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.”