Author: David Bernstein

Chancery Court Holds that Compensation Paid to Non-Employee Directors Pursuant to Shareholder-Approved Plan Must Be Reviewed Under Entire Fairness Standard

By David Bernstein and Priya Chadha

In Calma v. Templeton, C.A. No. 9579-CB (Del. Ch. April 30, 2015) (Bouchard, C.), the Delaware Chancery Court held that Citrix System, Inc’s (“Citrix”) payment of compensation to non-employee directors under a shareholder-approved compensation plan must be reviewed under the entire fairness standard because the shareholders’ omnibus approval of a plan covering several different types of beneficiaries did not constitute ratification of the amount of compensation to be paid to non-employee directors.

In 2005, Citrix shareholders approved an equity compensation plan (the “Plan”) for beneficiaries such as directors, officers, employees, consultants, and advisors.  The plan did not specify the amount of compensation that non-employee directors could receive, instead only providing a limit of 1 million restricted stock units (“RSUs”) for any beneficiary’s annual compensation.  Based on the company’s share price at the time the suit was filed, 1 million RSUs would be worth over $55 million.

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Chancery Court Holds That Merger Price That Resulted from a Strong Sale Process and Extensive Negotiations Is the Best Estimate of Fair Value in an Appraisal Proceeding

By David Bernstein and Marisa DiLemme

Merlin Partners LP v. AutoInfo, Inc., C.A. No. 8509-VCN (Del. Ch. April 30, 2015) (Noble, V.C.) concerns an appraisal proceeding under Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law in which the Chancery Court found that, where there was a strong sale and negotiation process, and there were no reliable cash flow projections from which to make a discounted cash flow analysis and there were no sales of comparably sized companies in the same business, the price received in the merger was the best indication of fair value at the time of the merger.

Petitioners were former common stockholders of Respondent, AutoInfo, Inc. (“AutoInfo”) who exercised their appraisal rights in connection with AutoInfo’s merger with Comvest Partners (“Comvest”) at a price of $1.05 per AutoInfo share. AutoInfo was struggling financially and had begun a sale process in 2011 using an investment bank, Stephens Inc. (“Stephens”), which had long experience in the applicable industry, transportation. As part of the process, Stephens asked AutoInfo’s management to prepare five year financial projections that were “optimistic” to be used to market AutoInfo. Management had never prepared similar projections before and was doubtful of the validity of the results.

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Holders of Preferred Stock Beware: Delaware Chancery Court Holds that Preferred Stock Is Subject to the Issuer’s Need as a Going Concern, Not Just DGCL §160

By David Bernstein and B. Ashby Hardesty, Jr.

TCV v. TradingScreen, Inc. concerns the interplay between a charter provision providing for the mandatory redemption of preferred stock, Section 160 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”), and Delaware common law. The Chancery Court held that despite an adequate surplus under Section 160, common law restrictions prohibited a corporation from redeeming preferred stock as required by its charter.

In TCV, TradingScreen’s charter required that if after a specified date holders of a majority of TradingScreen’s Series D preferred stock asked for assistance in selling their preferred stock, TradingScreen would give that assistance. If no third-party buyer were found, TradingScreen would repurchase its preferred stock at its fair value as agreed upon or determined by an expert.  In June 2012, the holders of a majority of the preferred stock requested assistance in selling their shares. When no suitable third-party buyer was found, an expert selected by Trading Screen and the majority owners of the preferred stock made a valuation and determined the sale price. After receiving the valuation, TradingScreen refused to repurchase more than a small portion of the preferred stock, stating that its board had determined, based on a study it had had prepared by an outside expert, that doing so would impair TradingScreen’s ability to continue as a going concern. The preferred stockholders brought suit, alleging, among other claims, that TradingScreen breached the Charter by failing to honor the charter’s redemption provision and, as a result, triggered interest payments at 13% on the unpaid amounts.

The preferred stockholders argued that because TradingScreen had a surplus that far exceeded the amount it would need to redeem the preferred stock without violating Section 160, its charter required it to repurchase the preferred stock. TradingScreen argued that under Delaware common law, funds would not be “legally available” for repurchase of preferred stock if doing so threatened the corporation’s ability to continue operating as a going concern. The Chancery Court agreed with TradingScreen. It held that even though redemption of the preferred stock would not violate Section 160, “outside the DGCL, a wide range of statutes and legal doctrines restrict a corporation’s ability to use funds.” It held that the common law restricted TradingScreen’s ability to redeem its shares when doing so would damage its ability to continue as a going concern, and that to challenge the Board’s judgment regarding the effect of redemption on TradingScreen’s ability to continue as a going concern, the preferred stockholders would have to show that the Board’s decision was made in bad faith or was so far off the mark as to constitute actual or constructive fraud. The Court rejected the argument that the charter provisions regarding the preferred stock were a contract between the corporation and the holders of the preferred stock, saying the preferred stockholders “fail to appreciate the hybrid nature of preferred stock” and that the preferred stockholders “are holders of equity, not debt.” It is likely many holders of preferred stock will be surprised to learn that their rights with regard to their preferred stock are subject to the issuers’ needs as going concerns.

TCV v. TradingScreen, Inc., C.A. No. 10164-VCN (Del. Ch. March 27, 2015) (Noble, V.C.)

Stating That an Inspection under DGCL Section 220 Is Not “Merely For The Curious,” The Chancery Court Reaffirms The Need for a Stockholder to Show a Proper Purpose for a Section 220 Demand and, in Doing So, Holds That a Derivative Suit That is Dismissed With Prejudice is Collateral Estoppel as to All Stockholders

By David Bernstein and Lauren Garraux

Vice Chancellor Noble denied the demand of plaintiff Fuchs Family Trust to inspect the books and records of defendant Parker Drilling Company under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law and, in doing so, held that Fuchs’s ability to institute future stockholder derivative litigation — one of the stated purposes underlying its demand — was barred by collateral estoppel based on the dismissal with prejudice of a prior stockholder derivative lawsuit — to which Fuchs was not a party — on procedural grounds.

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Valuing Stock in a Delisted Corporation Is a Proper Purpose for a Books and Records Request Under DGCL §220; Evaluating Risk in That Company Is Not

By David Bernstein and B. Ashby Hardesty, Jr.

A Post-Trial Master’s Report ruled that conducting a risk evaluation regarding a company was not a proper purpose for a Section 220 books and records demand, but that valuing the company was.

On February 26, 2015, Master LeGrow issued her Final Report in Southpaw Credit Opportunity Master Fund LP v. Advanced Battery Technologies, Inc., C.A. No. 9542-ML (Del. Ch. February 26, 2015), recommending that the Court order Advanced Battery Technologies, Inc. (“ABAT”) to produce certain books and records for inspection under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, subject to a standard confidentiality agreement.

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Chancery Court Finds that Deal Price Represents Fair Value of Shares in Appraisal Proceeding

By David Bernstein and Meredith Laitner

In response to demands for appraisal of Ancestry.com shares, the Chancery Court found that the agreed upon merger price, which was greater than the price determined by the Court’s discounted cash flow analysis, represented the fair value of the shares.

On January 30, 2015, the Delaware Chancery Court in In re: Appraisal of Ancestry.com, Inc., C.A. No. 8173-VCG (Del. Ch. January 30, 2015) (Glasscock, V.C.) issued its determination as to the fair value of shares held by petitioners at the time of Ancestry’s acquisition by Permira Advisors.  Ancestry stockholders received merger consideration of $32 per share; petitioners in this case sought appraisal under Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law.

In an appraisal proceeding, because neither the petitioner nor the respondent has a burden of proof, the burden falls on the Court to establish fair value. The Court said that the statute requires it to consider all relevant factors, and while the agreed upon price is one of the relevant factors, the Court must go beyond that.

With respect to sale itself, the Court found Ancestry’s auction process sufficiently robust to make the price it generated a reliable and relatively untainted indicator of value.  However, it also made its own discounted cash flow analysis, after dissecting discounted cash flow analyses presented by petitioners’ and Ancestry’s experts, whose valuations differed significantly.  Among other things, Vice Chancellor Glasscock found the experts’ analyses problematic because they were based on projections prepared by Ancestry’s management for the purpose of selling the company and for the purpose of making it possible to obtain a fairness opinion with regard to the price a buyer was likely to pay.  In the end, Vice Chancellor Glasscock came up with a discounted cash value that was slightly below the agreed upon merger price.  He then ruled that the sale price (i.e., the merger price) best represented the fair value, and said his discounted cash value analysis gave him comfort that no undetected factor skewed the sale process.  It is noteworthy that if the Vice Chancellor had determined that the value of the Ancestry shares was the value yielded by his discounted cash flow analysis, the petitioners would have received less than the price paid in the merger.

In re Appraisal of Ancestry.com, Inc., C.A. No. 8173-VCG (Del. Ch. January 30, 2015)(Glasscock, V.C.)

Chancery Court Confirms Standing of Record Holder as of Appraisal Demand Date to Pursue Appraisal

By David Bernstein and Meredith Laitner

In Merion Capital LP v. BMC Software, Inc., the Chancery Court held that a person who became the record owner of shares after the record date for voting on a merger could seek appraisal with regard to those shares so long as that person did not vote the shares in favor of the merger, without having to demonstrate that the shares had not been voted in favor of the merger by a prior record owner.

On January 5, 2015, the Delaware Chancery Court issued its ruling in Merion Capital LP v. BMC Software, Inc., C.A. No. 8900-VCG (Del. Ch. January 5, 2015) (Glasscock, V.C.), finding that petitioner Merion Capital LP had standing to seek an appraisal with regard to shares of which it became the record owner after the record date for voting on a merger without having to prove that those shares had not been voted in favor or the merger.

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Chancery Court Confirms Beneficial Owner’s Standing to Pursue Appraisal Action

By David Bernstein and Meredith Laitner

Amid debates around the merits of “appraisal arbitrage,” the Chancery Court held in In re: Appraisal of Ancestry.com, Inc. that the hedge fund petitioner did not need to prove that the Ancestry.com shares of which it became the beneficial owner after the record date for voting on an Ancestry merger had not been voted in favor of the merger in order to pursue appraisal rights with regard to those shares. The Court said any problems with DGCL Section 262 itself should be solved by the legislature, not the courts.

On January 5, 2015, the Delaware Chancery Court issued its ruling in In re: Appraisal of Ancestry.com Inc., C.A. No. 8173-VCG (Del. Ch. January 5, 2015) (Glasscock, V.C.), finding that petitioner Merion Capital L.P., the beneficial owner of Ancestry.com, Inc. shares, did not need to prove that the specific Ancestry shares with respect to which petitioner seeks appraisal were not voted in favor of an Ancestry merger in order to have standing to seek appraisal.

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In re: Allergan, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 9609-CB (Del. Ch. November 7, 2014) (Bouchard, C.)

By David Bernstein and Meredith Laitner

On November 7, 2014, Chancellor Bouchard denied the plaintiffs’ requests for summary judgment in In re: Allergan, Inc. Stockholder Litigation.  This ruling comes amid an acrimonious proxy fight in which a company owned by Valeant and Pershing Square are seeking to remove six of the nine members of the Allergan Board and request that the Board engage in good faith discussions with Valeant with regard to a Valeant proposal to merge with Allergan that will come to a head at a special stockholder meeting scheduled for December 18, 2014.

The charter and bylaw provisions challenged by the plaintiffs permitted holders of 25% of Allergan’s stock to call a special meeting or act by stockholder consent, but not with regard to any matter that is identical or substantially similar to one presented at a stockholder meeting held during the previous year (a so-called “Similar Items” provision).  In a Supplemental Proxy Statement, Allergan had stated that this would permit stockholders to remove directors, but not to replace them by written consent at a meeting called by stockholders if an election had occurred within the past year.  The plaintiffs asked for a declaratory judgment that the Similar Items provisions would not prevent the stockholders from, at a special meeting, both removing the entire Board and electing a new Board so long as the new directors had not been up for election during the preceding year.

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Higher Education Management Group, Inc. v. Matthews, C.A. No. 911-VCP (November 3, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.)

By David Bernstein and Max Kaplan

On November 3, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss derivative claims in Higher Education Management Group, Inc. v. Mathews, C.A. No. 911-VCP (Del. Ch. Nov. 3, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.), after finding, among other things, that plaintiffs failed to plead with particularity facts showing demand upon nominal defendant’s board would have been futile.  In this case, defendant corporation’s subsidiary, Aspen University, paid out nearly $2.2 million in what were apparently expense reimbursements between 2003 and 2011.  These outlays were never recorded in the firm’s accounts—a fact discovered by management through a November 2011 audit. Apparently, rather than recording the expense, which would have required Aspen to restate previous years’ financial statements, management chose to treat the $2.2 million as a secured loan receivable owed by Aspen University’s former CEO—plaintiff Patrick Spada—with the intention of taking a write-off in the future.  Spada denied there ever was a loan and alleged that defendant officers and directors materially misrepresented the corporation’s finances by knowingly mischaracterizing the $2.2 million as a loan.

The court did not reach the merits of plaintiffs’ accusations, and it instead found that plaintiffs failed to either make a demand on the board or sufficiently plead that such a demand would be futile.  Plaintiffs had argued that the director defendants had made knowing misrepresentations that exposed them to a “substantial likelihood” of liability, and therefore all the directors were “interested” for purposes of satisfying the demand futility test.  However, Plaintiffs pled events that, if taken as true, showed only that two directors knew that there was no loan.  With regard to all the other directors, plaintiffs alleged only general knowledge of the loan being fake, attributing identical actions to all of the directors as a group without making specific allegations with regard to individual directors.  According to the court, “such broad and identical assertions . . . do not meet the requirements of pleading facts with particularity.”  Having found that the facts pled by the plaintiffs were only sufficient to show that a minority of directors were “interested,” the court concluded that a demand had not been shown to be futile and dismissed the claim.

Higher Education Management Group, Inc. v. Mathews

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Apollo (Mauritius) Holdings Pvt. Ltd., et al., C.A. No. 8980-VCG (October 31, 2014) (Glasscock, V.C.)

By David Bernstein and Marisa DiLemme

This decision involves a merger agreement (the “Agreement”) between Apollo (Mauritius) Holdings Pvt. Ltd. and Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (“Cooper”), a principal purpose of which was for Apollo to acquire Cooper’s 65% interest in Chengshan Cooper Tires (“CCT”), a Chinese tire manufacturer. After the merger was announced, the minority owner of CCT apparently caused CCT’s union workers to go on strike by telling them that if they did not protest, they would be fired.  The minority partner also prevented Cooper from getting access to CCT’s financial records, which made it impossible for Cooper to prepare and deliver financial statements for the third quarter of 2013 as required by the Agreement.  Apollo refused to consummate the merger and sought a judicial declaration that its refusal was not a breach of the Agreement because Cooper had not satisfied several conditions to closing.

Vice Chancellor Glasscock agreed that Apollo was not required to carry out the merger because Cooper had not satisfied some of the conditions to closing.  Among other things, he found that the strike at CCT violated a Cooper covenant to cause each of its subsidiaries to “conduct its business in the ordinary course of business consistent with past practice.”  Cooper argued that an exception to the definition of “Material Adverse Effect” for a negative reaction to the Agreement by Cooper’s labor unions or joint venture partners also applied to the covenant to cause all subsidiaries to conduct their businesses in the ordinary course, but Vice Chancellor Glasscock rejected this argument, pointing out that even within the definition of Material Adverse Effect, there were some things (events that would prevent Cooper from fulfilling its obligations under the Agreement or from consummating the merger) that were not subject to the exception.

Another argument that Cooper made is that by attempting to negotiate terms on which the minority owner of CCT would withdraw its opposition to the transaction, Apollo acquiesced in proceeding with the merger despite what the minority owner was doing.  Vice Chancellor Glasscock rejected this argument, saying that Apollo was negotiating with the minority owner in an effort to make it possible for the merger to proceed.

CoopervApollo

Wolst v. Monster Beverage Corporation, C.A. No. 9154-VCP (Del. Ch. October 3, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By David Bernstein and Meredith Laitner

On October 3, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court issued its ruling in Wolst v. Monster Beverage Corporation, C.A. No. 9154-VCP (Del. Ch. October 3, 2014) (Noble, V.C.), rejecting the plaintiff’s request to inspect Monster Beverage Corporation’s books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law.

The plaintiff’s stated purpose for her request to inspect Monster’s books was to determine whether there was a basis for her to bring a derivative suit against Monster based on insider trading that occurred seven years ago.  A class action regarding the insider trading had been settled for $16.25 million and a prior derivative suit, in which the plaintiff had been a participant, had been dismissed for failure to make a demand on the Board.  Subsequently a demand on the Board had been made and rejected.

The Court held that the possible new derivative suit that was the reason for the plaintiff’s Section 220 demand was time-barred by laches. Further, Vice Chancellor Noble refused to extend to derivative claims the general rule that a class action tolls the statute of limitations for the members of the class pursuing individual direct claims.

WolstvMonsterBeverage

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