“Sandbagging” in M&A refers to the ability of a party to an acquisition agreement to rely on the other side’s representation even if it knows that the rep is inaccurate when made. In the absence of language in the contract addressing the issue, courts in various jurisdictions have reached different conclusions about whether sandbagging is permissible.
The general consensus – bolstered by comments from Vice Chancellor Laster – has been that Delaware is a pro-sandbagging state. But as this Kirkland & Ellis memo notes, a recent decision from the Delaware Supreme Court has called that position into question:
While not a central element of the decision at hand, both the majority opinion (written by Justice Valihura) and a partial dissent (by Chief Justice Strine) addressed in passing the sandbagging question. In a footnote which acknowledges that the court did not need to decide this issue as the question was not before the court, Justice Valihura wrote: “We acknowledge the debate over whether a party can recover on a breach of warranty claim where the parties know that, at signing, certain of them were not true. [Defendant] argues that reliance is required, but we have not yet resolved this interesting question.”
The memo goes on to point out that in his partial dissent, Chief Justice Strine also raises doubts about Delaware’s view of sandbagging: “Thus, to the extent [Plaintiff] is seeking damages because [Defendant] supposedly made promises that were false, there is doubt that he can then turn around and sue because what he knew to be false remained so. Venerable Delaware law casts doubt on [Plaintiff’s] ability to do so. . .”
Wherever Delaware ultimately lands on the sandbagging question, the best advice is to address the issue head-on in your purchase agreement. That may be the best way to address sandbagging, but it’s still not a particularly common practice – 75% of deals included in a recent Nixon Peabody survey were silent on sandbagging..
– John Jenkins
Executive compensation can be one of the most sensitive areas to deal with in M&A negotiations. Mark Poerio has come up with this checklist of executive compensation issues that parties should make sure to address early on in the process, before they become deal-breakers. Here’s the intro:
Merger and acquisition transactions will seldom break-apart due to issues related to employee benefit plans and executive compensation. But seriously disruptive issues may arise, and are most likely to explode, when overlooked until the last minute. The table below is intended to facilitate the detection, negotiation, and resolution of possible problems. As a general matter, sellers may defuse risks and streamline negotiations through proactive pre-sale planning. On the other hand, buyers are able to maximize their deal-related protections (and their post-closing alternatives) by assuring early stage attention to the items listed below.
The checklist includes a variety of potentially thorny compensation issues, including key employees with the right to resign with full severance upon a change-in-control, the absence of non-compete arrangements with key employees, and out-of-the-money stock options that can’t be unilaterally cancelled by the seller.
– John Jenkins
This Ropes & Gray blog says that the IRS is auditing companies that engaged in spin-offs or split-offs with a view to determining whether they impermissibly deducted transaction costs. If you’ve done a Section 355 divisive reorg, this excerpt says that you may want to check out your tax returns to see if you’re likely to be a target:
On March 13, 2018, the IRS announced a new Large Business and International Division (“LB&I”) compliance campaign determined to impose tax adjustments on taxpayers who have deducted the costs associated with a tax-free spin-off, split-off or split-up under Section 355. In general, transaction costs to facilitate section 355 transactions must be capitalized.
The IRS will be examining tax returns of entities reporting section 355 transactions to determine if they attempted to currently deduct transaction expenses. Taxpayers who conducted section 355 transactions in the past few years may want to consider reviewing their return positions to determine if they may be a target of this campaign.
– John Jenkins
We’ve previously blogged about efforts to revive the de facto merger doctrine in Delaware in order to assert an appraisal claim in connection with Dr. Pepper’s merger with Keurig. Earlier this month, in North Miami Beach General Employees Retirement Plan v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (Del. Ch.; 6/18), Chancellor Bouchard rejected those efforts.
The court distinguished the case from the LAMPERS v. Crawford decision highlighted in our prior blog. Although, like the dissenting shareholders in that case, the Dr. Pepper shareholders also received an extraordinary dividend, they did not relinquish their shares in the transaction. Here’s an excerpt from this Hunton Andrews Kurth memo summarizing the Chancellor’s reasoning:
The Court of Chancery rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that Dr Pepper’s stockholders were entitled to appraisal rights in connection with the transaction. First, the court said that under the Delaware General Corporation Law, appraisal rights are only available to a “constituent corporation” in the merger, which means a party being merged (whether the survivor or non-survivor).
Because Dr Pepper used a reverse triangular merger structure, its merger subsidiary was the “constituent corporation.” Second, the court held that even if Dr Pepper had been a “constituent corporation” to the merger, appraisal rights were still unavailable because Dr Pepper’s stockholders did not relinquish their shares in the transaction.
The memo notes that the decision provides increased certainty to transaction planners regarding how Delaware courts will assess transactions under the relevant merger and appraisal statutes.
– John Jenkins
If you’ve negotiated contractual drag-along rights with minority shareholders, there’s no reason to worry about the Delaware appraisal statute, right? This recent blog from Steve Hecht & Rich Bodnar says, “not so fast.” Here’s an excerpt:
Venture-backed companies should not assume an implied waiver of minority appraisal rights in a merger that utilizes a voting agreement’s drag-along rights if procedural requirements are not followed. When a waiver of appraisal rights has procedural requirements, they need to be followed or eliminated via an amendment. Alternatively, the drag-along can require minority stockholders to explicitly approve the sale, instead of having the sale be de facto valid without their signatures given the drag-along.
The blog notes that this VentureCaseLaw blog provides a detailed discussion of Delaware case law addressing the procedural issues surrounding the interplay between the appraisal statute & drag-along rights.
– John Jenkins
We have posted the transcript for our recent webcast: “M&A Stories: Practical Guidance (Enjoyably Digested).”
– John Jenkins
In recent years, family offices have increasingly become active direct participants in the market for M&A deals. This Nixon Peabody blog discusses a unique feature of “family offices” that can sometimes give them a leg up on private equity funds – the more long-term nature of the capital they provide. Here’s an excerpt:
Traditional sponsors typically have a four- to seven-year holding period that’s driven by the need to deliver a return within that timeframe to their limited partners. However, family offices are able to invest with substantially longer holding periods because their capital does not face the same kind of expiration date, and their investment goals stretch well beyond the next four to seven years.
Often, sellers will have concerns regarding the long-term legacy of the business, retention of the employees and “slash and burn” approach of compromising long-term growth for short-term gains – even when they don’t have a vested interest in the business after the transaction. It is in these types of situations that “patient capital” can play a key role in alleviating these types of concerns.
The blog says that this is especially true in smaller deals, where the sellers frequently are founders or multi-generation family owners As a result of their personal relationship to the business, these sellers often ascribe a greater value to the “intangibles” involved in a transaction.
– John Jenkins
Our “Women’s 100” events are governed by the ‘Chatham House’ rule – but Aneliya Crawford of Schulte Roth gave me permission to share this nugget with you. During one of these events, Aneliya was interviewed on the topic of dealing with activists. She represents many of them – and she was asked about why so few women serve as director nominees for activists during a proxy fight.
Aneliya responded that she’s studied this question in depth – and has concluded that the answer isn’t that activists don’t want nor seek women. Rather, the qualified women that they approach only want to serve on the board if the proxy fight settles. In general, they otherwise don’t want to be on a dissident slate and have their name slung through the mud. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want that either…
– Broc Romanek
Last week, I blogged about the first US-incorporated company to use a universal proxy card – and as an aside, I mused about whether this was a strategy by Sandridge Energy. A member responded with these thoughts:
I suppose a key element of the strategy could involve the grant of discretionary authority to the proxies appointed on the universal card. Specifically, even shareholders wishing to support (partially or fully) the Icahn group will appoint management proxies to vote in their discretion on such other business as may properly come before the meeting or any adjournment or postponement thereof.
I am not certain, but suspect, that if a card were returned with fewer than seven “for” votes in the election of directors, the proxies also would be able to vote in accordance with the board’s recommendation. Thus, if the shareholder cast five votes in favor of Icahn nominees (and cast no votes for any of the Company nominees), the proxies likely can cast two votes in favor of two Company nominees. If correct, there could be controversy because the proxies might be able to distribute those votes in a way to knock out one or more Icahn nominees. Interesting stuff.
– Broc Romanek
Here’s the intro from this blog by Davis Polk’s Ning Chiu (also see this Wachtell Lipton memo):
T. Rowe wants to make clear that activists and other investors do not speak for them, in its June ESG Spotlight, as they share their investment philosophy on shareholder activism. Activism is defined as proxy contests, campaigns to influence management and boards on strategy, capital allocation and/or governance and unsolicited hostile bids.
While the investor believes that companies tend to be better informed about their businesses and will afford management a certain amount of deference, they also stress that management and their boards should “exhibit openness, curiosity, and intellectual honesty” regarding serious and sustained ideas from outsiders.
T. Rowe’s internal policies prohibit their investment professionals from initiating activism campaigns indirectly, such as discussing or pitching ideas to activist investors or other third parties. The investor outlined its roles and responsibilities as engaged investors, to the point where they may help facilitate compromise between the parties, which they believe is usually a better outcome than a contested vote.
– Broc Romanek