A recent Delaware Court of Chancery decision is illustrative of the principle that merger partners should not assume that anything less than strict compliance with notice requirements (particularly when they relate to termination rights) and deadlines in a merger agreement will be enforced. The case is also a cautionary tale of why one merger partner should never assume that the other merger partner still wants to do the deal as much as it does.
In a July 2018 conference speech the Department of Justice (DOJ) deputy assistant attorney general (DAAG) for the Criminal Division underscored the importance of pre-acquisition Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) diligence. The DAAG's remarks reinforced FCPA enforcement as a DOJ priority and provided a disclosure roadmap for buyers that uncover FCPA-related misconduct both pre and post-acquisition.
The Delaware Court of Chancery has issued its original opinion in a consolidated appraisal action arising out of Verizon Communications Inc's 2015 acquisition of AOL Inc. In contrast to a recent string of Delaware appraisal decisions, the court determined that reliance on the $50 per share merger price for determining AOL's statutory fair value was not warranted.
Delaware Governor John Carney recently signed into law amendments to the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act and the Delaware General Corporation Law. Notably, the amendments expand the application of the market-out exception to appraisal rights, which has long been applicable to 'long-form mergers', to also include 'medium-form mergers'.
Two Delaware appraisal decisions issued in 2018 illustrate that, following the Delaware Supreme Court's decisions in Dell and DFC, the Delaware courts remain willing to give substantial evidentiary weight to a deal price as an indicator of fair value where the underlying transaction is the product of an open process characterised by the objective indicia of reliability.
A recent decision applied the framework established by the Delaware Supreme Court in Kahn v M&F Worldwide Corp (MFW) and found that a merger transaction with a controlling private equity fund on both sides was entitled to business judgment review. The decision outlines the elements of the MFW roadmap and clarifies that its ab initio requirement requires only that the elements be in place prior to the commencement of negotiations.
During the second quarter of 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, without opinion, the Court of Chancery's decision in ACP Master, in which the Court of Chancery had appraised Clearwire's shares at a significant discount compared with the deal price. Unfortunately, the Delaware Supreme Court's affirmance without discussion or opinion provides deal makers with little additional clarity on how to assess potential appraisal risk.
Novartis AG recently entered into a definitive agreement to acquire AveXis, Inc – a US-based, clinical stage gene therapy company – for approximately $8.7 billion pursuant to a two-step tender offer transaction. Notably, the Novartis-AveXis merger agreement contained a variation of a 'ticking fee' provision in the event that Novartis elected to extend the closing date of the transaction in order to obtain regulatory approvals.
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently denied a motion to dismiss the claims of Straight Path Communications Inc's stockholders against the company's controlling shareholder. The background of this case involved IDT, which is controlled by its former CEO, Howard Jonas, and was Straight Path's former parent company. When IDT spun out Straight Path, it agreed to indemnify Straight Path for liabilities arising from pre-spin-off conduct.
Recent decisions in Tesla and Oracle offer new insight into how the Delaware Court of Chancery will evaluate whether, in a conflicted transaction, a minority stockholder is a controller and therefore subject to the elevated entire fairness standard of review. The Tesla litigation arose from Tesla's merger with SolarCity, while in Oracle, stockholders challenged Oracle's acquisition of NetSuite.
The Commercial Division of the New York Supreme Court recently enjoined Fujifilm Holdings Corp's proposed acquisition of a controlling interest in Xerox Corp. The court also compelled Xerox to waive provisions of its advance notice bylaw, enabling activist investors to nominate a competing slate of directors after the otherwise applicable deadline. The court's decision has been recognised as precedent-setting New York case law and as a victory for activist shareholders.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued a no-action letter permitting the post-merger survivor of two wholly owned adviser subsidiaries to use the performance record of the non-surviving adviser in the surviving adviser's advertisements. Critically, in a footnote to the no-action letter, the SEC noted that the "positions expressed in the [Great Lakes and Horizon] no-action letters continue to represent the staff's positions with respect to the circumstances presented therein".
While Kahn v M&F Worldwide Corp provided helpful guideposts for avoiding an entire fairness review in controlling stockholder transactions, as with any new doctrine, questions remained as to the judgment's application to different types of deal and negotiation and the consequences of small deviations from strict adherence therein. Recent guidance from the Delaware Court of Chancery has given way to updated ground rules for controlling stockholder transactions.
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently held that the best evidence of a company's fair value was its 30-day average unaffected (pre-announcement) market price. The case potentially represents a significant shift in how appraisal cases are decided. It may also be useful in understanding how the Delaware courts will apply two recent Supreme Court judgments which gave significant weight to the deal price as the best measure of fair value where it results from a third-party, arm's-length transaction.
The Delaware Supreme Court recently reversed and remanded the Court of Chancery's valuation of Dell in an appraisal case arising from the 2013 management buyout of Dell by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners. The Delaware Supreme Court unanimously held that the Court of Chancery had abused its discretion by failing to give weight to market-based measures of Dell's fair value, including the company's stock price and the deal price.
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently provided new guidance on a stockholder's standing to bring fiduciary duty claims following a freeze-out merger that forced the stockholder to sell its shares. The case involved a complex series of transactions in which General Electric Company (GE) merged with a subsidiary, General Electric Capital Corporation (GECC). As a result of the merger, holders of GECC preferred stock received new shares of GE preferred stock, which were allegedly worth less.
In November 2016 the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion that provides additional guidance on how the inclusion of certain key provisions in a purchase agreement can protect a seller against an extra-contractual fraud claim asserted by a buyer in connection with an acquisition transaction. Although the court has noted in the past that there are "no magic words", this case provides helpful guidance on how to minimise the risk of extra-contractual fraud claims in the context of a sale transaction.
The Delaware Court of Chancery has applied the standard established in In re MFW Shareholders Litigation and Kahn v M & F Worldwide Corporation in rejecting a challenge to a controlling stockholder's buyout of the remaining shares of Books-A-Million, Inc from minority stockholders. The court confirmed the framework to be followed by Delaware companies and controlling stockholders that seek to avoid the 'entire fairness' standard of review.
Another Delaware Chancery Court decision has confirmed that the extinguishment of claims against directors may be viewed as a material benefit to directors in the transaction context. The court reinforced that even where the entire fairness review applies, to survive a motion to dismiss a plaintiff must initially state a claim that alleges some facts suggesting the transaction in question was unfair – either in process or price.
In an action challenging the disclosures issued by Millennial Media in connection with its 2015 acquisition by AOL, the Delaware Court of Chancery held that a claim alleging insufficiency of disclosures and whether they are misleading or incomplete in a way that is material to the stockholders should be pursued pre-closing (and not post-closing).