Tag: Delaware cases


2015 Year-End Securities Litigation Update

Jonathan C. Dickey is partner and Co-Chair of the National Securities Litigation Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication.

The year was yet another eventful one in securities litigation, from the Supreme Court’s game-changing opinion in Omnicare regarding liability for opinion statements, to several significant opinions out of the Delaware courts regarding, among other things, financial advisor liability and the apparent end to disclosure-only settlements. This post highlights what you most need to know in securities litigation developments and trends for the last half of 2015:

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Chancery Court on Disclosure-Only Settlements

Jason M. Halper is a 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, Peter J. Rooney, and Gregory Beaman. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

It’s a familiar story in M&A transactions. A merger is announced and, within days, the plaintiffs’ bar scrambles to file suits on behalf of the selling company’s stockholders, alleging that the seller’s board agreed to an inadequate price and made misleading disclosures about the deal. After going through “the motions”—the plaintiffs file a motion for preliminary injunction and the defendants produce certain agreed-upon documents—a settlement is reached whereby the plaintiffs give defendants a broad release in exchange for (often immaterial and unhelpful) supplemental disclosures and the defendants’ agreement to pay (and not to oppose court approval of) a “six-figure” fee award to plaintiffs’ counsel. According to the Trulia Court, the result is tantamount to a deal “tax” on M&A transactions.

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Negotiation in Good Faith—SIGA v. PharmAthene

Philip Richter 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 by Mr. Richter, Peter Simmons, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in SIGA Technologies Inc. v. PharmAthene Inc. (Dec. 23, 2015) has increased the risk associated with entering into a “preliminary agreement”—i.e., an agreement to negotiate in good faith a definitive agreement based on, for example, a term sheet or letter of intent, where some material terms have been set forth and others remain to be negotiated.

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Delaware Court Guidance on Merger Litigation Settlements

Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication 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.

In an opinion last week, the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected a disclosure-only settlement of a putative stockholder class-action lawsuit challenging a merger. In re Trulia, Inc. Stockholder Litig., C.A. No. 10020-CB (Del. Ch. Jan. 22, 2016). Continuing and perhaps completing its recent reevaluation of merger litigation settlement practice, the Court made clear that it “will be increasingly vigilant in scrutinizing” such settlements in the future and that disclosure claims should be litigated (if at all) outside the settlement context.

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PECO v. Walnut: Firm Valuation

Steven J. Steinman is partner and co-head of the Private Equity Transactions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank memorandum by Mr. Steinman, Aviva F. Diamant, Christopher Ewan, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In PECO v. Walnut (Dec. 30, 2015), the Delaware Court of Chancery refused to review a valuation firm’s determination of the value of an LLC’s preferred units when the LLC agreement provided that the value as determined by an independent valuation firm would be binding on the parties. While PECO related to the valuation of LLC units in connection with the exercise of a put right, the decision presumably would apply more broadly—including to post-closing adjustments and other valuations.

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Failure-of-Oversight Claims Against Directors

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Emil A. Kleinhaus, C. Lee Wilson, and Noah B. Yavitz. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of purported shareholder derivative claims alleging that directors of JPMorgan Chase, a Delaware corporation, failed to institute internal controls sufficient to detect Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Central Laborers v. Dimon, No. 14-4516 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2016) (summary order). The decision represents a forceful application of Delaware law holding that, when directors are protected by standard exculpation provisions in the corporate charter, they will not be liable for alleged oversight failures absent a particularized showing of bad-faith misconduct.

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Delaware Rules on “Without Cause” Director Removal

William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum, and is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Court of Chancery recently held that a corporation without a classified board or cumulative voting may not restrict stockholders’ ability to remove directors without cause. In re Vaalco Energy S’holder Litig., C.A. No. 11775-VCL (Dec. 21, 2015). The ruling gives rise to questions for the many companies with similar charter or bylaw provisions.

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Director Removal Without Cause

Daniel Wolf is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf and Matthew Solum. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In a recent bench ruling on a summary judgment motion in a case involving Vaalco Energy, Vice Chancellor Laster held that a provision of a company’s charter or bylaws could not override the default rule under Delaware law that directors serving on a non-classified board (i.e., annually elected) may be removed with or without cause by vote of holders of a majority of the outstanding shares entitled to vote in director elections. While prior Chancery rulings, including Nycal and Rohe, reached largely similar conclusions in related circumstances, VC Laster’s decision in Vaalco clearly articulates his view that this type of charter or bylaw provision that purports to limit director removal for non-classified boards to cases of cause is simply invalid as a matter of Delaware law.

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Delaware Supreme Court on Potential Financial Advisor Liability

Jason M. Halper is a 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, Peter J. Rooney, and Gregory Beaman. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In November 30, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court issued a 107-page opinion affirming the Court of Chancery’s post-trial decisions in In re Rural/Metro Corp. Stockholders Litigation (previously discussed on the Forum here). In the lower court, Vice Chancellor Laster found a seller’s financial advisor (the “Financial Advisor”) liable in the amount of $76 million for aiding and abetting the Rural/Metro Corporation board’s breaches of fiduciary duty in connection with the company’s sale to private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC. See RBC Capital Mkts., LLC v. Jervis, No. 140, 2015, slip op. (Del. Nov. 30, 2015).The Court’s decision reaffirms the importance of financial advisor independence and the courts’ exacting scrutiny of M&A advisors’ conflicts of interest. Significantly, however, the Court disagreed with Vice Chancellor Laster’s characterization of financial advisors as “gatekeepers” whose role is virtually on par with the board’s to appropriately determine the company’s value and chart an effective sales process. Instead, the Court found that the relationship between an advisor and the company or board primarily is contractual in nature and the contract, not a theoretical gatekeeping function, defines the scope of the advisor’s duties in the absence of undisclosed conflicts on the part of the advisor. In that regard, the Court stated: “Our holding is a narrow one that should not be read expansively to suggest that any failure on the part of a financial advisor to prevent directors from breaching their duty of care gives rise to” an aiding and abetting claim. In that (albeit limited) sense, the decision offers something of a silver lining to financial advisors in M&A transactions. Equally important, the decision underscores the limited value of employing a second financial advisor unless that advisor is paid on a non-contingent basis, does not seek to provide staple financing, and performs its own independent financial analysis.

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The Long-Term Value of the Poison Pill

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, Daniel A. Neff, David A. Katz, Mark Gordon, and William Savitt. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available hereRelated research from the Program on Corporate Governance about poison pills includes Toward a Constitutional Review of the Poison Pill by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and  The Case Against Board Veto in Corporate Takeovers by Lucian Bebchuk.

Nearly six years ago, Air Products made an unsolicited all-cash bid to acquire Airgas for $60 per share (later increased to $70), to which the board of directors of Airgas said “no.” Based on the Airgas directors’ unanimous judgment—informed by months of thoughtful review and analysis—that Airgas was worth more than Air Products was offering, whether on a standalone basis or in the hands of another industry player, this “no” was made possible by bedrock principles of Delaware law. These principles recognize that it is the role of the board, and not raiders or short-term speculators, to determine whether and when a company should be sold, and authorize the use of appropriate measures—most notably, the poison pill—to ensure the board has the opportunity to perform this essential function.

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