control provisions”) provide a type of change of control protection that banks, as well as parties to many types of non-debt commercial agreements, have frequently utilized, without controversy. Nonetheless, dead hand proxy puts are now under attack. While proxy puts without a dead hand feature are generally not being challenged, based on recent case law, these provisions in most cases will not permit a bank to accelerate the debt on a change of control of the borrower’s board (as explained below).

Dead hand proxy puts. A proxy put permits the lender to accelerate debt if a majority of the borrower’s board becomes comprised of “non-continuing directors” over a short period of time (usually one or two years). “Continuing directors” are persons who were on the board when the debt contract was entered into or replacement directors who were approved by a majority of those directors or their approved replacements. The “dead hand” feature provides that any director elected as a result of an actual or threatened proxy contest will be considered a non-continuing director for purposes of the proxy put.

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Practice Points Arising From the El Paso Decision

John E. Sorkin is a partner in the corporate practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. The following post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Sorkin, Philip Richter, Abigail Pickering Bomba, 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 recently ruled, in In re El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation (Apr. 20, 2015), that the general partner of a master limited partnership (MLP) was liable to the MLP for the $171 million by which the court determined that the MLP had overpaid for liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets purchased from its parent company for $1.4 billion in a typical “dropdown” transaction. In a separate memorandum (available here and discussed on the Forum here), we have discussed the decision and our view that it will have limited applicability given the unusual factual context. We note that the court’s extremely negative view of the conduct of the conflict committee and its investment banker offers a blueprint for how not to conduct a conflict committee process. We offer the following practice points arising out of the decision.

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Perspective on El Paso—No Increased Risk for Directors

Philip Richter is partner and co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. The following post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Robert C. Schwenkel, Steven Epstein, 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.

For what we believe is the first time, the Delaware Chancery Court has held the general partner of a master limited partnership (MLP) liable to the MLP for the amount by which the court determined that the MLP had overpaid for assets purchased from its parent company in a typical “dropdown” transaction. Vice Chancellor Laster found, in In re El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation (Apr. 20, 2015), that the general partner of the El Paso MLP was liable to the MLP for the $171 million by which the court determined that the MLP had overpaid for liquefied natural gas (LNG) purchased from the El Paso parent company for $1.4 billion. The Vice Chancellor was extremely critical of the conduct of the conflict committee of the general partner’s board, as well as the conduct of the committee’s investment banker. Nonetheless—and notwithstanding commentary on the case suggesting otherwise—in our view, the decision does not indicate that the court will be more likely than in the past to find liability of MLP general partners or their bankers.

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Related Party Transactions—Lessons from the El Paso MLP Decision

Christopher E. Austin is a partner focusing on public and private merger and acquisition transactions at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on a Cleary Gottlieb memorandum by Mr. Austin. 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 his recent decision in In Re: El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation [1], Vice Chancellor Laster awarded $171 million in damages to the limited partners of a master limited partnership (“MLP”) that had challenged the MLP’s acquisition of assets from a related party. The transaction at issue—a so-called “dropdown” of assets—involved the sale to the MLP by its controller and general partner (El Paso Corporation) of certain LNG-related assets in exchange for approximately $1.41 billion in cash.

One of the important stated benefits of using MLP structures is the ability to “contract away” from normal Delaware fiduciary duty principles and instead provide that related-party transactions will be evaluated under standards specified in the partnership agreement for the MLP. The relevant standard for the El Paso MLP was on its face quite challenging for the plaintiffs. In particular, the partnership agreement simply

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Lazard v. Qinetiq: Important Lessons for Structuring Earn-Outs

David W. Healy and Douglas N. Cogen are partners and co-chairs of the Mergers & Acquisitions Group at Fenwick & West LLP. The following post is based on a Fenwick publication by Mr. Healy and Mr. Cogen. 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.

A recent Delaware Supreme Court case authored by Chief Justice Strine upholds the literal meaning of an earn-out provision that limited the buyer from taking action “intended to reduce or limit an earn-out payment.” The court rejected the argument that buyer’s actions, which it likely knew would reduce the likelihood of an earn-out payment, met the intent-based standard the parties had agreed on in lieu of various affirmative post-closing covenants that had been rejected by the buyer. The court also rejected the seller’s argument that it could rely on the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to impose an objective standard and thereby avoid the burden to prove that the buyer intentionally violated such provision. The case has implications for buyers’ and seller’s negotiating strategies around post-closing operations covenants related to earn-outs and as to the impact of such covenants on the interpretation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The case is Lazard Technology Partners, LLC, v. Qinetiq North America Operations LLC, April 23, 2015, Strine, L., 2015 WL 1880153, and it can be found at http://business.cch.com/srd/LazardTechnology-v-Qinetiq.pdf.

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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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