Procedure Prevails When Applying MFW Framework to Interested Merger
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently issued an opinion that reminds controlling stockholders they can successfully implement a going private merger even when a competing bidder makes an offer that is substantially higher than that offered by the controlling stockholder. The court dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Eidos Therapeutics, Inc. stockholders against Bridgebio Pharma, Inc. and three of its directors over a merger in which Bridgebio, as Eidos’s controlling stockholder, acquired the remaining minority shares of Eidos stock. Smart Loc. Unions & Councils Pension Fund v. BridgeBio Pharma, Inc., No. 2021-1030-PAF, 2022 WL 17986515 (Del. Ch. Dec. 29, 2022).
Special Committee Chair Dismissed in Post-Trial Win
On December 27, 2022, after a 10-day bench trial in July and August 2022 and post-trial argument, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ stipulation to voluntarily dismiss Renée James, the Chair of a Special Committee of the Oracle Board in In re Oracle Derivative Litigation, 2017-0337-SG, a shareholder derivative litigation case arising out of Oracle’s US$9.3 billion acquisition of NetSuite. This case is one of the rare post-Cornerstone director independence cases to proceed to trial, following an investigation and decision by a special litigation committee to return the case to the shareholder Plaintiffs to pursue. The case was also procedurally unique as Plaintiffs opted to dismiss James following the 10-day trial and post-trial argument, rather than wait for an opinion from the Court.
Camping World Plaintiffs Left Out In The Cold: Application of Zuckerberg Test For Demand Futility Bars Claim
In October 2021, in United Food v. Zuckerberg, the Delaware Supreme Court adopted a new three-part test for evaluating whether demand is futile in derivative suits. Prior to Zuckerberg, demand futility was long governed by Aronson v. Lewis (1984) and Rales v. Blasband (1993). The Aronson test excuses demand as futile if the allegations raise a reasonable doubt that “the directors are disinterested and independent” or that “the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid business judgment.” The Rales test excuses demand if the allegations create a reasonable doubt that a majority of the board in place at the time of the demand “could have properly exercised its independent and disinterested business judgment in responding to a demand.” Without expressly overruling Aronson and Rales, the Delaware Supreme Court in Zuckerberg adopted a new three-part test, applied on a director-by-director basis, that excuses demand as futile if any of the three parts is true for at least a majority of the members of the board. The Delaware Supreme Court’s affirmance of the Court of Chancery’s holding in In re Camping World that the plaintiffs did not properly plead that demand was futile further cements the utilization of the Zuckerberg standard as the governing law in demand futility analysis.
Key Learnings Regarding the Protectiveness of the MFW Process for Controlling Stockholder Transactions
The Delaware Court of Chancery’s recent decision in City Pension Fund for Firefighters and Police Officers in the City of Miami v. The Trade Desk, Inc. et al., which granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, demonstrates how protective the MFW process of both an independent special committee of the board and a majority of the minority stockholder vote can be in a transaction with a controlling stockholder. This post provides a reminder concerning the MFW process and highlights two key learnings from the Trade Desk decision, one concerning independence and the second concerning the minority vote.
Corwin Cleanse Clarified: Key Lessons for Interested Directors
Since Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, Delaware courts have adhered to the proposition that “when a transaction not subject to the entire fairness standard is approved by a fully informed, uncoerced vote of the disinterested stockholders, the business judgment rule applies.” However, The Delaware Court of Chancery recently issued an opinion (available here) clarifying the application of Corwin to the fiduciary duties of interested directors. The Court declined to dismiss a complaint alleging that the defendant directors’ approval of a merger was a breach of the directors’ duty of loyalty and constituted unjust enrichment. Specifically, the Court rejected the defendant directors’ contention that Corwin “cleansed” the transaction, and, as a consequence, explained that a duty of loyalty analysis was still appropriate. In what follows, we describe this case and offer some important takeaways concerning interested directors. (more…)
Delaware Supreme Court Clarifies the Standards for Demand Futility
A pair of opinions released by the Delaware Supreme Court in a single week have revisited longstanding precedent governing shareholder suits that claim corporate wrongdoing. As discussed in a companion post on this blog, the first of those opinions, Brookfield Asset Management Inc. v. Rosson, restricted the ability of shareholders to bring direct claims under certain circumstances, instead forcing them to pursue more procedurally challenging derivative suits. In the second case, United Food & Commercial Workers Union & Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Fund v. Zuckerberg, the Delaware Supreme Court adopted a new three-part demand-futility test that clarifies the standard shareholders must meet to file such derivative suits, without first taking their complaints to the company’s board of directors. (more…)
A Delaware Corporate and M&A Checklist: 11 Cases That Every Practitioner Should Know
As regular readers know, this blog typically covers the latest developments and trends emerging from the Delaware Court of Chancery. For this post, however, we revisit first principles and remind our readers of the bedrock decisions of modern Delaware M&A practice, and highlight 11 key decisions with which every practitioner should be familiar. (more…)
Chancery Denies Corwin Cleansing In Light of Process Concerns
Last month Vice Chancellor Zurn issued a significant, 200+ page decision on a motion to dismiss filed by defendants in the ongoing Pattern Energy transaction litigation, captioned In re Pattern Energy Group Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2020-0357-MTZ. As we previously reported, class actions had been filed in Chancery Court and Delaware Federal District Court following the $6.1 billion going-private sale of Pattern Energy Group, Inc. to Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (“Canada Pension”). Both cases present overlapping breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Chancery Court case has moved forward faster, with that Court now issuing a decision denying defendants’ motion to dismiss. The decision is a reminder to directors and their advisers that without careful adherence to an independent sales process and transaction structure, directors risk losing the liability protections that Delaware law otherwise provides.
Nevada Splits from Delaware, Applies Business Judgment Rule Broadly
One focus of this blog has been identifying trends in other state’s corporate law that compares or contrasts with Delaware’s. Nevada in particular has long been in competition with Delaware as a potential place of incorporation. A new decision by the Nevada Supreme Court may further cement Nevada’s status as a potential competitor to Delaware for certain corporations by demonstrating the difficulty of rebutting the business judgment rule.
New Chancellor’s First Decision Reaffirms the Robust Protections Afforded to Transactions Following the MFW Roadmap
Last week, newly sworn-in Chancellor McCormick issued her first decision in her new role, Franchi v. Firestone, granting a motion to dismiss a shareholder complaint regarding a going-private transaction with a controlled shareholder. In doing so, the new Chancellor affirmed that the MFW roadmap continues to provide robust protection to such transactions, so long as they meet the formal requirements set out in MFW. (more…)