In In re GGP Stockholder Litigation, 2022 WL 2815820 (Del. July 19, 2022), an M&A transaction split the merger consideration into two parts: an oversized pre-closing dividend totaling over $9 billion, followed by a nominal post-closing payment of about 31 cents a share. In this case, a majority of the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that divvying up merger consideration in this manner does not defeat a dissenting stockholder’s appraisal rights. The majority held that a pre-closing dividend (at least one dependent upon the consummation of the transaction) is part and parcel of the total “merger consideration,” and therefore will be taken into account when determining the fair value of a stockholder’s shares prior to the transaction. However, the Court added, the proxy materials must be clear that the merger consideration subject to an appraisal action includes not only the post-closing per share payment, but also any pre-closing dividend—no matter how large it might be. Otherwise, a stockholder could (incorrectly) believe that the fair value of her shares will be appraised only after deducting the padded dividend from the value of the company, thus depleting the fair value of her shares and making the pursuit of an appraisal action highly unsavory. Here, the Court held that the proxy statement was less than clear in this regard, and upheld plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claims on a motion to dismiss. In reaching its decision, the Delaware Supreme Court provides important guidance to practitioners structuring deals with an eye towards diminishing the usual deluge of appraisal actions—shoehorning the lion’s share of merger compensation into a pre-closing dividend will not do the trick, nor can the accompanying proxy materials make that suggestion (no matter how subtly or perhaps unintentionally).
Kristin Housh is an associate in the Business Trial Practice Group in the firm's San Diego (Del Mar) office.
Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 220 (“Section 220”), permits a stockholder of a Delaware corporation to inspect corporate books and records upon a showing of a proper purpose. The Delaware courts have long urged stockholders to avail themselves of Section 220 — the “tools at hand” — to inspect relevant corporate documents before commencing plenary derivative litigation. See, e.g., Grimes v. Donald, 673 A.2d 1207, 1216 & n.11 (Del. 1996). Perhaps as a result of stockholders heeding this advice, recent years have seen an increase in litigation arising out of Section 220 demands, with corporations pursuing various objections and defenses to resist inspection. In AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Lebanon County Employees’ Retirement Fund, 2020 WL 7266362 (Del. Dec. 10, 2020), the Delaware Supreme Court (Traynor, J.) weighed in on and ultimately rejected two objections commonly proffered by corporations who seek to limit or resist Section 220 stockholder inspection demands. The Court held that (i) it is not necessary for a stockholder to specify the “ultimate objectives” of the investigation in the stockholder’s Section 220 demand; and (ii) a stockholder is not required to establish that the alleged corporate wrongdoing would be judicially “actionable” in order to obtain corporate records under Section 220. This decision of the Delaware Supreme Court provides essential guidance to Delaware corporations and practitioners on the full panoply of issues related to Section 220 demands.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Provides Important Guidance Regarding Section 220 Demands, Rejecting Several Limiting Principles Frequently Offered By Corporations Resisting Stockholder Inspection Demands