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.
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 Huff Energy Fund v. Gershen, C.A. No. 11116-VCS, the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a stockholder’s challenge to the board of director’s decision to dissolve the company following an asset sale. The Court ruled that the enhanced scrutiny standards of Revlon and Unocal do not supplant the business judgment rule in the context of a company’s decision to dissolve.
In In Re OM Group, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 11216-VCS (Del. Ch. Oct. 12, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed Revlon claims, on the basis that the challenged merger had been approved by a disinterested, uncoerced and fully-informed majority vote of the target’s stockholders and therefore the business judgment rule applied.
In C&J Energy Services, Inc. v. City of Miami General Employees’ and Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust, C.A. No. 655/657, 2014 (Del. Dec. 19, 2014) (Strine, C.J.), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s decision to (1) enjoin the stockholder vote on a merger between C&J Energy Services, Inc. (“C&J”) and a division (Nabors CPS) of Nabors Industries Ltd. (“Nabors”) for 30 days, and (2) require C&J to shop the company during the injunction period. The Chancery Court determined that the C&J board’s decision to forego actively shopping the company in favor of a passive, post-signing market check constituted a plausible breach of its Revlon obligations. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the Chancery Court erred by: (1) applying an improper standard for a preliminary injunction, (2) holding that a company must affirmatively shop itself under Revlon absent possessing “impeccable knowledge” of the market, and (3) issuing a mandatory injunction on a preliminary record.
This action arose from the proposed acquisition by C&J of a subsidiary of Nabors, which contained the assets of Nabors’ CPS division, for $2.86 billion. To gain favorable tax treatment, Nabors will retain a majority interest (53%) in the entity surviving the merger (“New C&J”), and New C&J will be domiciled in Bermuda. C&J’s stockholders will own the minority interest. To mitigate the loss of control, a supermajority vote of New C&J’s stockholders will be required to effect major corporate actions. In addition, C&J stockholders will have the right to (1) designate a majority of the members of New C&J’s board, and (2) receive the same pro rata consideration as Nabors in any subsequent sale of New C&J. C&J’s current Chairman, CEO and chief negotiator, Joshua Comstock, also negotiated for the right to be New C&J’s CEO at a higher compensation level.
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 this opinion, Vice Chancellor Noble considered defendants’ motion for summary judgment in connection with various breach of fiduciary duty claims asserted by a former stockholder, Richard Frank, against the Board of Directors and two employees of American Surgical Holdings, Inc. (“ASH”), a public company, in connection with the merger of ASH with an affiliate of Great Point Partners I, L.P. (“GPP”). In connection with the motion the Chancery Court examined:
• the “entire fairness” standard of review;
• the effect of a special committee on the standard of review;
• the standard of review for Revlon claims upon a motion for summary judgment, particularly where the target’s charter includes an exculpatory clause;
• a special committee’s examination of projections underlying a fairness opinion, including where multiple sets of projections are prepared; and
• the interaction between a shareholder’s unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty claims upon a motion for summary judgment.
In re Answers Corporation involves an allegation that the board of a publicly-traded Delaware corporation, Answers Corporation (the “Company”), breached its fiduciary duties in negotiating and approving a sale of the Company. The plaintiffs alleged that the three conflicted directors controlled the Board, that the four remaining directors breached their duty of loyalty and acted in bad faith, and that the buyer of the Company (“AFCV”) aided and abetted the directors’ breach of fiduciary duty.
In March 2010, the Company received an unsolicited expression of interest from AFCV concerning a possible transaction. Shortly thereafter, the Board discussed the possibility of exploring strategic alternatives, including the recent expression of interest, ultimately deciding to explore potential transactions and engage a financial advisor to assist in the process. As part of this process, the Board’s financial advisor continued discussions with AFCV regarding a potential transaction, in addition to conducting a market check where it approached ten other potential buyers. Despite discussions with at least seven other possible buyers, no potential buyer other than AFCV made an offer. During this time, the Board rejected multiple requests for exclusivity from AFCV in order to preserve the Board’s opportunity to negotiate with other potential purchasers. The Board also rejected several offers from AFCV, deeming them to be inadequate, and pressured AFCV to increase the price offered until the transaction was finally approved. The Board’s financial advisor discussed with the Board the relative merits of pursuing various sales processes, advising the Board that additional bidders were unlikely to come forward, and ultimately provided a fairness opinion with respect to the final price offered by AFCV. During the final stages of negotiation with AFCV, after several quarters of declining revenues, the Company received quarterly results reflecting significant improvements in performance and record revenues. Despite the improved results, the Board was concerned about the future stability and performance of the Company, primarily due to its significant reliance on Google-directed traffic (which was entirely dependent on Google algorithms, subject to change at any time in Google’s discretion) and increasing competitive pressures, and ultimately approved the sale of the Company to AFCV.