Monthly Archives: January 2015

Statement of Thirty-Four Senior Corporate and Securities Law Professors Urging Commissioner Gallagher and Professor Grundfest to Withdraw Their Allegations against Harvard and the SRP

This post is a joint statement by thirty-four senior corporate and securities law professors, listed in the statement, from seventeen leading law schools at Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, New York University, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Yale. Reacting to a recent paper by Commissioner Daniel Gallagher and Professor Joseph Grundfest (described on the Forum here), the thirty-four senior law professors listed in this statement opine that the paper’s allegations against Harvard and the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) are meritless and urge the paper’s co-authors to withdraw these allegations. The Forum featured earlier posts about the paper by Professor Grundfest (most recently here), Professor Jonathan Macey (most recently here), Professor Tamar Frankel (here) and Harvey Pitt (here).

We are thirty-four senior professors from seventeen leading law schools whose teaching and research focus on corporate and securities law. We write to respectfully urge SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher, and his co-author Professor Joseph Grundfest, to withdraw the allegations, issued in a paper released last month (described on the Forum here), that Harvard and the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), a clinic at its law school, violated the securities laws by assisting institutional investors in submitting shareholder proposals to declassify corporate boards.

We conduct our teaching and research at seventeen different law schools throughout the United States, including at Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, New York University, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Yale. We write in our individual capacities; our institutional affiliations are noted below for identification purposes only.

Members of our bipartisan group differ widely in our views on corporate law issues, including on the appropriate use of staggered boards and shareholder proposals. However, we all agree that Commissioner Gallagher and Professor Grundfest should withdraw their accusations.

First, the authors’ allegations are meritless. The Gallagher/Grundfest paper accuses Harvard and the SRP of violating federal securities law by assisting investors with shareholder proposals that did not include sufficient references to certain academic studies. These accusations are deeply flawed. (For a detailed analysis of flaws in the paper, see the posts by Professor Jonathan Macey available here, here, and here). For example, the proposals were consistent with the SEC’s long-standing policy on shareholder proposals; none of the more than one hundred public companies receiving proposals, many represented by the country’s premier law firms, raised any of the claims put forward by the authors; and there is no precedent for an enforcement action or private suit against shareholder proponents, let alone those assisting them, of the type that the paper urged against Harvard and the SRP. Members of our group do not all share the same view on each of these and the other flaws in the authors’ analysis. However, we all agree that the allegations of securities law violations in the Gallagher/Grundfest paper are meritless.

Furthermore, while it is always regrettable when meritless allegations are raised by any author, we are especially concerned that a sitting SEC Commissioner has chosen to issue such allegations without support from a prior investigation by the SEC staff and without due process of law. While the Commissioner has indicated his interest in changing the SEC’s long-held policy in this area, meritless accusations against private parties should not be part of an effort to bring about such a change. We worry that Commissioner Gallagher’s decision to level meritless allegations against specific private parties will have adverse consequences for the important work that the SEC must do.

We wish to stress our support for a vigorous policy debate about the appropriate role of staggered boards and shareholder proposals in corporate and securities law—subjects on which there is substantial diversity of views among us—and we welcome Commissioner Gallagher and Professor Grundfest as valuable participants in such a discussion. The baseless accusations issued against Harvard and the SRP should not, however, be part of this debate. We respectfully urge Commissioner Gallagher and Professor Grundfest to withdraw these accusations.

Jennifer H. Arlen
Norma Z. Paige Professor of Law
New York University School of Law
Jeffrey N. Gordon
Richard Paul Richman Professor of Law
Columbia Law School
Michal Barzuza
Professor of Law
The University of Virginia School of Law
Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
Professor of Law and Milton Handler Fellow
Columbia Law School
Jeffrey D. Bauman
Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center
Marcel Kahan
George T. Lowy Professor of Law
New York University School of Law
Laura Nyantung Beny
Professor of Law
University of Michigan Law School
Vikramaditya S. Khanna
William W. Cook Professor of Law
University of Michigan Law School
Lisa Bernstein
Wilson-Dickinson Professor of Law
The University of Chicago Law School
Michael Klausner
Nancy and Charles Munger Professor of Business and Professor of Law
Stanford Law School
Stephen Choi
Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law
New York University School of Law
Reinier H. Kraakman
Ezra Ripley Thayer Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
Robert C. Clark
Harvard University Distinguished
Service Professor and Austin Wakeman Scott Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
Kimberly D. Krawiec
Kathrine Robinson Everett Professor of Law
Duke Law School
John C. Coates IV
John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of
Law and Economics
Harvard Law School
Donald Langevoort
Thomas Aquinas Reynolds Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center
John C. Coffee, Jr.
Adolf A. Berle Professor of Law
Columbia Law School
Katherine Litvak
Professor of Law
Northwestern University School of Law
James D. Cox
Brainerd Currie Professor of Law
Duke Law School
Jonathan R. Macey
Sam Harris Professor of Corporate Law, Corporate Finance, and Securities Law
Yale Law School
Lawrence A. Cunningham
Henry St. George Tucker III Research Professor of Law
The George Washington University Law School
James Park
Professor of Law
UCLA Law School
Deborah A. DeMott
David F. Cavers Professor of Law
Duke Law School
J. Mark Ramseyer
Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies
Harvard Law School
Allen Ferrell
Harvey Greenfield Professor of Securities Law
Harvard Law School
Mark J. Roe
David Berg Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
Tamar Frankel
Professor of Law
Boston University School of Law
James C. Spindler
Sylvan Lang Professor of Law
University of Texas School of Law
Jesse M. Fried
Dane Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
Randall S. Thomas
John S. Beasley II Professor of
Law and Business
Vanderbilt Law School
Mira Ganor
Professor of Law
University of Texas School of Law
Frederick Tung
Professor of Law
Boston University School of Law
Ronald J. Gilson
Charles J. Meyers Professor of
Law and Business
Stanford Law School
Marc and Eva Stern Professor of
Law and Business
Columbia University School of Law
Charles K. Whitehead
Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law
Cornell University Law School

The Threat to Shareholders and the Economy from Activist Hedge Funds

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and Sara J. Lewis.

Again in 2014, as in the two previous years, there has been an increase in the number and intensity of attacks by activist hedge funds. Indeed, 2014 could well be called the “year of the wolf pack.”

With the increase in activist hedge fund attacks, particularly those aimed at achieving an immediate increase in the market value of the target by dismembering or overleveraging, there is a growing recognition of the adverse effect of these attacks on shareholders, employees, communities and the economy. Noted below are the most significant 2014 developments holding out a promise of turning the tide against activism and its proponents, including those in academia.

READ MORE »

Guidance on the Ordinary Business Exception to Rule 14a-8

The following post comes to us from Steve Bochner, partner focusing on corporate and securities law at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and is based on a WSGR Alert memorandum.

A tenet of corporate law is that directors—not shareholders—manage a company’s business and affairs. Recognizing that proposals adopted through the Rule 14a-8 process could allow shareholders to intrude on matters traditionally within the directors’ discretion and control, Rule 14a-8(i)(7) permits the exclusion of shareholder proposals from a company’s proxy statement that relate to a “company’s ordinary business operations.” This ordinary business exception to Rule 14a-8 is an acknowledgement that certain “tasks are so fundamental to management’s ability to run a company on a day-to-day basis that they could not, as a practical matter, be subject to direct shareholder oversight.”

In interpreting Rule 14a-8(i)(7), the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has found that proposals otherwise related to an ordinary business matter may not be permissibly excluded from a company’s proxy statement where they also relate to a significant social policy issue. In this circumstance, the SEC’s staff will not provide its concurrence (in the form of a no-action letter) with a company’s decision to exclude a shareholder proposal on the basis of the ordinary business exception if the staff determines that the issue “transcend[s] the day-to-day business matters and raise[s] policy issues so significant that it would be appropriate for a shareholder vote.” The line between a proposal related to ordinary business and one related to a significant social policy issue is often blurry, and it is the subject of intense debate between companies and shareholder proponents.

READ MORE »

Delaware Court Reverses Preliminary Injunction Requiring Go-Shop

The following post comes to us from David L. Caplan, partner and global co-head of the mergers and acquisitions practice at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk 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.

On Friday, December 19, 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a preliminary injunction entered by the Delaware Court of Chancery which had (a) barred, for 30 days, a stockholder vote to approve the combination of C&J Energy Services, Inc. and a division of Nabors Industries Ltd., (b) required C&J to conduct a “go-shop” during that period and (c) preemptively declared that such “go-shop” did not constitute a breach of the “no-shop” or other deal-protection provisions in the Nabors/C&J merger agreement. In reversing the injunction, the Supreme Court held that the C&J board likely satisfied its Revlon duties (to the extent such duties applied), notwithstanding the lack of a pre-signing market check, given that “[w]hen a board exercises its judgment in good faith, tests the transaction through a viable passive market check, and gives its stockholders a fully informed, uncoerced opportunity to vote to accept the deal, [Delaware courts] cannot conclude that the board likely violated its Revlon duties.”

READ MORE »

Appeal of No-Action on Proxy Access at Whole Foods Markets

James McRitchie is the publisher of CorpGov.net.

Shareholders have been engaged in a long struggle to obtain proxy access—the idea that shareowners should be allowed to place their own board nominations on the proxies distributed by management, much as we are allowed to place our own proposals on those proxies. Shareholders should not accept the most recent roadblock, a reactive substitute proposal, by the management of Whole Foods Market (Whole Foods) and acquiescence in the form of a no-action letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The idea of proxy access certainly is not new. In 1980 Unicare Services included a proposal to allow any three shareowners to nominate and place candidates on the proxy. Shareowners at Mobil proposed a “reasonable number,” while those at Union Oil proposed a threshold of “500 or more shareholders” to place nominees on corporate proxies. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) submitted a proposal in 1988 but withdrew it when Texaco agreed to include their nominee.

READ MORE »

Bebchuk Leads SSRN’s 2014 Citation Rankings

Statistics released publicly by the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) indicate that, as was the case at the end of each of the seven preceding years, Professor Lucian Bebchuk led SSRN citation rankings for law professors at the end of 2014. As of the end of December 2014, Bebchuk ranked first among all law school professors in all fields in terms of the total number of citations to his work (as well as the total number of downloads of his work on SSRN).

Professor Bebchuk’s papers (available on his SSRN page here) have attracted a total of 4,314 citations. His top ten papers in terms of citations are as follows:

READ MORE »

Delaware Court Curtails Books & Records, Validates Board-Adopted Forum Selection Bylaws

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, Ryan A. McLeod, and A.J. Martinez. 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.

A unanimous Delaware Supreme Court yesterday reaffirmed the ability of Delaware companies to organize corporate litigation in the Delaware courts. United Technologies Corp. v. Treppel, No. 127, 2014 (Del. Dec. 23, 2014) (en banc).

The case involved an action to produce corporate books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, an increasingly frequent preliminary battleground in derivative litigation. Following a familiar pattern, stockholder plaintiffs demanded access to certain books and records of United Technologies Corporation, allegedly to assist in their consideration of potential derivative litigation. UTC asked that all demanding stockholders agree to restrict use of the materials obtained in the inspection to cases filed only in Delaware, pointing out that litigation had already been filed relating to the same matters in the Delaware courts and that any derivative lawsuit would be governed by Delaware law. Then, further evincing its concern to organize corporate governance litigation in the courts of Delaware, UTC’s board adopted a forum selection bylaw during the pendency of the Section 220 lawsuit.

READ MORE »

Key Points from Congress’s Roll-Back of the Swaps Push-Out

The following post comes to us from Dan Ryan, Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Armen Meyer, and David Kim.

On December 13, 2014, the US Senate passed an appropriations bill for the President’s signature that included a provision to roll back much of Dodd-Frank’s section 716 (i.e., the Swaps Push-Out). The initial version of the Swaps Push-Out was proposed by Senator Blanche Lincoln (Democrat of Arkansas) in 2010, during her re-election campaign, and would have prohibited bank swap dealers from receiving federal assistance from the FDIC or from the discount window of the Federal Reserve. After intense negotiation in the last days of congressional debate on Dodd-Frank, Lincoln’s version was substantially narrowed to only prohibit banks from dealing in swaps that were viewed by Congress as the most risky.

The Swaps Push-Out that ultimately passed as part of Dodd-Frank prohibited bank swap dealers (with access to FDIC insurance or the discount window) from dealing in certain swaps (or security-based swaps), including most credit default swaps (CDS), equity swaps, and many commodity swaps. Swaps related to rates, currencies, or underlying assets that national banks may hold (e.g., loans) were allowed to remain in the bank, as were swaps used for hedging or similar risk mitigation activities.

READ MORE »

FINRA Settles with Banks; Provides Views on Analyst Communications During “Solicitation Period”

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.

In December, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority entered into settlement agreements with a number of the major banking firms in response to allegations that their equity research analysts were involved in impermissibly soliciting investment banking business by offering their views during the pitch for the Toys “R” Us IPO (which was never actually completed). FINRA rules generally prohibit analysts from attending pitch meetings [1] and prospective underwriters from promising favorable research to obtain a mandate. [2] In this situation, no research analyst attended the pitch meetings with the investment bankers and none explicitly promised favorable research in exchange for the business. However, FINRA announced an interpretation of its rules that took a broad view of a “pitch” and the “promise of favorable research.” FINRA identified a so-called “solicitation period” as the period after a company makes it known that it intends to conduct an investment banking transaction, such as an IPO, but prior to awarding the mandate. In the settlement agreements, FINRA stated its view that research analyst communications with a company during the solicitation period must be limited to due diligence activities, and that any additional communications by the analyst, even as to his or her general views on valuation or comparable company valuation, will rise to the level of impermissible activity. The settlements further suggested that these restrictions apply not only to research analysts, but also to investment bankers that are conveying the views of their research departments to the company. The practical result of these settlements will be to dramatically reduce the interaction between research analysts and companies prior to the award of a mandate.

READ MORE »

Compensation Season 2015

The following post comes to us from Michael J. Segal, partner in the Executive Compensation and Benefits Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Segal, Jeannemarie O’Brien, Andrea K. Wahlquist, Adam J. Shapiro, and David E. Kahan.

Boards of directors will soon shift attention to the 2015 compensation season. Key considerations in the year ahead include the following:

1. Be Prepared for Shareholder Activists. Companies today are more vulnerable to activist attacks than ever before. Companies should therefore ensure that they understand how their change in control protections function if an activist obtains a significant stake in the company or control of the board. A change in board composition can trigger the application of the golden parachute excise tax under Section 280G of the Internal Revenue Code and can result in negative tax consequences for executives and the company. In addition, in the age of performance awards and double-trigger vesting, clarity about the impact of a change in control on performance goals matters more than ever. Appropriate protections ensure that management will remain focused on shareholder interests during a period of significant disruption; inadequate protections can result in management departures at a time when stability is crucial.

READ MORE »

Page 4 of 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
  • Subscribe or Follow

  • Supported By:

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows