Tag: Going private

An End to Disclosure-Only Settlements?

Monica K. Loseman is a partner in the Litigation Department at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication authored by Ms. Loseman, Nicholas A. KleinBrian M. Lutz, and Meryl L. Young. 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 an opinion last week [September 17, 2015], the Delaware Court of Chancery, following other recent decisions from that Court, strongly signaled that stockholder lawsuits in Delaware attacking mergers may no longer be resolved by a corporate defendant providing additional disclosures to stockholders in exchange for a broad release of claims against all defendants. Signaling the end to what has become common practice in stockholder litigation routinely challenging mergers, Vice Chancellor Glasscock noted in his decision approving a settlement in In re Riverbed Technologies that, “in light of this Memorandum Opinion,” expectations that the court will approve such broad releases in exchange for additional disclosures “will be diminished or eliminated going forward.”

The settlement arose out of stockholder litigation concerning a going-private transaction. In the settlement, Riverbed agreed to make supplemental disclosures in an SEC filing prior to the stockholder vote and pay plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, in exchange for defendants receiving a full release from liability for all claims arising out of the merger.


In re Dole Food Company, Inc. and the Cost of Going Private

James Jian Hu is an associate in the corporate and mergers & acquisitions practice at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The views expressed in this post represent solely those of the author. 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 August 27, 2015, Vice Chancellor Laster authored a widely anticipated opinion providing valuable guidance on steering clear of a flawed process in a going-private transaction. David H. Murdock, the CEO and Chairman of Dole and a 40% shareholder, and C. Michael Carter, the General Counsel, President and COO of Dole and characterized as Murdock’s right-hand man, were found personally liable for $148 million to Dole shareholders. A number of considerations detailed in the court’s opinion serve as valuable reminders for practitioners guiding a controlling stockholder in a going-private process in the interest of minimizing post-closing litigation risk and liability exposure.


Delaware Court Imposes Damages for Breach of Fiduciary Duties

Ariel J. Deckelbaum is a partner and deputy chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum by Mr. Deckelbaum, Justin G. Hamill, Stephen P. Lamb, Jeffrey D. Marell, and Frances Mi. 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 Dole Food Co. Inc. Stockholder Litigation, in connection with a take-private transaction with the controlling stockholder, the Delaware Court of Chancery held in a post-trial opinion that the President of the company and its controlling stockholder undermined the sales process by depriving the special committee of the ability to negotiate on a fully informed basis and the stockholders of the ability to consider the merger on a fully informed basis. The court held that the President and the controlling stockholder intentionally acted in bad faith (with the President also engaging in fraud) and that they were jointly and severally liable for damages of $148,190,590. Because fiduciary breaches of this nature are not exculpable or indemnifiable under Delaware law, the controlling stockholder and the President are personally liable for the damages imposed.


SEC Broadens Focus on and Requirements for 13D Amendment Disclosure

Philip Richter is co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Steven Epstein, Abigail Pickering Bomba, and Gail Weinstein. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about blockholder disclosure includes The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

The SEC recently announced settlements of charges against insiders relating to three different going private transactions. The settlement orders (the “Orders”) reflect a general increased focus by the SEC on insiders’ compliance with Schedule 13D amendment requirements in connection with going private transactions (and possibly other extraordinary transactions), as well as possibly expanded requirements for disclosure of steps taken during the preliminary stage of consideration of a transaction. The charges were against eight directors, officers or major stockholders for their respective failures to file timely amendments to their Schedule 13D filings to disclose their plans to take the companies private. The charges were based on steps these parties had taken in furtherance of the going private transactions, but that had only been disclosed months (or in some cases years) afterward in the proxy statements or Schedule 13E-3 statements relating to the transactions. READ MORE »

SEC Enforcement Actions for Failure to Update 13D Disclosures

The following post comes to us from James Moloney, partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn publication by Mr. Moloney and Andrew Fabens, with assistance from Lauren Traina.

On Friday, March 13, 2015, the SEC announced that it had settled a string of 21C administrative proceedings brought against eight officers, directors, and shareholders of public companies for their failure to report plans and actions leading up to planned going private transactions. The SEC press release can be found here. In doing so, the SEC sent another strong reminder to those that beneficially own more than 5% of the equity securities of a public company to keep their 13D disclosures current.

The respondents included a lottery equipment holding company, the owners of a living trust, and the CEO of a Chinese technical services firm. According to the SEC, the respondents in each of these cases failed to report various plans and activities with respect to the anticipated going private transactions, including when the parties: (i) determined the form of the going private transaction; (ii) obtained waivers from preferred shareholders; (iii) assisted in arriving at shareholder vote projections; (iv) informed management of their plans to take the company private; and (v) recruited shareholders to execute on the proposals. In one case the respondents were charged for failure to report owning securities in the company that was going private. In another case, the respondents reported their transactions months or years later. The proceedings resulted in cease-and-desist orders as well as the imposition of civil monetary penalties ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 per respondent.


Keeping It Private—Tough Disclosure Issues in Take-Private Transactions

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 Norbert B. Knapke II.

One of the tougher issues buyers face when engaging in preliminary discussions regarding a potential going-private transaction is whether and when an amendment to required SEC stock ownership disclosures needs to be filed as steps are taken to advance the transaction. Recent settlements between the SEC and officers, directors and major shareholders for failure to update their stock ownership disclosures to reflect material changes—including steps to take a company private—illustrate the importance of careful consideration of these issues when pursuing a going-private transaction.


Delaware Court: Fee-Shifting Bylaw Does Not Apply to Former 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, 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.

In Strougo v. Hollander, the Delaware Court of Chancery held that a fee-shifting bylaw did not apply to a former stockholder’s challenge to the fairness of a 10,000-to-1 reverse stock split that the corporation undertook in connection with a going-private transaction because (i) the bylaw was adopted after the stockholder’s interest in the corporation ceased to exist due to the reverse stock split and (ii) Delaware law does not authorize a bylaw that regulates the rights or powers of former stockholders. While the proposed 2015 amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law, if adopted, would themselves invalidate fee-shifting provisions in corporate charters and bylaws, Delaware corporations should consider the implications of this opinion’s holding that former stockholders are not bound by bylaws (or, by implication, charter provisions) adopted after their interests as stockholders cease to exist.


New York Appeals Court Applies Business Judgment Rule to Going Private Transaction

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, Sameer Advani, and Benjamin McCallen.

On November 20, 2014, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, in a case of first impression under New York law, ruled in favor of Kenneth Cole in a litigation where minority shareholders had challenged the fashion designer’s transaction to take private Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. Mr. Cole controlled approximately 89% of KCP’s voting power and owned a 46% economic interest in KCP. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP represented Mr. Cole in the transaction and the class action litigation.

The Appellate Division found that the business judgment standard of review—and not the heightened entire fairness standard—applied to judicial review of breach of fiduciary claims because the transaction had been structured at the outset with dual protections of an independent special committee review and the vote of a “majority of the minority” (that is, non-Cole) shareholders. The judicial standard of review can have important litigation consequences, as cases governed by the business judgment rule can be dismissed at an early stage, as occurred here, whereas transactions governed by the “entire fairness” standard generally require discovery and further proceedings, which can be burdensome and expensive.


Delaware Court Declines to Dismiss Class Action Challenging Going-Private Transaction

Allen M. Terrell, Jr. is a director at Richards, Layton & Finger. This post is based on a Richards, Layton & Finger publication, 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.

In Hamilton Partners, L.P. v. Highland Capital Management, L.P., C.A. No. 6547-VCN, 2014 WL 1813340 (Del. Ch. May 7, 2014), the Court of Chancery, by Vice Chancellor Noble, in connection with a challenge to a going-private transaction whereby American HomePatient, Inc. (“AHP”) was acquired by an affiliate of one of its stockholders, Highland Capital Management, L.P. (“Highland”), refused to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against Highland. The Court held that, for purposes of defendants’ motion to dismiss, plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to support an inference that Highland, which owned 48% of AHP’s stock and 82% of AHP’s debt, was the controlling stockholder of AHP and that the merger was not entirely fair.


Do Going-Private Transactions Affect Plant Efficiency and Investment?

The following post comes to us from Sreedhar Bharath of the Department of Finance at Arizona State University, Amy Dittmar of the Department of Finance at the University of Michigan, and Jagadeesh Sivadasan of the Department of Business Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Are private firms more efficient than public firms? Jensen (1986) suggests that going-private could result in efficiency gains by aligning managers’ incentives with shareholders and providing better monitoring. In our paper, Do Going-Private Transactions Affect Plant Efficiency and Investment?, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we examine a broad dataset of going-private transactions, including those taken private by private equity, management and private operating firms between 1981 and 2005. We link data on going-private transactions to rich plant-level US Census microdata to examine how going-private affects plant-level productivity, investment, and exit (sale and closure). While we find within-plant increases in measures of productivity after going-private, there is little evidence of efficiency gains relative to a control sample composed of firms from within the same industry, and of similar age and size (employment) as the going-private firms. Further, our productivity results hold excluding all plants that underwent a change in ownership after going-private, alleviating the potential concern that control plants may undergo improvements through ownership changes.


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