Tag: Derivative suits


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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2015 Securities Law Developments

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, Paul F. RuganiKatherine L. Maco, Katie Lieberg Stowe, and Suzette Pringle.

On balance, the securities litigation landscape in 2015 offered a glass half-full/glass half-empty perspective for issuers and their officers, directors and advisors. Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), the major securities law decision of the 2015 Supreme Court term, afforded defendants relatively greater protection from liability based on public statements of opinion, as long as those opinions are honestly held and have a reasonable factual basis. The SEC suffered several notable setbacks, with some federal courts striking as unconstitutional the highly debated conflict minerals rule and the SEC’s method of appointing administrative law judges. The Second Circuit significantly restricted federal prosecutors’ ability to pursue downstream recipients of non-public information, resulting in a spate of overturned convictions and withdrawn guilty pleas. And although decisions from lower courts within the Second Circuit dismissing derivative lawsuits will be subject to less deferential review, both the Second Circuit and the Delaware Supreme Court reaffirmed that decisions of independent and disinterested boards to reject stockholder demands are entitled to business judgment rule protection, thereby precluding minority shareholder second guessing in private lawsuits. Yet the results were not uniformly favorable to the defense. The SEC took an expansive view of Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower anti-retaliation provision, formalizing its view that such protections apply to whistleblowers who allege retaliation for reporting internally (as opposed to reporting to the SEC). The Second Circuit endorsed the SEC’s view shortly thereafter. And, the early returns from last year’s second Supreme Court decision in Halliburton suggest that rebutting the Basic presumption of reliance through price impact evidence will be a lofty hurdle for defendants at the class certification stage. Below is a roundup of key securities law developments in 2015 and trends for 2016.

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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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Quadrant v. Vertin: Determining Rights of Creditors

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 by Mr. Epstein, J. Christian Nahr, Brad Eric Scheler, 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 Quadrant Structured Products Company, Ltd. v. Vertin (Oct. 20, 2015), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in a post-trial decision, rejected Quadrant’s challenges to transactions by Athilon Capital Corp., with Athilon’s sole stockholder (private equity firm Merced), after Athilon had returned to solvency following a long period of insolvency. Merced held all of Athilon’s equity and all of its junior notes; and both Quadrant and Merced held the company’s publicly traded senior notes. Quadrant challenged Athilon’s (i) repurchases of senior notes held by Merced (the “Note Repurchases”) and (ii) purchases of certain relatively illiquid securities owned by Merced (the “Securities Purchases”). A majority of the Athilon board that approved the challenged transactions was viewed by the court as non-independent (with two directors affiliated with Merced; the Athilon CEO; and two independent directors). Vice Chancellor Laster, applying New York law, rejected (i) Quadrant’s claims that the Note Repurchases (a) were prohibited by the indenture and (b) were fraudulent conveyances; and (ii) Quadrant’s derivative claim that the Note Repurchases and the Securities Purchases constituted a breach of the directors’ fiduciary duties.

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Director Independence and Risks for M&A Financial Advisors

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 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 September 28 and October 1, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued decisions in Caspian Select Credit Master Fund Limited v. Gohl, C.A. No. 10244-VCN and In re Zale Corporation Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 9388-VCP. On October 2, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Delaware County Employees Retirement Fund v. Sanchez, No. 702. The outcome for the director defendants in each case differed: the claims against the Zale directors were dismissed, the claims against directors in Caspian largely survived at the pleading stage, and the claims against the directors in Sanchez, where the Chancery Court had granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, were reinstated when the Supreme Court reversed. These contrasting results largely are attributable to the existence in Zale of an independent board of directors, whereas the pleadings in Caspian and Sanchez sufficiently alleged that a majority of the boards of the companies at issue lacked independence. In addition, the Zale decision underscores again the risks confronting financial advisors to sellers in merger transactions, since the aiding and abetting fiduciary breach claim against the board’s financial advisor survived even though the fiduciary duty claims against the directors themselves were dismissed.

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Delaware Court Refinement of Director Independence Analysis

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. LambJeffrey D. Marell, Frances Mi, and Matthew D. Stachel. 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 Delaware County Employees Retirement Fund, et al. v. Sanchez, et al., the Delaware Supreme Court held that stockholder plaintiffs in a derivative action adequately alleged facts to support a pleading-stage inference that a director was not independent from an interested director due to their close, 50-year friendship and significant business relationships consistent with that friendship. The court thus reversed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s holding on the defendants’ motion to dismiss that the plaintiffs had failed to adequately plead demand excusal. The court emphasized that Delaware courts must analyze all the particularized facts pled by the plaintiffs “in their totality and not in isolation from each other.”

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Exception to Attorney-Client Privilege in Shareholder Suits

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, Kevin Schwartz, and Nathaniel D. Cullerton.

The New York appellate court overseeing cases arising in Manhattan last week clarified and limited the circumstances in which corporations are obligated to produce confidential attorney-client communications to stockholder plaintiffs in the context of derivative litigation. Nama Holdings, LLC v. Greenberg Traurig LLP, No. 14738-14739N, 2015 WL 5839311 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t. Oct. 8, 2015). The decision endorsed a multi-factored approach to determining when shareholder plaintiffs have established “good cause” for production of privileged communications.

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Court of Chancery Upholds Customary Release in Spin-Off Transactions

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 a Wachtell Lipton publication by Mr. Katz, 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 last week validated a release of liability that extinguished certain claims a recently spun-off company may have had against its former parent and its directors. In re AbbVie Inc. Stockholder Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 9983-VCG (Del. Ch. July 21, 2015). The decision confirms that the mutual releases customary in spin-off arrangements are presumptively appropriate and enforceable.

Abbott Laboratories spun off AbbVie, its research-based pharmaceutical subsidiary, in January 2013. Before the spin, Abbott was a defendant in a False Claims Act action alleging unlawful off-label marketing of an AbbVie product. As part of the spin-off, AbbVie broadly released all claims it might have against Abbott or any Abbott affiliate relating to assets transferred to AbbVie, including liability for the False Claims Act claim.

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Binding Spincos to Parent Obligations Requires Specificity

Matt Salerno is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on a Cleary Gottlieb memorandum by Mr. Salerno, Christopher Condlin, and Christina Prassas. 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 Miramar Police Officers’ Retirement Plan v. Murdoch [1] the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed plaintiff’s claims, refusing to hold that an “unambiguous” boilerplate successors and assigns clause operated to bind a spun-off company to the terms of a contract entered into by its former parent company. The contract at issue generally restricted the former parent company from adopting a poison pill with a term of longer than one year without obtaining shareholder approval. The decision will serve as a reminder to practitioners to carefully consider the impact that significant corporate transactions could have on their clients’ contractual rights and obligations.

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