Tag: Director liability


So You’re Thinking of Joining a Public Company Board

David A. Katz is a partner specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and activism, and crisis management at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Candidates for directorships on public company boards have much to consider. Potential exposure to legal liability, public criticism, and reputational harm, a complex tangle of applicable regulations and requirements, and a very significant time commitment are facts of life for public company directors in the modern era. The extent to which individuals can effectively manage the risks of directorship often depends on company-specific factors and can be increased through diligence and thoughtful preparation on the part of the director and the company.

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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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Regulatory Competition and the Market for Corporate Law

Ofer Eldar is a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Management. This post is based on an article authored by Mr. Eldar and Lorenzo Magnolfi, a doctoral candidate at Yale Economics Department. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

There is a longstanding debate in corporate law and governance over the merit of competition for corporate laws. “Race to the top” scholars point to the fact that Delaware, the state where most public firms are incorporated, has laws that are highly responsive to business and has been a laggard in enacting anti-takeover statutes. Proponents of the “race to the bottom” have shown that firms are more likely to incorporate in their home state when that state has adopted more anti-takeover statutes. More recently, they have highlighted the recent rise of firm incorporations in Nevada, following a 2001 Nevada law, which exempts managers from liability for breaching their fiduciary duties. Finally, skeptics of competition argue that it is impossible for states to compete with Delaware by simply replicating its laws, and that relatively few firms reincorporate from one state to another.

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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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Putting RBC Capital In Context

John C. Coates is the John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In a recent decision, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld Chancery Court decisions requiring RBC Capital—a unit of the Royal Bank of Canada—to pay $76 million to Rural/Metro shareholders based on RBC Capital’s advisory work for Rural/Metro in its 2011 sale to Warburg Pincus. RBC Capital sought a buy-side financing role for Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm, while giving Rural/Metro sell-side advice, and sought to leverage its role in the Rural/Metro deal for work in an unrelated deal without disclosing that fact to Rural/Metro’s board. As a result, under the Revlon standard the Court applied to the case, RBC Capital “aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by former directors of Rural/Metro Corporation,” said the Court, even as it sought to limit the holding by stating that “a board is not required to perform searching and ongoing due diligence on its retained advisors … to ensure that the advisors are not acting in contravention of the company’s interests….”

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Scope of Federal Statutory Whistleblower Provisions

Joseph M. McLaughlin is a Partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. McLaughlin and Yafit Cohn. This article appeared in the December 10, 2015 edition of the New York Law Journal.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) contain provisions protecting from retaliation individuals who provide information regarding a violation of U.S. securities laws. Various ambiguities in these statutory provisions have been adjudicated, most recently by the Northern District of California, which grappled with a new issue: whether directors who allegedly engage in retaliatory conduct may be liable under SOX and Dodd-Frank.

In Wadler v. Bio-Rad Laboratories, [1] Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero held that directors who take retaliatory action against a whistleblowing employee by voting in favor of that employee’s termination are subject to individual liability under both SOX and Dodd-Frank. In addition, the court addressed the unsettled question whether Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation protection extends to whistleblowers who report internally but not to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), joining a divided Second Circuit in according deference to the SEC’s view that it does.

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Limits of Indemnification for Directors in Post-Employment Conduct Suits

David A. Katz is a partner specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and activism, and crisis management at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Katz, William Savitt, and Nicholas Walter. 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.

Recent rulings by the Delaware Court of Chancery have clarified the availability and limits of indemnification and advancement for former directors and officers of Delaware corporations in lawsuits concerning post-employment behavior.

In Lieberman v. Electrolytic Ozone, Inc., C.A. No. 10152-VCN (Aug. 31, 2015) , two former officers of a company sought advancement for defending claims brought against them by the company for breach of a noncompete agreement. Each former officer had signed an indemnification agreement providing that the company would indemnify him against lawsuits brought “by reason of the fact” that he was an officer-the greatest extent of indemnification possible under Delaware law. In addition, the company had agreed to advance the officers’ expenses for any lawsuit against which the officers were indemnified. The Court denied their claim for advancement: “Importantly, [the company’s] contractual claims are not dependent on any alleged on-the-job misconduct.” Therefore, the Court held, the lawsuits were not claims brought “by reason of the fact” that the defendants had been corporate officers, and they were accordingly not entitled to indemnification or advancement.

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Seven Myths of Boards of Directors

David Larcker is Professor of Accounting at Stanford University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Larcker and Brian Tayan, Researcher with the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Costs of Entrenched Boards by Lucian Bebchuk and Alma Cohen, and How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment by Alma Cohen and Charles C. Y. Wang.

Corporate governance experts pay considerable attention to issues involving the board of directors. Because of the scope of the board’s role and the vast responsibilities that come with directorship, companies are expected to adhere to common best practices in board structure, composition, and procedures. Our paper, Seven Myths of Boards of Directors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, reviews seven commonly accepted beliefs about boards of directors that are not substantiated by empirical evidence.

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The Delaware Courts and the Investment Banks

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, Theodore N. Mirvis, and William Savitt. 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 doctrinal innovation in Delaware law that first appeared a year ago is threatening to mature into a full-on trend: through the tort of “aiding-and-abetting” fiduciary breach, the Delaware courts, accepting the invitation of the stockholder-plaintiffs’ bar, have begun to take on the task of regulating the M&A advisory function of investment banks. In October 2014, the Court of Chancery awarded stockholder plaintiffs $76 million in damages against an investment bank for aiding and abetting breaches of the duty of care by the directors of Rural Metro, an ambulance company that was sold for a 37% premium in 2011 and was bankrupt by the time of trial. The novel theory of the decision was that conflicted bankers dispensed self-interested advice, which left Rural Metro’s directors uninformed and hence induced them to breach their duty of care in approving the sale. Although the directors were not liable for the breach (because they had settled and were exculpated at any rate), the court found that the bankers were.

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The Important Work of Boards of Directors

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent address at the 12th Annual Boardroom Summit and Peer Exchange. The full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

It’s a great honor to be back again speaking at an event sponsored by the New York Stock Exchange. It has been more than six years since, as a relatively new SEC Commissioner, I had the opportunity to ring the closing bell at the Exchange. Of course, a lot has changed since then.

At the time, the country was in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and our capital markets were in turmoil. Some of our most storied financial institutions had suffered unparalleled economic damage. The money market fund industry was mired in a crisis of confidence, interbank lending had collapsed, and our short-term capital markets had seized up. To stem the bleeding, the federal government engaged in an unprecedented intervention in the financial sector to inject stability and confidence into the capital markets and to the greater economy.
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