On March 1, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced the adoption of amendments that will require registrants that file certain registration statements and reports subject to the exhibit requirements of Item 601 of Regulation S-K (i) to include within each filing a hyperlink to each exhibit referenced therein and (ii) to submit all such filings to EDGAR in HTML format. The new requirements are set to go into effect on September 1, 2017 for most registrants.
In Weingarten v. Monster Worldwide, Inc., C.A. No. 12931-VCG, 2017 WL 752179 (Del. Ch. Feb. 27, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery (Glasscock, V.C.) clarified when a plaintiff has standing to vitiate inspection rights under Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220, 8 Del. C. § 220. In a case of first impression, the Court decided that the language of Section 220(c) does not confer standing to a former stockholder bringing an action to exercise his or her inspection rights after the former stockholder’s shares were canceled in a merger. To reach this conclusion, the Court relied upon the plain meaning of the statute, eschewing policy arguments from both parties.
SNAP Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, went public yesterday with a valuation of approximately $33.4 billion. The Company raised $3.4 billion at $17 per share, and is now trading well above the IPO price. While SNAP has reported growing revenues ($404.5 million in 2016, up from $58.7 million in 2015), it has also reported growing net losses ($514.6 million in 2016, up from $372.9 million in 2015).
In Gordon v. Verizon Communications, Inc., No. 653084/13, 2017 WL 442871 (N.Y. App. Div. Feb. 2, 2017), the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, First Judicial Department (the “First Department”), reversed an order denying plaintiffs’ motion for final approval of a proposed non-monetary settlement in a shareholder class action litigation related to Verizon Communication Inc.’s (“Verizon”) acquisition of Vodafone Group PLC’s (“Vodafone”) stake in Verizon Wireless (“VZW”). With its decision, the New York Appellate Division breathed new life into beleaguered disclosure-only class action settlements, and modernized what it believed had become an outdated analytical framework for approving class action settlement agreements. It also appeared to accord special weight to provisions in such agreements whereby corporations promise to obtain fairness opinions in connection with future transactions in determining the overall fairness of the agreements. Thus, while non-monetary class action settlements are increasingly disfavored in other courts — most notably, in the Delaware Court of Chancery — New York courts remain receptive to their utility.
In IAC Search, LLC v. Conversant LLC (f/k/a ValueClick, Inc.), 2016 WL 6995363 (Del. Ch. Nov. 30, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery provided a reminder on how potentially-overlooked contractual provisions could have a significant bearing on the types of claims an aggrieved party may bring.
IAC v. Conversant is the progeny of cases decided by the Delaware Court of Chancery examining fraud claims in the mergers and acquisition context. Previously, the court had established in Abry Partners V, L.P. v. F & W Acquisition LLC, 891 A.2d 1032 (Del. Ch. 2006), that “murky integration clauses, or standard integration clauses without explicit anti-reliance representations, will not relieve a party of its oral and extra-contractual fraudulent representations.”
In Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union Local 338 Retirement Fund v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 955 (9th Cir. Jan. 19, 2017), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit addressed for the first time whether an undisclosed violation of a company’s code of ethics can support a claim of securities fraud. The Ninth Circuit held that general pronouncements that a company seeks to adhere to high ethical standards, despite the later revelation that the company’s chief executive officer failed to meet those standards, cannot support a claim. The Court observed that in order to support a claim for securities fraud, a statement must be capable of being shown to be “objectively false,” and noted that general, aspirational statements about adhering to corporate ethical standards are akin to immaterial puffery. A contrary result, the Court explained, would turn every instance of wrongdoing by corporate employees into a securities case. This decision reconfirms the Ninth Circuit’s strict application of the heightened pleading standards applicable in securities cases.
In Frechter v. Zier, C.A. No. 12038-VCG, 2017 WL 345142 (Del. Ch. Jan. 24, 2017) (Glasscock, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on a declaratory relief claim and held that 8 Del. C. § 141(k) prohibits company bylaws from requiring more than a majority vote to remove directors from a company’s board. The Frechter decision confirms that company bylaws may not impose requirements or implement procedures that conflict with 8 Del. C. § 141(k). Continue Reading
1. Higher Thresholds For HSR Filings
On January 19, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission announced revised, higher thresholds for premerger filings under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976. The filing thresholds are revised annually, based on the change in gross national product and will be effective thirty days after publication in the Federal Register. Publication is expected within one week, so the new thresholds will likely become effective in late February 2017. Acquisitions that have not closed by the effective date will be subject to the new thresholds.
Stockholder claims alleging wrongful dilution are typically considered to be derivative in nature. Several decisions out of Delaware, however, have created exceptions to this general rule allowing stockholders to sue directly (rather than derivatively on behalf of the corporation) where, for example, a controlling stockholder authorizes a “disloyal expropriation” which reduces the economic value and voting power of the non-conflicted stockholders. See, e.g., Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91, 100 (Del. 2006); Gatz v. Ponsoldt, 925 A.2d 1265 (Del. 2007); Feldman v. Cutaia, 951 A.2d. 727 (Del. 2008). In El Paso Pipeline GP Company, L.L.C. v. Brinckerhoff, No. 103, 2016, 2016 Del. LEXIS 653 (Del. Dec. 20, 2016), the Delaware Supreme Court declined to add to these exceptions and reaffirmed the general rule that dilution claims must be brought derivatively. As a result, a derivative plaintiff losses his or her standing to pursue a dilution claim if the entity is acquired through a merger.
Sheppard Mullin’s Corporate and Securities Group Wishes You and Yours the Happiest of Holidays in 2016 and Continued Happiness and Success In 2017.