The Delaware Law Series


Court of Chancery Again Looks to Merger Price in Appraisal Ruling

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, 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 Court of Chancery this week held that the “fair value” payable in a statutory appraisal proceeding was less than the merger price. LongPath Capital, LLC v. Ramtron Int’l Corp., C.A. No. 8094-VCP (Del. Ch. June 30, 2015). The decision adds to a growing body of Delaware case law confirming the importance of the market in establishing fair value in the context of increasingly frequent (and increasingly economically significant) “appraisal arbitrage” litigation.

The case arose from Cypress Semiconductor Corp.’s hostile bid for Ramtron in 2012. In response to the bid, Ramtron tested the market but no other buyers emerged. Ramtron eventually agreed to be acquired by Cypress for $3.10 per share, a substantial premium to the stock’s trading price. After the merger was announced, LongPath, a hedge fund in the business of buying appraisal claims, acquired almost 500,000 shares of Ramtron, with the purpose of bringing an appraisal action.

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DGCL Amendments Authorize Exclusive Forum Provisions and Prohibit Fee-Shifting Provisions

Laura D. Richman is counsel and Andrew J. Noreuil is partner at Mayer Brown LLP. This post is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update, 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.

A great deal of attention has been paid over the past few years to efforts made by corporations to control in which courts internal corporate claims may be brought or to compel unsuccessful plaintiffs in internal corporate claims to pay the defendant’s attorneys’ fees and costs. Recently enacted amendments [1] to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) address, among other things, two types of charter or bylaw provisions on these topics that some companies have adopted.

The amendments specifically authorize provisions that specify Delaware as the exclusive forum for internal corporate claims, defined as “claims, including claims in the right of the corporation, (i) that are based upon a violation of a duty by a current or former director or officer or stockholder in such capacity, or (ii) as to which this title confers jurisdiction upon the Court of Chancery.” However, the amendments ban fee-shifting provisions that would impose liability for attorneys’ fees and costs on stockholders bringing unsuccessful internal corporate claims. The amendments to the DGCL become effective on August 1, 2015.

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Amendments to the DGCL

Gregory P. Williams is chair of the Corporate Department 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.

Senate Bill 75, which contains several important amendments to the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware (the “DGCL”), was signed by Delaware Governor Jack Markell on June 24, 2015. As described in this post, the 2015 legislation includes, among other things:

  • Prohibition on Fee Shifting. The legislation amends Sections 102 and 109 to prohibit “fee shifting” provisions in certificates of incorporation and bylaws of stock corporations.
  • Authorization of Delaware Forum Selection Clauses. The legislation adds new Section 115 to validate provisions in certificates of incorporation and bylaws that select the Delaware courts as the exclusive forum for “internal corporate claims.”
  • Flexibility in Stock and Option Issuances. The legislation amends Section 152 to provide greater flexibility in stock issuances, and makes corresponding amendments to Section 157 in respect of the authorization of rights and options to purchase stock.
  • Ratification of Defective Corporate Acts and Stock. The legislation amends Sections 204 and 205 to clarify and streamline the procedures for ratifying defective corporate acts and stock.
  • Public Benefit Corporations. The legislation amends Section 363 to loosen the restrictions on (x) an existing corporation becoming a “public benefit corporation” and (y) a public benefit corporation ceasing to be a public benefit corporation. It also adds a “market out” exception to the appraisal rights provided in Section 363(b) in connection with a corporation becoming a public benefit corporation.

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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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New DGCL Amendments Endorse Forum Selection Clauses and Prohibit Fee-Shifting

Jack B. Jacobs is Senior Counsel at Sidley Austin LLP, and a former justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. The following post is based on a Sidley update, 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 expected, the Delaware State Legislature approved amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) that will (i) authorize forum selection clauses in the charters or bylaws of Delaware corporations specifying Delaware as an exclusive forum for litigating internal corporate claims, (ii) prohibit clauses designating only courts outside of Delaware as the exclusive forum for internal corporate claims and (iii) invalidate fee-shifting provisions in the charters or bylaws of Delaware stock corporations. The bill incorporating the amendments passed the Delaware Senate on May 12, 2015 and the Delaware House on June 11, 2015. If the Governor of Delaware signs the bill into law as expected, the amendments will become effective on August 1, 2015.

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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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Does Pending Delaware Legislation Cover Fee Shifting in Securities Cases?

Neil J. Cohen is the publisher of the Bank and Corporate Governance Law Reporter. The article is part of a series of articles on the Delaware legislation regarding fee shifting, published in the June 2015 issue of the Bank and Corporate Governance Law Reporter (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.

The Delaware Senate by a 16-5 vote has passed Bill 75 banning fee-shifting provisions in charters and bylaws in stock corporations for “internal corporate claims”. The bill also contains a prohibition of bylaws or charter provisions that designate a forum other than Delaware as the exclusive forum. That provision would prevent corporations from designating forums that allow fee-shifting provisions.

The Senate resisted a lobbying effort by the Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform to insert a provision expanding the Court of Chancery’s discretionary authority to shift to include cases that “plainly should not have been brought but that do not satisfy the extremely narrow ‘bad faith’ or ‘frivolousness’ exceptions”.

The House is expected to approve the bill in June. If enacted, the amendments would become effective on August 1, 2015.

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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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