In re TPC Group Inc. Shareholders Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 7865-VCN (October 29, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)
By Jamie Bruce and Lauren Garraux
The issue before the Court in In re TPC Group Inc. Shareholders Litigation was whether plaintiffs, shareholders of TPC Group Inc. (“TPC”) (“Plaintiffs”), were entitled to attorneys’ fees due to an increase in the merger price obtained between their commencement of shareholder litigation challenging the merger and the acquisition’s closing under an amended merger agreement. Shortly after TPC announced its acquisition by First Reserve Corporation, SK Capital Partners and their affiliates (collective, the “PE Group”), Plaintiffs filed complaints in Delaware Chancery Court challenging the intended merger on a number of grounds, including inadequate price. Ultimately, Plaintiffs’ claims were mooted by subsequent bidding and a supplemental proxy statement, which resulted in, inter alia, an increase of $5 per share ($79 million aggregate), an increase which TPC, its board and PE Group (collectively, “Defendants”) attributed to a competing proposal.
According to the Court, the critical issue with respect to Plaintiffs’ request was causation, i.e., whether Plaintiffs’ legal challenge was the cause of the price increase. Under Delaware law, it is presumed that plaintiffs are a cause; therefore, the burden is on the defendant to prove, by the preponderance of the evidence, that no causal connection (whether direct or indirect) existed between the price increase and plaintiffs’ litigation efforts. PE Group submitted affidavits citing concern over a competing proposal, negative publicity, public opposition by a significant shareholder, and the potential for an unfavorable evaluation by Institutional Shareholder Services when deciding whether PE Group should raise its bid. While acknowledging that these affidavits were self-serving, the Court indicated that Defendants’ account was the most credible and was consistent with the record, and the Court concluded that Defendants had met their burden in this regard and, therefore, denied Plaintiffs’ request for attorneys’ fees relating to an increase in the merger price.