By David Bernstein
Plaintiff Hamilton Partners, L.P. challenged in the Delaware Chancery Court the fairness of a merger between a Nevada corporation, American HomePatient, Inc. (“New AHP”), a successor to a Delaware corporation of the same name (“AHP”), and Highland Capital Management, L.P. (“Highland”), which before the challenged transactions owned 48% of AHP’s stock and held most of its debt. The initial question was whether the validity of the actions was governed by Nevada law or by Delaware law. The Court said that most of the transactions took place under an agreement that was signed while the corporation was a Delaware corporation and that those transactions would be governed by Delaware law. However, transactions that were not approved by the Board until after the reincorporation in Nevada would be governed by Nevada law.
The Court then addressed whether the fairness of the merger should be determined under the business judgment rule or under the entire fairness test, which would apply if Highland was a controlling stockholder. The Court said that although there were prior Delaware decisions that made it possible that Highland’s 48% ownership interest alone might not have caused it to be viewed as a controlling person when determining whether the Board’s approval of the merger should be evaluated based on the business judgment rule or on the entire fairness test, the combination of Highland’s 48% stock interest and the fact that it had used its creditor position to force the corporation to engage in the series of transactions that was being challenged made it clear that Highland was a controlling person and that the entire fairness test should apply. Therefore, noting that it is almost never possible to dismiss a complaint in an instance in which the entire fairness test applies, the Court refused to dismiss the claim against Highland.
The Plaintiff also sued Joseph Furlong, the CEO and a director of AHP, claiming that he had a personal interest in the merger (he would receive a $6.5 million payment if it took place) and therefore his actions as a director should be evaluated under the entire fairness test. The Court said that because the Board consisted of three directors, and the other two directors, whose independence was not challenged and who were not claimed to have been dominated by Furlong, approved the merger, and their approval was governed by the business judgment rule, it made no difference whether Furlong’s approval was governed by the business judgment rule or was subject to the entire fairness test. The Court also pointed out that because the merger was approved by the Board after the corporation had reincorporated in Nevada, Furlong’s liability would be governed by a Nevada statute that exculpates a director from personal liability unless the director’s act or failure to act constituted a breach of fiduciary duties and the “breach of those duties involved intentional misconduct, fraud or a knowing violation of the law”. The Court found that the Plaintiff had not claimed that Furlong had been guilty of intentional misconduct, fraud or a knowing violation of law, and therefore Furlong was entitled to the protection of the Nevada exculpation statute. Accordingly, it dismissed the claims against Furlong.
hamiltonpartnersl p v highlandcapital1