Cooley M&A Team News - March 2014

 Cooley LLP
Cooley M&A Team News
IN THIS ISSUE MARCH 2014

JUDICIAL DEVELOPMENTS
Kahn v. M&F Worldwide (Del. Mar 14, 2014)
Affirmed In Re MFW's finding that if dual stockholder protective procedural conditions are properly employed, a controlling stockholder acquisition could be subject to the business judgment standard of review rather than the entire fairness standard.

In re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation (Del. Ch. March 7, 2014)
Sell-side financial advisor found to have aided and abetted directors in breach of their fiduciary duties. This is the latest in a string of cases in recent years taking financial advisors to task for undisclosed conflicts of interest and taking boards to task for not identifying or managing those conflicts.

MARKET DEVELOPMENTS
Recent Trends in Antitrust and Regulatory Risk-Shifting in M&A Agreements
The recent drumbeat of aggressive antitrust and regulatory merger enforcement has put a spotlight on the importance of understanding the antitrust and regulatory risks raised by a potential deal, and efficiently allocating that risk in the transaction agreement.

Appraisal Arbitrage—A Rising Star in the Activist Playbook
Shareholder activism gains momentum and publicity with each passing proxy season. Increasingly, activist funds are exercising statutory appraisal rights in public company transactions, using them as a form of arbitrage in order to maximize return.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS
 Azuki acquired by Ericsson  BoxTone acquired by Good Technology Coverity acquired by Synopsys  Crescendo Bioscience acquired by Myriad Genetics

JUDICIAL DEVELOPMENTS
Kahn v. M&F Worldwide
(Del. Mar 14, 2014) (affirming In Re MFW's finding that if dual stockholder protective procedural conditions are properly employed, a controlling stockholder acquisition would be subject to the business judgment standard of review rather than entire fairness)

In a much anticipated judicial development, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the holding of In re MFW Shareholders Litigation (Del. Ch. 2013) that if certain procedural protections are in place from the outset of a transaction, a controlling stockholder buyout otherwise subject to the entire fairness standard could be subject to the business judgment standard of review.

As the Court explains in its opinion, the entire fairness standard asks whether a transaction is "entirely fair," requiring both "fair dealing" and a "fair price." By marked contrast, the business judgment standard requires that the breach of fiduciary duty claim be dismissed unless "no rational person could have believed that the merger was favorable to [the] minority stockholders." Prior cases had held that in controlling stockholder buyouts, if there is either a properly functioning Special Committee or the transaction is subject to a non-waivable condition that the approval of a majority of the minority stockholders is obtained, then the burden of proof as to entire fairness shifts to the plaintiffs. But the Court had not previously determined what standard applies if both protections are put in place from the outset of the transaction. Because the determination of the applicable standard of review can be determinative of the outcome of the case, this decision represents an important new step in the evolution of Delaware fiduciary law.

Summarizing the "new standard," the court held that "in controller buyouts, the business judgment standard of review will be applied if and only if: (i) the controller conditions the procession of the transaction on the approval of both a Special Committee and a majority of the minority stockholders; (ii) the Special Committee is independent; (iii) the Special Committee is empowered to freely select its own advisors and to say no definitively; (iv) the Special Committee meets its duty of care in negotiating a fair price; (v) the vote of the minority is informed; and (vi) there is no coercion of the minority." It is important to note that in this case, the buyer conditioned its initial offer on the MFW board agreeing to approval by a Special Committee and by a vote of a majority of the minority stockholders.

Tempering the practical utility of the new standard, the Court goes on to state that if a plaintiff "can plead a reasonably conceivable set of facts showing that any or all of those enumerated conditions did not exist," then the claim would survive a motion to dismiss and, if discovery yields triable issues of fact as to these conditions, then "the case will proceed to a trial in which the court will conduct an entire fairness review." The Court notes that in the particular case at hand, even under the new standard, the plaintiff's claim in this case would have survived a motion to dismiss. However, in this case, the lower court's decision followed review of what the Court describes as a "highly extensive record" in which both procedural protections had been "undisputedly established prior to trial" (emphasis in original). The Court concludes that the new standard warrants the application of the business judgment standard of review to this case and that the business judgment standard was, in fact, met.

Given the potential ease with which a plaintiff may plead facts to survive a motion to dismiss and the need to be able to demonstrate the independence and effectiveness of the special committee prior to trial, controlling stockholder buyers will need to consider whether the risks associated with meeting the new standard (such as not obtaining approval by a majority of the minority stockholders) are worth the potential benefit of possibly being able to achieve application of the business judgment standard and avoid a trial.

 Engrade acquired by McGraw Hill Education  Game Show Network acquisition of BitRhymes  Granite Broadcasting Company sale of 5 TV stations to multiple buyers   HomeFed acquisition of certain assets from Leucadia National   Horizon Pharma acquisition of Vidara Therapeutics  Identified acquired by Workday   LiveTV acquired by Thales Group  Meredith acquisition of KMOV-TV by Gannett Ness acquired by OpenTable   Rovi acquisition of Veveo   Sverica majority interest in Accuvant sold to Blackstone Group

JUDICIAL DEVELOPMENTS
In re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation
(Del. Ch. March 7, 2014) (addressing financial advisors' liability for aiding and abetting directors' breach of fiduciary duties)

In Rural Metro, the Delaware Chancery Court held that RBC Capital Markets, LLC, as financial advisor to the Rural Metro (Target), had aided and abetted Target's directors in breach of their fiduciary duties in connection with its sale to Warburg Pincus (Buyer). This is the latest in a string of cases in recent years taking financial advisors to task for undisclosed conflicts of interest and taking boards to task for not identifying or managing those conflicts.

According to the opinion, RBC had, among other things, (i) recommended that the sale process of Target be commenced and be run in parallel with a sale process of Emergency Medical Services Corporation (EMS), a direct competitor of the Target that had already commenced (when RBC knew or should have known the the EMS process would effectively preclude buyers already participating in the EMS process from bidding on Target due to confidentiality obligations and when Target's process could have been deferred until after the EMS process was completed); (ii) failed to disclose to the Target's board RBC's intention to capture financing work (and fees) from bidders on EMS by leveraging activities it was taking on behalf of Target; (iii) created an "informational vacuum" by not providing the Target board with valuation materials until the final board meeting, only hours before the merger was approved; and (iv) provided a "skewed" valuation analysis of Target that "contained outright falsehoods" all in order to further its own opportunity for fees not only from Target but also for providing financing to potential buyers of Target and EMS. As a result, the Court ruled that RBC had aided and abetted breaches of the Target directors' fiduciary duties. The Court also found that exculpation provisions on directors' liabilities provided under Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law do not extend to financial advisors, and that a generalized conflict acknowledgment in a financial advisor's engagement letter would not operate to preclude such aiding and abetting claims.

This case highlights the importance of sell-side financial advisors disclosing conflicts of interest, providing valuation materials to the board early in the process and otherwise providing relevant information to the board it is supposed to be advising. Boards of directors should not, however, assume that the financial advisors will do so. Rather, the Court makes clear that it is critical that a board must "act reasonably to learn about actual and potential conflicts faced by directors, management, and their advisors" as part of its discharge of its "active and direct duty of oversight" of the entire sales process, and manage any conflicts accordingly.

COOLEY M&A TEAM NEWS

Read prior editions of Cooley M&A Team News:

January 2014

December 2013

MARKET DEVELOPMENTS
Recent Trends in Antitrust and Regulatory Risk-Shifting in M&A Agreements

The recent drumbeat of aggressive antitrust and regulatory merger enforcement has put a spotlight on the importance of understanding the antitrust and regulatory risks raised by a potential deal, and efficiently allocating that risk in the transaction agreement. While transactions in dynamic technology, healthcare/life sciences, new media and telecom industries remain at the very top of the antitrust and regulatory enforcement agenda, the agencies will not hesitate to investigate matters in mature industries—for example, the FTC's recent 9 month investigation of Tesoro Corporation's $1.1 billion acquisition of petroleum assets from BP, which ultimately closed without a challenge in 2013. Several recent transactions also underscore the substantial antitrust risk that parties may face even in smaller, non-reportable matters.

There is no "one size fits all" approach, but there is often a premium on structuring the transaction to achieve the benefits of clear risk allocation and certainty that are commensurate with the amount of risk that the transaction presents, rather than relying on a broadly and generically worded "efforts" provision. In some instances where the target is being sold in a competitive process, a buyer may be compelled to take more antitrust/regulatory risk in order to win the bid, making it critical for the buyer to have confidence in its underlying antitrust/regulatory analysis. Market dynamics and regulatory landscapes also can change from deal-to-deal or even between signing and closing of a pending transaction; raising questions of how the parties should allocate the regulatory risks that are, in a contractual sense, unknowable at the time of signing. Whatever the facts may be, in transactions that present potential antitrust and regulatory risk, it is essential to establish close coordination between transaction counsel and antitrust and regulatory counsel to effectively negotiate the contractual risk shifting provisions.

The recently announced Comcast/Time Warner transaction, which is pending DOJ and FCC review, is illustrative of a trend towards efficient allocation of antitrust/regulatory risk in the negotiated transaction agreement. Industry observers generally expect this transaction will get intense DOJ and FCC review but is likely to be approved with conditions. The parties did not negotiate a reverse break-up fee or even an obligation to litigate with the agencies. Rather, the parties negotiated a customized and limited "divestiture" covenant—a sort of anticipatory "fix-it-first" approach. Specifically, Comcast agreed to (1) divest up to three million of the company's combined subscribers, (2) accept other conditions that are consistent in scope and size to those imposed on other U.S. domestic cable system deals valued at $500 million or more within the past twelve years, and (3) implement undertakings set out on a schedule to the merger agreement (not publicly disclosed). If the DOJ and FCC do not clear the deal by the upset date or impose "burdensome conditions" (defined as divestitures or other undertakings beyond those Comcast has expressly agreed to make or take), Comcast may terminate the merger agreement without liability.

 

Comcast's covenant to divest three million subscribers would hold Comcast's total national market share under 30% of video subscribers (based on an FCC cable ownership cap that applied in previous cable deals but has since been vacated by the courts). The second commitment would encompass conditions imposed in Comcast's acquisitions of AT&T in 2002 and Adelphia in 2006 (the 1st and 5th largest cable operators at the time) (e.g, anti-discrimination protections for rival multi-channel video distributors and independent network owners, especially regional sports networks). Finally, Comcast has already publicly announced its intention to abide by certain behavioral conditions imposed on Comcast when it acquired NBC in 2011 across the Time Warner Cable systems (e.g., this could include net neutrality conditions from the NBC deal even though the FCC needs to rewrite the rules based on a recent court ruling).

What about concerns that these types of provisions may raise, rather than mitigate regulatory risks, because such provisions provide a "roadmap" to the agencies, or even worse, provide the agencies with negotiating leverage to demand overbroad divestitures/remedies? The outcomes in numerous recent merger investigations reveal that these types of provisions do not necessarily create a path to a self-fulfilling prophecy, particularly when the contractual terms are well-crafted and the process is managed effectively. For example, in the Tesoro/BP matter, despite the fact that the acquisition agreement expressly provided for the divestiture of a specific refinery by Tesoro (as well as a reverse break-up fee and a ticking fee), the FTC closed its investigation after nine months without taking action, concluding that the transaction would not "lessen competition substantially" in the relevant market in California.

Of course, antitrust and regulatory risk allocation is not negotiated in isolation—parties bargain over many price and non-price terms. For instance, just as Comcast is not required to pay a reverse break-up fee if the parties are not able to obtain regulatory clearance, Time Warner Cable is not required to pay a break-up fee if its stockholders vote against the deal.

All M&A lawyers involved in industries or transactions with competitive, FCC or other regulatory issues should become familiar with market approaches to contractual risk-shifting and have knowledgeable and experienced antitrust and regulatory counsel on their deal teams.

 

MARKET DEVELOPMENTS
Appraisal Arbitrage—A Rising Star in the Activist Playbook

Shareholder activism gains momentum and publicity with each passing proxy season. Activist-focused funds increase capital and investor expectations, proxy contest tactics become more practiced and skillful, nominees for board positions are industry tailored and more sophisticated and social media increases the reach (and entertainment value) of activist communications. What comes next? Appraisal rights as arbitrage.

Appraisal rights are a state statutory remedy available to dissenting shareholders in extraordinary corporate transactions. The rules vary from state to state, but the most common scenario in which appraisal rights are used is a cash merger where objecting shareholders seek a court's separate assessment of "fair value" for their shares. Under Delaware law, appraisal awards accrue statutory interest at the federal discount rate plus 5%, compounding quarterly from the transaction closing date until the award is paid. And, absent bad faith, the interest rate is paid regardless of the ultimate appraisal decision. In evaluating appraisal claims, Delaware courts also have wide latitude; they may consider "all relevant factors" in determining value, often relying on expert opinions and factoring in complex variables such as future projections, expected tax rates, equity risk premiums, control share premiums, and discount rates.

Historically, appraisal actions in connection with M&A transactions were uncommon, typically only filed by disgruntled shareholders. But, increasingly, activist funds are exercising statutory appraisal rights in public company transactions in order to maximize return—either by obtaining a court ruling that dissenting shareholders are entitled to additional consideration in excess of the deal price, by settling the claim, or by collecting the simple return generated by the statutory interest rate applicable to these claims.

Here is how the "arbitrage" works. Beginning in 2007, the Delaware Chancery Court's Transkaryotic decision made it clear that any beneficial holder with shares held through Cede & Co. (also known as DTC, the clearing house for US stock) could seek appraisal rights regardless of when the shares were acquired, provided that the total number of dissenting shares was less than the total "street name" shares not voted or voted against the deal. Accordingly, investors can now determine, based on market reaction to a deal and applicable disclosure in proxy or similar materials, whether or not to "buy into" appraisal claims. In addition, the interest rate applicable to such claims, particularly in our current low interest rate environment, is a reliable offset to the risk and cost of an appraisal action. Notably, it also serves as an additional point of leverage in settlement discussions with target companies.

 

Going forward, appraisal rights will be a considerable factor in deal risk and related litigation. Data from Delaware's Chancery Court reveals a clear trend—i.e. a significant increase in the number of appraisal actions filed. From 2009 to 2012, the number of filed claims was 16, 18, 20, and 21, respectively. That number jumped up to 35 in 2013. And so far in 2014, 20 appraisal claims have already been filed. Not only is the rate of claims on the rise, but so too is the use of their strategic force. For those who followed the recent Dell or Dole Foods management buyouts, the use of appraisal litigation (or at least its threat) was a major force in public resistance to the transactions and, potentially, a major windfall to the investors who exercised their right to have a court independently determine the value of their shares.

Appraisal rights are not an easy, quick or affordable remedy for all shareholders. Claims often take years to resolve and dissenting shareholders must pay their own fees while taking the risk of a court determined value (note that in some states, a court may actually determine fair value to be less than the deal price). Appraisal rights also ensure a level playing field for minority shareholders that may be harmed in an "insider" deal negotiated at a lower than "market" price. The market must now consider, however, if the advantage afforded to large (and possibly opportunistic) activist funds is fair or appropriate as compared to smaller holders with fewer resources.

All M&A practitioners are well advised to consider the impact of appraisal claims on public company transactions, particularly those, like management buyouts, that may be subject to heightened scrutiny regarding valuation. Both buyers and sellers are likely to focus on closing conditions tied to the number of shares subject to appraisal, a feature not common in today's public deal agreements, as weighed against the potential hold-up value provided to activist funds looking to capitalize on arbitrage opportunities. It is also worth noting that many practitioners view this appraisal arbitrage as pure rent-seeking and, therefore, have initiated a call for legislation to limit the available statutory interest (particularly in cases where the appraisal value is set at or lower than the deal price) and/or to eliminate the ability to "buy into" an appraisal claim following announcement of the transaction.

 
Related Contacts
Kenneth Guernsey Partner, San Francisco
James Linfield Partner, Colorado
Sam Livermore Partner, San Francisco
Barbara Borden Partner, San Diego
Laura Medina Partner, Colorado
Ryan Naftulin Partner, London
Mike Lincoln Business Department Chair, Reston
Matt Browne Partner, San Diego
Francis Wheeler Partner, Colorado
Alfred Browne Partner, Boston
Miguel J. Vega Partner, Boston
Sonya Erickson Partner, Seattle
John Robertson Partner in Charge - Seattle
Babak Yaghmaie Partner, New York
Craig Menden Partner, Palo Alto
Jamie Leigh Partner, San Francisco
C. Thomas Hopkins Partner in Charge - Los Angeles
Edward O'Connell Senior Counsel, Washington, DC
Kevin Mills Partner, Washington, DC
Related Practices & Industries

Mergers & Acquisitions