As the preferred place of incorporation for most U.S. companies, Delaware has long been a leader in the development of statutory and common law on corporate governance. In keeping with this role, the Delaware legislature recently amended its corporate code to permit enhanced legal exculpation of officers of Delaware corporations. Let’s look at this amendment and its implications for D&O insurance.
In a prior post, we reported an important ruling of first impression by the Delaware Superior Court that a shareholder appraisal action against Pillsbury’s client Solera Holdings Inc. was a “Securities Claim” under Solera’s directors and officers liability insurance policies. In the same decision, the court ruled on two additional issues that no Delaware court had previously decided and that highlight the importance of understanding the specific terms of your company’s D&O policies.
Pillsbury secured an important victory for its client, Solera Holdings Inc., when Delaware Superior Court Judge Abigail LeGrow held—in a matter of first impression anywhere in the country—that a shareholder appraisal action challenging the price Solera obtained for its shares when it sold itself to private equity firm Vista Equity Partners was a “Securities Claim” within the meaning of Solera’s directors and officers liability insurance policies. Last month’s groundbreaking decision in Solera Holdings, Inc. v. XL Specialty Ins. Co., may be found here.
It’s now accepted wisdom that virtually all public company mergers and acquisitions will be challenged with at least one lawsuit—over 95% of them are. A less well-publicized form of challenge—and one that is both fascinating and perplexing for those interested in securities litigation—is the unique creature of Delaware law known as the appraisal proceeding. Under Delaware General Corporation Law §262, shareholders dissenting from a merger on grounds that the share price they’ll receive is inadequate “shall be entitled to an appraisal by the Court of Chancery of the fair value of the stockholder’s shares of stock.” If the court finds that the deal price is lower than fair market value, the acquiring corporation must pay the difference to the dissenting shareholders, plus interest. The court may also award their attorneys’ and experts’ fees, which can be significant. This process has created a cottage industry of “appraisal arbitrage,” in which hedge funds purchase shares in hopes of securing a higher price for those shares through appraisal. Fortunately, D&O insurance might be available to cover the acquired company’s defense and other costs.
In Verizon Communications v. Illinois National Insurance Company, a group of D&O insurers essentially asked, “When is a securities claim not a ‘Securities Claim’” (as defined in their policies)? And a Delaware Superior Court judge effectively answered, “Never.” Judge William Carpenter Jr. rejected the insurers’ crabbed reading of the term “securities claim” under their D&O policies, awarding Verizon some $48 million in defense costs the insurers had withheld.
The case arose from Verizon’s decision in 2006 to spin off its print directory subsidiary, Idearc. After Idearc filed for bankruptcy protection US Bank, as Idearc’s bankruptcy litigation trustee, sued Verizon and a Verizon executive who was Idearc’s sole director at the time of the spin-off, asserting claims of promoter liability and breach of fiduciary duty, payment of an unlawful dividend under Delaware corporation law, and fraudulent transfer under U.S. bankruptcy law and Texas statute.