Archive: 2014

A Corporation’s Advancement of Legal Fees and Expenses to Its Officers and Directors

By Holly Vance and Sophia Lee Shin

This case involves a plaintiff who sought advancement for his legal fees and expenses in connection with insider trading charges. In opining on the defendant’s motion to dismiss or stay the action and the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the Court considered various issues, including the four-factor analysis of McWane and the difference between advancement and indemnification.

Nipro Diagnostics, Inc. (“Nipro”), the defendant, acquired Home Diagnostics, Inc. (“HDI”) on March 15, 2010. Soon after the merger, the SEC began an investigation of George H. Holley (“Holley”), the founder and chairman of HDI and the plaintiff in this case, for suspicious trading in HDI stock around the time of the merger announcement (the “SEC Investigation”). On May 20, 2010, Holley requested that HDI advance his expenses in the SEC Investigation, and executed an undertaking (required with any advancement) promising to repay HDI for any advanced expenses if it were ultimately determined that Holley was not entitled to indemnification. From June 2010 to November 2010, Nipro advanced Holley’s expenses relating to the SEC Investigation. On January 13, 2011, the SEC commenced an action against Holley for violating federal securities laws by disclosing information about the merger (the “SEC Action”). On February 4, 2011, Holley was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the State of New Jersey for insider trading (the “Criminal Action”). On August 19, 2011, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office obtained a stay of the SEC Action. Holley eventually pled guilty to two counts of insider trading in the Criminal Action.

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Delaware Supreme Court Reverse Chancery Court Decision on Revlon Obligations

By Lisa Stark and Lauren Garraux

In C&J Energy Services, Inc. v. City of Miami General Employees’ and Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust, C.A. No. 655/657, 2014 (Del. Dec. 19, 2014) (Strine, C.J.), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s decision to (1) enjoin the stockholder vote on a merger between C&J Energy Services, Inc. (“C&J”) and a division (Nabors CPS) of Nabors Industries Ltd. (“Nabors”) for 30 days, and (2) require C&J to shop the company during the injunction period. The Chancery Court determined that the C&J board’s decision to forego actively shopping the company in favor of a passive, post-signing market check constituted a plausible breach of its Revlon obligations.  On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the Chancery Court erred by: (1) applying an improper standard for a preliminary injunction, (2) holding that a company must affirmatively shop itself under Revlon absent possessing “impeccable knowledge” of the market, and (3) issuing a mandatory injunction on a preliminary record.

This action arose from the proposed acquisition by C&J of a subsidiary of Nabors, which contained the assets of Nabors’ CPS division, for $2.86 billion.  To gain favorable tax treatment, Nabors will retain a majority interest (53%) in the entity surviving the merger (“New C&J”), and New C&J will be domiciled in Bermuda.  C&J’s stockholders will own the minority interest.  To mitigate the loss of control, a supermajority vote of New C&J’s stockholders will be required to effect major corporate actions.  In addition, C&J stockholders will have the right to (1) designate a majority of the members of New C&J’s board, and (2) receive the same pro rata consideration as Nabors in any subsequent sale of New C&J.  C&J’s current Chairman, CEO and chief negotiator, Joshua Comstock, also negotiated for the right to be New C&J’s CEO at a higher compensation level.

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Fiduciary and Contractual Claims Arising from LLC Management Dispute Survive a Motion to Dismiss

By Scott Waxman and Ryan Drzemiecki

In an ongoing dispute between the members of a Delaware limited liability company, Vice Chancellor Parsons was tasked with resolving pre-trial motions filed by both the managing member defendants and the non-managing member plaintiffs. Except for plaintiffs’ claim of waste, V.C. Parsons denied the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss finding that, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs, facts have been pleaded that make the defendants’ inappropriate at this stage of the litigation.  In addition, V.C. Parsons denied plaintiffs motion of summary judgment, which sought to remove the defendant LLC from its position as managing member, finding that the plaintiffs have not yet produced evidence sufficient to meet their burden of showing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

This case involves an ongoing dispute between the managing member and non-managing members of Dunes Point West, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company (the “Company”). The Company was formed in 2006 to acquire and operate an apartment complex in in the State of Kansas (the “Apartment Complex”). Presently, Louis Cortese and the 2009 Caiola Family Trust (“Plaintiffs”) collectively hold 90% of the membership interests in the Company. Defendants include the Company’s managing member and holder of 10% of its membership interests, PWA, LLC, a Kansas limited liability company (“PWA”) and Ward Katz, the managing member of PWA.

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2015 Proxy Season Preview: Chancery Court Declines to Order Waiver of Advance Notice Bylaws

By William Axtman and Caitlin Howe

Can an activist shareholder avoid compliance with advance notice bylaw provisions to run a dissident slate of directors at a fast-approaching annual meeting? The answer, which is discussed in our summary of AB Value Partners, often hinges on the actions of the board.

In AB Value Partners, LP v. Kreisler Manufacturing Corp., Vice Chancellor Parsons denied AB Value’s request for a temporary restraining order to enjoin enforcement of Kreisler’s advance notice bylaw provisions.  AB Value, a hedge fund that owned approximately 11% of Kreisler’s shares, sought to run a competing slate of director’s at Kreisler’s annual meeting.  The bylaws of Kreisler required that stockholders provide advance notice within a 60-90 day window prior to the anniversary date of the preceding annual meeting of any business that the stockholders wanted to address at Kreisler’s annual meeting.  AB Value failed to propose its slate of directors within this required timeframe.

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Valuation Materials Prepared Pre-litigation by Appraisal Petitioners Are Discoverable

By Eric Freedman and Sophia Lee Shin

FACTS

On June 11, 2013, Dole Food Company, Inc. (“Dole”) announced that its board had received an unsolicited proposal from David Murdock, Dole’s CEO, Chairman, and controlling stockholder, to purchase all of the outstanding shares of Dole’s common stock for $12 per share. Approximately two months later, Dole and Murdock announced an agreement to take Dole private in a merger at $13.50 per share (the “Merger”). On October 31, 2013, Dole held a special meeting of the stockholders at which the stockholders approved the Merger, and the transaction closed on November 1, 2013.

Hudson Bay Master Fund Ltd. and Hudson Bay Merger Arbitrage Opportunities Master Fund Ltd. (together, “Hudson Bay”) and Ripe Holdings LLC (“Ripe”), as holders of Dole common stock, subsequently sought an appraisal for their shares. Ripe is a special-purpose investment vehicle managed by the affiliates of Fortress Investment Group (“Fortress”).

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Supreme Court Partially Reverses Chancery Decision Interpreting Common Voting Agreement Provisions

By Holly Vance and Porter Sesnon

In Salamone, Dura, and Halder v. Gorman, IV, the Supreme Court of Delaware (the “Court”) partially affirmed and partially reversed a Chancery Court decision determining the composition of the board of directors (the “Board”) of Westech Capital Corporation (“Westech”).  The dispute centered on the interpretation of a Voting Agreement entered into by Westech and the purchasers of Westech’s Series A Preferred Stock in 2011.

The Voting Agreement provisions at issue were Sections 1.2(b) and 1.2(c), each of which set forth the process for designating certain individuals to serve on the Board.  Section 1.2(b) provides for one director to be designated “by the majority of the holders of the Series A Preferred Stock . . . .”  Section 1.2(c) provides two individuals to be designated “by the Key Holders . . . .”  The dispute revolved around the removal by John J. Gorman, IV (“Gorman”), Westech’s majority stockholder, of a current director nominated pursuant to Section 1.2(c) and the election of two new directors, one pursuant to Section 1.2(b) and another pursuant to Section 1.2(c).

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Chancery Court Finds Majority Partner Breached Contractual and Fiduciary Obligations to the Minority

By Scott Waxman and Claire White

In this Chancery Court decision, VC Laster examined damages owing to plaintiffs for claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duties of care and loyalty in connection with the sale of a partnership’s assets.  The plaintiffs, partners in a D.C. partnership, had proved at trial that the sale by the majority partners (U.S. Cellular) to a related party was not entirely fair to them, as minority holders.

On the breach of contract claim, VC Laster found that defendants had breached a confidentiality provision in the partnership agreement by sharing confidential information regarding the partnership with a valuation firm, for the purposes of obtaining a valuation for the sale transaction.  Notwithstanding the breach, only nominal damages were awarded as plaintiffs failed to show proof of actual injury from the breach.  Among other facts, the Count highlighted that the confidentiality provision in the partnership agreement could have been waived by the majority partners.

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I​​​​n re Zhongpin Inc. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 7393-VCN (November 26, 2014) (V.C. Noble)

By Elise Gabriel and David Bernstein

In In re Zhongpin, shareholders of Zhongpin Inc. (“Zhongpin” or the “Company”) brought a class action complaint for breach of fiduciary duty against Xianfu Zhu (“Zhu”), Zhongpin’s CEO and chairman of the board, and Zhongpin’s board of directors (the “Board”) in relation to a merger through which Zhu – who owned 17.3% of Zhongpin’s common stock – would acquire the remainder of the Company’s outstanding shares for $13.50 per share in cash. The transaction was approved by an independent committee of Zhongpin’s Board and the Merger Agreement required approval by a majority of the unrelated stockholders, although this requirement had not appeared in Zhu’s original proposal to Zhongpin’s Board.

On the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court held that the plaintiffs had stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Zhu and the individual defendants. The Court stated that plaintiffs had adequately alleged that Zhu was a controlling stockholder even though he owned only 17.3% of Zhongpin’s stock by pointing to a statement in Zhongpin’s Form 10-K that referred to Zhu as “our controlling stockholder” and that said that as a result of the stock ownership “our controlling stockholder” was able to exercise significant influence over a variety of matters, including election of directors, the amount of dividends, if any, new securities issuances and mergers and acquisitions. The Court further held that the transaction was subject to review under the entire fairness standard rather than the business judgment rule because, even though the Merger Agreement required approval by a majority of the unrelated stockholders (and that approval was obtained), Zhu’s original proposal had not included a majority of the minority requirement at the outset. Finally, the Court was unwilling to dismiss the claims against the directors even though Zhongpin’s certificate of incorporation contained a provision under DGCL Section 102(b)(7) protecting directors against monetary liability, because, in a case subject to the entire fairness standard, a claim against directors cannot be dismissed until there is a determination as to entire fairness.

In re Zhongpin

In re Sanchez Energy Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 9132-VCG (November 25, 2014) (Glasscock, V.C.)

By Priya Chadha and David Bernstein

In In re Sanchez Energy, Vice Chancellor Glasscock granted a motion to dismiss in a shareholder derivative action because the plaintiffs had failed to make a demand on the Board, holding that the plaintiffs failed to meet Rule 23.1’s particularized pleading standards for demand futility.  The case centered around a transaction in which Sanchez Energy Corporation (“Sanchez Energy”), a publicly held corporation, purchased property at $2500/acre from Sanchez Resources, LLC (“Sanchez Resources”), a privately held, company, which Sanchez Resources had purchased for  $184/acre.  Two members of the Sanchez family—A.R. Sanchez Jr. and A.R. Sanchez III—owned a combined 21.5% of the shares of Sanchez Energy and served on its board of directors, which had three other members.  Those three members comprised Sanchez Energy’s audit committee, which approved the transaction.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that demand would have been futile because the three members of the Audit Committee were not independent.  The Vice Chancellor said the plaintiffs had failed to show the audit committee members’ social and business relationships with the Sanchezes were such that “the non-interested director would be more willing to risk his or her reputation than risk the relationship with the interested director.”  He also rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that the Sanchezes should be treated as controlling shareholders because they failed to show that the Sanchezes controlled the board or the negotiation process for the transaction.  Vice Chancellor Glasscock pointed to the fact that transaction was approved by the Audit Committee and that the Sanchezes owned at most a combined 21.5% stake in Sanchez Energy as evidence that the Sanchezes were not controlling shareholders.  Lastly, VC Glasscock rejected the idea that because of  the huge disparity between what Sanchez Resources paid to acquire the property and what Sanchez Energy paid to acquire the property from Sanchez Resources, the transaction was so facially unfair that it could not have been the product of valid business judgment, noting, among other things, that between Sanchez Resources’ initial purchase and its sale to Sanchez Energy, half of the property had been developed and found to contain proven oil reserves.

Thus, because the Complaint failed to specifically please facts excusing demand, the Court dismissed the Complaint.

In Re Sanchez

In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation

By Sherwin Salar and Whitney Smith

In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation involves a stockholder challenge to a merger between Comverge, Inc. and H.I.G Capital, L.L.C.  The plaintiff stockholders of Comverge contend that the Comverge board of directors (the “Board”) breached their fiduciary duties by: (1) conducting a flawed sales process and not suing HIG for an alleged breach of a non-disclosure agreement between the parties (the “NDA”); and (2) agreeing to deal protection measures that precluded the possibility of a topping bid.  On November 25, 2014, Vice Chancellor Parsons granted HIG’s motion to dismiss with respect to the first claim, but denied the motion on the second claim.  Furthermore, Vice Chancellor Parsons dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim that HIG aided and abetted the Board’s breaches of fiduciary duties, stating that even if there was a predicate breach of fiduciary duties by the Board, the Plaintiffs only allege conclusory facts that do not support a claim that HIG participated in those breaches.

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Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co. v. Audax Health Solutions, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 9405-VCP (November 26, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.)

By Lisa Stark

In Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co. v. Audax Health Solutions, Inc., the Delaware Court of Chancery held unenforceable provisions in a merger agreement and letter of transmittal requiring, as a condition to receiving the merger consideration, the target’s stockholders to: (1) indemnify the acquirer, up to their pro rata share of the merger consideration, for the target’s breaches of its representations and warranties, and (2) release the acquirer and its affiliates from any and all claims relating to the merger.

In this case, plaintiff, Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co. (“Cigna”), a former stockholder of defendant Audax Health Solutions, Inc. (“Audax”), sought some $46 million in merger consideration arising from the acquisition of Audax by Optum Services, Inc.  Defendants refused to pay Cigna the merger consideration for failure to sign a letter of transmittal (or LoT).  The LoT provided that the undersigned stockholder agreed to be bound by the indemnification provisions in the merger agreement and released the acquirer for any and all claims relating to the merger.  Some of the target’s representations and warranties, which were the subject of the indemnification obligations, survived indefinitely.  Cigna argued that the indemnification obligations and the LoT violated the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”) for several reasons, including that they rendered the amount of merger consideration indefinite in violation of Section 251 of the DGCL and rendered the stockholders liable for the target corporation’s debts in violation of Section 102(b)(6) of the DGCL.  Cigna argued that the release contained in the LoT was unenforceable for lack of consideration.  Finally, Cigna argued that the stockholder representative appointment provisions in the merger agreement were unenforceable.  In this decision, the Court addressed Cigna’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

The Court found Cigna’s claims relating to the stockholder representative appointment provisions not properly presented, but agreed with Cigna that the indemnification and release obligations were unenforceable.  Specifically, the Court held that the indemnification provisions violated Section 251 of the DGCL by putting at risk all of the merger consideration for an indefinite period of time and rendering the amount of merger consideration to be received by the stockholders undeterminable.  As to the release, the Court held it unenforceable for lack of consideration–the right to receive the merger consideration vested at the effective time of the merger and the stockholders could not be required to release claims absent additional consideration.  The Court expressly limited its holding to cases where a stockholder was required to indemnify a party as a condition to receiving the merger consideration and all of such stockholder’s merger consideration was subject to clawback.   The Court also expressly stated that it was not addressing the validity of escrow holdbacks as a purchase price adjustment even though its reasoning could be applied to invalidate such arrangements.  Finally, the Court stated that its opinion did not prohibit corporations from entering into separate agreements with stockholders to indemnify the acquirer prior to the time that the stockholders’ right to receive the merger consideration vested, but that “a post-closing price adjustment cannot be foisted on non-consenting stockholders.”

CignavAudax

Smollar v. Potarazu, C.A. No. 10287-VCN (November 19, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By Lauren Garraux and Lisa Stark

In Smollar v. Potarazu, the Court of Chancery denied a stockholder’s request to expedite proceedings and to appoint a temporary receiver in connection with a challenge to an alleged impeding sale of VitalSpring Technologies, Inc. (“VitalSpring”) to an unidentified third-party.  Plaintiff Marvin Smollar, a VitalSpring stockholder, filed the complaint against defendant Sreedhar V. Potarazu (“Defendant”), VitalSpring’s chief executive officer and sole director, following Defendant’s announcement that VitalSpring would be sold pending approval by the Federal Trade Commission.  According to Defendant, the sale — which was projected to be completed around October 19, 2014 — was ultimately delayed pending further FTC guidance.

In his complaint, Plaintiff sought to enjoin the sale until VitalSpring released audited financial statements pursuant to an agreement with its stockholders and held an annual meeting of stockholders.  VitalSpring apparently had not held an annual meeting of stockholders for several years contrary to Delaware law.  According to Plaintiff, Defendant’s failure to hold annual meetings, to release audited financials and general lack of corporate transparency called into question the veracity of Defendant’s claims that a buyer for VitalSpring existed.

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