In QC Holdings, Inc. v. Allconnect, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0715-JTL (Del. Ch. August 28, 2018), plaintiff QC Holdings, Inc. (“QC Holdings”), a former stockholder of defendant Allconnect, Inc. (the “Company”), brought a claim against the Company to enforce its right (the “Put Right”) under a Put Agreement to sell its Company shares (the “Put Shares”) to the Company in exchange for $5 million (the “Put Price”). The Company had refused to pay the Put Price on the basis that it was contractually restricted from doing so on the date required under the Put Agreement, and therefore the Put Right was extinguished and never survived a subsequent merger of the Company when those restrictions arguably lifted. The Delaware Court of Chancery held that the Company’s arguments would have resulted in an improper forfeiture of QC Holdings’ contractual rights to the Put Price and that the exercise of the Put Right constituted a redemption of the Put Shares prior to the merger and a continuing contractual obligation by the Company to pay the Put Price. The Court ordered the Company to pay the Put Price to QC Holdings out of an escrow set up at the merger closing for this purpose.
In ChyronHego Corporation, et al., v. Cliff Wight and CFX Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0548-SG (Del. Ch. July 31, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for extra-contractual fraud on the basis that the stock purchase agreement contained an effective anti-reliance clause that precluded such claim. The Court found that the anti-reliance clause rebutted the common law fraud element of reliance on any extra-contractual representations, as described further below. At the same time, the Court dismissed the defendants’ motion to dismiss claims for fraud and breaches of express representations and warranties under the stock purchase agreement, finding that the plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded the elements of these claims.
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.
In I.A.T.S.E. Local No. One Pension Fund v. General Electric Company, et al., No. 11893-VCG (Del. Ch. Ct. December 6, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss and held that a breach of fiduciary duty claim is personal and does not adhere to the stock of the company where the transaction at issue severs the relationship between the stockholder and the entity.
In In re United Capital Corp., Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 11619-VCMR (Del. Ch. Jan. 4, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a suit brought by plaintiff minority stockholders (“Plaintiff”) that sought a quasi-appraisal to remedy alleged breaches of the duty of disclosure in connection with the acquisition of United Capital Corp. (“United Capital” or “Company”) via short-form merger. The Court concluded that Plaintiff had not adequately alleged that any omitted information was material to the decision to seek appraisal and that the duty of disclosure was not violated.
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 An Nguyen v. Michael G. Barrett, et al., C.A. No. 11511-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 28, 2016), Vice Chancellor Glasscock granted defendants’ motion to dismiss claims brought by a stockholder against members of the board of directors of Millennial Media, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Millennial”), finding that plaintiff’s allegations failed to state a non-exculpated claim of breach of fiduciary duty with respect to alleged disclosure violations in connection with Millennial Media’s acquisition by AOL, Inc. (“AOL”). Read More
In FdG Logistics v. A&R Logistics, C.A. No. 9706-CB (Del. Ch. Feb. 23, 2016), the Court of Chancery held that a non-reliance provision contained in a merger agreement was ineffective to bar a buyer’s fraud claims based on extra-contractual statements made during the due diligence and negotiation process because the non-reliance provision was formulated solely as a limitation on the seller’s representations and warranties. According to the Court, for a non-reliance provision to be effective against a buyer, it must be formulated as an affirmative promise by the buyer that it did not rely on any extra-contractual statements made by the seller during the sales process. The decision clarifies the Court of Chancery’s 2015 decision in Prairie Capital III, L.P. v. Double E Holding Corp., C.A. No. 10127-VCL (Del. Ch. Nov. 24, 2015) in which the Court emphasized that “no magic words” are required for a non-reliance provision to be effective.
In Bonanno v. VTB Holdings, Inc. (C.A. No. 10681-VCN) (Del. Ch. February 8, 2016), Vice Chancellor Noble granted a defendant corporation’s motion to dismiss a plaintiff shareholder’s breach of contract claim, ruling that plaintiff’s redemption claim fell within the scope of a forum selection provision contained in a transaction document signed by plaintiff that required the parties to litigate such disputes in the state courts of New York or the federal courts therein.
The action arose when plaintiff John Bonanno, a shareholder of Voyetra Turtle Beach, Inc. (“VTB”), a predecessor corporation to VTB Holdings, Inc. (“VTBH”), brought a breach of contract claim in the Delaware Court of Chancery against defendant VTBH for failure to redeem his shares after a 2014 strategic merger involving VTBH, which Bonanno claimed qualified as a triggering event for a redemption. VTBH sought dismissal for improper venue based on the forum selection clauses located in various transaction documents previously entered into among the parties, all of which required them to litigate their disputes in either New York state court or the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Ultimately, the Delaware Court of Chancery granted VTBH’s motion to dismiss for improper venue, holding that the redemption is a “transaction” that was contemplated in a 2011 Right of First Refusal Agreement (the “2011 ROFR”) between the parties and the 2011 ROFR contained an exclusive New York forum selection clause, which governed Bonanno’s claims as a matter of New York law.
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.
Chancery Court grants motion to dismiss against former limited partners seeking damages for a freeze-out merger they claimed was a self-dealing transaction by the general partner and its affiliates. The Court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction with regard to the general partner defendants based on a standard arbitration clause that referenced AAA Rules. The Court also granted the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim with regard to the affiliated limited partner defendants because majority ownership of the merged entities, without more, did not create a fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs.
On February 10, 2015, Vice Chancellor Parsons issued a memorandum opinion in Lewis v. AimCo Properties, L.P., 2015 WL 557995, (Del. Ch. Feb. 10, 2015) granting Motions to Dismiss for each group of defendants in the case. The case was brought by several former holders of limited partnership units (“Plaintiffs”) in four Delaware limited partnerships (the “Partnerships”). Each of the Partnerships was managed by corporate entity general partners (“GP Defendants”) that were each indirectly owned by Apartment Investment and Management Company (“AimCo”). AimCo also indirectly held a majority of the limited partnership units of each Partnership through various affiliates (together with various officers, the “LP Defendants”).
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.”