Acquisition agreements in M&A transactions frequently include provision for payment to be made at closing based on estimates of certain financial metrics that are later subject to a purchase price adjustment based on a final determination (referred to as a “true-up”) within a few months following closing. These metrics may include a target’s cash, debt, unpaid transaction expenses and working capital (excluding cash), and sometimes others. The definitions that correspond to these items, and what particular items are included or excluded from each, are often the product of significant negotiation, as the final purchase price can move materially up or down based on their final determination. The process of finally determining the adjustment amount following the closing can also reveal differences in the buyer’s and seller’s interpretation of accounting principles applicable to the purchase price adjustment calculation, or how those principles apply to the target’s financial statements. These differences can become a source of post-closing conflict between buyer and seller, at a time when the parties are working through transitional issues, and when the sellers may have ongoing involvement in the business. Parties will want to resolve these disputes quickly and in a cost-effective manner. To accomplish these objectives, often the purchase agreement will require that the parties submit unresolved issues to an independent accountant for final resolution. A key consideration in such referral will be the role that the accountant will play in resolving the dispute. Will the accountant act as an arbitrator or as an expert? This is an important distinction that deserves careful consideration by both sides. By engaging an accountant to act as an expert and not an arbitrator, the parties limit the scope of the accountant’s review and avoid the formalities of an arbitration.
On May 25, 2023, the Texas Legislature enacted the biggest structural change to the Texas court system in recent memory. House Bill 19 (“HB 19”)—signed by Governor Greg Abbott in June—creates a new “Business Court” system for the Lone Star State. HB 19’s passage comes after four previous legislative efforts to enact a business court system in Texas failed. Texas’s Business Courts will activate on September 1, 2024, and will handle complex commercial disputes with significant amounts in controversy. The purpose is to create an efficient, specialized court for complex, high-value commercial disputes needing timely resolutions—matters that could otherwise languish in overworked district courts with broad dockets that include, among other things, criminal, personal injury, and family law cases. Ideally, specialized business courts also promote consistent interpretations of commercial laws and contracts, thereby leading to more predictable outcomes. Texas is now the 31st state to adopt a business court system of this kind.…
Inside and outside counsel should know that the way they guide clients through legal and business issues may need to change based on a recent Ninth Circuit case governing the protections afforded to those communications. The following update and insights will help you mitigate against the risk of attorney-client emails being produced in litigation: …
In In re McDonald’s Corp. Stockholder Derivative Litigation, No. 2021-0324 (Del. Ch. Jan. 26, 2023), the Delaware Court of Chancery (Laster, V.C.) held that officers of a Delaware corporation are subject to a fiduciary duty of oversight as articulated in In re Caremark International Inc. Derivative Litigation, 698 A.2d 959 (Del. Ch. 1996). In doing so, the Court allowed stockholder derivative plaintiffs to proceed with oversight claims against the company’s former Global Chief People Officer, who allegedly presided over a corporate culture that condoned sexual harassment. The decision builds on Delaware jurisprudence to extend the duty of oversight to officers, not just directors, who will in most instances form part of the vanguard with respect to company efforts to implement effective reporting systems and/or to report on and respond to red flags regarding potential misfeasance at the company.…
In Securities & Exchange Comm’n v. Fowler, No. 20-1081, 2021 WL 3083655 (2d Cir. July 22, 2021), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court judgment awarding the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil penalties, disgorgement, and injunctive relief in a securities fraud action against a broker engaged in unsuitable and unauthorized high-frequency trading. The district court entered its judgment following a jury trial finding the defendant guilty of violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder, and Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2), and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933. On appeal, defendant asserted that the action was subject to a five-year statute of limitations imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2462 despite the parties having entered into tolling agreements. Defendant also argued that the civil penalties assessed against him were excessive, and the disgorgement award failed to properly account for legitimate business expenses as required by Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020). After reviewing its text and legislative history, the Second Circuit concluded in this matter of first impression that § 2462 is non-jurisdictional and, therefore, the district court had the power to hear the case in light of the parties’ tolling agreements. The decision is important because it reaffirms the enforceability of tolling agreements between the SEC and its investigative quarries. The court also rejected defendant’s arguments alleging improper civil penalty and disgorgement calculations.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Enforceability of SEC Tolling Agreements
In Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc., No. 49-2020, 2021 WL 2644094 (Del. June 28, 2021), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a Court of Chancery ruling, No. 2018-0440-KSJM, 2020 WL 429906 (Del. Ch. Jan. 28, 2020) (McCormick, V.C.), that members of a board of directors did not breach their fiduciary duties when they approved a transaction with an “inequitable purpose” because the process and substance of the transaction were “entirely fair” to the aggrieved stockholder. The Court held that even though the board’s action passed Delaware’s rigorous “entire fairness” review, the Court of Chancery should have further considered whether the board acted for inequitable reasons or for the primary purpose of interfering with the stockholder’s statutory or voting rights. As the Supreme Court explained, “inequitable action does not become permissible simply because it is legally possible.” Coster provides an important reminder to board members that ensuring a transaction is “entirely fair” does not necessarily shield directors from liability if the directors acted in bad faith or for the “primary purpose of thwarting” a stockholder’s franchise rights.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Holds That Surviving “Entire Fairness” Review is Not Conclusive of a Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Where Directors Acted Inequitably
In Swipe Acquisition Corp. v. Krauss, CA No. 2019-0509-PAF, 2021 WL 282642 (Del. Ch. Jan. 28, 2021), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that California public policy prohibited a purported waiver of a contractual party’s right to assert a claim under the California Securities Act by reason of a Delaware choice of law provision in the parties’ stock purchase agreement. Delaware courts will not enforce a choice of law provision if it would be contrary to a fundamental policy of the state whose law would apply but for the choice of law provision (here, California). California law prohibits contractual waivers of the California Securities Act unless the party seeking to enforce the waiver can show that it will not diminish the plaintiff’s statutory rights under California law. The Court held that because the plaintiff could not assert a claim under the Delaware Securities Act (due to a lack of nexus with Delaware), and none of the plaintiff’s other claims would provide the same as or greater rights than its California Securities Act claim, enforcing the choice of law provision would be contrary to California’s public policy. Swipe Acquisition thus further defines the contours of a party’s ability to waive its rights under the California Securities Act by way of a choice of law provision.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Holds that a Contractual Delaware Choice of Law Provision Did Not Waive Plaintiff’s Claim Under the California Securities Act
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
In In re WeWork Litigation, 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 270 (Del. Ch. Aug. 21, 2020) (Bouchard, C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery considered an issue of first impression: Does the management of a Delaware corporation have the unilateral authority to preclude a director from obtaining the corporation’s privileged information? The Court held it cannot. The directors of Delaware corporations are entitled to share in legal advice the corporation receives and, subject to limited exceptions not at issue in WeWork, cannot be prevented from accessing the corporation’s privileged information.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Clarifies that Management Cannot Unilaterally Curtail a Director’s Access to Corporation’s Privileged Information
In Juul Labs, Inc. v. Grove, 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 264 (Del. Ch. Aug. 13, 2020) (Laster, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the “internal affairs doctrine” bars a stockholder of a Delaware corporation headquartered in a foreign jurisdiction from seeking to inspect corporate books and records pursuant to the statutory law of that foreign jurisdiction. The stockholder is limited instead to the inspection rights and remedies under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 220. This decision has the potential to provide greater certainty to Delaware corporations headquartered in other states that Delaware law will govern all aspects of stockholders’ rights, although it remains to be seen whether the courts of those other states will enforce Delaware law in a similarly limiting fashion.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Applies the Internal Affairs Doctrine to Deny Stockholder Inspection Rights Under a Foreign State’s Law
Rule 23.1 of the Delaware Court of Chancery Rules requires a plaintiff asserting a shareholder derivative action to plead “with particularity the efforts, if any, made by the plaintiff to obtain the action the plaintiff desires from the directors or comparable authority and the reasons for the plaintiff’s failure to obtain the action or for not making the effort” (emphasis added). In Elburn v. Albanese, 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 156 (Del. Ch. Apr. 21, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (Slights, V.C.), addressed the “fundamental,” but rarely asked, “question of what is required to plead a fact ‘with particularity’ under Rule 23.1.” In addressing this question, the Court applied authority interpreting the particularity requirement set forth in Rule 9(b) of the Court of Chancery Rules holding that the standard is met so long as the plaintiff pleads particularized facts sufficient to apprise the defendants of the basis for the claim. The Court declined to require the pleading of “so-called ‘newspaper facts’—who, what, when, where and how” —in all cases under Rule 23.1, holding that even under Rule 9(b) such details are not required in all cases. The Court’s analysis in Elburn recognizes that a shareholder plaintiff’s burden to plead specific facts varies depending on the plaintiff’s reasonable access to the facts underlying his or her theory of demand futility. …
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Addresses Pleading ‘With Particularity’ Under Rule 23.1