In Carr v. New Enterprise Associates, Inc., C.A. No. 20170381-AGB (Del. Ch. Mar. 26, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in denying in part and granting in part a motion to dismiss, reaffirmed the principle that a controlling stockholder, when acting outside its capacity as a stockholder, cannot use the corporation to advance the controlling stockholder’s self-interest at the expense of minority stockholders. In the context of defendants’ motion to dismiss, the court found that it was reasonably conceivable that the controlling stockholder of American Cardiac Therapeutics, Inc. (“ACT”) and its conflicted board of directors had breached their duty of loyalty to ACT’s minority stockholders by approving a sale of a warrant to a third party that included an option to acquire ACT, allegedly at an unfairly low price, in order to incentivize the third party to also acquire and invest in the controlling stockholder’s other portfolio companies.
In In re Saba Software, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 10697-VCS (Del. Ch. Mar. 31, 2017, revised Apr. 11, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the board of Saba Software, Inc. could not invoke the business judgment rule under the Corwin doctrine in response to a fiduciary challenge arising from Saba’s acquisition by Vector Capital Management, L.P. According to the Court, plaintiff pled facts which supported a reasonable inference that the stockholder vote approving the acquisition was neither fully-informed nor uncoerced. The Court also denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims that the Saba board breached its duty of loyalty and engaged in acts of bad faith by rushing the sales process, refusing to consider alternatives to the merger and granting itself substantial equity awards.
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 In Re Appraisal of Dell, C.A. No. 9322-VCL, (Del. Ch. May 31, 2016), stockholders of Dell Inc. (“Dell”) sought appraisal of their shares in connection with Dell’s 2013 “go-private” merger. Vice Chancellor Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the fair value of the Dell’s common stock at the effective time of the merger was $17.62, approximately a 28% premium over the final merger consideration of $13.75 per share. In making its determination, the court rejected Dell’s contention that the negotiated merger consideration was the best evidence of Dell’s fair value and held that the Dell was sold for too little and that the concept of fair value under Delaware law is not equivalent to the economic concept of fair market value.
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.
In Chen v. Howard-Anderson, Vice Chancellor Laster considered a motion for summary judgment brought by certain officers and the Board of Directors of Occam Networks, Inc., (“Occam”), a public Delaware corporation seeking a determination by the Court that they did not breach their fiduciary duties. The plaintiffs (former stockholders of Occam) claim that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties “by (i) making decisions during Occam’s sale process that fell outside the range of reasonableness (the “Sale Process Claim”) and (ii) issuing a proxy statement for Occam’s stockholder vote on the Merger that contained materially misleading disclosures and material omissions” (the “Disclosure Claim”).
In 2009, Calix, Inc. and Occam (competitors in the broadband market) began discussing a potential business combination. In response, the Board of Occam determined that formal discussions with Calix were not appropriate at that time and retained Jeffries & Company for advice on strategic alternatives. By June 2010, Occam proposed to acquire Keymile International GmbH (“Keymile”) for $80 million, and Calix submitted a term sheet proposing to purchase Occam for $156 million (in a mix of cash and stock). Another suitor, Adtran, presented a third option by offering a slightly higher cash offer price to acquire Occam as compared with the Calix offer. Occam had a cool reaction to Adtran. Occam prepared April and June financial projections for 2010, 2011, and 2012 which were more positive than the estimates of the two public analysts who followed Occam. The projections were not shared with Adtran, and were materially higher than Adtran’s internal projections for Occam, and later projections that Adtran would create. Occam did not provide Calix with the June financial projections. On June 23, 2010 Calix submitted a revised term sheet increasing its offer to purchase Occam to $171.1 million (to be paid in a mix of cash and stock). Adtran confirmed its interest in acquiring Occam and on June 24, 2010 proposed an all cash offer at a premium of approximately 11% over Calix’s bid. On June 24, 2010 the Board met to consider the various alternatives – the cash and stock merger with Calix, the cash sale to Adtran, or remaining independent and acquiring Keymile. It was not clear that the Board was aware that Adtran’s bid was 11% higher than Calix’s offer. The Board directed Jeffries to conduct a 24 hour “market check.”
In a much anticipated decision, on March 14, 2014 the Delaware Supreme Court sitting en banc unanimously affirmed then-Chancellor Strine’s decision in In re MFW Shareholders Litigation to dismiss a stockholder lawsuit related to the 2011 acquisition of M&F Worldwide Corp. (“MFW”) by its controlling stockholder, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc. (“Holdings”). In upholding the dismissal, the Delaware Supreme Court confirmed that the business judgment standard of review, rather than an “entire fairness” standard of review, applies to controlling-party buyouts where the transaction is conditioned ab initio upon both: (1) the approval of an independent, adequately-empowered special committee that meets its duty of care and (2) the un-coerced, informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders.
In May 2011, Holdings, which owned 43.4% of MFW’s common stock, began to explore the possibility of taking MFW private. In June 2011, Holdings delivered a written proposal to purchase the MFW shares not already owned by Holdings for $24 per share in cash, representing a premium to the prior day’s closing price of $16.96. Holdings’ proposal expressly stated that it would be subject to approval by a special committee of MFW’s board made up of independent directors, and included a non-waivable condition that a majority of the minority of stockholders approve the transaction.