During last week’s PLUS D&O Symposium, several of the panels discussed the problems surrounding the current onslaught of M&A-related litigation – and appropriately so, as the surging levels of M&A litigation is one of the most distinct and troubling current litigation trends. During the course of the discussion at the conference, several of the speakers referenced developments, materials and statistics. I thought it might be useful to assemble these various references in one site. (I have linked to some of these resources in prior posts on this site.)
First, though, by way of background about M&A-related litigation developments, I thought it might be useful to reference and to link to a recent paper that provides a good introductory explanation of what the M&A-related litigation is all about. In a February 6, 2012 paper entitled “Anatomy of a Merger Litigation” (here), Douglas Clark of the Wilson Sonsini law firm and Marcia Kramer Mayer of NERA Economic Consulting walk through the litigation developments surrounding a single merger transaction, by way of illustration and as a vehicle to discuss and consider a variety of aggregate statistics regarding merger litigation. The paper provides a useful starting point for understanding the current M&A-related litigation phenomenon. NERA's related statistical analysis of M&A litigation can be found here.
With respect to the conference panels, I am sure that many attendees were as struck as I was by the statement of Stanford Law School Professor Michael Klausner that if you take state court M&A-related litigation into account, then corporate and securities litigation filings are at “an all-time high.” I have in fact made the same point myself, but it just has so much more credibility coming from Professor Klausner. In making these statements, Professor Klausner was referring (with respect to the state court M&A litigation) to the recent Cornerstone Research paper entitled “Recent Developments in Shareholder Litigation Involving Mergers and Acquisitions” (here).
In connection with the initial panel discussion of these litigation statistics, John Spiegel of the Munger Tolles law firm referred to a recent paper by Ohio State University Professor Steven Davidoff and Notre Dame University Finance Professor Matthew Cain. The January 1, 2012 paper, entitled “A Great Game: The Dynamics of State Competition and Litigation” can be found here. (I discussed Professors Davidoff and Cain’s paper in a prior post, here.)
Among the many issues discussed relating to the M&A-related litigation were the problems associated with multiple suits pending in separate jurisdictions relating to the same transaction. Among the suggestions that have been proposed as a way to avert the problems associated with multi-jurisdiction litigation and to discourage plaintiffs from forum shopping is the adoption by companies of a by-law amendment designating Delaware as the sole forum for all corporate and securities litigation. This suggestion has attracted a great deal of interest and a number of companies have adopted by-law amendments designating Delaware as the sole forum for corporate and securities litigation.
As several of the panelists mentioned during the conference, certain plaintiffs’ lawyers have now launched a litigation assault on these by-law amendments. On Monday and Tuesday this past week, the lawyers filed at least nine complaints against companies that had adopted these types of by-law amendments. Nate Raymond’s February 8, 2012 Am Law Litigation Daily article discussing the suits can be found here. Alison Frankel’s February 8, 2012 article on Thomson Reuters News & Insight about the cases can be found here. Francis Pileggi’s February 7, 2012 post about the cases on his Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation blog can be found here.
The nine companies targeted in the suits are: Chevron; Priceline.com; AutoNation; Curtiss-Wright; Danaher Corporation; Franklin Resources; Navistar International; SPX Corporation: and Superior Energy Services. An example of one of the complaints, which are substantially the same, can be found here.
The plaintiffs complain that the by-law applies to broad categories of kinds of litigation, is not limited just to derivative or class litigation, and applies to individual claims. But while the shareholders are required by the by-laws to bring their claims in Delaware, the bylaws provide no forum restrictions on the corporations themselves. The plaintiffs also complain that the bylaws seemingly require claim to be brought in Delaware even where there may not be personal jurisdiction over prospective defendants (for example, in connection with claims against individual directors and officers).
The plaintiffs in these suits seek a judicial declaration that the by-laws are invalid. The interesting attribute of the by-laws in dispute is that in each case, the by-laws were adopted by board action and not put to shareholder vote. So even if these particular board adopted by-laws are struck down, the cases may not address the question of whether a forum selection by-law that has been adopted by shareholder vote can be enforced (for example, on former shareholders, or even where there is no personal jurisdiction over prospective defendants).
It is worth noting that in the only judicial decision to date to consider a forum selection by-law, the by-law was found to be unenforceable. As discussed here (scroll down), in January 2011, Northern District of California Judge Richard Seeborg found Oracle’s forum selection by-law to be unenforceable, in part because it had not been put to shareholder vote. Because Seeborg was applying federal common law rather than Delaware law, his ruling may have only limited impact on the Delaware proceedings.
At least one member of the Delaware Chancery Court has voiced his approval at least of the concept of a forum selection by law; in the Revlon Shareholders’ Litigation, the Delaware Court of Chancery suggested that corporations organized under Delaware law are "free" to adopt "charter provisions selecting an exclusive forum or inter-entity disputes." In the wake of this suggestion, many lawyers began to recommend that their client companies adopt charter provisions designating the Delaware Court of Chancery as the preferred forum. The newly filed litigation may provide guidance on this important issue.
Finally, if you have not yet checked it out, the PLUS Blog has a number of video highlights from the PLUS D&O Symposium, including among other things an interview with yours truly.
Another FDIC Failed Bank Lawsuit: Another topic of discussion at the PLUS D&O Symposium was the growing wave of FDIC litigation against former directors and officers of failed banks. On Thursday, February 9, 2012, the FDIC filed its latest lawsuit in the District of Nevada, against four former officers of the failed Silver State Bank of Henderson, Nevada. The FDIC’s complaint can be found here.
The lawsuit is the 22nd that the FDIC has brought as part of the current bank wave. Interestingly, this complaint was brought well over three years after the September 2008 failure of Silver State Bank. Informed sources advise that the parties had entered a tolling agreement. A February 10, 2012 Las Vegas Review-Journal article discussing the new suit can be found here.
A Preview of Warren Buffett’s Annual Letter to Shareholders: Berkshire Hathaway’s 2011 annual report will not be published for a few more weeks yet. But readers interested in a preview of Warren Buffet’s annual letter to Berkshire shareholders, which is the highlight of the company’s annual report, may want to take a few minutes to review an excerpt of the forthcoming letter that was published on February 9, 2012 in a blog on the CNN Money website (refer here). The basic thrust of the excerpt is that due to the impact of inflation and taxation, stocks outperform bonds and gold. The interesting excerpt is vintage Buffett.
“Investing,” Buffett writes, “is forgoing consumption now in order to have the ability to consume more at a later date.” Real risk then is not volatility, but the possibility that your investment will lose purchasing power -- that is, that you will actually only be able to consume less later. Investments denominated in currentcy, such as bonds or money market funds, though often charactized as "safe" lose value due to the "inflation tax," not to mention actual taxes. Buffet says, "right now, bonds should come with a warning label." .
A Piano Duet: For today’s musical interlude, I feature a video of a 90-year old couple, playing an entertaining piano duet in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. They have been married 62 years and they can still play a mean piano.