As most readers are aware, litigation involving objection to mergers and acquisitions transactions has been proliferating in recent years, to the point that virtually every deal draws at least one lawsuit. While many of these actions are nuisance lawsuits, they are not without their costs. Indeed, according to one recent study, the costs to defend and settle these suits are growing.
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new yorkIn a series of decision culminating in Chancellor Bouchard’s January 2016 ruling in the Trulia case (about which refer here), Delaware’s courts have shown their hostility to disclosure-only settlements in merger objection lawsuits. These Delaware developments led some observers to speculate that we might have seen the end of the litigation trend in which nearly every M&A transaction attracted at least one merger objection lawsuit.

However, a February 2017 New York court ruling in the Gordon v. Verizon Communications, Inc. (discussed here), in which an intermediate appellate court reversed the lower court’s rejection of a disclosure-only merger objection lawsuit settlement and remanded the case for an award of plaintiffs’ fees, raised the question of whether or not there might yet be life ahead for disclosure-only settlement in merger objection lawsuits.

In a provocative March 20, 2017 post on the CLS Blue Sky Blog (here), Columbia Law School Professor John Coffee takes a look at the New York court’s Verizon decision, concluding that the decision ensures that “the nuisance suit remains alive and well in New York and should bring the worst of the plaintiff’s bar streaming back to New York.”
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gavelIn recent years, we approached the point where nearly every M&A transaction attracted one or more merger objection lawsuit, which all too often was resolved through a “disclosure only settlement” in which the defendant company agreed to make supplemental deal document disclosures and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees, in exchange for a comprehensive release for the defendants. However, the courts in Delaware, the state where the majority of these cases were filed, have recently shown – in a series of rulings culminating with the Trulia decision last January — their unwillingness to approve these kinds of disclosure -only settlements where there is no material benefit for the company or its shareholders.
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cornerstone reserach pdfOne of the most distinctive recent developments in the litigation environment has been the rise of merger objection litigation, in which nearly every merger attracted at least one lawsuit challenging the transaction. Many of these cases settled quickly based on the defendants’ agreement to make additional transaction-related disclosures and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. However, in a series of rulings culminating in the January 2016 ruling in the Trulia case, the Delaware Court of Chancery has shown its disapproval of the disclosure-only settlement model. It now appears that as a result of the Chancery Court developments that fewer mergers are attracting lawsuits and fewer lawsuits overall are being filed.

As detailed in an August 2, 2016 report from Cornerstone Research entitled “Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisition of Public Companies: Review of 2015 and 1H 2016 M&A Litigation” (here), the percentage of merger transactions attracting litigation began to fall to the lowest levels in years during the second half of 2015, and the litigation dropped even further in the first half of 2016, as detailed further below. Cornerstone Research’s August 2, 2016 press release about the report can be found here.
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gavelnewSince merger objection litigation became one of the most distinctive phenomena on the corporate and securities landscape, it has been both chronicled and measured in a series of annual papers by Matthew Cain, now an SEC economist, and Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at the U.C. Berkeley. In their latest update, “Takeover Litigation in 2015” (here), published last week, the authors confirm that while merger objection litigation continued to be filed at significant levels last year, the litigation levels declined compared to recent years. Of particular note, starting in the Fall 2015, after Delaware Vice Chancellor Laster rejected the disclosure only settlement in the Aruba/H-P merger lawsuit, the filings of the merger objection lawsuits showed a decline that was “sharp and significant” and that the authors expect will continue in the new year.
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del1Under time-honored standards, and as developed over time by Delaware’s court, the business judgment rule is, as is often stated, a “presumption that in making a business decision, the directors of a company have acted on an informed basis, in good faith, and in the honest belief that the action taken was in the best interests of the corporation.” However, as discussed in an interesting paper, in more recent times, courts have had to consider these principles in more troubling contexts, such as takeover battles or controlling shareholder transactions. As a result the courts have developed what BYU Law Professor D. Gordon Smith in his August 6, 2015 post on the CLS Blue Sky Blog (here) calls “the Modern Business Judgment Rule.” A longer version of Professor Smith’s paper can be found here.
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gavelnewOne of the most distinctive corporate and securities litigation trend in recent years has been the surge in M&A-related litigation, with virtually every deal attracting at least one lawsuit. This trend continued again in 2014, according to a recently updated study from Matthew Cain, an economic fellow at the SEC, and University of California Berkeley law professor Steven Davidoff Solomon. As reflected their February 20, 2015 paper entitled “Takeover Litigation in 2014” (here), takeover litigation continued at a “steady state” and at an extremely high rate during 2014. Lawsuits were brought in 94.9% of takeovers in 2014 versus 39% in 2005. The 2014 figures are consistent with but slightly down from the filings in 97.3% of all takeovers in 2013.
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One of the most distinctive corporate and securities litigation trend in recent years has been the surge in M&A-related litigation, with virtually every deal attracting at least one lawsuit. This trend continued again in 2013, according to a recently updated study from Notre Dame business professor Matthew Cain and Ohio State law professor Steven Davidoff.