Securities Litigation Against Life Sciences Companies: Eleven Takeaways from 2021

Securities class actions against life sciences companies are almost always second-order problems.  The first-order problem is a business or regulatory setback that, when disclosed by the company or a third party, is followed by a stock price drop.  Following the decline, plaintiffs’ class-action attorneys will search the company’s previous public statements in search of inconsistencies between past positive comments and the current negative development.  In most cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek to show that any arguable inconsistency amounts to fraud—that is, they will claim that the earlier statement was knowingly or recklessly false or misleading.  Where a company makes the challenged statement in a public offering document (that is, a registration statement or prospectus), plaintiffs need only show that the statement was materially false or misleading, not that it was made with scienter, i.e., the requisite state of mind.

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Delaware Court Enjoins Shareholder Meeting for Disclosure Violations

The Delaware Chancery Court recently issued a rare preliminary injunction delaying the shareholder vote on a proposed merger between QAD, a cloud-based enterprise software company, and the private equity fund Thoma Bravo. The Court required additional disclosures to shareholders but stopped short of enjoining the deal entirely. The case provides useful guidance on conflicts-related disclosure where a controlling shareholder and minority shareholders are “competing” for consideration from a third-party acquirer. It also highlights Delaware’s reluctance to enjoin a transaction that offers shareholders a premium in the absence of a rival bidder, leaving post-closing damages claims as the sole remedy for shareholders who believe the deal involved contractual or fiduciary duty violations. (more…)

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Bear Market For Plaintiffs’ Liquidity-Based Conflict Allegations

In M&A litigation, plaintiffs’ lawyers see actual or perceived conflicts of interest as gold.  Conflict allegations can take many forms and arise in a variety of contexts: for example, a board member of a target company who is offered employment by the would-be acquirer, or a controlling stockholder who sits on both sides of a transaction.  Another common example, and the focus of this post, is a board member or stockholder whose financial interests are alleged to diverge from other stockholders because of a need or desire to quickly liquidate holdings (referred to as a “liquidity-based conflict”). (more…)

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Securities Litigation Against Life Sciences Companies: 2020

Securities class actions against life sciences companies are almost always second-order problems. The first-order problem is a business or regulatory setback that, when disclosed by the company or a third party, triggers a stock price decline. Following the decline, plaintiffs’ class-action attorneys will search the company’s previous public statements and seek to identify inconsistencies between past positive comments and the current negative development. In most cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek to show that any arguable inconsistency amounts to fraud — that is, they will claim that the earlier statement was knowingly or recklessly false or misleading. Where a company makes the challenged statement in a public offering document — a registration statement or prospectus — plaintiffs need only show that the statement was materially false or misleading, not that it was made with scienter.

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Chancery Court Tosses Claim Regarding Disclosures Around Equity Incentive Plans

Just before year-end, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a notable decision regarding disclosures around equity incentive plans. On December 16, 2020, the Chancery Court dismissed a stockholder’s direct claim that members of the board of Columbia Financial Inc. (“Columbia” or the “Company”) breached fiduciary duties for failing to disclose purportedly material information regarding equity awards provided to directors. The decision provides guidance on standards for adequate disclosures and affirms the Chancery Court’s willingness to decide questions of materiality at the pleading stage.

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