Tag: Director liability

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]


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.


Holding Corporate Officers and Directors Accountable for Failures of Corporate Governance

The following post comes to us from Greg M. Zipes, a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice. This post is based on his article Ties that Bind: Codes of Conduct that Require Automatic Reductions to the Pay of Directors, Officers, and Their Advisors for Failures of Corporate Governance that was recently published in the Journal of Business and Securities Law. All comments are in Mr. Zipes’ individual capacity and do not reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Executives and directors at large corporations rarely face personal liability for failures of oversight that lead to large penalties or losses to their companies. As outlined in my recent article, the American consumer can help provide a solution to this lack of accountability.

I propose that corporate executives and directors sign binding codes of conduct requiring them to uphold specific standards within their corporations. They would agree to specific, transparent reductions in compensation if they fail to live up to these standards. This proposal does not rely on the altruism of these corporate heads to sign. Rather, it assumes that those consumers, dismayed by corporate excesses, will direct at least a portion of their business towards those companies with executives who are willing to put their compensation on the line.


How Much Protection Do Indemnification and D&O Insurance Provide?

The following post comes to us from Jon N. Eisenberg, partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. 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.

We consider below how advancement of legal fees, indemnification, and insurance operate when officers and directors become involved in regulatory investigations and proceedings. Part I addresses the enhanced risk officers and directors face today in an Age of Accountability. Part II addresses advancement of legal fees, which may be discretionary or mandatory depending on a company’s by-laws. Part III covers indemnification, which generally requires at least a conclusion that the officers and directors acted in good faith and reasonably believed that their conduct was in, or at least not contrary to, the best interests of the corporation. Part IV examines insurance coverage, which varies from carrier to carrier and may or may not provide meaningful protection. Finally, Part V summarizes the principal lessons from the analysis. Although there is significant overlap with similar principles that apply to private litigation, we limit our discussion here to advancement, indemnification, and insurance for regulatory investigations and proceedings.


FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. The following post discusses a Cornerstone Research report by Abe Chernin, Katie Galley, Yesim C. Richardson, and Joseph T. Schertler, titled “Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014,” available here.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) litigation activity associated with failed financial institutions increased significantly in 2013, according to Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014, a new report by Cornerstone Research. The FDIC filed 40 director and officer (D&O) lawsuits in 2013, compared with 26 in 2012, a 54 percent increase.

The surge in FDIC D&O lawsuits stems from the high number of financial institution failures in 2009 and 2010. Of the 140 financial institutions that failed in 2009, the directors and officers of 64 (or 46 percent) either have been the subject of an FDIC lawsuit or settled claims with the FDIC prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Of the 157 institutions that failed in 2010, 53 (or 34 percent) have either been the subject of a lawsuit or have settled with the FDIC.


FDIC Cautions Financial Institutions Regarding Increase in D&O Insurance Exclusions

The following post comes to us from John Dugan, partner and chair of the Financial Institutions Group at Covington & Burling LLP, and is based on a Covington & Burling E-Alert.

The FDIC last week issued a Financial Institution Letter advising financial institutions and their directors and officers of the increased use of exclusionary terms or provisions in D&O policies, and the resulting increased risk of uninsured personal civil liability for directors and officers. (FIL-47-2013, October 10, 2013).

The FDIC Letter urges the directors of financial institutions to make well-informed choices about D&O coverage, including consideration of costs and benefits, exclusions and other restrictive terms in proposed policies, and the implications for personal financial liability for directors and officers.

D&O insurance is a critical asset for financial institutions and their directors and officers, and the FDIC Letter expressly affirms that the purchase of D&O insurance serves a valid business purpose. The FDIC’s Letter is also a timely reminder that the D&O insurance market is in constant flux and that—in addition to seeking advice from insurance brokers—directors should consider seeking advice from experienced coverage counsel to gain a better understanding of the potential impact of restrictive provisions in proposed policies.


Independent Director Duties of Delaware Corporations with Foreign Operations

The following post comes to us from Tariq Mundiya, partner in the litigation department of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, and is based on a Willkie client memorandum by Mr. Mundiya. 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 February 6, 2013, Chancellor Strine of the Delaware Chancery Court issued a bench ruling addressing the duty of independent directors of a Delaware corporation with significant operations or assets outside the United States. In re Puda Coal, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 6476-CS (Del. Ch. Feb. 6, 2013). In a short but important bench ruling, Chancellor Strine refused to dismiss a breach of fiduciary duty claim against independent directors of a Delaware corporation who had failed to discover the unauthorized sale of assets located in China by the company’s chairman. Importantly, Chancellor Strine’s remarks implicated the duty of loyalty, which creates a risk of personal liability for directors and, potentially, the absence of corporate indemnification. While the facts in the case were somewhat extreme, the ruling in Puda Coal highlights the risks and challenges that may exist for directors of Delaware corporations with significant foreign assets or operations. Although Chancellor Strine recognized that each situation is undoubtedly dependent on its facts and will turn on the nature of the foreign operations, his ruling did include the following remarks:


Delaware Court of Chancery Dismisses Hastily Filed Caremark Action

Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Gallardo, Brian Lutz, James Hallowell, and Jefferson Bell. 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 September 25, 2012, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster of the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware dismissed the derivative complaint in South v. Baker, C.A. No. 7294-VCL, with prejudice. This decision reaffirms the Chancery Court’s low tolerance for hastily filed shareholder derivative lawsuits brought under the In re Caremark International Inc. Derivative Litigation, 698 A.2d 959 (Del. Ch. 1996), line of cases where the plaintiff makes little effort to plead any connection between a “corporate trauma” and the conduct of a board of directors. At the same time, the South decision also finds that shareholders are entitled to, and should seek, books and records from Delaware corporations before bringing derivative lawsuits in Delaware. Accordingly, Delaware corporations should anticipate an increase in shareholder demands for books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law in the wake of any “corporate trauma.” In addition, the South decision found that dismissal of the South complaint did not preclude other Hecla shareholders from filing future derivative suits because the South plaintiffs did not use Section 220 and, therefore, did not adequately represent Hecla’s interests.


Say on Pay 2012

Jeremy Goldstein is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz active in the firm’s Executive Compensation and Benefits practice. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Goldstein, Michael J. Segal, and Jeannemarie O’Brien.

The following are our observations on the second year of mandatory “say on pay” votes for U.S. public companies under Dodd-Frank thus far this proxy season.

Results of Vote. As of June 25, 2012, of the companies that have reported results for 2012, 54 have failed their say on pay votes. This is an increase from 2011 and there remain a number of companies left to report. Four companies have failed two years in a row. 396 companies in the S&P 500 have reported say on pay results as of June 22, 2012, of which 384 received majority shareholder support (97%). Similar to last year, the mean level of shareholder approval is 89% and the median level of shareholder approval is 95%.

Influence of ISS. The recommendation of ISS continues to have a measurable impact on voting results. ISS has recommended against say on pay proposals at approximately 14% of the S&P 500 companies as of June 22, 2012. Of companies receiving unfavorable vote recommendations from ISS, 21% of those that had reported results as of June 22, 2012 failed to receive majority support. Companies receiving negative ISS recommendations that have nonetheless received majority support have generally done so with considerably lower margins than those receiving a favorable ISS recommendation. According to a recent study by Pay Governance, a negative ISS recommendation results in an average shareholder support level of 65% versus 95% for those receiving a positive ISS recommendation (for S&P 500 companies, the difference in support levels based on such recommendations is 59% versus 94%). According to the same study, this is a 10% increase over last year’s correlation. During the approximately two years of mandatory say on pay proposals under Dodd-Frank, only one company that received a positive ISS recommendation failed to receive majority shareholder support. The median change in voting results following a year-over-year change in ISS recommendation is approximately 27%.


Court Rules on Short-swing Liability Rules

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.

On March 26, 2012, in Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Simmonds, the U.S. Supreme Court held 8-0 that the two-year statute of limitations for suits under the short-swing liability rules of Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is not tolled (i.e., suspended) until an insider files a Section 16(a) disclosure statement; the limitations period can begin running even if the disclosure statement is filed at a later date or never filed at all. The Court’s decision provides insiders of U.S. public companies with better protection and more certainty against time-barred claims.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, which had held, citing to its precedent, that the limitations period is tolled until an insider files the Section 16(a) disclosure statement “regardless of whether the plaintiff knew or should have known of the conduct at issue”. In dicta, the Supreme Court also rejected the Second Circuit’s rule that the limitations period is tolled until the plaintiff “gets actual notice that a person subject to Section 16(a) has realized specific short-swing profits that are worth pursuing”.

The Supreme Court did indicate some willingness to permit equitable tolling of the Section 16(b) limitations period, but under circumstances more limited than the “disclosure” rule of the Ninth Circuit or the “actual notice” rule of the Second Circuit.


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