The Court of Chancery recently allowed a buyer to walk away from an acquisition due to, among other things, the seller’s failure to satisfy the ordinary course covenant because of changes made to the operating business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The opinion, penned by Vice Chancellor Laster, is the first decision offering post-trial guidance as to the application of material adverse effect (MAE) and ordinary course provisions during the pandemic. Its guidance on the application of these provisions should be of interest for all negotiating M&A deals and other commercial agreements generally, and during the COVID-19 pandemic in particular.
In AB Stable VIII LLC v. Maps Hotels and Resorts One LLC, plaintiff sought to sell a subsidiary that owned an approximately US$5.8 billion portfolio of luxury hotels. The deal was signed in September 2019, and was slated to close in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, shortly before the planned closing, the seller made material changes to its business. These included closing two hotels entirely, gutting operations at 13 others, terminating or furloughing staff, and cutting spending on marketing and capital expenditures. The seller filed a complaint seeking specific performance to force a closing; the buyer responded with counterclaims contending, among other things, that it had no obligation to close because an MAE occurred, and the seller breached the ordinary course provision. The Court’s rulings on both of these points are highly instructive.