As I have detailed in prior posts, in the latest variant in the merger objection litigation game, the plaintiffs agree to dismiss their lawsuit after the defendant companies make additional disclosures and agree to pay the plaintiffs’ counsel a “mootness fee.” The absence of any court involvement in the case resolution makes this an attractive alternative for the plaintiffs’ lawyers. However, at least one court recently intervened in order to upset this cozy game.

As discussed here, in a blistering June 2019 opinion, Northern District of Illinois Judge Thomas Durkin, exercising what he called his “inherent authority,” acted to “abrogate” the parties’ settlement in the litigation arising out of the acquisition of Akorn , Inc. by Frensenius Kabi AG, and ordered the plaintiffs’ lawyers to return to Akorn their $322,000 mootness fee, ruling that the additional disclosures to which the company agreed were “worthless to shareholders” and that the underlying lawsuits should have been “dismissed out of hand.”

Now, in the brief to the Seventh Circuit filed on their appeal of Judge Durkin’s order, the plaintiffs argue that Judge Durkin’s order was “void” because Judge Durkin lacked jurisdiction, had “no authority to continue” after the parties’ settlement, and that he “drastically overstepped the bounds of [the court’s] inherent authority.”  The plaintiffs brief sets the stage for what may prove to be a very interesting appellate decision.
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In a prior post, I noted recent academic research detailing the rise of mootness fee dismissals in federal court merger objection litigation. In these merger-related lawsuits, the plaintiffs agree to dismiss their suit based on the defendants’ agreement to make changes to the merger documents – thus, making the merger suit moot – and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys a mootness fee. An October 4, 2019 Law 360 article entitled “Plaintiffs Firms Follow Easy Merger Money to Federal Court” (here, subscription required) takes a look at the small group of plaintiffs’ law firms that the most active in filings these kinds of cases and obtaining mootness fees, in a process that at least one federal district judge has characterized as no better than a “racket.”
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One of the most significant corporate litigation phenomena over recent years has been the rise of merger objection litigation, as result of which nearly every public company merger objection transaction has drawn at least one lawsuit. According to the latest study of merger litigation from Cornerstone Research, this phenomenon continued in 2018, with the same percentage of merger transactions as in 2017 attracting at least one lawsuit – in 2018, as in 2017, 82% of public company merger transaction valued over $100 million drew at least one lawsuit. The Cornerstone Research report, entitled “Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies: Review of 2018 M&A Litigation,” can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s September 17, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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As discussed in prior posts, after the Delaware courts evinced their distaste for the type of disclosure-only settlements that had until then typically resolved merger objection lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ lawyers changed their game. They began filing their merger objection lawsuits in federal court rather than in state court, and then rather than settling the cases, agreed to dismiss their cases in exchange for supplemental proxy disclosures, after which the plaintiffs would seek to recover a so-called “mootness fee.” At least one federal judge recently questioned this “racket,” but the question remained whether more courts would take steps to scrutinize this process and discourage what has become nothing more than the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ extraction of a “go away” payment.

In a positive sign suggesting that court may indeed become more involved in policing this process, a District of Delaware judge recently rejected merger objection lawsuit plaintiffs’ mootness fee petition on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of showing that the supplemental disclosures produced a substantial benefit for the acquired company’s shareholders.
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In a recent post, I detailed the latest variant in the merger objection litigation game, in which the plaintiffs’ agree to dismiss their lawsuit in exchange for the defendants’ agreement to make additional disclosures and pay the plaintiffs’ counsel a mootness fee. The absence of any court involvement in this process makes this an appealing business model for the plaintiffs’ counsel. It also makes it difficult for anyone to challenge the procedure, reducing the likelihood of unwanted judicial scrutiny.

However, Northern District of Illinois Judge Thomas M. Durkin, exercising his “inherent authority” and acting at the urging of an objecting shareholder, has “abrogated” the settlement of the litigation arising out of the acquisition of Akorn , Inc. by Frensenius Kabi AG, and ordered the plaintiffs’ lawyers to return to Akorn their $322,000  mootness fee, ruling that the additional disclosures to which the company agreed were “worthless to shareholders” and that the underlying lawsuits should have been “dismissed out of hand.” This welcome development could possibly be the first step into driving a stake in the heart of the merger objection litigation “racket.” Judge Durkin’s June 24, 2019 order can be found here.
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One of the most significant phenomena in the world of corporate and securities litigation has been the rise of merger objection litigation. As has been well-documented, merger objection litigation reached the point in recent years that virtually every public company merger transaction drew at least one lawsuit. The circumstances surrounding merger objection litigation began to change after the Delaware courts evinced their displeasure with this kind of litigation in a series of rulings that culminated in the 2016 decision in Trulia, in which the court rejected the kind of disclosure only settlement that had characterized the resolution of these kinds of cases. Since then, the merger objection lawsuits have shifted to federal courts. Moreover, these cases, now in federal court, increasingly are not settled; rather, they are dismissed in exchange for the defendants’ willingness to pay the plaintiffs’ counsel a so-called “mootness fee.”

In a May 29, 2019 paper entitled “Mootness Fees” (here), Matthew Cain and Steven Davidoff Solomon of UC Berkley Law School, Jill Fisch of Penn Law School, and Randall Thomas of Vanderbilt Law School take a look at the recent rise of mootness fee dismissals in merger objection litigation. Their paper documents that the rise of mootness fee settlements has turned merger objection litigation into a process for a small number of lower tier plaintiffs’ firms to in effect extract a toll from companies involved in M&A transactions, largely without court scrutiny or even minimal disclosure requirements. The authors suggest a number of procedural mechanisms to try to provide some scrutiny  and transparency over these kinds of settlements.
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Between 2010 and 2016, the number of shareholder appraisal actions filed in Delaware courts increased every year, but in 2017 and again in 2018, the number of appraisal actions declined, according to a recent report from Cornerstone Research. The decline arguably is a result of recent Delaware Supreme Court decisions in which the court reversed lower court rulings holding that the fair value exceeded the deal price and instead indicated that the deal price should be given substantial weight, at least where the sales process was “robust.” The report, entitled “Appraisal Litigation in Delaware: Trends in Petitions and Opinions, 20016-2018” can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s February 13, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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As I have previously noted on this blog, merger objection litigation imposes significant costs on the defendant companies and their insurers. In the following guest post, Patrick Gallagher of the integrated communications and investor relations firm Dix & Eaton takes a look at recent developments in the merger objection litigation arena. I would like to thank the author for allowing me to publish the article as a guest post on this site. It was originally published on the Dix & Eaton Blog. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Pat’s guest post follows below.
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The percentage of M&A transactions valued over $100 million attracting at least one merger objection lawsuit continued to decline in 2017, according to a recent Cornerstone Research study. The July 18, 2018 study, entitled “Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies: Review of 2017 M&A Litigation” (here), also reports that the average number of lawsuits filed per M&A deal and the percentage of M&A deal litigation voluntarily dismissed declined in 2017, as well. Cornerstone Research’s July 18, 2018 press release about the report can be found here.
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In a series of rulings that culminated in the January 2016 decision in the Trulia case, the Delaware courts evinced their hostility to the disclosure-only settlements that so often characterize the resolution of merger objection lawsuits. Since that time claimants have been filing the merger objection suits in courts outside Delaware. The question has been whether the other courts where the merger objection cases are now being filed would follow Delaware’s strict Trulia standard when reviewing disclosure-only settlements. In a ruling late last week, an intermediate appellate court in Florida expressly adopted Delaware’s Trulia standard. The Florida ruling does raise hopes that other courts might follow as well, which in turn could help stem the tide of proliferating merger objection litigation. The Florida District Court of Appeal, Second District’s July 13, 2018 decision in the Quality Distribution case can be found here.
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