Business Combinations (see also Mergers and Acquisitions)
Business Combination Statutes: A "Meaningful Opportunity" For Success?
Evelyn Sroufe and Catherine Gelband, 45(3): 891–921 (May 1990)
Two lines of cases that address the constitutionality of state business combination statutes have developed since CTS Corp. v. Dynamics Corp. of America, 481 U.S. 69 (1987). This Article discusses the competing rationales of the "meaningful opportunity" and "internal affairs" cases and concludes that the internal affairs cases supporting the states' rights broadly to regulate takeover activity are most consistent with CTS.
Empty Voting and Hidden (Morphable) Ownership: Taxonomy, Implications, and Reforms
Henry T. C. Hu and Bernard Black, 61(3):1011–1070 (May 2006)
Most American publicly held corporations have a one-share, one-vote structure, in which voting power is proportional to economic ownership. This structure gives shareholders economic incentives to exercise their voting power well and helps to legitimate managers' exercise of authority over property the managers do not own. Berle-Means' "separation of ownership and control" suggests that shareholders face large collective action problems in overseeing managers. Even so, mechanisms rooted in the shareholder vote, including proxy fights and takeover bids, constrain managers from straying too far from the goal of shareholder wealth maximization.
In the past few years, the derivatives revolution, hedge fund growth, and other capital market developments have come to threaten this familiar pattern throughout the world. Both outside investors and corporate insiders can now readily decouple economic ownership of shares from voting rights to those shares. This decoupling—which we call "the new vote buying"—is often hidden from public view and is largely untouched by current law and regulation. Hedge funds, sophisticated and largely unfettered by legal rules or conflicts of interest, have been especially aggressive in decoupling. Sometimes they hold more votes than economic ownership, a pattern we call "empty voting." That is, they may have substantial voting power while having limited, zero, or even negative economic ownership. In the extreme situation of negative economic ownership, the empty voter has an incentive to vote in ways that reduce the company's share price. Sometimes hedge funds hold more economic ownership than votes, though often with "morphable" voting rights—the de facto ability to acquire the votes if needed. We call this "hidden (morphable) ownership" because under current disclosure rules, the economic ownership and (de facto) voting ownership are often not disclosed. Corporate insiders, too, can use new vote buying techniques.
This article analyzes the new vote buying and its corporate governance implications. We propose a taxonomy of the new vote buying that unpacks its functional elements. We discuss the implications of decoupling for control contests and other forms of shareholder oversight, and the circumstances in which decoupling could be beneficial or harmful to corporate governance. We also propose a near-term disclosure-based response and sketch longer-term regulatory possibilities. Our disclosure proposal would simplify and partially integrate five existing, inconsistent share-ownership disclosure regimes, and is worth considering independent of its value with respect to decoupling. In the longer term, other responses may be needed; we briefly discuss possible strategies focused on voting rights, voting architecture, and supply and demand forces in the markets on which the new vote buying relies.
Cross–Border Tender Offers and Other Business Combination Transactions and the U.S. Federal Securities Laws: An Overview
Jeffrey W. Rubin, John M. Basnage, and William J. Curtin, III, 61(3):1071—1134 (May 2006)
In structuring cross–border tender offers and other business combination transactions, parties must consider carefully the potential application of U.S. federal securities laws and regulations to their transaction. By understanding the extent to which a proposed transaction will be subject to the provisions of U.S. federal securities laws and regulations, parties may be able to structure their transaction in a manner that avoids the imposition of unanticipated or burdensome disclosure and procedural requirements and also may be able to minimize potential conflicts between U.S. laws and regulations and foreign legal or market requirements. This article provides a broad overview of U.S. federal securities laws and regulations applicable to cross–border tender offers and other business combination transactions, including a detailed discussion of Regulations 14D and 14E under the Securities Exchange Act and the principal accommodations afforded to foreign private issuers thereunder.
Form or Substance? The Past, Present, and Future of the Doctrine of Independent Legal Significance
C. Stephen Bigler and Blake Rohrbacher, 63(1): 1–24 (November 2007)
The "bedrock" doctrine of independent legal significance provides that, if a transaction is effected in compliance with the requirements of one section of the Delaware General Corporation Law ("DGCL"), Delaware courts will not invalidate the transaction for failing to comply with the requirements of a different section of the DGCL—even if the substance of the transaction is such that it could have been structured under the other section. Two recent decisions of the Delaware courts have caused commentators to question the doctrine's status, but this Article looks to the foundation of the doctrine and the Delaware courts' use of equitable review (and substance–over–form doctrines) to clarify when the doctrine of independent legal significance does and does not apply and when it may be relied on with confidence by corporate practitioners in the future. The doctrine as applied by the courts is narrower than sometimes assumed by corporate practitioners, and the Delaware courts may reserve the equitable power to look through a transaction's form to its substance even if the doctrine does apply.
Consumer Arbitration: If the FAA "Ain't Broke," Don't Fix It
Alan S. Kaplinsky and Mark J. Levin, 63(3): 907–920 (May 2008)
During 2007, Congress showed significant interest in mandatory pre–dispute consumer arbitration agreements. Some in Congress focused on whether to prohibit them altogether. This Article argues that such legislation is unnecessary because the current system of consumer arbitration works well and needs no fix. The authors review case law and empirical studies showing that the current system of checks and balances in the area of consumer arbitration law is sufficiently protective of consumers' rights. These protections emanate from: (1) the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") itself, (2) the careful drafting of arbitration agreements, (3) the use of third–party arbitration administrators, and (4) the rigorous enforcement of the FAA by state and federal courts.
Revisiting Consolidated Edison—A Second Look at the Case that Has Many Questioning Traditional Assumptions Regarding the Availability of Shareholder Damages in Public Company Mergers
Ryan D. Thomas and Russell E. Stair, 64(2): 329-358 (February 2009)
In October 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Consolidated Edison, Inc. v. Northeast Utilities ("Con Ed") ruled that electric utility company Northeast Utilities ("NU") and its shareholders were not entitled to recover the $1.2 billion merger premium as damages after NU's suitor, Consolidated Edison, refused to complete an acquisition of NU. This case surprised many M&A practitioners who believed that the shareholder premium (or at least some measure of shareholder damages) would be recoverable in a suit against a buyer that wrongfully terminated or breached a merger agreement. If Con Ed proves to have established a general rule precluding the recovery of shareholder damages for a buyer's breach of a merger agreement, the potential consequences to targets in merger transactions would be substantial—shifting the balance of leverage in any MAC, renegotiation, or settlement discussions decidedly to the buyer and effectively making every deal an "option" deal. This ruling, therefore, has left some target counsel struggling to find a way to ensure that the merger agreement allows for the possibility of shareholder damages while also avoiding the adverse consequences of giving shareholders individual enforcement rights as express third-party beneficiaries of the agreement.
The Con Ed case, however, merits a second look. This Article revisits the Con Ed decision and challenges the conclusion of some observers that the court in Con Ed established a general precedent denying the availability of shareholder damages. This Article also discusses how the holding of Con Ed may very well be confined to the facts and the specific language of the merger agreement at issue in the case. Notwithstanding, the uncertainty surrounding how any particular court may approach the issues raised in Con Ed, this Article proposes model contract language that a target might employ to avoid creating a " Con Ed issue" and to minimize the risk of a result that was not intended by the parties.
Is Delaware's Antitakeover Statute Unconstitutional? Evidence from 1988–2008
Guhan Subramanian, Steven Herscovici, and Brian Barbetta, 65(3): 685–752 (May 2010)
Delaware's antitakeover statute, codified in Section 203 of the Delaware corporate code, is by far the most important antitakeover statute in the United States. When it was enacted in 1988, three bidders challenged its constitutionality under the Commerce Clause and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. All three federal district court decisions upheld the constitutionality of Section 203 at the time, relying on evidence indicating that Section 203 gave bidders a "meaningful opportunity for success," but leaving open the possibility that future evidence might change this constitutional conclusion. This Article presents the first systematic empirical evidence since 1988 on whether Section 203 gives bidders a meaningful opportunity for success. The question has become more important in recent years because Section 203's substantive bite has increased, as Exelon's recent hostile bid for NRG illustrates. Using a new sample of all hostile takeover bids against Delaware targets that were announced between 1988 and 2008 and were subject to Section 203 (n=60), we find that no hostile bidder in the past nineteen years has been able to avoid the restrictions imposed by Section 203 by going from less than 15% to more than 85% in its tender offer. At the very least, this finding indicates that the empirical proposition that the federal courts relied upon to uphold Section 203's constitutionality is no longer valid. While it remains possible that courts would nevertheless uphold Section 203's constitutionality on different grounds, the evidence would seem to suggest that the constitutionality of Section 203 is up for grabs. This Article offers specific changes to the Delaware statute that would preempt the constitutional challenge. If instead Section 203 were to fall on constitutional grounds, as Delaware's prior antitakeover statute did in 1987, it would also have implications for similar antitakeover statutes in thirty-two other U.S. states, which along with Delaware collectively cover 92% of all U.S. corporations
A Timely Look at DGCL Section 203
Eileen T. Nugent, 65(3): 753–760 (May 2010)
After Twenty–Two Years, Section 203 of the Delaware General Corporation Law Continues to Give Hostile Bidders a Meaningful Opportunity for Success
A. Gilchrist Sparks, III and Helen Bowers, 65(3): 761–770 (May 2010)
A Practical Response to a Hypothetical Analysis of Section 203's Constitutionality
Stephen P. Lamb and Jeffrey M. Gorris , 65(3): 771–778 (May 2010)
A Trip Down Memory Lane: Reflections on Section 203 and Subramanian, Herscovici, and Barbetta
Gregg A. Jarrell, 65(3): 779–788 (May 2010)
Preemption as Micromanagement
Larry Ribstein, 65(3): 789–798 (May 2010)
Is Delaware's Antitakeover Statute Unconstitutional? Further Analysis and a Reply to Symposium Participants
Guhan Subramanian, Steven Herscovici, and Brian Barbetta, 65(3): 799–808 (May 2010)
The Enforceability and Effectiveness of Typical Shareholders Agreement Provisions
Corporation Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 65(4): 1153–1204 (August 2010)
Law of Private Placements (Non–Public Offerings) Not Entitled to Benefits of Safe Harbors—A Report
Committee on Federal Regulation of Securities, ABA Section of Business Law, 66(1): 85–124 (November 2010)
Putting Stockholders First, Not the First-Filed Complaint
Leo E. Strine, Jr., Lawrence A. Hamermesh, and Matthew C. Jennejohn, 69(1): 1-78 (November 2013)
The prevalence of settlements in class and derivative litigation challenging mergers and acquisitions in which the only payment is to plaintiffs’ attorneys suggests potential systemic dysfunction arising from the increased frequency of parallel litigation in multiple state courts. After examining possible explanations for that dysfunction and the historical development of doctrines limiting parallel state court litigation—the doctrine of forum non conveniens and the “first-filed” doctrine—this article suggests that those doctrines should be revised to better address shareholder class and derivative litigation. Revisions to the doctrine of forum non conveniens should continue the historical trend, deemphasizing fortuitous and increasingly irrelevant geographic considerations, and should place greater emphasis on voluntary choice of law and the development of precedential guidance by the courts of the state responsible for supplying the chosen law. The “first-filed” rule should be replaced in shareholder representative litigation by meaningful consideration of affected parties’ interests and judicial efficiency.
Standing at the Singularity of the Effective Time: Reconfiguring Delaware’s Law of Standing Following Mergers and Acquisitions
S. Michael Sirkin; 69(2): 429-474 (February 2014)
This article examines the doctrine of standing as applied to mergers and acquisitions of Delaware corporations with pending derivative claims. Finding the existing framework of overlapping rules and exceptions both structurally and doctrinally unsound, this article proposes a novel reconfiguration under which Delaware courts would follow three black-letter rules: (1) stockholders of the target should have standing to sue target directors to challenge a merger directly on the basis that the board failed to achieve adequate value for derivative claims; (2) a merger should eliminate target stockholders’ derivative standing; and (3) stockholders xi of the acquiror as of the time a merger is announced should be deemed contemporaneous owners of claims acquired in the merger for purposes of derivative standing. Following these rules would restore order to the Delaware law of standing in the merger context and would advance the important public policies served by stockholder litigation in the Delaware courts.
The Evolving Role of Special Committees in M&A Transactions: Seeking Business Judgment Rule Protection in the Context of Controlling Shareholder Transactions and Other Corporate Transactions Involving Conflicts of Interest
Scott V. Simpson and Katherine Brody, 69(4): 1117-1146 (August 2014)
Special committees of independent, disinterested directors have been widely used by corporate boards to address conflicts of interests and reinforce directors’ satisfaction of their fiduciary duties in corporate transactions since the wave of increased M&A activity in the 1980’s. In 1988, The Business Lawyer published an article titled The Emerging Role of the Special Committee by one of this article’s co-authors, examining the emerging use of special committees of independent directors in transactions involving conflicts of interest. At that time, the Delaware courts had already begun to embrace the emergent and innovative mechanism for addressing corporate conflicts. Now, after over thirty years of scrutiny by the Delaware courts, it is clear that the special committee is a judicially recognized (and encouraged) way to address director conflicts of interest and mitigate litigation risk. This article will examine the role of the special committee in the context of conflict of interest transactions, with a particular focus on transactions involving a change of control or a controlling stockholder, from a U.S. perspective (in particular, under the laws of the State of Delaware), and will briefly consider international applications of the concepts discussed. To this end, this article will examine recent case law developments and compare the special committee processes at the heart of two high-profile Delaware decisions, and, finally, provide guidance to corporate practitioners on the successful implementation of a special committee process.
Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency
Henry T. C. Hu; 70(2): 347-406 (Spring 2015)
Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. “Decoupling” undermines classic understandings of the allocation of voting rights among shareholders (via, e.g., “empty voting”), the control rights of debtholders (via, e.g., “empty crediting” and “hidden interests”/ “hidden non-interests”), and of takeover practices (via, e.g., “morphable ownership” to avoid section 13(d) disclosure and to avoid triggering certain poison pills). Stock-based compensation, the monitoring of managerial performance, the market for corporate control, and other governance mechanisms dependent on a robust informational predicate and market efficiency are undermined by the transparency challenges posed by financial innovation. The basic approach to information that the SEC has always used—the “descriptive mode,” which relies on “intermediary depictions” of objective reality—is manifestly insufficient to capture highly complex objective realities, such as the realities of major banks heavily involved with derivatives. Ironically, the primary governmental response to such transparency challenges—a new system for public disclosure that became effective in 2013, the first since the establishment of the SEC—also creates difficulties. This new parallel public disclosure system, developed by bank regulators and applicable to major financial institutions, is not directed primarily at the familiar transparency ends of investor protection and market efficiency.
As starting points, this Article offers brief overviews of: (1) the analytical framework developed in 2006−2008 for “decoupling” and its calls for reform; and (2) the analytical framework developed in 2012−2014 reconceptualizing “information” in terms of three “modes” and addressing the two parallel disclosure universes.
As to decoupling, the Article proceeds to analyze some key post- 2008 developments (including the status of efforts at reform) and the road ahead. A detailed analysis is offered as to the landmark December 2012 TELUS opinion in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, involving perhaps the most complicated public example of decoupling to date. The Article discusses recent actions on the part of the Delaware judiciary and legislature, the European Union, and bankruptcy courts—and the pressing need for more action by the SEC. At the time the debt decoupling research was introduced, available evidence as to the phenomenon’s significance was limited. This Article helps address that gap.
As to information, the Article begins by outlining the calls for reform associated with the 2012−2014 analytical framework. With revolutionary advances in computer- and web-related technologies, regulators need no longer rely almost exclusively on the descriptive mode rooted in intermediary depictions. Regulators must also begin to systematically deploy the “transfer mode” rooted in “pure information” and the “hybrid mode” rooted in “moderately pure information.” The Article then shows some of the key ways that the new analytical framework can contribute to the SEC’s comprehensive and long-needed new initiative to address “disclosure effectiveness,” including in “depiction-difficult” contexts completely unrelated to financial innovation (e.g., pension disclosures and high technology companies). The Article concludes with a concise version of the analytical framework’s thesis that the new morphology of public information—consisting of two parallel regulatory universes with divergent ends and means—is unsustainable in the long run and involve certain matters that need statutory resolution. However, certain steps involving coordination among the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and others can be taken in the interim.
An Overview of the General Counsel’s Decision Making on Dispute-Resolution Strategies in Complex Business Transactions
E. Norman Veasey and Grover C. Brown; 70(2): 407-436 (Spring 2015)
This Article is an overview of the hard choices that face a general counsel (GC) when weighing the pros and cons of whether and when a particular complex business dispute is better suited for litigation in the public courtroom or through a carefully constructed alternate dispute-resolution (ADR) process, including mediation and/or arbitration. Is either choice inherently more expensive, time consuming, or problematic than the other? The obvious answer is that each of these decisions is fact-intensive, dependent on myriad factors, and neither choice is “inherently” better or worse than the other.
We have focused exclusively on complex commercial disputes between businesses and we analyze the issues that would likely be considered by the GC and other corporate decision makers in choosing and navigating the route that provides the best opportunity for optimal results in resolving a domestic or international business dispute. These dispute resolution choices often must be faced in the negotiation of the terms of a business transaction, and thus before there is a dispute.
We explore the pros and cons of how the panoply of dispute-resolution mechanisms may play out down the road. In doing so, we are mindful of the complicated job of the GC in foreseeing at the negotiation stage how the optimal dispute-resolution process should be analyzed and drafted.
We have learned through our experience, current discussions with GCs, and the abundant literature on the subject that there are divergent views about the efficacy of domestic arbitration, in particular. We believe that the bad anecdotal experiences of some general counsel with arbitration should not pre-ordain a generally negative bias. Nor should good experiences dictate a generally positive bias. Like many questions, the common-sense answer is that “it depends.”
Appraisal Arbitrage—Is There a Delaware Advantage?
Gaurav Jetley and Xinyu Ji; 71(2): 427-458 (Spring 2016)
The article examines the extent to which economic incentives may have improved for appraisal arbitrageurs in recent years, which could help explain the observed increase in appraisal activity. We investigate three specific issues. First, we review the economic implications of allowing petitioners to seek appraisal on shares acquired after the record date. We conclude that appraisal arbitrageurs realize an economic benefit from their ability to delay investment for two reasons: (1) it enables arbitrageurs to use better information about the value of the target that may emerge after the record date to assess the potential payoff of bringing an appraisal claim and (2) it helps minimize arbitrageurs’ exposure to the risk of deal failure. Second, based on a review of the recent Delaware opinions in appraisal matters, as well as fairness opinions issued by targets’ financial advisors, we document that the Delaware Chancery Court seems to prefer a lower equity risk premium than bankers. Such a systematic difference in valuation input choices also works in favor of appraisal arbitrageurs. Finally, we benchmark the Delaware statutory interest rate and find that the statutory rate more than compensates appraisal petitioners for the time value of money or for any bond-like claim that they may have on either the target or the surviving entity.
Our findings suggest that, from a policy perspective, it may be useful to limit petitioners’ ability to seek appraisal to shares acquired before the record date. We also posit that, absent any finding of a flawed sales process, the actual transaction price may serve as a useful benchmark for fair value. We conjecture that, while the statutory interest rate may not be the main factor driving appraisal arbitrage, it does help improve the economics for arbitrageurs. Thus, the proposal by the Council of the Delaware Bar Association’s Corporation Law Section to limit the amount of interest paid by appraisal respondents—by allowing them to pay appraisal claimants a sum of money at the beginning of the appraisal action—seems like a practical way to address concerns regarding the statutory rate. However, paying appraisal claimants a portion of the target’s fair value up front is akin to funding claimants’ appraisal actions, which may end up encouraging appraisal arbitrage.
Cross-border Tender Offers and Other Business Combination Transactions and the U.S. Federal Securities Laws: An Overview
John M. Basnage and William J. Curtin III; 71(2): 459-538 (Spring 2016)
In structuring cross-border tender offers and other business combination transactions, parties must consider carefully the potential application of U.S. federal securities laws and regulations to their transaction. By understanding the extent to which a proposed transaction will be subject to the provisions of U.S. federal securities laws and regulations, parties may be able to structure their transaction in a manner that avoids the imposition of unanticipated or burdensome disclosure and procedural requirements and also may be able to minimize potential conflicts between U.S. laws and regulations and foreign legal or market requirements. This article provides a broad overview of U.S. federal securities laws and regulations applicable to cross-border tender offers and other business combination transactions, including a detailed discussion of Regulations 14D and 14E under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the principal accommodations afforded to foreign private issuers in these regulations.
Finding the Right Balance in Appraisal Litigation: Deal Price, Deal Process, and Synergies
Lawrence A. Hamermesh and Michael L. Wachter, 73(4) 961-1010 (Fall 2018)
This article examines the evolution of Delaware appraisal litigation and concludes that recent precedents have created a satisfactory framework in which the remedy is most effective in the case of transactions where there is the greatest reason to question the efficacy of the market for corporate control, and vice versa. We suggest that, in effect, the developing framework invites the courts to accept the deal price as the proper measure of fair value, not because of any presumption that would operate in the absence of proof, but where the proponent of the transaction affirmatively demonstrates that the transaction would survive judicial review under the enhanced scrutiny standard applicable to fiduciary duty-based challenges to sales of corporate control. We also suggest, however, that the courts and expert witnesses should and are likely to refine the manner in which elements of value (synergies) should, as a matter of well-established law, be deducted from the deal price to arrive at an appropriate estimate of fair value.
Asking the Right Question: The Statutory Right of Appraisal and Efficient Markets
Jonathan Macey and Joshua Mitts, 74(4): 1015-1064
In this article, we make several contributions to the literature on appraisal rights and similar cases in which courts assign values to a company’s shares in the litigation context. First, we applaud the recent trend in Delaware cases to consider the market prices of the stock of the company being valued if that stock trades in an efficient market, and we defend this market-oriented methodology against claims that recent discoveries in behavioral finance indicate that share prices are unreliable due to various cognitive biases. Next, we propose that the framework and methodology for utilizing market prices be clarified. We maintain that courts should look at the market price of the securities of a target company whose shares are being valued, unadjusted for the news of the merger, rather than at the deal price that was reached by the parties in the transaction.