Tag: Shareholder suits


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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The Importance of Merger Price and Process in Delaware Appraisal Actions

Jason M. Halper is partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and Gregory Beaman. 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 30, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a post-trial opinion in which it rejected an attempt by dissenting shareholders to extract extra consideration for their shares above the merger price through appraisal rights. See Merlin Partners LP v. AutoInfo, Inc., Slip. Op. Apr. 30, 2015, Case No. 8509-VCN (Del. Ch. Apr. 30, 2015). Vice Chancellor Noble’s decision in AutoInfo offers important lessons for companies, directors and their counsel when considering strategic transactions and/or defending against claims that they agreed to sell the company at an inadequate price. AutoInfo reaffirms that a negotiated merger price can be the most reliable indicator of value when it is the product of a fair and adequate process.

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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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Deterring Frivolous Stockholder Suits Without Closing Doors to Legitimate Claims

The following post comes to us from Mark Lebovitch and Jeroen van Kwawegen of Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP. 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’s May 8, 2014 Opinion in ATP Tour, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund (“ATP”) marked a sudden and potentially transformative moment in the relationship among corporate boards, their stockholders, and the Delaware legal system. The article, Deterring Frivolous Stockholder Suits Without Closing Doors to Legitimate Claims, asserts that the “nuclear option” of allowing boards of public companies to employ fee-shifting bylaws against stockholders whose interests they are supposed to represent is poor policy and departs from well-established legal principles. Accordingly, the authors support the March 6, 2015 proposal from the Delaware Corporation Law Council to legislatively prohibit the use of fee-shifting provisions in the public company context. Rather than simply criticize ATP and support the legislative proposal, we propose a carefully tailored answer to frivolous litigation, which mitigates abuses, conforms to longstanding legal principles, and preserves the benefits of board accountability and meritorious stockholder litigation.

First, the article argues that directors must not be permitted to use their corporate and fiduciary powers as a weapon to avoid accountability to the stockholders whose assets they manage. The authors detail the policy and legal problems with the concept of allowing directors to impose fee shifting bylaws, putting in question the relationship between stockholders and boards that forms the foundation of the modern public corporation. If ATP applies to public corporations, the Delaware Supreme Court, sub silentio, reversed several bedrock principles of Delaware corporate law and upset the balance of powers between stockholders and boards that has been in existence for decades.

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Correcting Corporate Benefit: Curing What Ails Shareholder Litigation

The following post comes to us from Sean J. Griffith, T.J. Maloney Chair in Business Law at Fordham University School of Law, 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.

Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease. This, it seems, is the implicit view of the Delaware State Bar Association’s Corporation Law Council (the “Council”) with regard to fee-shifting in shareholder litigation. The Council’s second proposal on fee-shifting, circulated in early March 2015, [1] is much like their first, circulated in May 2014 in the wake of ATP Tour v. Deutscher Tennis Bund. [2] Both would prevent corporations from seeking to saddle shareholders with the cost of shareholder litigation by means of a fee-shifting provision, whether adopted in the charter or the bylaws.

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A Modest Strategy for Combatting Frivolous IPO Lawsuits

Boris Feldman is a member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. The views expressed in this post are those of Mr. Feldman and do not reflect those of his firm or clients.

With a minor change to the customary lock-up agreement, issuers and underwriters may be better able to fight frivolous IPO lawsuits. By allowing non-registration statement shares to enter the market, underwriters may prevent Section 11 strike-suiters from “tracing” their shares to the IPO. This could enable ’33 Act defendants to knock out the lawsuits against them.

Basics of Section 11 Standing and Tracing

Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S. Code § 77k, provides a private remedy for those who purchase shares issued pursuant to a registration statement that is materially false or misleading. The remedy applies to “any person acquiring such security.” Section 11(a). That is, a person may assert a claim with respect to shares issued pursuant to the particular registration statement.

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Delaware (Again) Proposes Sledgehammering Fee-Shifting Bylaws

The following post comes to us from John L. Reed, chair of the Wilmington Litigation group and a partner in the Corporate and Litigation groups at DLA Piper LLP, and is based on a DLA Piper Corporate Governance Alert by Mr. Reed and Ed Batts. 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.

As part of the annual update cycle for Delaware’s General Corporations Law (DGCL), the Delaware Bar has returned to last year’s controversy on fee-shifting provisions in bylaws and certificates of incorporation to propose, yet again, destroying the ability of Delaware corporations to, in their organizing documents, have the losing party in an intra-company (i.e. fiduciary duty) lawsuit pay the prevailing party’s legal fees.

The proposal is among several 2015 legislative changes to the DGCL proposed by the Council of the Corporation Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association, which is the working-level body that, historically through consensus, creates changes to the DGCL.

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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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Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. This post discusses a Cornerstone Research report by Olga Koumrian, titled “Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies,” which is available in full here.

A new report shows that the percentage of 2014 lawsuits filed by shareholders in M&A deals remained consistent with the previous four years, while other key indicators suggest a slowdown. The report, Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies, released February 25, 2015 by Cornerstone Research, reveals that investors contested 93 percent of M&A transactions in 2014. Despite this typically high percentage, shareholders brought a smaller number of competing lawsuits per deal and in fewer jurisdictions, challenged fewer deals valued below $1 billion, and took slightly longer to file lawsuits.

In a significant shift from recent years, 60 percent of contested M&A deals had lawsuits filed against them in only one jurisdiction. Just 4 percent of these deals were challenged in more than two courts, the lowest number since 2007.

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