Tag: Fiduciary duties


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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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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DOL Re-Proposed Expanded “Investment Advice” Rule

Jeffrey D. Hochberg is a partner in the Tax and Alternative Investment Management practices at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Hochberg, David J. Passey, and Dana E. Brodsky; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

On April 14, 2015, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) proposed a regulation (the “Proposed Regulation”) defining the circumstances in which a person will be treated as a fiduciary under both the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) and Section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) by reason of providing investment advice to retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”). As part of the regulatory package, the DOL also released proposed prohibited transaction class exemptions intended to minimize the industry disruptions that might otherwise result from the Proposed Regulation, most notably, the so-called “Best Interest Contract Exemption.”

The Proposed Regulation is a re-proposal of a 2010 proposed regulation (the “2010 Proposed Regulation”) that was withdrawn by the DOL after extensive criticism from the financial services industry and politicians of both parties.

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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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Delaware Court’s El Paso Pipeline Opinion Provides Lessons for Related-Party Transactions

The following post comes to us from Jason M. Halper, partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper, Peter J. Rooney, and William J. Foley. 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 20, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a decision awarding $171 million in damages to the common unitholders of a limited partnership against its general partner in connection with a “dropdown” transaction. The decision is the latest in a series of decisions by the Chancery Court concerning the conduct of directors and advisers in conflict of interest and/or sale of the company transactions. See also In re Rural/Metro Corp. S’holders Litig., No. 6350-VCL (Del. Ch. Oct. 10, 2014); Chen v. Howard-Anderson, No. 5878-VCL (Del Ch. April 8, 2014); In re Orchard Enter., Inc. S’holder Litig., No. 7840-VCL (Del. Ch. Feb. 28, 2014). The decision yet again highlights areas that should be of concern to boards and their advisers in such transactions.

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Delaware Court Faults Committee Process & Advisory Work in Finding Lack of Good Faith

William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savitt, Jonathan M. Moses, 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.

On April 20, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery entered a $171 million post-trial judgment after finding a master limited partnership overpaid for assets from its parent. In re El Paso Pipeline Partners L.P. Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 7141-VCL (Del. Ch. Apr. 20, 2015).

The case concerned a 2010 “dropdown” transaction in which El Paso Pipeline Partners L.P. purchased assets from its controlling parent entity, El Paso Corporation. The limited partnership agreement governing the MLP permitted such transactions so long as they were approved by a conflicts committee whose members believed in good faith that the transaction was in the best interests of the MLP. After the parent proposed a dropdown transaction, the MLP’s committee retained legal and financial advisors and negotiated revised terms. Although the committee members initially expressed reservations about aspects of the proposed transaction in light of an earlier dropdown deal, each testified that he ultimately concluded that the transaction was in the best interests of the MLP, stressing that it was immediately accretive to the holders of the MLP’s common units. After receiving a fairness opinion from its financial advisor, the committee approved the transaction and litigation ensued.

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The Prudent Investor Rule and Market Risk

Robert H. Sitkoff is the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

In a new working paper, entitled “The Prudent Investor Rule and Market Risk: An Empirical Analysis,” we examine fiduciary management of market risk. The backdrop for our study is a law reform that was meant to overcome a long tradition in fiduciary investment of equating stock with speculation. By focusing categorically on risk avoidance, traditional law did not account for the difference between idiosyncratic risk and market risk, the relationship between risk and return, or beneficiary risk tolerance. Worse still, courts considered the riskiness of each investment in isolation rather than in light of overall portfolio risk.

Twentieth century advances in economics and finance, however, led to extensive reform to the law of trust investment. The centerpiece of this reform is the prudent investor rule, which reorients fiduciary investment from risk avoidance to risk management in accordance with modern portfolio theory. Because the rule has been adopted in every state, because it applies to the entire field of fiduciary investing, including pension funds and charitable endowments, and because it has been adopted across the British Commonwealth, the rule governs the investment of many trillions of dollars in assets.

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Conduct of Business Regulation: A Survey and Comparative Analysis

Andrew Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law.

Although recent regulation and scholarship has focused on the financial stability and solvency of financial institutions, the business conduct of these institutions remains an issue of abiding regulatory concern. In a my chapter “Conduct of Business Regulation,” which is in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Financial Regulation, I provide a survey and comparative analysis of conduct of business (COB) regulation in the US, the EU, and Australia. COB regulation governs financial intermediaries’ conduct toward their clients; that is, toward the actors—whether individuals or institutions—with whom financial intermediaries transact in providing financial products and services. While the expression “conduct of business regulation” is not widely employed in the US, it is commonly used by international financial regulatory bodies and by financial regulators in many jurisdictions, including the Member States of the EU. In the US, COB regulation encompasses the regulation of broker-dealers and investment advisors under state and federal law; in the EU, the regulation of investment firms under MiFID I and the proposed MiFID II/ MiFIR regime; and in Australia, the regulation of financial services licensees and individual advisors under federal law. Generally speaking, these various financial intermediaries are in the business of providing securities-related services, including advice and recommendations.

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