The Court of Chancery granted a motion for leave to modify a settlement agreement in a merger-related class action suit to distribute settlement proceeds through DTC to Dole Food Company, Inc. (“Dole”) common stockholders of record. The Court held that the original stipulation providing for settlement proceeds to be distributed to both record holders and beneficial holders through a traditional notices and claims forms process proved to be too costly and burdensome in practice, which justified modifying the allocation procedure.
By memorandum-opinion dated January 5, 2017, Chancellor Bouchard granted defendants’ motion to dismiss a putative class action complaint in In re Solera Holdings, Inc. Stockholder Litigation. Specifically, the Court held that absent allegations specifically identifying material deficiencies in the operative disclosure documents, ratification by a majority of disinterested stockholders rendered defendant-directors’ approval of a merger subject to the business judgment rule.
In Brinckerhoff v. Enbridge Energy Co., Inc., et al., C.A. No. 11314-VCS (April 29, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery reiterated its adherence to the principle stated in the Delaware Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (“DRULPA”) of giving “maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract and to the enforceability of partnership agreements” as well as to the ability under DRULPA of parties to a limited partnership agreement to define their respective standards of care and scope of duties and liabilities, including to eliminate default fiduciary duties, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.
In Kurt Fox v. CDX Holdings, Inc. (f/k/a Caris Life Sciences, Inc.), C.A. No. 8031-VCL (Del. Ch. July 28, 2015), the Delaware Court of Chancery confirmed that Delaware’s merger statutes do not effect a statutory conversion of options at the effective time of a merger. Rather, the treatment of stock options in a merger is governed by the underlying stock option plan, which must be amended in connection with a merger if the treatment of options in the merger differs from the treatment contemplated by the plan. The Court also confirmed that a standard qualification in stock option plans, requiring a corporation’s board of directors to determine the fair market value of the option for purposes of cashing out the options, could not be satisfied by informal board action or a delegation to management or a third party.
This class action arose from a 2011 spin-off/merger transaction pursuant to which Miraca Holdings, Inc. (“Miraca”) acquired CDX Holdings, Inc. (formerly known as Caris Life Sciences, Inc.) (“Caris”) for $725 million (the “Merger”). Immediately prior to the Merger, Caris spun off two of its three subsidiaries to its stockholders (the “Spin-Off”). In the Merger, each share of Caris stock was converted into the right to receive $4.46 in cash. Each option was terminated with the right to receive the difference between $5.07 per share and the exercise price of the option, minus 8% of the total option proceeds, which were held back to fund an escrow account from which Miraca could satisfy indemnification claims brought post-closing.
On January 12, 2015, Vice Chancellor Glasscock issued an opinion in Parsons v. Digital River, Inc., et al., 2015 WL 139760 (Del. Ch. 2015) on a Motion to Expedite brought by Amy Parsons on behalf of similarly situated public stockholders (“Plaintiff”) as to disclosure claims concerning an imminent merger. The ruling on the disclosure claims was deferred after the Vice Chancellor denied Plaintiff’s Motion on December 31, 2014 as it related to Revlon claims raised, in order to allow Plaintiff to submit a supplemental brief clarifying why such claims would be material to stockholders.
The Motion was brought by Plaintiff against the Board of Directors of Digital River, Inc. (the “Company”) for breaches of fiduciary duties arising in connection with the Agreement and Plan of Merger entered into with Siris Capital Group, LLC, dated October 23, 2014 (the “Merger Agreement”). On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff initiated a class action to enjoin the proposed merger on the grounds that the Company was undervalued and that the Board of Directors failed to provide the stockholders with material information regarding the deal process.
Of the numerous disclosure claims raised by Plaintiff in the Motion to Expedite, Vice Chancellor Glasscock focused primarily on the claim regarding management retention, both because it was the most significant and it had not been rendered moot by the Company’s subsequent filing of a definitive proxy statement. Vice Chancellor Glasscock concluded that Plaintiff sought expedited discovery on the grounds that the disclosures were “simply not credible” without providing a factual basis for such assertion.
Because the disclosure claim was speculative, Vice Chancellor Glasscock found that the chance of receiving injunctive relief to be low and that the value of potential disclosure did not outweigh the cost of expedition. The Plaintiff’s Motion to Expedite was denied.
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.
In Re: Crimson Exploration Inc. Stockholder Litigation involved a consolidated class action claim made by certain minority stockholders (“Plaintiffs”) of Crimson Exploration, Inc. (“Crimson”) challenging the completed acquisition of Crimson by Contango Oil & Gas Co. (“Contango”). The transaction was structured as a stock-for-stock merger (the “Merger”), with the Crimson stockholders holding approximately 20.3 % of the combined entity following the merger and an exchange ratio representing a 7.7% premium based on the April 29, 2013 trading price of Contango common stock and Crimson common stock. Plaintiffs also alleged that the members of Crimson’s Board of Directors (the “Directors”) and various entities affiliated with the investment management firm Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. (“Oaktree”) breached their respective fiduciary duties by selling Crimson below market value for self-serving reasons. In total, Plaintiffs brought claims against Crimson, the Directors, Oaktree, Contango Acquisition, Inc. (the “Merger Sub”) and Contango (“Defendants”).
A major premise of Plaintiffs’ complaint is that Oaktree controlled Crimson and thereby had fiduciary duties to the minority stockholders of Crimson. Oaktree owned roughly 33.7% of Crimson’s pre-Merger outstanding shares and a significant portion of Crimson’s $175 million Second Lien Credit Agreement, which Contango agreed to payoff after the signing of the Merger, including a 1% prepayment fee (the “Prepayment”). Also, in connection with the Merger, Oaktree negotiated to receive a Registration Rights Agreement (the “RRA”) so that it had the option to sell its stock in the post-Merger combined entity through a private placement.
On August 25, 2014, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster denied a stipulated dismissal order involving the payment of a “mootness fee” as part of the settlement of a disclosure claim because it did not comply with the requirements of In re Advanced Mammography Sys., Inc. S’holders Litig., 1996 WL 633409 (Del. Ch. Oct. 30, 1996).
Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Astex”) and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co, Ltd. (“Otsuka”) entered into an Agreement and Plan of Merger. Various stockholder plaintiffs filed lawsuits asserting claims against Astex, its Board of Directors, and Otsuka, and the court certified a class. One claim asserted that Astex’s stockholders lacked sufficient information to make an informed decision about tendering their shares or seeking appraisal. In response, Astex filed a supplemental Schedule 14D-9 containing additional disclosures on October 1, 2013. After the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, the named plaintiffs concluded that their remaining claims lacked merit. The parties then submitted a stipulated dismissal order, which included an agreement whereby defendants would pay a mootness fee relating to the disclosure claim. The court denied the proposed dismissal order pending further submission by the parties explaining how they complied, or proposed to comply, with Advanced Mammography.
Advanced Mammography provides that the board may exercise its business judgment to pay a mootness fee, but it is necessary to (i) notify the court and (ii) provide notice to the class and provide an opportunity for the class to be heard. In addition, “in the context of a claim that is acknowledged to be moot and in which no consideration has been paid to the class, it is not appropriate for the court to purport to release any claims of the class.” Id. at *1. Notice to the class allows the class to argue that the case is not moot, but rather that the mootness fee is in fact a buyout; and enables members of the class to object to such use of corporate funds. Id. In this case, the stipulated dismissal order did not provide notice to the class, and as a result, Vice Chancellor Laster denied the proposal and requested that the parties submit a revised order contemplating notice to the class.