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[Note: Numbers in brackets refer to the printed pages of the Emanuel Law Outline where the topic is discussed.]

Emanuel Law Outlines 
Corporations

Chapter 1 
INTRODUCTION

I. CHOOSING A FORM OF ORGANIZATION

    A. Partnership vs. corporation: Choosing a form of organization usually comes down to choosing between a partnership and a corporation. [2]

    B. Nature of partnerships: There are two kinds of partnerships: "general" partnerships and "limited" partnerships. [2]

      1. General partnership: A "general partnership" is any association of two or more people who carry on a business as co-owners. A general partnership can come into existence by operation of law, with no formal papers signed or filed. Any partnership is a "general" one unless the special requirements for limited partnerships (see below) are complied with. [2]

      2. Limited partnerships: A "limited" partnership can only be created where: (1) there is a written agreement among the partners; and (2) a formal document is filed with state officials. [3]

        a. Two types of partners: Limited partners have two types of partners: (1) one or more "general" partners, who are each liable for all the debts of the partnership; and (2) one or more "limited" partners, who are not liable for the debts of the partnership beyond the amount they have contributed.

    C. Limited liability: Corporations and partnerships differ sharply with respect to limited liability. [4]

      1. Corporation: In the case of a corporation, a shareholder's liability is normally limited to the amount he has invested. [4]

      2. Partnership: The liability of partners in a partnership depends on whether the partnership is "general" or "limited." [4]

        a. General: In a general partnership, all partners are individually liable for the obligations of the partnership.

        b. Limited: In a limited partnership, the general partners are personally liable but the limited partners are liable only up to the amount of their capital contribution. (But a limited partner will lose this limit on his liability if he actively participates in the management of the partnership.)

    D. Management:

      1. Corporation: Corporations follow the principle of centralized management. The shareholders participate only by electing the board of directors. The board of directors supervises the corporation's affairs, with day-to-day control resting with the "officers" (i.e., high-level executives appointed by the board). [5]

      2. Partnership: In partnerships, management is usually not centralized. In a general partnership, all partners have an equal voice (unless they otherwise agree). In a limited partnership, all general partners have an equal voice unless they otherwise agree, but the limited partners may not participate in management. [5]

    E. Continuity of existence: A corporation has "perpetual existence." In contrast, a general partnership dissolved by the death (or, usually, even the withdrawal) of a general partner. A limited partnership is dissolved by the withdrawal or death of a general partner, but not a limited partner. [5]

    F. Transferability: Ownership interests in a corporation are readily transferable (the shareholder just sells stock). A partnership interest, by contrast, is not readily transferable (all partners must consent to the admission of a new partner). [6]

    G. Federal income tax:

      1. Corporations: The corporation is taxed as a separate entity. It files its own tax return showing its profits and losses, and pays its own taxes independently of the tax position of the stockholders. This may lead to "double taxation" of dividends (a corporate-level tax on corporate profits, followed by a shareholder-level tax on the dividend). [7]

      2. Partnership: Partnerships, by contrast, are not separately taxable entities. The partnership files an information return, but the actual tax is paid by each individual. Therefore, double taxation is avoided. Also, a partner can use losses from the partnership to shelter from tax certain income from other sources. [8]

      3. Subchapter S corporation: If the owner/stockholders of a corporation would like to be taxed approximately as if they were partners in a partnership, they can often do this by having their corporation elect to be treated as a Subchapter S corporation. An "S" corporation does not get taxed at the corporate level, unlike a regular corporation; instead, each shareholder pays a tax on his portion of the corporation's profits. [9]

    H. Summary:

      1. Corporation superior: The corporate form is superior: (1) where the owners want to limit their liability; (2) where free transferability of interests is important; (3) where centralized management is important (e.g., a large number of owners); and (4) where continuity of existence in the face of withdrawal or death of an owner is important. [10]

      2. Partnership superior: But the partnership form will be superior where: (1) simplicity and inexpensiveness of creating and operating the enterprise are important; or (2) the tax advantages are significant, such as avoiding double taxation and/or sheltering other income. [10]

 

Chapter 2 
THE CORPORATE FORM

I. WHERE AND HOW TO INCORPORATE

    A. Delaware vs. headquarter state: The incorporators must choose between incorporating in their headquarter state, or incorporating somewhere else (probably Delaware). [13]

      1. Closely held: For a closely held corporation, incorporation should usually take place in the state where the corporation's principal place of business  is located. [14]

      2. Publicly held: But for a publicly held corporation, incorporation in Delaware is usually very attractive (because of Delaware's well-defined, predictable, body of law, and its slight pro-management bias.) [14]

    B. Mechanics of incorporating:

      1. Articles of incorporation: To form a corporation, the incorporators file a document with the Secretary of State. This document is usually called the "articles of incorporation" or the "charter." [15]

        a. Amending: The articles can be amended at any time after filing. However, any class of stockholders who would be adversely affected by the amendment must approve the amendment by majority vote. See, e.g., RMBCA § 10.04.

      2. Bylaws: After the corporation has been formed, it adopts bylaws. The corporation's bylaws are rules governing the corporation's internal affairs (e.g., date, time and place for annual meeting; number of directors; listing of officers; what constitutes quorum for directors' meetings, etc.). Bylaws are usually not filed with the Secretary of State, and may usually be amended by either the board or the shareholders. [16]

II. ULTRA VIRES AND CORPORATE POWERS

    A. Ultra vires:

      1. Classic doctrine: Traditionally, acts beyond the corporation's articles of incorporation were held to be "ultra vires," and were unenforceable against the corporation or by it. (But there were numerous exceptions.) [18]

      2. Modern abolition: Modern corporate statutes have generally eliminated the ultra vires doctrine. See, e.g., RMBCA § 3.04(a). [19]

    B. Corporate powers today: Most modern corporations are formed with articles that allow the corporation to take any lawful action. [19]

      1. Charitable contribution: Even if the articles of incorporation are silent on the subject, corporations are generally held to have an implied power to make reasonable charitable contributions. See, e.g., RMBCA § 3.02(13). [19]

      2. Other: Similarly, corporations can generally give bonuses, stock options, or other fringe benefits to their employees (even retired employees). See, e.g., RMBCA § 3.02(12). [20]

III. PRE-INCORPORATION TRANSACTIONS BY PROMOTERS

    A. Liability of promoter: A "promoter" is one who takes initiative in founding and organizing a corporation. A promoter may occasionally be liable for debts he contracts on behalf of the to-be formed corporation. [22]

      1. Promoter aware, other party not: If the promoter enters into a contract in the corporation's name, and the promoter knows that the corporation has not yet been formed (but the other party does not know this), the promoter will be liable under the contract. See RMBCA § 2.04. [24]

        a. Adoption: But if the corporation is later formed and "adopts" the contract, then the promoter may escape liability.

      2. Contract says corporation not formed: If the contract entered into by the promoter on behalf of the corporation recites that the corporation has not yet been formed, the liability of the promoter depends on what the court finds to be the parties' intent. [25]

        a. Never formed, or immediately defaults: If the corporation is never formed, or is formed but then immediately defaults, the promoter will probably be liable.

        b. Formed and then adopts: But if the corporation is formed, and then shows its intent to take over the contract (i.e., "adopts" the contract), then the court may find that both parties intended that the promoter be released from liability (a "novation").

    B. Liability of corporation: If the corporation did not exist at the time the promoter signed a contract on its behalf, the corporation will not become liable unless it "adopts" the contract. Adoption may be implied. (Example: The corporation receives benefits under the contract, without objecting to them. The corporation will be deemed to have implicitly adopted the contract, making it liable and perhaps making the promoter no longer liable.) [26]

    C. Promoter's fiduciary obligation: During the pre-incorporation period, the promoter has a fiduciary obligation to the to-be-formed corporation. He therefore may not pursue his own profit at the corporation's ultimate expense. (Example: The promoter may not sell the corporation property at a grossly inflated price.) [27]

IV. DEFECTIVE INCORPORATION

    A. Common law "de facto" doctrine: At common law, if a person made a "colorable" attempt to incorporate (e.g., he submitted articles to the Secretary of State, which were rejected), a "de facto" corporation would be found to have been formed. This would be enough to shelter the would-be incorporator from the personal liability that would otherwise result. This is the "de facto corporation" doctrine. [29]

      1. Modern view: But today, most states have abolished the de facto doctrine, and expressly impose personal liability on anyone who purports to do business as a corporation while knowing that incorporation has not occurred. See RMBCA § 2.04.

    B. Corporation by estoppel: The common law also applies the "corporation by estoppel" doctrine, whereby a creditor who deals with the business as a corporation, and who agrees to look to the "corporation's" assets rather than the "shareholders'|" assets will be estopped from denying the corporation's existence. [30]

      1. May survive: The "corporation by estoppel" doctrine probably survives in some states, as a judge-made doctrine.

V. PIERCING THE CORPORATE VEIL

    A. Generally: In a few very extreme cases, courts may "pierce the corporate veil," and hold some or all of the shareholders personally liable for the corporation's debts. [33]

    B. Individual shareholders: If the corporation's shares are held by individuals, here are some factors that courts look to in deciding whether to pierce the corporate veil: [33]

      1. Tort vs. contract ("voluntary creditor"): Courts are more likely to pierce the veil in a tort case (where the creditor is "involuntary") than in a contract case (where the creditor is "voluntary"). [34]

      2. Fraud: Veil piercing is more likely where there has been a grievous fraud or wrongdoing by the shareholders (e.g., the sole shareholder siphons out all profits, leaving the corporation without enough money to pay its claims). [35]

      3. Inadequate capitalization: Most important, veil piercing is most likely if the corporation has been inadequately capitalized. But most courts do not make inadequate capitalization alone enough for veil piercing. [35]

        a. Zero capital: When the shareholder invests no money whatsoever in the corporation, courts are especially likely to pierce the veil, and may require less of a showing on the other factors than if the capitalization was inadequate but non-zero.

        b. Siphoning: Capitalization may be inadequate either because there is not enough initial capital, or because the corporation's profits are systematically siphoned out as earned. But if capitalization is adequate, and the corporation then has unexpected liabilities, the shareholders' failure to put in additional capital will generally not be inadequate capitalization.

      4. Failure of formalities: Lastly, the court is more likely to pierce the veil if the shareholders have failed to follow corporate formalities in running the business. (Example: Shares are never formally issued, directors' meetings are not held, shareholders co-mingle personal and company funds.)[39]

      5. Summary: In nearly all cases at least two of the above four factors must be present for the court to pierce the veil; the most common combination is probably inadequate capitalization plus failure to follow corporate formalities.

    C. Parent/subsidiary: If shares are held by a parent corporation, the court may pierce the veil and make the parent corporation liable for the debts of the subsidiary. [40]

      1. No liability generally: Again, the general rule is that the corporate parent shareholder is not liable for the debts of the subsidiary (just as individual shareholders are not liable for the corporation's debts). [40]

      2. Factors: But as in the individual-shareholder case, certain acts by the parent may cause veil piercing to take place. Such factors include: (1) failure to follow separate corporate formalities for the two corporations (e.g., both have the same board, and do not hold separate directors' meetings); (2) the subsidiary and parent are operating pieces of the same business, and the subsidiary is undercapitalized; (3) the public is misled about which entity is operating which business; (4) assets are intermingled as between parent and subsidiary; or (5) the subsidiary is operated in an unfair manner (e.g., forced to sell at cost to parent). [41]

    D. Brother/sister ("enterprise liability"): Occasionally, the court may treat brother/sister corporations (i.e., those having a common parent) as really being one individual enterprise, in which case each will be liable for the debts of its "siblings." This is the "enterprise liability" theory. [42]

VI. INSIDER CLAIMS IN BANKRUPTCY (INCLUDING EQUITABLE SUBORDINATION)

    A. Disallowance in bankruptcy: A bankruptcy court may disallow an insider's claim entirely if fairness requires. (Example: The insider claims that his entire capital contribution is a "loan," but the court finds that some or all should be treated as non-repayable "equity" in the bankruptcy proceeding.) [44]

    B. Equitable subordination: Alternatively, the bankruptcy court may recognize the insider's claims against the corporation, but will make these claims come after payment of all other creditors. Many of the same factors used for piercing the corporate veil (e.g., inadequate capitalization) will lead to this "equitable subordination" in bankruptcy. [44]

 

Chapter 3 
THE CORPORATE STRUCTURE

I. GENERAL ALLOCATION OF POWERS

    A. Traditional scheme: A "traditional" scheme for allocating power in the corporation (reflected in most statutes) is as follows: [49]

      1. Shareholders: The shareholders act principally by: (1) electing and removing directors; and (2) approving or disapproving fundamental or non-ordinary changes (e.g., mergers). [49]

      2. Directors: The directors "manage" the corporation's business. That is, they formulate policy, and they appoint officers to carry out that policy. [49]

      3. Officers: The corporation's officers administer the day-to-day affairs of the corporation, under the supervision of the board. [49]

      4. Modification: This traditional allocation of powers usually may be modified by the corporation where appropriate. This is often done in the case of closely held corporations. [49]

    B. Powers of shareholders: The main powers of the shareholders are as follows:

      1. Directors: They have the power to elect and remove directors. [50]

        a. Election: Shareholders normally elect the directors at the annual meeting of shareholders. In other words, directors normally serve a one-year term. See Revised Model Business Corporations Act (RMBCA) § 8.05(b).

        b. Vacancies: Shareholders usually have the right to elect directors to fill vacancies on the board, but the board of directors also usually has this power.

        c. Removal: At common law, shareholders had little power to remove a director during his term of office. But today, most statutes allow the shareholders to remove directors even without cause. See RMBCA § 8.08(a).

      2. Articles and bylaws: The shareholders can amend the articles of incorporation or the bylaws. [50]

      3. Fundamental changes: The shareholders get to approve or disapprove of fundamental changes not in the ordinary course of business (e.g., mergers, sales of substantially all of the company's assets, or dissolution). [50]

    C. Power of directors: The directors "manage" the affairs of the corporation. [51]

      1. Shareholders can't give orders: Thus shareholders usually cannot order the board of directors to take any particular action. [51]

      2. Supervisory role: The board does not operate the corporation day to day. Instead, it appoints officers, and supervises the manner in which the officers conduct the day-to-day affairs. [51]

    D. Power of officers: The corporation's officers are appointed by the board, and can be removed by the board. The officers carry out the day-to-day affairs. [52]

II. BOARD OF DIRECTORS

    A. Election: As noted, members of the board of directors are always elected by the shareholders. [53]

      1. Straight vs. cumulative: The vote for directors may either be "straight" or "cumulative." (In most states, cumulative voting is allowed unless the articles of incorporation explicitly exclude it.) [54]

        a. Cumulative: In cumulative voting, a shareholder may aggregate his votes in favor of fewer candidates than there are slots available. (Example: H owns 100 shares. There are 3 board slots. H may cast all of his 300 votes for 1 candidate.) This makes it more likely that a minority shareholder will be able to obtain at least one seat on the board.

          i. Removal of directors: If cumulative voting is authorized, a director usually may not be removed if the number of votes that would have been sufficient to elect him under cumulative voting is voted against his removal.

    B. Number of directors: The number of directors is usually fixed in either the articles of incorporation or in the bylaws. Most statutes require at least three directors. Most statutes also allow the articles or bylaws to set a variable (minimum and maximum) size for the board, rather than a fixed size. (If variable size is chosen, then the board gets to decide how many directors within the range there should be.) [59]

    C. Filling vacancies: Most statutes allow vacancies on the board to be filled either by the shareholders or by the board. [60]

      1. Term: Statutes vary as to the term of a replacement director: some let him serve the full unexpired term of his predecessor, others make him stand for reelection at the next annual meeting. (This only matters if the predecessor's term was for more than one year). [60]

      2. Classes of stock: The articles of incorporation may give each separate class of stock the power to elect one or more directors. [60]

      3. Holdover director: A director holds office not only for the term for which he is elected, but until his successor is elected and qualified. A director serving beyond the end of his term is called a "holdover" director. [61]

    D. Removal of directors: Most modern statutes provide that directors may be removed by a majority vote of shareholders, either with or without cause. Modern statutes also generally say that a court may order a shareholder removed, but only for cause. [61]

      1. No removal by board: But in most states a director may not be removed by his fellow directors, even for cause. [63]

    E. Directors' meetings:

      1. Regular vs. special: There are two types of board meetings: regular and special. A regular board meeting is one which occurs at a regular interval (e.g., monthly). All other meetings are "special." The frequency for regular meetings is usually specified in the bylaws. [63]

      2. Notice: No notice is necessary for a regular meeting. But prior notice (e.g., two days notice under the RMBCA) is required for a special meeting. [63]

      3. Quorum: The board may only act if a quorum is present. Usually, the quorum is a majority of the total directors in office. (Example: If there are nine directors, at least five must be present for there to be a meeting.) [63]

        a. Lower number: Some states allow the articles or bylaws to set a percentage for a quorum that is less than a majority.

        b. Super majority: Conversely, most statutes permit the articles or bylaws to make the quorum more than a majority (useful as a control device in closely-held corporations). See RMBCA 8.24(a).

        c. Present at vote: The quorum must be present at the time the vote is taken in order for the vote to constitute the act of the board. Thus even if a quorum is present at the start of the meeting, a director may leave and thereby remove the quorum.

    F. Act of board: The board may normally take action only by a vote of a majority of the directors present at the meeting. [65]

      1. Higher number: In most states, the articles of incorporation may set a higher percentage than a majority for all or certain board actions. [65]

      2. Requirement for meeting: The board may normally take action only at a meeting, not by individual action of the directors. (Example: A contract cannot be executed by the board merely by having a majority of the directors, acting at separate times and places, sign the contract document.) But there are some exceptions: [66]

        a. Unanimous written consent: Nearly all states allow directors to act without a meeting if they give their unanimous written consent to the proposed corporate action. See RMBCA § 8.21(a).

        b. Telephone meetings: Many states now permit the directors to act by means of a telephone conference call.

        c. Ratification: Also, if the board learns of an action taken by an officer, and the board does not object, the board may be deemed to have "ratified" this action, or the board may be "estopped" from dishonoring it. In either case, the result is as if the board had formally approved the action in advance.

      3. Objection by director: A director may disassociate herself from board action by filing a written dissent, or by making an oral dissent that is entered in the minutes of the meeting. This will shield the director from any possible liability for the corporate action. [67]

    G. Committees: The full board may appoint various committees. Generally, a committee may take any action which could be taken by the full board. (But there are exceptions. For instance, under the RMBCA, committees may not fill board vacancies, amend the articles of incorporation or the bylaws, propose actions for shareholder approval, or authorize share repurchases. RMBCA § 8.25(e).) [69]

III. OFFICERS

    A. Meaning of "officer": The term "officer" describes only the more important executives of the corporation, typically those appointed directly by the board of directors. Most states leave it up to the board or the bylaws to determine what officers there shall be. [76]

    B. Right to hire and fire: Officers can be both hired and fired by the board. Firing can be with or without cause (and can occur even if there is an employment contract, though the officer can then sue the corporation for breach). [76]

    C. Authority to act for corporation: The officer is an agent of the corporation, and his authority is therefore analyzed under agency principles. An officer does not have the automatic right to bind the corporation. Instead, one of four doctrines must usually be used to find that the officer could bind the corporation on particular facts: [76]

      1. Express actual authority: Express actual authority can be given to an officer either by the corporation's bylaws, or by a resolution adopted by the board. (Example: A board resolution authorizes the Vice President to negotiate and sign a contract to dispose of a surplus plant.) [77]

      2. Implied actual authority: "Implied actual authority" is authority that is "inherent in the office." Usually, it is authority that is inherent in the particular post occupied by the officer. [77]

        a. President: The president is generally held to have implied actual authority, merely by virtue of his office, to engage in ordinary business transactions, such as hiring and firing non-officer-level employees and entering into ordinary-course contracts. But he does not usually have implied actual authority to bind the corporation to non-ordinary-course contracts such as contracts for the sale of real estate or for the sale of all of the corporation's assets.

        b. Secretary: The secretary has implied actual authority to certify the records of the corporation, including resolutions of the board of directors. Therefore, a secretary's certificate that a given resolution was duly adopted by the board is binding on the corporation in favor of a third party who relies on the certificate.

        c. Removal: The board may always explicitly remove implied actual authority that would otherwise exist (e.g., by notifying President that he may not hire anyone.)

      3. Apparent authority: An officer has "apparent authority" if the corporation gives observers the appearance that the agent is authorized to act as he is acting. There are two requirements: (1) the corporation, by acts other than those of the officer, must indicate to the world that the officer has the authority to do the act in question; and (2) the plaintiff must be aware of those corporate indications and rely on them. [80]

        a. President: In the case of a president, apparent authority will often flow merely from the fact that the corporation has given him that title -- he will then have apparent authority to enter into ordinary course arrangements. (Example: If Corp. gives X the title "President," this will signal to the world that X has authority to purchase office supplies. Therefore, if X does purchase office supplies from P, who knows that X has the title "President," X will bind Corp. even if the board of directors has explicitly resolved that X does not have authority to purchase such supplies.)

      4. Ratification: Under the doctrine of "ratification," if a person with actual authority to enter into the transaction learns of a transaction by an officer, and either expressly affirms it or fails to disavow it, the corporation may be bound. Usually, P will have to show that the corporation either received benefits under the contract, or that P himself relied to his detriment on the existence of the contract. [83]

IV. SHAREHOLDER ACTION

    A. Meetings: Nearly all states require a corporation to hold an annual meeting of shareholders. See RMBCA § 7.02(a). [86]

      1. Special meeting: Corporations may also hold a "special" shareholders' meeting. A special meeting is any meeting other than the regularly-scheduled annual meeting. [87]

        a. Who may call: The board may call a special meeting. Also, anyone authorized by the bylaws to call a meeting (e.g., the president, under many bylaws) may do so. Finally, some statutes allow the holders of a certain percentage of the shares to call a special meeting. (Example: RMBCA § 7.02(a)(2) allows the holders of 10% of shares to call a special meeting. But in Delaware, shareholders may not call a special meeting.)

    B. Quorum: For a vote of a shareholders' meeting to be effective, there must be a quorum present. Usually, this must be a majority of the outstanding shares. However, the percentage required for a quorum may be reduced if provided in the articles or bylaws. [87]

      1. Minimum: Some states don't allow the percentage for a quorum to be reduced below a certain number (e.g., the number cannot be reduced below one-third in Delaware). But the RMBCA sets no floor. [87]

      2. Higher percentage: Conversely, nearly all states allow the articles or bylaws to set a higher percentage as the quorum. [87]

    C. Vote required: Once a quorum is present, the traditional rule is that the shareholders will be deemed to have approved of the proposed action only if a majority of the shares actually present vote in favor of the proposed action. [87]

      1. Traditional rule: In other words, under this approach, an abstention is the equivalent of a vote against. [87]

        a. RMBCA: But the RMBCA, in § 7.25(c), changes this by treating abstentions like votes that are not cast.

      2. Breaking quorum: Once a quorum is present, the quorum is deemed to exist for the rest of the meeting, even if shareholders leave. [88]

      3. Written consent: Nearly all states allow shareholders to act by unanimous written consent without a meeting. [88]

        a. Non-unanimous written consent: A minority of states allow shareholder action in the form of non-unanimous written consent. (Example: Delaware § 228(a) allows shareholder action by the written consent of the same number of votes as would be needed to approve the action at a meeting.)

 

Chapter 4 
SHAREHOLDERS' INFORMATIONAL RIGHTS AND THE PROXY SYSTEM

I. SHAREHOLDER INSPECTION OF BOOKS AND RECORDS

    A. Generally: State law generally gives shareholders the right to inspect the corporation's books and records. [95]

      1. Common law: In most states, shareholders have a common-law right of inspection if they show a "proper purpose" for doing so. [96]

      2. Statute: Also, many states have enacted statutes codifying the shareholder's right of inspection. [96]

    B. Who may inspect: Usually "beneficial owners," as well as holders of record, may inspect. [97]

      1. Size or length of holding: Some statutes restrict the right of inspection to shareholders who either have held their shares for a certain time, or hold more than a certain percentage of total shares. [98] (Example: New York BCL § 624 gives the statutory right of inspection only to one who: (1) has held for at least six months; or (2) holds at least 5% of a class of shares.)

    C. What records may be examined: Under most statutes, the holder has a right to inspect not merely specified records, but the corporate records in general. [98]

      1. More limited statutes: But other statutes are more limited. (Example: The RMBCA does not give holders an automatic right to inspect sensitive materials like the minutes of board meetings, the accounting records, or the shareholder list. For these, he must make a demand "in good faith and for proper purpose," he must "describe with reasonable particularity" his purpose and the records he wants to inspect, and the records must be "directly connected with his purpose." See RMBCA § 16.02(b).) [98]

    D. Proper purpose: The shareholder generally may inspect records only if he does so for a "proper purpose." [99]

      1. Evaluation of investment: A shareholder's desire to evaluate his investment will usually be "proper." (Example: A holder will usually be allowed to examine accounting records to determine whether the stock's market price fairly reflects its true value.) [99]

      2. Unrelated personal goal: Pursuit of unrelated personal goals will generally not be a proper purpose. (Example: A holder may not inspect if his purpose is to get access to trade secrets which he can sell to a competitor or use himself.) [99]

      3. Deal with other shareholders: If the holder wants to get access to the shareholder's list to contact his fellow shareholders to take group action concerning the corporation, this will usually be proper. (Example: A holder will usually be given access to shareholder lists to solicit proxies in connection with an attempt to elect a rival slate of directors.) [99]

      4. Social/political goals: If the holder is pursuing only social or political goals that are not closely related to the corporation's business, this purpose will usually be improper. (Example: P wants to stop D Corp from making munitions for the Vietnam War because he thinks the war is immoral; P's purpose is not "proper," so he cannot have D's shareholder list or its records of weapons manufacture.) [100]

    E. Financial reports: In most states, the corporation is not required to send an annual report or other annual financial information to the shareholder. (But federal law requires publicly held corporations to send a report, and some states require this for all corporations.) [101]

    F. Director's right of inspection: A director in most states has a very broad, virtually automatic, right of inspection. (But most states deny him the right of inspection if he is acting with "manifestly improper motives.") [101]

II. REPORTING REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLICLY HELD COMPANIES

    A. What companies are "publicly held": Certain reporting requirements are imposed on "publicly held" companies. Basically, these are companies which either: (1) have stock that is traded on a national securities exchange; or (2) have assets of more than $5 million and a class of stock held of record by 500 or more people. These companies must make continuous disclosures to the SEC under § 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "'34 Act"), and must comply with the proxy rules described below. [103]

    B. Proxy rules generally: Any company covered by § 12 of the '34 Act (companies listed in the prior paragraph) fall within the SEC's proxy solicitation rules. If a company is covered, any proxy solicitation by either management or non-management (subject to some exemptions) must comply with detailed SEC rules. Basically, this means that whenever management or a third party wants to persuade a shareholder to vote in a certain way (whether the persuasion is written or oral, and whether it is by advertisement or one-on-one communication), the solicitation must comply with the SEC proxy rules. [103]

    C. Disclosure and filing requirements:

      1. Filing: Any proxy solicitation documents that will be sent to shareholders must first be filed with the SEC. [106]

      2. Proxy statement: Every proxy solicitation must be accompanied or preceded by a written "proxy statement." This must disclose items like conflicts of interest, the compensation given to the five highest-paid officers, and details of any major change being voted upon. [106]

      3. Annual report: The proxy rules require than an annual report be sent to every shareholder. [106]

      4. Anti-fraud: Any false or misleading statements or omissions in a proxy statement are banned by SEC rules. [107]

    D. Requirements for proxy: The proxy itself is a card which the shareholder signs, and on which he indicates how he wants to vote. SEC rules govern the format of this card. [108]

      1. Function: Most commonly, the proxy will be the method by which the shareholder indicates to management that he is voting for management's slate of directors. The proxy card will also be the shareholder's way of indicating how he votes on some major non-election issue, such as whether the company should merge with another corporation. The proxy is the method of casting shareholder votes in all situations except where the shareholder attends the shareholder's meeting. [108]

      2. Broad discretion: The proxy form may not confer unduly broad discretion on the recipient. (Example: The card must list exactly what nominees management is proposing for election to the board; it may not confer on management the right to vote for unnamed candidates that management desires.) [108]

      3. Must be voted: The recipient of the proxy (e.g., management or a group of insurgents waging a proxy contest) must vote the proxy as the shareholder has indicated, even if the shareholder has voted the opposite of the way the person who solicited the proxy would like. [108]

    E. Revocation of proxies: Generally, a proxy is revocable by the shareholder, even if the proxy itself recites that it is irrevocable.

      1. Coupled with an interest: However, if a proxy states that it is irrevocable and the proxy is "coupled with an interest" then it is irrevocable. A proxy is "coupled with an interest" when the recipient of the proxy has a property interest in the shares, or at least some other direct economic interest in how the vote is cast. (Example: A shareholder pledges his shares in return for a loan from Bank. The pledge is an interest, so the proxy will be irrevocable while the loan is outstanding.) [108]

III. IMPLIED PRIVATE ACTIONS UNDER THE PROXY RULES

    A. Generally: The Supreme Court has recognized an "implied private right of action" on behalf of individuals who have been injured by a violation of proxy rules. [J.I. Case Co. v. Borak]. There are three requirements which the plaintiff must satisfy: [109]

      1. Materiality: First, P must show that there was a material misstatement or omission in the proxy materials. In the case of an omission, the omitted fact is material if it would have "assumed actual significance in the deliberations of a reasonable shareholder." [111]

      2. Causation: Second, P must show a causal link between the misleading proxy materials and some damage to shareholders. However, P does not have to show that the falsehood or omission directly "caused" the damage to shareholders; he only has to show that the proxy solicitation itself (not the error or omission) was an essential part of the transaction. [113] (Example: If holders have to approve a merger, any material defect in the proxy materials will be deemed to have "caused" damage to the holders, since the entire proxy solicitation process was an essential part of carrying out the merger transaction.)

        a. Minority class whose votes are not needed: If P is a member of a minority class whose votes were not necessary for the proposed transaction to go through, P may not recover no matter how material or how intentional the deception in the proxy statement was. [Virginia Bankshares, Inc. v. Sandberg].

        Example: FABI, a bank holding company, owns 80% of the shares of Bank. FABI wants to get rid of the 20% minority shareholders in Bank, so it proposes to buy out the minority holders at a price of $42. The minority holders are sent a proxy solicitation stating that the $42 price is "high" and "fair." Most of the minority holders approve the transaction. P, a minority holder who opposes the transaction, sues on the grounds that the proxy materials falsely stated that the price was "high" and "fair."

        Held, P has no claim here, even if the proxy materials were false. Because FABI could have voted its own shares in favor of the buyout, approval by the minority holders was not legally necessary. Therefore, no misstatements in the proxy materials sent to the minority holders could have "caused" the merger, or contributed to any damage suffered by P or the other minority holders. Virginia Bankshares, supra.

      3. Standard of fault: Third, P must show that D was at fault in some way. If the defendant is an "insider" (e.g., the corporation itself, its officers and its employee/directors), P only has to show that D was negligent. Some courts have also found outside directors and other outsiders liable for errors or omissions under the proxy rules, where the outsider was negligent. [116]

      4. Remedies: If P makes these three showings, he can get several possible types of relief: (1) he may be able to get an injunction against a proposed transaction (where the proxy solicitation was for the purpose of getting shareholder approval of the transaction, such as a merger); (2) he may very occasionally have an already-completed transaction set aside; and (3) he may obtain damages for himself and other holders, if he can prove actual monetary injury (e.g., he shows that due to lies in the proxy statement, shareholders approved the sale of the company at an unfairly low price.) [117]

IV. COMMUNICATIONS BY SHAREHOLDERS

    A. Two methods: A shareholder may solicit her fellow shareholders to obtain their proxies in favor of her own proposed slate of directors or her own proposal. Depending on the circumstances, there are two methods for her to do so, in one of which the shareholder bears the expense and in the other of which the corporation bears the expense. [118]

    B. Shareholder bears expense: Under SEC Rule 14a-7, a shareholder who is willing to bear the expense of communicating with his fellow shareholders (e.g., printing and postage) has the right to do so. Management must either mail the shareholder's materials to the other stockholders, or give the soliciting shareholder a shareholder list so that he can do the mailing directly. [118]

      1. Few restrictions: There are very few restrictions on when and how this method is used. For instance, there is no length limit on the materials the shareholder may mail, and management has no right to censor or object to the contents. [119]

    C. Corporation bears expense: Alternatively, a shareholder may sometimes get a "shareholder proposal" submitted to fellow shareholders entirely at the corporation's expense. Under SEC Rule 14a-8, shareholder proposals may sometimes be required to be included in management's own proxy materials. (Example: An activist shareholder may be able to get management's proxy materials to include the activist's proposal that the company cease doing business with China.) [120]

      1. Exclusions: Many kinds of proposals are excluded from Rule 14a-8, so management can refuse to include them. Some of the important exclusions are: [120]

        a. Improper subject under state law: A proposal may be excluded if "under the law of the [state where the corporation is incorporated, the proposal is] not a proper subject for action by security holders." This usually means that the proposal must be phrased as a recommendation by the shareholders that management consider doing something, rather than as an order by shareholders that the corporation do something (since under state law shareholders usually cannot order the corporation to do anything).

        b. Not significantly related to corporation's business: A proposal may be excluded if it is not significantly related to the company's business (i.e., if it counts for less than 5% of the corporation's total assets and less than 5% of its earnings and gross sales, and is "not otherwise significantly related to the [corporation's] business"). (Example: A proposal calls for Corp's widget division to be divested because it has a poor return on equity; if the widget division accounts for less than 5% of Corp's assets, earnings and sales, the proposal may be excluded.)

          i. Ethical/social issues: But ethical or social issues may usually not be excluded for failure to meet these 5% tests, if the issues are otherwise related to the corporation's business. (Example: The corporation's alleged force feeding of geese to produce pate de fois gras may not be excluded, even though it accounts for less than 5% of earnings, assets and sales.)

        c. Routine matters: A proposal may be excluded if it relates to the "conduct of the ordinary business operations" of the company. (Example: A proposal that the company charge 10% less for one of its many products would relate to ordinary business operations, and thus be excludible.)

          i. Compensation issues: Proposals concerning senior executive compensation are not matters relating to the "ordinary business operations" of the company, and may therefore not be excluded. (Example: A proposal suggesting that the board cancel any "golden parachute" contracts it has given to senior executives -- i.e., contracts that give the executive a large payment if the company is taken over -- must be included in the proxy materials.)

        d. Election of directors: A proposal may be excluded if it relates to "the election of directors." In other words, a holder who wants to propose his own slate of directors, or to oppose management's slate, must pay for the dissemination of his own materials, and may not require the corporation to disseminate for him.

V. PROXY CONTESTS

    A. Definition: A "proxy contest" is a competition between management and a group of outside "insurgents" to obtain shareholder votes on a proposal. Most proxy contests involve the election of directors, but there can be proxy contests over some non-election proposal as well. (Example: A proxy contest over whether the corporation should adopt a proposed "poison pill" takeover defense.) [125]

    B. Regulation: Proxy contests are tightly regulated by the SEC. [126]

      1. List access: The SEC rules do not give the insurgent group access to the shareholder's list. (However, they may have this under state law, as described above.) But as noted, the SEC rules do allow the insurgents to force management to choose between mailing the insurgents' materials or giving the insurgents the list so that the insurgents can do this themselves. (Management will usually mail instead of giving up the list.) [126]

      2. Disclosure required: Both sides must comply with all disclosure regulations. Thus they must make sure that any "solicitation" (including oral solicitation) is preceded by a written proxy statement, and in the case of an election they must file special information about any "participant" in the solicitation. [127]

    C. Costs:

      1. Management's expenses: The corporation may usually pay for any reasonable expense incurred by management in waging its side of the proxy contest. [128]

      2. Insurgents: If the insurgents are successful at getting control, they will usually be allowed to have the corporation reimburse them for their expenses (provided that the shareholders approve). If the insurgents are unsuccessful at getting control, they must bear their own expenses. [128]

 

Chapter 5 
CLOSE CORPORATIONS

I. INTRODUCTION

    A. What is close corporation: A "close corporation" is one with the following traits: (1) a small number of stockholders; (2) the lack of any ready market for the corporation's stock; and (3) substantial participation by the majority stockholder(s) in the management, direction and operations of the corporation. [136]

    B. Significance of close corporation status: Close corporations present special problems relating to control. The various devices examined here are mainly ways of insuring that a minority stockholder will not be taken advantage of by the majority holder(s). [136]

II. SHAREHOLDER VOTING AGREEMENTS, VOTING TRUSTS AND CLASSIFIED STOCK

    A. Voting agreements: A "shareholder voting agreement" is an agreement in which two or more shareholders agree to vote together as a unit on certain or all matters. Some voting agreements expressly provide how votes will be cast. Other agreements merely commit the parties to vote together (without specifying how the vote is to go, so that the parties must reach future agreement). [139]

      1. Generally valid: Shareholder agreements are generally valid today. [139]

      2. Enforcement: There are two ways that a voting agreement may be enforced: [140]

        a. Proxy: First, the agreement may require each signatory to give to a third person an irrevocable proxy to vote the signer's shares in accordance with the agreement. Usually this irrevocable proxy arrangement will be enforced today.

        b. Specific performance: Second, most courts today will grant specific performance of the terms of the voting agreement. See, e.g., RMBCA § 7.31(b).

    B. Voting trust: In a voting trust, the shareholders who are part of the arrangement convey legal title to their shares to one or more voting trustees, under the terms of a voting trust agreement. The shareholders become "beneficial owners" -- they receive a "voting trust certificate" representing their beneficial interest, and get dividends and sale proceeds. But they no longer have voting power. [141]

      1. Validity; requirements: Most states enforce voting trusts, if they conform with statutory requirements. Usually, these requirements include the following: [142]

        a. Maximum term: There is almost always a maximum term for the voting trust (usually ten years).

        b. Disclosure: Usually the trust's terms must be publicly disclosed (at least to the shareholders who are not part of the agreement).

        c. Writing: The trust must generally be in writing, and must be implemented by a formal transfer of the shares on the transfer records of the corporation.

      2. Strict compliance: These requirements must be strictly adhered to. If not, the court is likely to hold the entire agreement unenforceable. [143]

    C. Classified stock and weighted voting: Shareholders may reallocate their voting power (and give minority holders a bigger voice) by using classified stock. The corporation sets up two or more classes of stock, and gives each class different voting rights or financial rights. [143]

      1. General valid: The use of different classes and weighting of voting is generally valid.

III. AGREEMENTS RESTRICTING THE BOARD'S DISCRETION

    A. Problem generally: If the shareholders agree to restrict their discretion as directors, there is a risk that the agreement will violate the principle that the business shall be managed by the board of directors. If a court finds that the board's discretion has been unduly fettered, it may refuse to enforce the agreement. [144]

    B. Present law: However, this danger is not very great today. Most courts will probably uphold even a shareholder agreement that substantially curtails the board's discretion, so long as the agreement: (1) does not injure any minority shareholder; (2) does not injure creditors or the public; and (3) does not violate any express statutory provision. [145]

IV. SUPER-MAJORITY VOTING AND QUORUM REQUIREMENTS

    A. Modern view: Most statutes allow the shareholders to agree that a "super-majority" will be required for a vote or a quorum. In general, such super-majority quorum and voting requirements are upheld, even if they require unanimity. (Example: Under the RMBCA, the articles of incorporation may be amended to require some percentage greater than 50%, even unanimity, both for a quorum for a shareholders' meeting and for shareholder approval of proposed corporate action. Also, either the articles or the bylaws may impose a super-majority quorum or voting requirement for directors' meetings and directors' action.) [148]

      1. Changing a requirement: If the charter is drafted to impose a super-majority voting or quorum requirement, some statutes allow the super-majority provision to be removed or changed only by the same super-majority percentage. (Example: Once the charter is amended to require two-thirds shareholder vote for any merger proposal, a two-thirds shareholder would be required to remove the super-majority provision.) In other states, the shareholders must expressly agree to this kind of "anti-amendment" scheme. [148]

V. SHARE TRANSFER RESTRICTIONS

    A. Why used: The shareholders of a close corporation will often agree to limit the transferability of shares in the corporation. This lets shareholders veto the admission of new "colleagues" and helps preserve the existing balance of control. [149]

    B. Enforcement: Today, share transfer restrictions will generally be enforced, so long as they are reasonable. [150]

      1. How imposed: Share restrictions may be imposed either by a formal agreement among the shareholders or, in some instances, by an amendment to the articles of incorporation or the bylaws. [150]

    C. Various techniques: Here are the five principal techniques for restricting share transfers: [111]

      1. First refusal: Under a right of first refusal, a shareholder may not sell his shares to an outsider without first offering the corporation or the other shareholders (or both) a right to buy those shares at the same price and terms as those at which the outsider is proposing to buy. (Usually the corporation gets the first chance, and if it refuses, the other shareholders get the right to buy proportionally to their holdings.) [150]

      2. First option: The "first option" is similar to the right of first refusal, except that the price is determined by the agreement creating the option. [151]

      3. Consent: Stock transfers may be made subject to the consent of the board of directors or the other shareholders. [151]

      4. Stock buy-back: A buy-back right is given to the corporation to enable it to buy back a holder's shares on the happening of certain events, whether the holder wants to sell or not. (Example: The corporation might be given the right to buy back shares of a holder/employee upon that person's retirement or termination of employment.) The corporation is not obligated to exercise a buy-back right. [151]

      5. Buy-sell agreement: A buy-sell agreement is similar to a buy-back right, except that the corporation is obligated to go through with the purchase upon the happening of the specified event. (Example: The corporation agrees in advance that it will repurchase the shares at a fixed price upon the death of a shareholder/employee.) [151]

    D. Notice and consent: Not everybody is necessarily bound by a share transfer restriction: [152]

      1. Signor: Obviously if the shareholder signs an agreement, he will be bound.

      2. Subsequent purchaser without notice: A person who purchases shares without actual knowledge of pre-existing restrictions will generally not be bound by the restrictions. However, if the restriction is conspicuously noted on the share certificates, he will be bound.

      3. Non-consenting minority holder: Courts are split as to whether a person who is already a shareholder at the time the restrictions are imposed (and who does not consent) is bound. RMBCA § 6.27(a) provides that a person who is already a holder at the time restrictions are imposed (e.g., by an amendment to the articles of incorporation or bylaws) will not be bound if he does not sign any agreement to that effect, and does not vote in favor of the restriction.

    E. Valuation: Most transfer restrictions require some valuation to be placed on the stock at some point. There are four common techniques: [153]

      1. Book value: The value may be based upon the "book value." This is basically the corporation's assets minus its liabilities. (Sometimes adjustments will be made to the corporation's historical balance-sheet figures to arrive at the book value used for valuation.) [153]

      2. "Capitalized earnings" method: If the "capitalized earnings" method is used, the parties use a formula that attempts to estimate the future earnings of the business, and they then discount these earnings to present value. [154]

      3. "Mutual agreement" method: If the "mutual agreement" method is used, the parties agree upon an initial fixed valuation and also agree that from time to time they will mutually agree upon an adjusted number to reflect changes in market value. [154]

      4. Appraisal: Last, if the "appraisal" method is used, the parties agree in advance on a procedure by which a neutral third-party appraiser will be selected; the appraiser then determines the value. [155]

    F. Funding of buy-sell: There are two main ways to fund a buy-sell agreement: [155]

      1. Life insurance: Life insurance can be purchased on each shareholder, in an amount sufficient to cover the estimated purchase price for that holder's shares. [155]

      2. Installment payments: Alternatively, the parties can agree that the shares will be purchased by the installment method. Usually, there will be a down payment, followed by quarterly or annual payments, usually paid out of the earnings of the business. (Often, life insurance is used to fund the down payment.) [155]

    G. Requirement of "reasonableness": Transfer restrictions will only be upheld if they are "reasonable." [155]

      1. Outright prohibition and consent requirements: Courts are especially likely to strike down an outright prohibition on the transfer of shares to third parties. Similarly, a provision that shares may not be sold to outsiders without the consent of the other shareholders is likely to be found unreasonable, if the others are permitted to withhold their consent arbitrarily. [155]

      2. Options, first refusals and buy-sell agreements: The other types of restrictions -- first option, right of first refusal, buy-backs and buy-sell agreements -- are more likely to be found "reasonable." In general, if the mechanism chosen by the parties is reasonable at the time the method was agreed upon, it will probably be found reasonable (and upheld) even though it turns out to produce a price that is much higher or lower than the market price at the time of sale. [155]

VI. RESOLUTION OF DISPUTES, INCLUDING DISSOLUTION

    A. Dissension and deadlock: The courts often have to deal with "dissension" and "deadlock" among the stockholders. "Dissension" refers to squabbles or disagreements among them. "Deadlock" refers to a situation where the corporation is paralyzed and prevented from acting (e.g., two factions each control the same number of directors, and the two factions cannot agree). [157]

    B. Dissolution: The major judicial remedy for dissension and deadlock is a court order that the corporation be involuntarily dissolved. Dissolution means that the corporation ceases to exist as a legal entity; the assets are sold off, the debts are paid, and any surplus is distributed to the shareholders. [158]

      1. No general right: No state gives a shareholder an automatic right to a judicially-ordered dissolution. Instead, each state has a statute setting forth specific grounds (strictly construed) on which dissolution may be granted. [158]

      2. RMBCA: Thus under RMBCA § 14.30(2), a shareholder must show one of these four things to get dissolution: (1) that the directors are deadlocked; (2) that those in control have acted in a manner that is "illegal, oppressive, or fraudulent"; (3) that the shareholders are deadlocked and have failed to elect new directors for at least two consecutive annual meetings; or (4) that the corporation's assets are being "misapplied or wasted." [159]

      3. Judge's discretion: Most states hold that even if the statutory criteria are met, the judge still has discretion to refuse to award dissolution (e.g., when it would be unfair to one or more shareholders). [159]

      4. Remedy for oppression: Most states allow dissolution to be granted as a remedy for "oppression" of a minority stockholder. (Examples: (1) Majority holder sells property to the corporation at inflated prices. (2) Majority holder tries to squeeze P out by refusing to pay him either a salary or dividends.) [160]

      5. Buy-out in lieu of dissolution: Under many statutes, the party opposing dissolution has the right to buy-out the shares of the party seeking dissolution at a judicially-supervised fair price. [161]

    C. Alternatives to dissolution: There are a number of alternatives to dissolution, including: (1) arbitration; (2) court appointment of a provisional director (to break a deadlock); (3) court appointment of a custodian (who will run the business); (4) appointment of a receiver (who will liquidate the business); and (5) a judicially-supervised buy-out in lieu of dissolution. [162]

      1. Fiduciary obligation of majority to minority: A few states (especially Massachusetts) have formulated a theory of fiduciary obligation, under which a majority stockholder in a close corporation has a fiduciary obligation to behave in good faith to a minority shareholder. [163]

      Example: P is a minority stockholder who has inherited her shares from her husband, an employee of Corporation. Corporation has previously bought back shares from its majority stockholder at a high price, but refuses to buy P's shares back at anything like the same price. Held, the controlling stockholder owed P a fiduciary duty, and was therefore required to cause Corporation to repurchase shares from P in the same portion, and at the same price, as it had purchased from the majority holder. [Donahue v. Rodd Electrotype].

        a. Where applied: The few courts that have recognized this "fiduciary obligation of majority to minority" tend to find it violated only where the majority holder causes the corporation to take action that has no legitimate business purpose. (Example: Majority holders fire P, end his salary, drop him from the board, and refuse to pay dividends; held, these actions had no legitimate business purpose, and were used merely to deprive P of a reasonable return on his investment, so the majority holders violated their fiduciary obligations. Wilkes v. Springside Nursing Home, Inc.)

      2. Award of damages: If the court does find that the majority has violated a fiduciary obligation to the minority, it can award damages. [163]

 

Chapter 6 
THE DUTY OF CARE AND THE BUSINESS JUDGMENT RULE

I. INTRODUCTION

    A. Duty generally: The law imposes on a director or officer a duty of care with respect to the corporation's business. The director or officer must behave with that level of care which a reasonable person in similar circumstances would use. [171]

      1. Damages vs. injunction: If a director or officer violates this duty of care, and the corporation consequently loses money, the director/officer will be personally liable to pay money damages to the corporation. Separately, if the board of directors has approved a transaction without using due care (and the transaction has not yet been consummated), the court may grant an injunction against the transaction. [172]

      2. Rare: It is very rare for directors and officers to be found liable for breach of the duty of due care. (When this happens, it's usually because there is some taint of self-dealing, but not enough to cause the court to find a formal violation of the duty of loyalty.) [172]

      3. Directors and officers: The same duty of care is imposed on both officers and directors. However, what is "reasonable" conduct will often be different for an officer than for an outside director (since the officer normally has a better understanding of the corporation's affairs). [173]

II. THE STANDARD OF CARE

    A. Basic standard: The basic standard is that the director or officer must behave as a reasonably prudent person would behave in similar circumstances. [173]

      1. No "accommodation" directors: There is no such thing as an "accommodation" or "dummy" director. If a person sits on a board, he automatically (and non-waivably) bears the burden of acting with due care. [173]

      2. Egregious cases: However, liability for breach of the duty of due care is generally imposed only when the director or officer behaves "recklessly" or with "gross negligence." (Example: D, a director, fails to attend board meetings, fails to read financial reports, fails to obtain the advice of a lawyer or accountant even though he is on notice that the corporation is being mismanaged -- taken together, these acts amount to recklessness, and thus justify holding D liable for losses suffered by the corporation that could have been prevented by a director who exercised reasonable care. [Francis v. United Jersey Bank].) [173]

    B. Objective standard: The standard of care is an objective one: the director is held to the conduct that would be exercised by a "reasonable person" in the director's position. So a director who is less smart, or less knowledgeable about business than an "ordinary" reasonable director nonetheless must meet this higher objective standard. [175]

      1. Special skills: On the other hand, if the director has special skills that go beyond what an ordinary director would have, he must use those skills. Thus a trained accountant, lawyer, banker, real estate professional, etc., if he learns of facts that would make a person in that profession suspicious, must follow through and investigate even though these facts would not make a non-professional suspicious. [175]

    C. Reliance on experts and committees: Directors are generally entitled to rely on experts, on reports prepared by insiders, and on action taken by a committee of the board. But all such reliance is allowed only if it is "reasonable" under the circumstances. (Example: A director may rely on the financial statements prepared by the corporation's accountants; therefore, unless the director is on notice that the accountants are failing to uncover wrongdoing, the director will not be liable for, say, embezzlement that is not reflected in the financial statements.) [176]

    D. Passive negligence: A director will not be liable merely for failing to detect wrongdoing by officers or employees. However, if the director is on notice of facts suggesting wrongdoing, he cannot close his eyes to these facts. Also, in large corporations, it may constitute a violation of due care for the directors not to put into place monitoring mechanisms (e.g., stringent internal accounting controls, and/or an audit committee) to detect wrongdoing. [177]

    E. Causation: In many states, even if a director or officer has violated the duty of due care he is only liable for damages that are the proximate result of his conduct. (For instance, if the loss would have happened anyway, even had the directors all behaved with due care, there will be no liability in these courts.) However, other states, including Delaware, allow plaintiff to recover without a showing of causation against a director who violated his duty of care. [178]

      1. Joint and several: If a board member violates his duty of due care, at least some courts hold him jointly and severally liable with all other directors who have violated that duty, so long as the board collectively was a proximate cause of the loss. (In other words, a director cannot say, "Even if I had been diligent, the other directors would still have ignored me and the loss would have happened anyway.") [178]

III. THE BUSINESS JUDGMENT RULE

    A. Function of rule: The "business judgment rule" saves many actions from being held to be violations of the duty of due care. [179]

      1. Relation to duty of due care: Here is how the duty of due care and the business judgment rule fit together: (1) the duty of due care imposes a fairly stern set of procedural requirements for directors' actions; (2) once these procedural requirements are satisfied, the business judgment rule then supplies a much easier-to-satisfy standard with respect to the substance of the business decision. [180]

    B. Requirements: The business judgment rule basically provides that a substantively-unwise decision by a director or officer will not by itself constitute a lack of due care. However, there are three requirements (two of them procedural) which a decision by a director or officer must meet before it will be upheld by application of the business judgment rule: [182]

      1. No self-dealing: First, the director or officer will not qualify for the protection of the business judgment rule if he has an "interest" in the transaction. In other words, any self-dealing by the director or officer will deprive him of the rule's protection. (Example: X, an officer of Corp, has Corp buy supplies at inflated prices from another company of which X is secretly a major shareholder. X's decision to have Corp buy the supplies in this manner will not be protected by the business judgment rule, because the transaction in question amounted to self-dealing by X.) [182]

      2. Informed decision: Second, the decision must have been an "informed" one. That is, the director or officer must have gathered at least a reasonable amount of information about the decision before he makes it. [183]

        a. Gross negligence standard: Probably the "gross negligence" standard applies to the issue of whether the decision was an informed one. In other words, even if the director or officer is somewhat (but not grossly) negligent in failing to gather all reasonably available information, he will not lose the benefit of the rule. But if he was grossly negligent, he will lose the protection.

        Example: The Ds, directors of a publicly held corporation, approve a sale of the company without making any real attempt to learn the "intrinsic value" of the company, without having any written documentation about the proposed deal, without learning that no true bargaining took place with the buyer, and while spending only two hours on the decision even though there was no real emergency or time pressure. Held, the process used by the directors was so sloppy that their decision was not an "informed" one, so they do not have the protection of the business judgment rule and are in fact liable for the breach of the duty of due care. [Smith v. Van Gorkom]

      3. "Rational" decision: Finally, the director or officer must have "rationally believed" that his business judgment was in the corporation's best interest. So the decision does not have to be substantively "reasonable," but it must be at least "rational" (i.e., not totally crazy). [186]

    C. Exceptions: Even where these three requirements for the business judgment rule are satisfied, there are one or two situations where the court may find the rule inapplicable: [186]

      1. Illegal: If the act taken or approved by the director or officer is a violation of a criminal statute, the defendant will lose the benefit of the business judgment rule. (Example: The Ds, directors of a major corporation, approve the corporation's making of illegal political contributions. Held, the directors will not be protected by the business judgment rule, because the transaction in question violated a criminal statute. [Miller v. American Telephone & Tele. Co.]) [186]

      2. Pursuit of "social" goals: Some courts may hold the business judgment rule inapplicable if the director is pursuing his own social or political goals (unrelated to the corporation's welfare). But other courts do not agree. [187]

IV. RECENT STATUTORY CHANGES TO DIRECTOR LIABILITY

    A. Some approaches: Some states have tried to restrict the liability of directors for breaches of the duty of due care. Here are some approaches: [188]

      1. Amendment: Some states allow the shareholders to amend the articles of incorporation to eliminate or reduce directors' personal liability for violations of the duty of due care (e.g., Delaware § 102(b)(7)); [188]

      2. Looser standard: Some states have made the standard of care looser, so that only more outrageous conduct will be covered; [188]

      3. Limit on money damages: Some states limit the money damages that may be recovered against the officer or director; and [188]

      4. Indemnification: Most states now allow the corporation to indemnify directors and officers for liability for breach of the duty of due care. [189]

 

Chapter 7 
DUTY OF LOYALTY

I. SELF-DEALING TRANSACTIONS

    A. Definition: A "self-dealing transaction" is one in which three conditions are met: (1) a Key Player (officer, director or controlling shareholder) and the corporation are on opposite sides of a transaction; (2) the Key Player has helped influence the corporation's decision to enter the transaction; and (3) the Key Player's personal financial interests are at least potentially in conflict with the financial interests of the corporation. (Example: A director/shareholder of Corp induces Corp to buy Blackacre from him at an inflated price.) [195]

    B. Modern rule on self-dealing transactions: Courts will frequently intervene to strike down (or award damages for) a self-dealing transaction. [197]

      1. General statement: In most states, the approach to self-dealing transactions is as follows: [197]

        a. Fair: If the transaction is found to be fair to the corporation, the court will uphold it. This is true regardless of whether the transaction was ever approved by disinterested directors or ratified by the shareholders.

        b. Waste/fraud: If the transaction is so unfair that it amounts to "waste" or "fraud" against the corporation, the court will usually void it at the request of a stockholder. This is true even though the transaction was approved by a majority of disinterested directors or ratified by the shareholders.

        c. Middle ground: If the transaction does not fall into either of the two above categories -- it's not clearly fair, but it's not so unfair as to amount to waste or fraud -- the presence or absence of director approval and/or shareholder ratification will make the difference. If a majority of disinterested and knowledgeable directors have approved the transaction (or if the transaction has been ratified by the shareholders) the court will probably approve the transaction. If neither disinterested-director approval nor shareholder ratification has occurred, the court will probably invalidate the transaction.

      2. Three paths: Thus there are three different ways that a proponent of a self-dealing transaction can probably avoid invalidation: (1) by showing approval by a majority of disinterested directors, after full disclosure; (2) by showing ratification by shareholders, after full disclosure; and (3) by showing that the transaction was fair when made. We consider each of these "branches" below. [203]

    C. Disclosure plus board approval: A transaction may not be avoided by the corporation if it was authorized by a majority of the disinterested directors, after full disclosure of the nature of the conflict and the transaction. [203]

      1. What must be disclosed: Two kinds of information must be disclosed to the board before it approves the transaction: (1) the material facts about the conflict; and (2) the material facts about the transaction. (Example: If D, a director of XYZ Corp, wants to sell XYZ an office building he owns, he must disclose not only the fact that he owns the office building, but also any material facts about the deal, such as whether the price is a fair one in light of current market conditions.) [203]

        a. When disclosure must be made: Courts are split about when this disclosure must be made. Some courts require it to be made before the transaction. Others allow it to be "ratified" after the fact (e.g., by a resolution in which the board says that it has no objection to the transaction).

      2. Who is "disinterested" director: The approval must be by a majority of the "disinterested" directors. A director will be "interested" if either: (1) he or an immediate member of his family has a financial interest in the transaction; or (2) he or a family member has a relationship with the other party to the transaction that would reasonably be expected to affect his judgment about the transaction. (Example: Prexy is president, director and controlling shareholder of XYZ. He wants to sell Blackacre, which he owns, to XYZ. Sidekick, who is an employee and director of XYZ, knows that he owes his job to Prexy. Sidekick will probably not be a "disinterested" director because his relationship with Prexy would be expected to affect his judgment about the transaction; therefore, Sidekick's vote to approve the transaction will not be counted.) [206]

      3. Quorum: A quorum for the vote by the disinterested directors merely has to consist of a majority of the disinterested directors, not a majority of the total directors. (Thus if there is a nine-member board, but only three disinterested directors, two of them will constitute a quorum, and both will have to vote in favor of the transaction to authorize it.) [206]

      4. Immunization of unfairness: The fact that a majority of the disinterested directors (acting after full disclosure) have approved or ratified the transaction does not necessarily immunize it from attack, if the unfairness is very great. But the existence of such approval/ratification shifts the burden of proof to the person attacking the transaction, and the transaction will only be struck down if the unfairness is so great as to constitute fraud or waste. [207]

    D. Disclosure plus shareholder ratification: A self-dealing transaction will be validated if it is fully disclosed to the shareholders, and then ratified by a majority of them. [207]

      1. Disinterested shareholders: The courts are split about whether the ratification must be by a majority of disinterested shareholders, or merely by a majority of all shareholders (including, perhaps, the one who is doing the self-dealing). [208]

        a. RMBCA: Under RMBCA § 8.63, a majority of the disinterested shareholders must approve the transaction.

    E. Fairness as key criterion: Finally, a self-dealing transaction can be validated by a showing that it is, under all the circumstances, fair to the corporation. Such "overall fairness" will suffice even if the transaction was neither approved by the disinterested directors nor ratified by the shareholders. Fairness is generally determined by the facts as they were known at the time of the transaction. [208]

      1. No prior disclosure: In most courts, a fair transaction will be upheld even though it was never disclosed by the Key Player to his fellow executives, directors or shareholders. (But the ALI's Principles of Corporate Governance do require disclosure, though this disclosure may be made anytime up to a reasonable time after suit is filed challenging the transaction.) [208]

    F. Indirect conflicts: A self-dealing transaction will be found not only where the Key Player is directly a party to the transaction, but also where he is indirectly a party, i.e., he owns an equity position in the other party to the transaction. The test is whether the Key Player's equity participation in the other party is big enough to expect his judgment to be affected. See RMBCA § 8.60(1)(i), (ii). (Example: Prexy, in addition to being president, director and controlling shareholder of XYZ Corp, owns 20% of ABC Corp. A major transaction between ABC and XYZ will probably be a self-dealing transaction if Prexy influences the XYZ side of it, because Prexy's own 20% stake in ABC is probably large enough to affect his judgment about whether the transaction is good for XYZ.) [210]

      1. Interlocking directors: If the Key Player is merely a director (not a shareholder) of the other party to the transaction, this will usually not make the transaction a self-dealing one unless the transaction is a non-ordinary-course one requiring board approval. See RMBCA § 8.60(1)(ii). [211]

    G. Remedies for violation: If there has been a violation of the rule against self-dealing, there are two possible remedies:

      1. Rescission: Normally, the court will rescind the transaction, where this is possible. (Example: Prexy sells Blackacre to XYZ Corp, of which he is president and director. If the transaction is unfair, and was not ratified by directors or shareholders, the court will rescind it, giving title back to Prexy and the purchase price back to XYZ.) [212]

      2. Damages: If because of passage of time or complexity of the transaction it cannot be rescinded, the court will award restitutionary damages. That is, the Key Player will have to pay back to the corporation any benefit he received beyond what was fair. [212]

II. EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

    A. Business judgment rule: If an officer or director influences a corporation's decision about his own compensation, this is technically a self-dealing transaction. However, courts are reluctant to strike down decisions about executive compensation. Such decisions receive the protection of the business judgment rule: the director's decision will be sustained so long as it is rational, informed, and made in good faith. [217]

    B. Consideration: In the case of deferred compensation plans, courts sometimes insist that the plan be set up in such a way that an executive will receive the deferred compensation only if he remains with the company. Thus a grant of stock options to all executives (regardless of whether they stay with the company) might be struck down as lacking in consideration. [218]

    C. Excessive compensation: Even if a compensation scheme has been approved by a majority of the disinterested directors, or ratified by the shareholders, the court may still overturn it if the level of compensation is "excessive" or "unreasonable." That is, the compensation levels must be reasonably related to the value of the services performed by the executive. [218]

      1. Few cases: But courts very rarely strike down a compensation plan as excessive. One exception may be where a plan makes use of a formula which is not amended even though conditions change. (Example: If XYZ enacts a formula paying its president 10% of pre-tax profits, and the corporation's profits increase so much that the president is earning $25 million a year, the court might strike the plan as excessive.) [219]

III. THE CORPORATE OPPORTUNITY DOCTRINE AND RELATED PROBLEMS

    A. Competition with corporation: A director or senior executive may not compete with the corporation, where this competition is likely to harm the corporation. (Example: Corp operates department stores in a particular city. A, B, and C, senior executives of Corp, secretly purchase a controlling interest in another department store in the same city. This is competition which is likely to harm Corp, so A, B, and C are violating their duty of loyalty to Corp.) [221]

      1. Approval or ratification: Conduct that would otherwise be prohibited as disloyal competition may be validated by being approved by disinterested directors, or by being ratified by the shareholders. The Key Player must first make full disclosure about the conflict and the competition that he proposes to engage in. [222]

      2. Preparation to compete: Usually, courts will find that a Key Player has violated his duty of loyalty even if he just prepares to compete (rather than actually competing) while still in the corporation's employ. The court often will order the insider to return all salary he earned during the period of preparation. [222]

      3. Competition after end of employment: But if the executive first leaves the corporation, and only then begins preparations or actual competition, this does not constitute a violation of the duty of loyalty. (However, the insider may not use the corporation's trade secrets. Also, the insider will be barred from competing if he has signed a valid non-competition agreement.) [222]

    B. Use of corporate assets: A Key Player may not use corporate assets if this use either: (1) harms the corporation; or (2) gives the Key Player a financial benefit. "Corporate assets" include not only tangible goods, but also intangibles like information. (Example: D, the president of XYZ, lives rent-free in a house owned by XYZ; this is a violation of the duty of loyalty to XYZ and to its other shareholders.) [223]

      1. Approval or payment: Use of the corporate assets will not be a violation of the duty of loyalty if: (1) it is approved by disinterested directors (after full disclosure); (2) it is ratified by shareholders (after full disclosure); or (3) the Key Player pays the fair value for any benefit he has received. [223]

    C. The "corporate opportunity" doctrine: A director or senior executive may not usurp for himself a business opportunity that is found to "belong" to the corporation. Such an opportunity is said to be a "corporate opportunity." [223]

      1. Effect: If the Key Player is found to have taken a "corporate opportunity," the taking is per se wrongful to the corporation, and the corporation may recover damages equal to the loss it has suffered or even the profits it would have made had it been given the chance to pursue the opportunity. [223]

      2. Four tests: Four different tests are used (depending on the court) to determine whether an opportunity is a "corporate opportunity": [224]

        a. Interest or expectancy: The oldest test is the "interest or expectancy" test. The corporation has an "interest" in an opportunity if it already has some contract right regarding the opportunity. (Example: Corp has a contract to acquire Blackacre; it therefore has an "interest" in Blackacre, so if its president buys Blackacre instead, he has taken a corporate opportunity.) A corporation has a "expectancy" concerning an opportunity if its existing business arrangements have led it to reasonably anticipate being able to take advantage of that opportunity.

        b. "Line of business" test: A more popular test is the "line of business" test, under which an opportunity is a "corporate" one if it is "closely related to the corporation's existing or prospective activities." (Example: ABC bottles Coca-Cola. President buys the then-bankrupt Pepsi-Cola company, and builds it into a successful competitor to Coca-Cola. President has taken a corporate opportunity from ABC under the "line of business" test.)

        c. The "fairness" test: Under the "fairness" test, the court measures the overall unfairness, on the particular facts, that would result if the insider took the opportunity for himself.

        d. Combination: Some courts adopt a two-step test, under which they combine the "line of business" and "fairness" tests (with the opportunity being found "corporate" only if both the tests are satisfied).

      3. Other factors: Regardless of which test is used, here are some factors that courts find important in determining whether an opportunity was a "corporate" one: [226]

        a. whether the opportunity was offered to the insider as an individual or as a corporate manager;

        b. whether the insider learned of the opportunity while acting in his role as the corporation's agent;

        c. whether the insider used corporate resources to take advantage of the opportunity;

        d. whether the opportunity was essential to the corporation's well being;

        e. whether the parties had a reasonable expectation that such opportunities would be regarded as corporate ones;

        f. whether the corporation is closely or publicly held (the case for finding a corporate opportunity is stronger in the case of a publicly held corporation);

        g. whether the person taking the opportunity is an outside director or a full-time executive (more likely to be a corporate opportunity in the case of a full-time executive); and

        h. whether the corporation had the ability to take advantage of the opportunity (but not all courts will use this factor; see below).

      4. Who is bound: Generally, courts seem to apply the corporate opportunity doctrine only to directors, full-time employees, and controlling shareholders. Thus a shareholder who has only a non-controlling interest (and who is not a director or employee) will generally not be subjected to the doctrine. [228]

      5. Rejection by corporation: If the insider offers the corporation the chance to pursue the opportunity, and the corporation rejects the opportunity by a majority vote of disinterested directors or disinterested shareholders, the insider may pursue the opportunity himself. The insider must make full disclosure about what he proposes to do. (Some but not all courts allow ratification after the fact.) [229]

      6. Corporation's inability to take advantage: Courts are split about whether it is a defense that a corporation would have been unable (for financial or other reasons) to take advantage of the opportunity. [229]

      7. Remedies: The usual remedy for the taking of a corporate opportunity is for the court to order the imposition of a constructive trust -- the property is treated as if it belonged to the corporation that owned the opportunity. Also, the Key Player may be ordered to account for all profits earned from the opportunity. [234]

IV. THE SALE OF CONTROL

    A. Generally: In some (but not most) situations, the court will prevent a "controlling shareholder" from selling that controlling interest at a premium price. [237]

      1. "Control block" defined: A person owns a "controlling interest" if he has the power to use the assets of the corporation however he chooses. . A majority owner will always have a controlling interest. But the converse is not true: a less-than-majority interest will often be controlling (e.g., a 20-40% interest where the remaining ownership is highly dispersed and no other shareholder is as large). [237]

      2. Generally allowed: The general rule is that the controlling shareholder may sell his control block for a premium, and may keep the premium for himself. [239]

        a. Exceptions: However, there are a number of exceptions (discussed below) to this general rule, including: (1) the "looting" exception; (2) the "sale of vote" exception; and (3) the "diversion of collective opportunity" exception.

    B. The "looting" exception: The controlling shareholder may not sell his control block if he knows or suspects that the buyer intends to "loot" the corporation by unlawfully diverting its assets. [240]

    Example: ABC is an investment company with $6 per share of assets, but with nearly offsetting liabilities and a net asset value of six cents per share. Buyer offers to buy Seller's control block for $2 per share, a sum many times greater than market value. Because Seller knows or suspects that the only reason Buyer is willing to pay such a huge premium is because he intends to illegally transfer the liquid assets to himself, Seller may not sell his control block to Buyer at a premium price. If he does so, he will be liable to ABC and its other shareholders for damages.

      1. Mental state: Clearly if the controlling shareholder either knows or strongly suspects that the buyer will loot, he may not sell to him. Also, if Seller recklessly disregards the possibility of looting, the same rule applies. Most, but probably not all, courts would also impose liability where the seller merely "negligently" disregards the likelihood that the buyer will loot. [240]

      2. Excessive price: In many courts, excessive price alone will not be enough to necessarily put the seller on notice that the buyer intends to loot. But an excessive price combined with other factors (e.g., the liquid and readily saleable nature of the company's assets) will be deemed to put the seller on notice. [242]

    C. The "sale of vote" exception: The controlling shareholder may not sell for a premium where the sale amounts to a "sale of his vote." [242]

      1. Majority stake: If the controlling shareholder owns a majority interest, the "sale of vote" exception will not apply. Thus even if the controlling shareholder specifically agrees that he will ensure that a majority of the board resigns so that the buyer is able to immediately elect his own majority of the board, this will not be deemed to be a sale of vote (since the buyer would eventually get control of the board anyway merely by owning the majority stake). [244]

      2. Small stake: If the seller has a very small stake (e.g., less than 20%) in the corporation, and promises to use his influence over the directors to induce them to resign so that the buyer can elect disproportionately many directors, then the "sale of vote" exception is likely to be applied. [243]

      3. "Working control": Where the seller has "working control," and promises to deliver the resignations of a majority of directors so that the buyer can receive that working control, courts are split about whether this constitutes a sale of vote. [244]

      4. Separate payment: Also, if the contract of sale explicitly provides for a separate payment for the delivery of directors' resignations and election of the buyer's nominees to the board, this will be a sale of vote. [245]

    D. Diversion of collective opportunity:

      1. Business opportunity: A court may find that the corporation had a business opportunity, and that the controlling shareholder has constructed the sale of his control block in such a way as to deprive the corporation of this business opportunity. If so, the seller will not be allowed to keep the control premium. [245]

      Example: ABC Corp, due to scarce wartime conditions, is able to get interest-free loans from its customers. President sells his control block to a consortium of those customers, who then cancel the no-interest loan arrangements and who sell themselves much of ABC's production, although at standard prices. The president may be found to have diverted a business opportunity belonging to ABC, in which case he will not be allowed to keep the portion of the price he received for his shares that is above the fair market value of those shares. See Perlman v. Feldmann.

      2. Seller switches type of deal: If Buyer proposes to buy the entire company, but Seller instead switches the nature of the deal by talking Buyer into buying just Seller's control block (at a premium), a court may take away Seller's right to keep the premium, on the grounds that all shareholders deserve the right to participate. [247]

    E. Remedies: If one of these exceptions applies (so that the seller is not entitled to keep the control premium) there are two remedies which the court may impose: [248]

      1. Recovery by corporation: Sometimes, the court will allow the corporation to recover. (But this has the drawback that the purchaser who paid the control premium gets a windfall.) [249]

      2. Pro rata recovery: Alternately, the court may award a pro rata recovery, under which the seller repays to the minority shareholders their pro rata part of the control premium (thus avoiding a windfall to the buyer). [249]

V. OTHER DUTIES OF CONTROLLING SHAREHOLDERS

    A. Possible general fiduciary duty: Almost no courts have held that a controlling shareholder owes any kind of general fiduciary duty to the minority shareholders. (A few courts have recognized such a fiduciary duty limited to the case of a close corporation. See, e.g., Donahue v. Rodd Electrotype, discussed supra. [252]

      1. Jones case: Only one major case seems to say that controlling shareholders have a general fiduciary obligation to minority holders. See Jones v. H.F. Ahmanson & Co. (controlling shareholders could not form a separate publicly-held holding company for their control block, thus drying up any public market for the minority shares). [253]

    B. Duty of complete disclosure: When a controlling shareholder or group deals with the non-controlling shareholders, it owes the latter a duty of complete disclosure with respect to the transaction, as a matter of state common law. [256]

    Example: Controlling shareholders in ABC give notice of the proposed redemption of a minority block, without telling the minority holders that due to secret developments the minority holders would benefit by exercising certain conversion rights. Held, this failure to give complete disclosure violated the majority's common law obligation to the minority. See Zahn v. Transamerica Corp.; Speed v. Transamerica Corp.

    C. Parent/subsidiary relations: When the controlling shareholder is another corporation (the parent/subsidiary context), essentially the same rules apply. [259]

      1. Dividends: When the parent corporation controls the parent's dividend policy, this is in theory self-dealing. But so long as dividends are paid pro rata to all shareholders (including the parent), courts will rarely overturn the subsidiary's dividend policy even though this was dictated by the needs of the parent. [259]

      2. Other types of self-dealing: Other types of self-dealing transactions between parent and subsidiary will be struck down if they are unfair to the minority shareholders of the subsidiary, and were entered into on the subsidiary's side by a board dominated by directors appointed by the parent. (Example: Subsidiary and Parent agree to a price and terms under which Subsidiary will sell to Parent the oil it produces. If Subsidiary's board is dominated by directors appointed by Parent, Parent will have to bear the burden of proving that the transaction is fair to Subsidiary and to the minority holders of Subsidiary.) [260]

      3. Corporate opportunities: If the parent takes for itself an opportunity that should belong to the subsidiary, the court will apply the "corporate opportunity" doctrine, and void the transaction. [262]

      4. Disinterested directors: The parent can avoid liability both for self-dealing transactions and for the taking of corporate opportunities by having the truly disinterested directors of the subsidiary form a special committee which negotiates at arm's length with the parent on behalf of the subsidiary. [262]

 

Chapter 8 
INSIDER TRADING

I. INTRODUCTION TO INSIDER TRADING

    A. Generally: The term "insider trading" has no precise definition, but basically refers to the buying or selling of stock in a publicly traded company based on material, non-public information about that company. [267]

      1. Not all illegal: Not all insider trading (as defined above) is illegal. In general, only insider trading that occurs as a result of someone's willful breach of a fiduciary duty will be illegal (at least under the federal securities laws, which are the main source of insider trading law). [267]

      2. Illustrations: Either buying on undisclosed good news, or selling on undisclosed bad news, can be insider trading (and will often be illegal). [268]

        a. Buying before disclosure of good news: Thus if an insider at Oil Corp buys stock at a time when he knows, and the market doesn't, that Oil Corp has just struck a huge gusher, this is illegal insider trading.

        b. Sale before disclosure of bad news: Similarly, if an insider at Oil Corp sells his stock at a time when he knows (and the market does not) that Oil Corp is just about to report an unexpected large loss, this too is illegal insider trading.

      3. Harms: The possible harms from insider trading include: (1) harm to the reputation of the corporation whose stock is being insider-traded; (2) harm to market efficiency, because insiders will delay disclosing their information and prices will be "wrong"; (3) harm to the capital markets, because investors will stay away from what they think is a "rigged" market; and (4) harm to company efficiency, because managers may be induced to run their companies in an inefficient manner (but one that produces large insider trading profits). [270]

      4. Bodies of law: There are three bodies of law which may be violated by a particular act of insider trading: [274]

        a. State common law: A few states impose common-law restrictions on insider trading.

        b. 10b-5: The federal SEC Rule 10b-5 prohibits any "fraudulent or manipulative device" in connection with the purchase or sale of security; this has been interpreted to bar most types of insider trading.

        c. Short-swing profits: Section 16(b) of the federal Securities Exchange Act makes insiders liable to repay to the corporation all profits they make from "short swing trading profits" (whether based on insider information or not).

        Note: Of these three bodies of law, SEC Rule 10b-5 is by far and away the most important limit on insider trading.

II. STATE COMMON-LAW APPROACHES

    A. Suit by shareholder: A shareholder can in theory bring a state common law action against an insider trader for "deceit." [275]

      1. Face-to-face: If the insider buys from the outsider in a face-to-face transaction, the rule is that the insider has no duty to disclose material facts (e.g., good news) known to him. So usually, even in this face-to-face situation, the plaintiff outsider will not be able to recover in deceit even though he would not have sold at the price he did had he known the undisclosed good news. But there are some exceptions: [276]

        a. Fraud: If the insider knowingly lies or tells a half truth, he will be liable under ordinary deceit principles.

        b. Special facts: Many states recognize a "special facts" exception to the general rule that silence cannot constitute deceit. (Example: If the insider seeks out the other party, or makes elaborate attempts to conceal his own identity, the "special facts" doctrine may be employed.)

        c. Minority rule: A minority of states impose a more general rule that in face-to-face transactions, the insider has an affirmative obligation to disclose material facts known to him.

      2. Garden variety impersonal insider trading: If the insider trading takes place in an impersonal rather than a face-to-face way (i.e., it occurs by means of open-market purchases on the stock market), virtually no states allow the outsider to recover on common-law principles. [277]

    B. Suit by corporation: A very few states have allowed the corporation to recover against an insider who buys or sells based on undisclosed material information. [278]

      1. Diamond case: The best known example is Diamond v. Oreamuno, where the corporation was permitted to recover against the insiders who sold before disclosing bad news; recovery was allowed even though there was no direct tangible harm to the corporation. [278]

      2. ALI: The ALI follows the approach of Diamond, by making it an actionable breach of loyalty for the insider to use "material non-public information concerning the corporation" to either cause harm to the corporation, or to secure a pecuniary benefit not available to other shareholders. [280]

III. SEC RULE 10b-5 AND INSIDER TRADING

    A. Summary: The principal proscription against insider trading is SEC's Rule 10b-5, enacted pursuant to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. [281]

      1. Text: SEC Rule 10b-5 makes it unlawful: (1) to "employ any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud"; (2) to make any "untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact. . . ."; or (3) to engage in any "act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person." All three of these types of conduct are forbidden only if they occur "in connection with the purchase or sale of any security." [281]

      2. Disclose-or-abstain: The insider does not have an affirmative obligation to disclose the material, non-public information. Rather, he must choose between disclosure and abstaining from trading. [283]

      3. Misrepresentation: If an insider makes an affirmative misrepresentation (as opposed to merely omitting to disclose information), he can be liable under 10b-5 even if he does not buy or sell the stock. [282]

      4. Nature of violation: Violation of 10b-5 is a crime. Also, the SEC can get an injunction against the conduct. Finally, a private party who has been injured will, if he meets certain procedural requirements, have a private right of action for damages against the insider trader. [283]

      5. Private companies: Rule 10b-5 applies to fraud in the purchase or sale of securities in privately-held companies, not just publicly held ones. [284]

    B. Requirements for private right of action: An outsider injured by insider trading has a right of action for damages under Rule 10b-5, if he can meet certain procedural requirements: [286]

      1. Purchaser or seller: P must have been a purchaser or seller of the company's stock during the time of non-disclosure. [287]

      2. Traded on material, non-public info: D must have misstated or omitted a material fact. [287]

      3. Special relationship: If the claim is based on insider trading, D must be shown to have had a special relationship with the issuer, based on some kind of fiduciary duty to the issuer. [287]

      4. Scienter: D must be shown to have acted with scienter, i.e., he must be shown to have had an intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud. [287]

      5. Reliance and causation: P must show that he relied on D's misstatement or omission, and that that misstatement or omission was the proximate cause of his loss. (In cases of silent insider trading rather than misrepresentation, these requirements usually don't have much effect.) [287]

      6. Jurisdiction: There is a federal jurisdictional requirement: D must be shown to have done the fraud or manipulation "by the use of any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce or of the mails, or of any facility of any national securities exchange." In the case of any publicly-traded security, this requirement will readily be met. But where the fraud consists of deceit in a face-to-face sale of shares, especially shares in a private company, then the jurisdictional requisites may well be lacking. [288]

      Note: The first five of these requirements are discussed below.

    C. P as purchaser or seller: P in a private 10b-5 action must have been either a purchaser or seller of stock in the company to which the misrepresentation or insider trading relates. Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores. [288]

      1. Non-sellers: Thus one who already owned shares in the issuer and who decides not to sell because the corporation or its insiders makes an unduly optimistic representation, or fails to disclose negative material, may not sue. [289]

      2. Options: Some courts hold that this "purchaser or seller" requirement also means that a plaintiff who buys or sells options on a company's stock has no standing to sue an insider who trades on the company's stock. [290]

    D. "Material" non-public fact: D must be shown to have made a misstatement or omission of a "material" fact. [291]

      1. "Material": A fact is "material" if there is a "substantial likelihood that a reasonable shareholder would consider it important" in deciding whether to buy, hold, or sell the stock. [291]

        a. Mergers: The fact that the company is engaged in "merger" discussions is not necessarily "material." This is a fact-based question that depends on how far along the negotiations are, whether a specific price is on the table, whether the investment bankers have been brought in, etc.

        b. Fact need not be outcome-determinative: To be "material," a fact does not have to be one that, if known to the investor, would have changed the investor's decision. The "total mix" test means that "a material fact is one that would affect a reasonable investor's deliberations without necessarily changing her ultimate investment decision." [Folger Adam Co. v. PMI Industries, Inc.].

      2. Non-public: If the claim is that D traded silently rather than made a misrepresentation, the omission must be of a non-public fact. But "non-public" is interpreted broadly: even if a fact has been disclosed, say, to a few reporters, it is still non-public (and trading is not allowed) until the investors as a whole have learned of it. [292]

    E. Defendant as insider, knowing tippee or misappropriator: In the case of silent insider trading, D will not be liable unless he was either an insider, a "tippee," or a "misappropriator." In other words, mere trading while in possession of material non-public information is not by itself enough to make D civilly liable under 10b-5. [293]

    Example: D is sitting in a taxi, and finds handwritten notes left by the prior occupant. The notes indicate that ABC Corp. is about to launch a tender offer for XYZ Corp. D buys XYZ stock. D won't be liable under 10b-5, because he was not an insider of XYZ, nor a "tippee" of one who was an insider of XYZ, nor a "misappropriator" who "stole" the information from anyone.

      1. Insiders: An "insider" is one who obtains information by virtue of his employment with the company whose stock he trades in. One can be an insider even if one is a low-level employee (e.g., a secretary). Also, people who do work on a contract basis for the issuing company (e.g., professionals like accountants and lawyers) can be a "constructive" insider. See infra. [294]

      2. Knowing tippee: A person will be a "tippee," and will be liable for insider trading, if he knows that the source of his tip has violated a fiduciary obligation to the issuer. Conversely, if the tippee does not know this (or if the insider has not breached any fiduciary obligation), the tippee is not liable. [295]

      Example: X, a former employee of ABC Corp, tells D that XYZ is engaging in massive financial fraud. X is not acting for any pecuniary benefit, but instead just wants to expose the fraud. D tells his clients to sell their ABC stock. Held, D did not violate 10b-5, because X was not violating any fiduciary duty, so D was not a knowing "tippee." Dirks v. SEC.

      3. Misappropriator: A "misappropriator" is one who takes information from anyone -- especially from a person who is not the issuer -- in violation of an express or implied obligation of confidentiality.

      Example: Lawfirm represents Behemoth, a big company that is secretly planning a takeover of Smallco. D, a partner at Lawfirm, learns from Behemoth about these plans, and buys Smallco stock. Held, D has violated 10b-5, because he misappropriated the information from Behemoth, in violation of an implied promise of confidentiality. This is true even though neither D nor Lawfirm was an insider of Smallco, the issuer. U.S. v. O'Hagan. [319]

    F. Scienter: A defendant is liable under 10b-5 only if he acted with scienter, i.e., with intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud. Probably this is met if D makes a misstatement recklessly. (In silent insider trading cases, the scienter requirement means that the defendant must have known that the information to which he had access was material and non-public.) [298]

    G. Causation; reliance:

      1. Misrepresentation: If the case involves affirmative misrepresentation (not just silent insider trading), P will be given the benefit of a presumption that P relied on the misrepresentation and that it caused P's injury. In other words, because of the fact that the stock market is usually "efficient," D's misstatement will be presumed to have affected the price at which the plaintiff bought or sold. (Example: D, an insider at XYZ, falsely says, "Profits will be up this quarter." P buys for $20 per share. Profits go down, and the stock drops to $10. The misstatement will be presumed to have affected the market price, and P will be presumed to have relied on the fairness of that price.) But this presumption may be rebutted. [300]

      2. Silent insider trading: If the case involves silent insider trading, the requirements of reliance and causation are not very important (and probably are ignored by the courts) so you can safely ignore them. [303]

    H. "Contemporaneous trader's" right to sue: In 1988, Congress specifically allowed any insider-trader to be sued civilly by any "contemporaneous trader" who traded in the other direction. The plaintiff can recover his own losses up to the amount of gain achieved, or loss avoided, by the defendant. P does not have to prove that the insider trading "caused" P's loss. (The statutory provision creating this right of action doesn't define "insider trading"; that's left to the courts, as it has always been.) [304]

    Example: D, Senior Vice President of XYZ Corp., learns from his job that XYZ will soon be acquired by ABC Corp. at a price of $40 per share. D buys 1000 shares of XYZ on March 1 at a price of $20 per share. On March 2, P sells 2000 shares of XYZ at $20 each. The merger is announced on March 3, and the price goes to $40 immediately. D sells at $40, and thus makes a $20,000 profit. P may sue D civilly, and may recover $20,000. That is, P gets the lesser of: (1) P's lost profits (which are probably $40,000, since that's the profit he would have made on his shares if the market had been aware of the inside information at the time P made his sale); and (2) D's gains ($20,000).

      1. Information not from issuer: This express private right of action applies even though the inside information does not derive from the issuer, but rather, from some third party. However, under court rulings that still apply -- like Dirks, supra -- the trade is not "insider trading" unless the trader knew that the information was obtained by the trader or his tipper in violation of some fiduciary responsibility. [305]

      Example: On the facts of the above example, P could recover even if D learned the information while working at ABC, the acquirer, rather than while working at XYZ, the issuer. But if D had learned the information by overhearing a conversation on a park bench -- or in any other way not involving a breach of fiduciary responsibility by D or D's source -- then this would not be "insider trading" at all, and P could not recover under the express private right of action now given to "contemporaneous traders" injured by insider trading.

    I. Damages: If P meets all of these requirements for a private 10b-5 action, there are various ways that the measure of damages might be calculated. [306]

      1. Misrepresentation: If D has made a misrepresentation, P generally receives damages that would be needed to put him in the position he would have been in had his trade been delayed until after the misrepresentation was corrected. [306]

      2. Silent trading; P is "contemporaneous trader": If D is a silent insider-trader, and P is a "contemporaneous trader," P may recover the lesser of: (1) P's own losses (probably measured by how much gain P would have made, or how much loss he would have avoided, had the inside information been disclosed before P traded); and (2) D's gains made, or losses avoided, from the transaction. See the example to Par. (H) above. [308]

      3. P is acquirer who has to pay more: If P is an acquirer who as the result of D's insider trading or tipping in the target's stock is forced to pay more to acquire the target, P's liability is probably not limited to the gains made by D. [308]

      Example: Suitor is planning to acquire Target. Target's stock is now $20 per share, and Suitor plans to offer the public $30. Dennis, a managing director at InvestCo., Suitor's investment banker, buys 1000 shares in Target at $20, and tells his friends so they can buy too. As a result of this trading and tipping, the price of Target jumps immediately to $30. Suitor finally has to pay $40, rather than $30, to buy all Target's 1 million shares. Probably Suitor can recover $10 million -- the amount it had to pay extra -- from Dennis, even though Dennis only made $20,000. Cf. Litton Industries v. Lehman Bros.

      4. SEC civil penalties: Also, the SEC may recover civil penalties against an insider trader. The SEC may recover a civil penalty of up to three times the profit gained or loss avoided by the insider trader. See '34 Act, § 21A(a)(3) and 21A(b). [309]

        a. "Controlling person's" liability: Furthermore, as the result of changes made by Congress in 1988 to the Securities Exchange Act, a person or organization who "controls" an insider trader, and carelessly fails to take steps to prevent foreseeable insider trading, may be liable for the same three-fold SEC civil penalties as the insider. (Example: D insider-trades based on information he learned while working as an associate in the mergers and acquisitions department of Law Firm. Law Firm can be liable for three-fold civil penalties if the SEC shows that Law Firm recklessly disregarded the risk that D might insider trade and failed to take reasonable steps to limit this risk of such trading.)

IV. WHO IS AN "INSIDER" OR "TIPPEE"?

    A. Recap: Remember that only a person who is either an "insider" or a "tippee" is covered by 10b-5. [310]

      1. Who is "insider": A person is an "insider" only if he has some sort of fiduciary relationship with the issuer that requires him to keep the non-public information confidential. [310]

      2. Who is "tippee": A person is a "tippee" only if: (1) he receives information given to him in breach of the insider's fiduciary responsibility; (2) he knows that (or, perhaps, should know that) the breach has occurred; and (3) the insider/tipper has received some benefit from the breach (or intended to make a pecuniary gift to the tippee). [310]

    B. Acquired by chance: Thus if an outsider acquires information totally by chance, without anyone violating any fiduciary obligation of confidentiality, the outsider may trade with impunity. (Example: The outsider randomly overhears inside information in a restaurant without any fiduciary violation by the speaker or by the outsider.) [314]

    C. Acquired by diligence: Similarly, if an outsider acquires non-public information through his own diligence, he may trade upon it. (Example: A security analyst ferrets out non-public information by interviewing former employees and others who when they speak to the analyst are not receiving or intending to confer any pecuniary benefit.) [314]

    D. Intent to make a gift: If an insider gives an outsider information with the intent to make a gift of pecuniary value to the outsider, the outsider will be a "tippee," and both insider and outsider will be liable. (Example: A gives an inside stock tip to his mistress, B, with the intent that B be able to make some money by buying the stock. Even though A doesn't expect or get any profit himself, A and B are both liable under 10b-5.) [315]

    E. "Constructive" insider: A person who is given confidential information by the issuer so that he can perform services for the issuer will be a "temporary" or "constructive" insider. Thus an investment banker, accountant, lawyer, or consultant will be a constructive insider (and thus may not trade, or tip others to trade). [315]

    F. Disclosure between family members: If the tipper learns information from a close relative, this relationship is not by itself enough to give the tipper a fiduciary responsibility. This is true even if the relative or the relative's family control the issuer, the information "belongs" to the issuer, and the tipper knows all this. [315]

    Example: The Waldbaum family, which controls publicly-held Waldbaum Corp., agrees to sell Waldbaum Corp. to another company, for a price higher than the current market price. Ira Waldbaum, President of Waldbaum, tells his sister; she tells her daughter, Susan. Susan tells her husband, Keith, and then tells him to keep the information secret. Keith tells D, his stockbroker, who secretly buys Waldbaum stock for himself. D is charged with the crime of violating 10b-5.

    Held, D is not guilty of violating 10b-5. The mere family relationship between Susan and Keith was not enough to make Keith a "fiduciary" regarding the merger information; this is true even though Keith knew the information came from the issuer (Waldbaum Corp.) and knew that the information derived from Susan's family's control of the issuer. (But if Keith had promised confidentiality to Susan as a condition of hearing the news, then he would have been a fiduciary.) Because Keith was not a fiduciary, his tippee, D, has no 10b-5 liability. (But D is guilty of violating SEC Rule 14e-3, which prohibits trading on non-public information about a tender offer.) U.S. v. Chestman.

    G. Confidential information from other than issuer (the "misappropriation" problem): Where an outsider receives confidential information but not from the issuer, the situation is trickier. [317]

      1. Criminal liability under other provisions: Often, trading by the outsider in this situation will constitute mail or wire fraud. This will be the case if the outsider has "misappropriated" the information. [318]

      Example: D is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He learns that company XYZ will be the subject of a favorable news story in the Journal. He buys XYZ stock. Held, even though D's information did not come from the issuer (XYZ) he has "misappropriated" it from his employer, so he will be criminally liable under federal wire and/or mail fraud statutes. Carpenter v. U.S.

      2. 10b-5: There is confusion about whether Rule 10b-5 is violated when the outsider trades based on confidential information from someone other than the issuer. [319]

        a. SEC action: Courts are split on whether the SEC may bring a civil or criminal action in this situation, but most courts would probably allow such an action.

        b. Civil liability to investors: Even if one who trades on confidential information not derived from the issuer is civilly or criminally liable in an SEC enforcement action, this does not necessarily mean that investors may successfully bring a private damage action against him (in the absence of any statute on point).

        c. Suit by acquiring corporation: If the outsider learns the information in breach of his fiduciary obligation to the would-be acquirer of a target, and then trades in the target's stock, there is a good chance that the acquirer will be able to recover damages against the outsider under 10b-5.

      3. Rule 14e-3: SEC Rule 14e-3 prohibits trading on non-public information about a tender offer, even if the information comes from the acquirer rather than the target, and even if the information is not obtained in violation of any fiduciary duty. There may be (this is not yet certain) an implied private right of action on behalf of the offeror and/or other investors in the target for a 14e-3 violation.

    H. One's own trading plans: It is not a violation of 10b-5 for one who is about to launch his own tender offer to buy shares on the open market without disclosing his plans. (Example: Raider secretly buys 4% of Target Corp stock on the New York Stock Exchange, without announcing that he plans to institute a tender offer. He then institutes a tender offer at a much higher price. Raider has not violated 10b-5 by his open-market purchases, even though he was concealing the material fact that he would soon be taking an action which would raise the price.) [322]

V. RULE 10b-5: MISREPRESENTATIONS OR OMISSIONS NOT INVOLVING INSIDER TRADING

    A. Breach of fiduciary duty: The fact that an insider has breached his state-law fiduciary duties may occasionally (but rarely) constitute a violation of 10b-5. [327]

      1. Lie to directors: For instance, if an insider lies to the board of directors and thereby induces them to sell him stock on favorable terms, this would be a 10b-5 violation. (Example: The chief scientist of XYZ Corp falsely tells the board of directors that there have been no new developments, when there has in fact been a major scientific breakthrough that will improve the company's prospects. The board then issues stock options to the scientist. The scientist will be held to have violated 10b-5, because he violated his state-law duty of disclosure to his corporate employer.) [327]

      2. Breach of duty without misrepresentation: But if an insider violates his fiduciary duties to the corporation or its shareholders without making a misrepresentation, this will not constitute a 10b-5 violation. In other words, there is no doctrine of "constructive fraud" to trigger a 10b-5 violation. (Example: The controlling shareholder of XYZ Corp carries out a short-form merger on terms that are substantively unfair to the minority stockholders. Even though this violates a controlling shareholder's fiduciary obligations to the minority shareholder, there will be no 10b-5 violation because there has been no fraud or deception. See Santa Fe Industries v. Green.) [327]

    B. Misrepresentation without trading: If a corporation or one of its insiders makes a misrepresentation, it/he will be liable even though it/he does not trade in the company's stock. (Example: D, the president of XYZ, falsely tells the public, "Our profits will be up this quarter." D can be liable under 10b-5 even though he has never bought any XYZ stock.) [328]

      1. Scienter: However, remember that D will not be liable for misrepresentation in a 10b-5 suit unless he acted with scienter, i.e., he knew his statement was false or recklessly disregarded the chance that it might be false. That is, D will not be liable for mere negligent misstatement. [329]

      2. Merger discussions: If a company is a company is engaged in merger discussions, and its insiders knowingly and falsely deny that the discussions are taking place, this may make them liable under 10b-5. (Therefore, they should say, "No comment," instead of falsely denying.) [329]

      3. Fraud by one not associated with issuer: Even a person not associated with the issuer can commit fraud by knowingly or recklessly making a false statement about the issuer or the issuer's stock. [328]

    C. Omission by non-trader: Where the company or an insider simply fails to disclose material inside information that it possesses, it/he will not be liable as long as it/he does not buy or sell company stock. (Example: D Corp signs a huge contract which improves its prospects enormously. It keeps the deal quiet for 10 days. So long as neither the company nor its insiders buys or sells any D Corp stock during this period, no violation of 10b-5 has occurred.) [331]

      1. Exceptions: But there are two exceptions to this general rule that there is no duty to disclose: [331]

        a. Leaks: If rumors are the result of leaks by the company or its agents, the company probably has an obligation under 10b-5 to correct the misapprehension.

        b. Involvement: If the company heavily involves itself with outsiders' statements about the company, it may thereby assume a duty to correct errors in those outsider's statements. (Example: X, a securities analyst, submits his estimates of ABC Corp's next quarterly earnings to ABC's investor relations director, W. W knows that these estimates are wrong but says nothing. X releases the estimates to the public. ABC and/or W may have violated 10b-5.)

    D. Defenses based on plaintiff's conduct: In cases involving misrepresentations (rather than silent insider trading), D may have two defenses based on P's conduct: [331]

      1. Due diligence: Under the due diligence defense, if D can show that his own misstatements were contradicted by documents in P's possession, and that P recklessly failed to read the documents, this will be a defense. [331]

      2. In pari delicto defense: Under the in pari delicto defense, if D can show that P's conduct was at least as culpable as D's, this may be a defense. Sometimes a tipper will assert this defense when sued by a tippee for having given a misleading tip. However, the defense will rarely succeed in this situation. [332]

VI. SHORT-SWING TRADING PROFITS AND § 16(b)

    A. Generally: Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 contains a "bright line" rule by which all "short-swing" trading profits received by insiders must be returned to the company. [333]

      1. Gist: The gist of § 16(b) is that if a statutorily-defined insider buys stock in his company and then resells within six months, or sells and then re-purchases within six months, any profits he makes must be returned to the corporate treasury. This rule applies even if the person in fact had no material non-public information. [333]

      2. Who is covered: Section 16(b) applies to any "officer," "director," or beneficial owner of more than 10% of any class of the company's stock. [333]

      3. Public companies: Section 16(b) applies only to the insiders of companies which have a class of stock registered with the SEC under § 12 of the '34 Act. Thus a company's insiders are covered only if the company either: (1) is listed on a national securities exchange; or (2) has assets greater than $5 million and a class of stock held of record by 500 or more people. [334]

      4. Who may sue: Suit may be brought by the corporation or by any shareholder. But any recovery goes into the corporate treasury. (The incentive is to the plaintiff's lawyer, who gets attorney's fees out of the recovery.) [253]

        a. P must continue to be stockholder: P must not only be a stockholder in the corporation at the time she files suit under 16(b), but she must also continue to be a stockholder as the suit progresses. However, if P is forced to exchange her shares for shares in a different corporation as the result of the target corporation's merger, P may continue her suit as long as she keeps the shares in the surviving corporation. Gollust v. Mendell.

      5. Public filings: To aid enforcement, any officer, director, or 10%-owner must file with the SEC (under 16(a)) a statement showing any change in his ownership of the company's stock. This must be filed within 10 days after any calendar month in which the level of ownership changes. [334]

    B. Who is insider:

      1. "Officer": Two groups of people may be "officers" for § 16(b) purposes: (1) anyone who holds the title of "President," "Vice President," "Secretary," "Treasurer" (or "Principal Financial Officer"), or "Comptroller" (or "Principal Accounting Officer"); (2) anyone (regardless of title) who performs functions that correspond to the functions typically performed by these named persons in other corporations. [335]

      2. "Beneficial owner": A person is a beneficial owner covered by § 16(b) if he is "directly or indirectly" the beneficial owner of more than 10% of any class of the company's stock (he need not own 10% of the overall equity). [335]

        a. Attribution: Stock listed in A's name may be attributed to B. A person will generally be regarded as the beneficial owner of securities held in the name of his or her spouse and their minor children (but usually not grown children). Thus a sale by Husband might be matched against a purchase by Wife; similarly, a sale and purchase by Wife might be attributed to Husband if Husband is a director or officer.

      3. Deputization as director: A corporation may be treated as a "director" of another corporation if the former appoints one of its employees to serve on the latter's board. (Example: ABC Corp owns a significant minority interest in XYZ Corp. ABC appoints E, its employee, to serve on the board of XYZ. ABC will be deemed to have "deputized" E to serve as director, so ABC will be treated as a constructive director of XYZ, and any short-swing trading profits reaped by ABC in XYZ stock will have to be returned to XYZ.) [337]

    C. When insider status required:

      1. Director or officer at only one end of the swing: If D is a director or officer at the time of either his sale or his purchase of stock, § 16(b) applies to him even though he does not have the status at the other end of the trade. [337]

      2. 10% owner: But the same rule does not apply to a 10% owner. A person is caught by the "10% owner" prong only if he has the more-than-10% status at both ends of the swing. [338]

        a. Purchase that puts one over: The purchase that puts a person over 10% does not count for § 16(b) purposes. (Example: D has owned 5% of XYZ for a long time. On January 1, he buys another 10%. On February 1, he sells 4%. There are no short-swing profits that must be returned to the company.)

        b. Sale that puts one below 10%: In the case of a sale that puts a person below 10% ownership, probably we measure the insider status before the sale. (Example: D already owns 15% of XYZ. He then buys another 10% on January 1. On February 1, he sells 16%. On March 1, he sells the remaining 9%. Probably D has short-swing liability for 16% sale, but not for the second 9%, since we probably measure his insider status as of the moment just before the sale.)

    D. What is a "sale," in the case of a merger: If the corporation merges into another company (and thus disappears), the insiders will not necessarily be deemed to have made a "sale." D will escape short-swing liability for a merger or other unorthodox transaction if he shows that: (1) the transaction was essentially involuntary; and (2) the transaction was of a type such that D almost certainly did not have access to inside information. [338]

    Example: Raider launches a hostile tender offer for Target. On Feb. 1, Raider buys 15% of Target pursuant to the tender offer. Target then arranges a defensive merger into White Knight, whereby each share of Target will be exchanged for one share of White Knight. The merger closes on May 1, at which time Raider (like all other Target shareholder) receives White Knight shares in exchange for his Target stock. On June 1, Raider sells his White Knight stock on the open market for a total greater than he originally paid for the Target stock. Raider does not have any § 16(b) problem, because the overall transaction was essentially involuntary, and was of a type in which Raider almost certainly did not have access to inside information about White Knight's affairs.

    E. "Profit" computed: If there is a covered purchase/sale or sale/purchase, the courts will compute the profit in a way that produces the maximum possible number. In other words, the court takes the shares having the lowest purchase price and matches them against the shares having the highest sale price, ignoring any losses. [342]

 

Chapter 9 
SHAREHOLDERS' SUITS

I. INTRODUCTION

    A. What is a derivative suit: When a person who owes the corporation a fiduciary duty breaches the duty, the main remedy is the shareholder's derivative suit. In a derivative suit, an individual shareholder (typically an outsider) brings suit in the name of the corporation, against the individual wrongdoer. [352]

      1. Against insider: A derivative suit may in theory be brought against some outside third party who has wronged the corporation, but is usually brought against an insider, such as a director, officer or major shareholder. [352]

    B. Distinguish derivative from direct suit: Not all suits by shareholders are derivative; in some situations, a shareholder (or class of shareholders) may sue the corporation, or insiders, directly. [353]

      1. Illustration of derivative suits: Most cases brought against insiders for breach of the fiduciary duties of care or loyalty are derivative. Examples include: (1) suits against board members for failing to use due care; (2) suits against an officer for self-dealing; (3) suits to recover excessive compensation paid to an officer; and (4) suits to reacquire a corporate opportunity usurped by an officer. [353]

      2. Illustration of direct actions: Here are some of the types of suits generally held to be direct: (1) an action to enforce the holder's voting rights; (2) an action to compel the payment of dividends; (3) an action to prevent management from improperly entrenching itself (e.g., to enjoin the enactment of a "poison pill" as an anti-takeover device); (4) a suit to prevent oppression of minority shareholders; and (5) a suit to compel inspection of the company's books and records. [354]

    C. Consequence of distinction: Usually, the plaintiff will want his action to proceed as a direct rather than derivative suit. If the suit is direct, P gets the following benefits: (1) the procedural requirements are much simpler (e.g., he doesn't have to have owned stock at the time the wrong occurred); (2) he does not have to make a demand on the board of directors, or face having the action terminated early because the corporation does not want to pursue it; and (3) he can probably keep all or part of the recovery. [355]

II. REQUIREMENTS FOR A DERIVATIVE SUIT

    A. Summary: There are three main requirements that P must generally meet for a derivative suit: (1) he must have been a shareholder at the time the acts complained of occurred (the "contemporaneous ownership" rule); (2) he must still be a shareholder at the time of the suit; and (3) he must make a demand (unless excused) upon the board, requesting that the board attempt to obtain redress for the corporation. [356]

    B. "Contemporaneous ownership": P must have owned his shares at the time of the transaction of which he complains. This is the "contemporaneous ownership" rule. [356]

      1. "Continuing wrong" exception: An important exception is for "continuing wrongs" -- P can sue to challenge a wrong that began before he bought his shares, but that continued after the purchase. [359]

      2. Who is a "shareholder": P must have been a "shareholder" at the time of the wrong. It will be sufficient if he was a preferred shareholder, or held a convertible bond (convertible into the company's equity). Also, it will be enough that P is a "beneficial" owner even if he is not the owner of record. But a bond holder or other ordinary creditor may not bring a derivative suit. [356]

    C. Continuing ownership: P must continue to own the shares not only until the time of suit, but until the moment of judgment. (But if P has lost his shareholder status because the corporation has engaged in a merger in which P was compelled to give up his shares, some courts excuse the continuing ownership requirement.) [359]

    D. Demand on board: P must make a written demand on the board of directors before commencing the derivative suit. The demand asks the board to bring a suit or take other corrective action. Only if the board refuses to act may P then commence suit. (But often the demand is "excused," as is discussed below.) [360]

    E. Demand on shareholders: Many states require P to also make a demand on the shareholders before instituting the derivative suit. But many other states do not impose this requirement, and even those states that do impose it often excuse it where it would be impractical. [360]

III. DEMAND ON BOARD; EARLY TERMINATION BASED ON BOARD OR COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION

    A. Demand excused: Demand on the board is excused where it would be "futile." In general, demand will be deemed to be futile (and thus excused) if the board is accused of having participated in the wrongdoing. [363]

      1. Delaware view: In Delaware, demand will not be excused unless P carries the burden of showing a reasonable doubt about whether the board either: (1) was disinterested and independent; or (2) was entitled to the protections of the business judgment rule (i.e., acted rationally after reasonable investigation and without self-dealing). [364]

        a. Difficult to get: But Delaware makes it very difficult for P to make either of these showings. For instance, he must plead facts showing either (1) or (2) with great specificity. Also, it is usually not sufficient that P is charging the board with a violation of the duty of due care for approving the transaction; usually, a breach of the duty of loyalty by the board must be alleged with specificity.

      2. New York: New York makes it much easier than Delaware to get demand excused. For instance, demand will be excused if the board is charged with breaching the duty of due care, not just the duty of loyalty. Also, New York requires less specificity in the pleading. [365]

    B. Demand required and refused: If demand is required, and the board rejects the demand, the result depends in part on who the defendant is. [365]

      1. Unaffiliated third party: If the suit is against a third party who is not a corporate insider, P will almost never be permitted to continue his suit after the board has rejected it. [365]

      2. Suit against insider: Where (as is usually the case) the suit is against a corporate insider, P has a better chance of having the board's refusal to pursue the suit be overridden by a court. But P will still have to show either that: (1) the board somehow participated in the alleged wrong; or (2) the directors who voted to reject the suit were dominated or controlled by the primary wrongdoer. (These requirements are similar to those needed to establish that demand is "excused," but it is usually somewhat easier to get the court to rule that the demand would be futile and therefore should be excused than to get the court to overturn the board's rejection of a required demand.) [365]

    C. Independent committee: Today, the corporation usually responds to P's demand by appointing an independent committee of directors to study whether the suit should be pursued. Usually, the committee will conclude that the suit should not be pursued. Often, but not always, the court will give this committee recommendation the protection of the business judgment rule, and will therefore terminate the action before trial. [366]

      1. New York view: In New York, it is difficult for P to overcome the independent committee's recommendation that the suit be terminated. The court will reject the recommendation if P shows that the committee members were not in fact independent, or that they did not use reasonable procedures. But if the court is satisfied with the committee's independence and procedures, the court will not review the substantive merits of the committee's recommendation that the suit be dismissed. [367]

      2. Delaware: It is somewhat easier to get the court to disregard the committee's termination recommendation in Delaware. Delaware courts take two steps: (1) First, the court asks whether the committee acted independently, in good faith, and with reasonable procedures. If the answer to any of these questions is "no," the court will allow the suit to proceed. (2) Even if the answer to all of these questions is "yes," the court may (but need not) apply its own independent business judgment about whether the suit should be permitted to proceed. (This second step will only be applied in "demand excused" cases.) [368]

      3. More liberal view: A few courts are even more willing than the Delaware courts to ignore the committee's recommendation of termination. Such courts believe that even a committee of ostensibly "independent" directors will for structural reasons rarely recommend a suit against insiders, so that the committee should be viewed as biased. In a few states, the solution is a court-appointed committee of non-directors, whose recommendation the court will accept. [369]

      4. RMBCA: Under the RMBCA, the court must dismiss the action if the committee of independent directors votes to discontinue the action "in good faith after conducting a reasonable inquiry upon which [the committee's] conclusions are based." RMBCA § 7.44(a). So, as in New York, but in contrast to Delaware, the court under the RMBCA will never review the substantive merits of the suit if the independent directors vote to discontinue. [370]

IV. SECURITY-FOR-EXPENSES STATUTES

    A. Generally: About 14 states have so-called "security-for-expenses" statutes, by which P must post a bond to guarantee repayment of the corporation's expenses in the event that P's claim turns out to be without merit. [373]

    B. Not substantial impediment: But such statutes do not usually serve as much of an impediment to the bringing of suits, mostly because the corporation often doesn't take advantage of them for various tactical reasons. [374]

V. SETTLEMENT OF DERIVATIVE SUITS

    A. Judicial approval: Most states require that any settlement of a derivative suit be approved by the court. The court must be convinced that the settlement is in the best interests of the corporation and its shareholders. [375]

      1. Factors: When the court decides whether to approve the settlement, the most important factor is usually the relation between the size of the net financial benefit to the corporation under the settlement and the probable net benefit if the case were tried. [376]

    B. Notice: In the federal courts and in many states, shareholders must be given notice of any proposed settlement of a derivative action, as well as the opportunity to intervene in the action to oppose the settlement.

    C. Corporate recovery: All payments made in connection with the derivative action must be received by the corporation, not by the plaintiff. [377]

VI. PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY'S FEES

    A. "Common fund" theory: Courts usually award the plaintiff's attorneys a reasonable fee for bringing a successful derivative action. Under the "common fund" theory, the fee is paid out of the amount recovered on behalf of the corporation. [378]

    B. Calculation of fee: There are two main approaches to calculating the amount of the fee:

      1. "Lodestar" method: Under the "lodestar" method, the key component is the reasonable value of the time expended by the plaintiff's attorney. This is computed by taking the actual number of hours expended, and multiplying by a reasonable hourly fee. Often, the award is then adjusted upward to reflect the fact that there was a substantial contingency aspect to the case. [378]

      2. "Salvage value" approach: The other approach is the "salvage value" approach. Here, the court calculates fees by awarding a percentage of the total recovery (usually in the range of 20-30%). [379]

      3. Combination method: Some courts combine the two techniques: they begin with the lodestar computation, but set a particular percentage of the recovery as a ceiling on the fee. [379]

VII. MISCELLANEOUS PROCEDURAL ISSUES

    A. Corporate counsel: There are two problems that frequently arise in connection with the lawyer for the corporation: [380]

      1. Attorney-client privilege: First, does the attorney-client privilege bar the corporation's lawyer from disclosing to P advice the lawyer gave to the corporation? Generally, the corporation is held to hold the attorney-client privilege independently of the stockholders, so the corporate counsel may in the first instance refuse to divulge the communications to P. But if P then shows "good cause" to the court why the privilege should be suspended in this particular instance, the court will suspend it and order disclosure. [380]

      2. Joint representation: Second, may the corporate counsel represent both the corporation and the defendants in the derivative action? Usually, the answer is "no." The best course is for the corporate counsel to represent the defendant insiders (since he probably has a pre-existing personal relationship with them). The corporation should then get its own independent litigation counsel, who can represent the corporation objectively. [381]

    B. Pro rata recovery: Usually, the corporation will make the recovery. But occasionally this will be unjust, so the court may order that some or all of the recovery be distributed to individual shareholders on a pro rata basis (i.e., proportionally to their shareholdings). Here are two situations where this might be done: [381]

      1. Wrongdoers in control: Where the alleged wrongdoers remain in substantial control of the corporation (so that if a recovery were paid to the corporation, it might be diverted once again by the same wrongdoers). [381]

      2. Aiding and abetting: Where most of the shares are in the hands of people who in some sense aided and abetted the wrongdoing. [382]

VIII. INDEMNIFICATION AND D&O INSURANCE

    A. Indemnification: All states have statutes dealing with when the corporation may (and/or must) indemnify a director or officer against losses he incurs by virtue of his corporate duties. [383]

      1. Mandatory: Under most statutes, in two situations the corporation is required to indemnify an officer or director: (1) when the director/officer is completely successful in defending himself against the charges; and (2) when the corporation has previously bound itself by charter, law or contract to indemnify. [383]

      2. Permissive: Nearly all states, in addition to this mandatory indemnification, allow for "permissive" indemnification. In other words, in a large range of circumstances the corporation may, but need not, indemnify the director or officer. [384]

        a. Third party suits: In suits brought by a third party (in other words, suits not brought by the corporation or by a shareholder suing derivatively), the corporation is permitted to indemnify the director or officer if the latter: (1) acted in good faith; (2) was pursuing what he reasonably believed to be the best interests of the corporation; and (3) had no reason to believe that his conduct was unlawful. See RMBCA § 8.51(a). (Example: D, a director of XYZ, acts grossly negligently, but not dishonestly, when he approves a particular corporate transaction. XYZ may, but need not, indemnify D for his expenses in defending a suit brought by an unaffiliated third person against D, and for any judgment or settlement D may pay.)

        b. Derivative suit: If the suit is brought by or on behalf of the corporation (e.g., a derivative suit), the indemnification rules are stricter. The corporation may not indemnify the director or officer for a judgment on behalf of the corporation, or for a settlement payment. But indemnification for litigation expenses (including attorney's fees) is allowed, if D is not found liable on the underlying claim by a court.

        c. Fines and penalties: D may be indemnified for a fine or penalty he has to pay, unless: (1) he knew or had reason to believe that his conduct was unlawful; or (2) the deterrent function of the statute would be frustrated by indemnification.

      3. Who decides: Typically, the decision on whether D should be indemnified is made by independent members of the board of directors. Also, this decision is sometimes made by independent legal counsel. [389]

      4. Advancing of expenses: Most states allow the corporation to advance to the director or officer money for counsel fees and other expenses as the action proceeds. The director or officer must generally promise to repay the advances if he is ultimately found not entitled to indemnification (but usually need not make a showing of financial ability to make the repayment). [390]

      5. Court-ordered: Most states allow D to petition the court for indemnification, even under circumstances where the corporation is not permitted, or not willing, to make the payment voluntarily. [391]

    B. Insurance: Nearly all large companies today carry directors' and officers' (D&O) liability insurance. Most states explicitly allow the corporation to purchase such insurance. Furthermore, D&O insurance may cover certain director's or officer's expenses even where those expenses could not be indemnified. [391]

      1. Typical policy: The typical policy excludes many types of claims (e.g., a claim that the director or officer acted dishonestly, received illegal compensation, engaged in self-dealing, etc.). [391]

      2. Practical effect: Insurance will often cover an expense that could not be indemnified by the corporation. For instance, money paid to the corporation as a judgment or settlement in a derivative action can usually be reimbursed to the director or officer under the D&O policy. [393]

 

Chapter 10 
STRUCTURAL CHANGES, INCLUDING MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

I. CORPORATE COMBINATIONS GENERALLY

Note: For the entire following discussion, the business that is being acquired is referred to as "Little Corp" and the acquirer as "Big Corp."

    A. Merger-type deals: A "merger-type" transaction is one in which the shareholders of Little Corp will end up mainly with stock in Big Corp as their payment for surrendering control of Little Corp and its assets. There are four main structures for a merger-type deal: [403]

      1. Statutory: First is the traditional "statutory merger." By following procedures set out in the state corporation statute, one corporation can merge into another, with the former (the "disappearing" corporation) ceasing to have any legal identity, and the latter (the "surviving" corporation) continuing in existence. [403]

        a. Consequence: After the merger, Big Corp owns all of Little Corp's assets, and is responsible for all of Little Corp's liabilities. All contracts that Little Corp had with third parties now become contracts between the third party and Big Corp. The shareholders of Little Corp now (at least in the usual case) own stock in Big Corp. (Alternatively, under many statutory merger provisions, Little Corp holders may receive some or all of their payment in the form of cash or Big Corp debt, rather than Big Corp stock.)

      2. Stock-for-stock exchange ("stock swap"): The second method is the "stock-for-stock exchange" or "stock swap." Here, Big Corp makes a separate deal with each Little Corp holder, giving the holder Big Corp stock in return for his Little Corp stock. [404]

        a. Plan of exchange: Under the standard stock swap, a Little Corp holder need not participate, in which case he continues to own a stake in Little Corp. However, some states allow Little Corp to enact (by approval of directors and a majority of shareholders) a "plan of exchange," under which all Little Corp shareholders are required to exchange their shares for Big Corp shares. When this happens, the net result is like a statutory merger.

      3. Stock-for-assets exchange: The third form is the "stock-for-assets" exchange. In step one, Big Corp gives stock to Little Corp, and Little Corp transfers substantially all of its assets to Big Corp. In step two (which usually but not necessarily follows), Little Corp dissolves, and distributes the Big Corp stock to its own shareholders. After the second step, the net result is virtually the same as with a statutory merger. [406] (However, approval by Big Corp shareholders might not be necessary, as it probably would for a statutory merger.)

      4. Triangular or subsidiary mergers: Finally, we have the "triangular" or "subsidiary" merger. [407]

        a. Forward triangular merger: In the "conventional" or "forward" triangular merger, the acquirer creates a subsidiary for the purpose of the transaction. Usually, this subsidiary has no assets except shares of stock in the parent. The target is then merged into the acquirer's subsidiary. (Example: Big Corp creates a subsidiary called Big-Sub. Big transfers 1,000 of its own shares to Big-Sub, in return for all the shares of Big-Sub. Little Corp now merges into Big-Sub. Little Corp shareholders receive the shares in Big Corp.)

          i. Rationale: This is very similar to the stock-for-stock exchange, except that all minority interests in Little Corp is automatically eliminated. (Also, the deal does not have to be approved by Big Corp's shareholders, unlike a direct merger of Little Corp into Big Corp.)

        b. Reverse merger: The other type of triangular merger is the "reverse" triangular merger. This is the same as the forward triangular merger, except that the acquirer's subsidiary merges into the target, rather than having the target merge into the subsidiary. (Example: Same facts as above example, except Big-Sub merges into Little Corp, so that Little Corp is now a surviving corporation that is itself a subsidiary of Big Corp.)

          i. Advantages: This reverse triangular form is better than a stock-for-stock swap because it automatically eliminates all Little Corp shareholders, which the stock-for-stock swap does not. It is better than a simple merger of Little Corp into Big Corp because: (1) Big Corp does not assume all of Little Corp's liabilities; and (2) Big Corp's shareholders do not have to approve. It is better than the forward triangular merger because Little Corp survives as an entity, thus possibly preserving contract rights and tax advantages better than if Little Corp were to disappear.

    B. Sale-type transactions: A "sale-type" transaction is one in which the Little Corp shareholders receive cash or bonds, rather than Big Corp stock, in return for their interest in Little Corp. There are two main sale-type structures: [412]

      1. Asset-sale-and-liquidation: First, there is the "asset-sale-and-liquidation." Here, Little Corp's board approves a sale of all or substantially all of Little Corp's assets to Big Corp, and the proposed sale is approved by a majority of Little Corp's shareholders. Little Corp conveys its assets to Big Corp, and Little Corp receives cash (or perhaps Big Corp debt) from Big Corp. Usually, Little Corp will then dissolve, and pay the cash or debt to its shareholders in proportion to their shareholdings, in a liquidating distribution. [413]

      2. Stock sale: Second is the "stock sale." Here, no corporate level transaction takes place on the Little Corp side. Instead, Big Corp buys stock from each Little Corp shareholder, for cash or debt. (After Big Corp controls all or a majority of Little Corp's stock, it may but need not cause Little Corp to be: (1) dissolved, with its assets distributed to the various stockholders or (2) merged into Big Corp, with the remaining Little holders receiving Big Corp stock, cash or debt.) [413]

        a. Tender offer: One common form of stock sale is the tender offer, in which Big Corp publicly announces that it will buy all or a majority of shares offered to it by Little Corp shareholders. (Alternatively, Big Corp might privately negotiate purchases from some or all of Little Corp's shareholders.)

      3. Differences: Here are the big differences between the asset-sale and the stock-sale techniques: [414]

        a. Corporate action by target: The asset sale requires corporate action by Little Corp, and the stock sale does not. Thus Little Corp's board must approve an asset sale but need not approve a stock sale.

        b. Shareholder vote: Similarly, the asset sale will have to be formally approved by a majority vote of Little Corp's shareholders, whereas the stock sale will not be subjected to a shareholder vote (each Little Corp shareholder simply decides whether to tender his stock).

        c. Elimination of minority stockholders: In an asset-sale deal, Big Corp is guaranteed to get Little Corp's business without any remaining interest on the part of Little Corp shareholders. In the stock sale, Big Corp may be left with some Little Corp holders holding a minority interest in Little Corp (though if the state allows for a "plan of exchange," this minority may be eliminated).

        d. Liabilities: In an asset sale, Big Corp has a good chance of escaping Little Corp's liabilities (subject, however, to the law of fraudulent transfers, the bulk sales provisions of the UCC, and the possible use of the "de facto merger" doctrine). In a stock sale, Big Corp will effectively take Little Corp's liabilities along with its assets, whether it wants to or not.

        e. Tax treatment: There are important tax differences between the two forms. In general, the tax treatment of an asset sale is much less favorable for the seller than is a stock sale. See below.

    C. Approvals for sale-type deals:

      1. Asset sale: In the case of an asset sale, here is how the approvals work: [419]

        a. Target side: On the Little Corp side: (1) Little's board of directors must approve; and (2) Little's shareholders must approve by a majority of all votes that could be cast (not just a majority of the votes actually cast). The shareholder approval is required under most statutes if all or "substantially all" of Little's assets are being sold.

        b. Acquirer side: On the Big Corp side of the asset-sale transaction: (1) the Big Corp board must approve; but (2) the Big Corp shareholders need not approve.

      2. Stock sale: In the case of a stock sale, each Little Corp stockholder would decide whether to sell his stock to Big Corp, and no approval by Little's board (or any formal vote of Little's stockholders) is necessary for some or all of Little's stockholders to do this. [419]

        a. Back-end merger: On the other hand, once Big got control of Little by having acquired most of Little's shares, it might want to conduct a back-end merger of Little into Big (or into a subsidiary of Bid), and this would normally require a vote by Little's board and shareholders. But each of these votes would probably be a formality, due to Big's majority ownership and board control of Little.

    D. Approval for merger-type deals: Here is how approvals work for merger-type deals:

      1. Statutory merger: In a traditional statutory merger: [421]

        a. Board approval: The boards of directors of both Big (the survivor) and Little (the disappearing corporation) must approve.

        b. Holders of target: The shareholders of Little Corp must approve by majority vote of the shares permitted to vote (except in a short-form merger, as discussed below).

        c. Holders of survivor: The shareholders of Big Corp also must approve by majority vote (except in the case of a "whale/minnow" merger, see below).

        d. Classes: Under many statutes, if there are different classes of stock on either the Big Corp or Little Corp side, each class must separately approve the merger.

        e. Small-scale ("whale/minnow") mergers: If a corporation is being merged into a much larger corporation, the shareholders of the surviving corporation usually need not approve. Under Delaware law and under the RMBCA, any merger that does not increase the outstanding shares of the surviving corporation by more than 20% need not be approved by the survivor's shareholders. (But this assumes that there are enough authorized but unissued shares to fund the merger; if the number of authorized shares must be increased, this will usually require a shareholder vote to amend the articles of incorporation.)

        f. Short-form mergers: Under most statutes, including Delaware and the RMBCA, if one corporation owns 90% or more of the stock of another, the latter may be merged into the former without approval by the shareholders of either corporation. (Example: Big Corp owns 92% of Little Corp shares. Under the Delaware or RMBCA short-form merger statute, Little Corp may be merged into Big Corp, and the 8% minority shareholders of Little Corp given stock in Big Corp, or cash, without any shareholder approval by either the Big or Little shareholders. But Little Corp shareholders will have appraisal rights, described below.)

      2. Hybrids: Here is how approvals work for "hybrid" transactions, i.e., those that are "merger-type" but not pure statutory mergers: [424]

        a. Stock-for-stock exchange: In a stock-for-stock exchange, the proposal: (1) must be approved by the Big Corp board but not by its shareholders; and (2) need not be formally approved by either Little Corp's board or its shareholders (though in a sense each shareholder "votes" by deciding whether to tender his shares).

        b. Stock-for-assets deal: In the case of a stock-for-assets deal: (1) on the Big Corp side, board approval is necessary but shareholder approval is not (as long as there are enough authorized but unissued shares to fund the transaction); and (2) on the Little Corp side, this is like any other asset sale, so Little's board must approve the transaction, and a majority of shareholders must then approve it.

        c. Triangular mergers:

          i. Forward merger: In a forward triangular (or "subsidiary") merger: (1) Big-Sub's board and shareholders must approve (but this is a formality, since Big Corp will cast both of these votes, and Big Corp's board (but not its shareholders) must also approve; and (2) on the Little Corp side, both the board and shareholders will have to approve the merger, just as with any other merger.

          ii. Reverse merger: In the case of a reverse triangular merger, essentially the same board and shareholder approvals are needed as for the forward merger.

    E. Taxation: Merger-type transactions are taxed quite differently from sale-type transactions. [426]

      1. Reorganizations: What we have called "merger-type" transactions are called "reorganizations" by the tax law. In general, in a reorganization the target's shareholders pay no tax at the time of the merger. (Example: Little Corp is merged into Big Corp, with each Little Corp shareholder receiving one Big Corp share for each Little Corp share. The Little Corp shareholders will not pay any tax until they eventually sell their Big Corp shares, at which time they will pay tax on the difference between what they receive for the Big Corp shares and what they originally paid for the Little Corp shares.) There are three different types of tax-free reorganizations: [427]

        a. "Type A" reorganization: A "type A" reorganization is one carried out according to state statutory merger provisions. The principal requirement is that the Little Corp shareholders have a "continuity of interest," i.e., that most of the compensation they receive be in the form of Big Corp stock.

        b. "Type B" reorganization: A "type B" reorganization is a stock-for-stock exchange. To qualify as a type B deal, Big Corp must end up with at least 80% of the voting power in Little Corp, and must not give Little Corp shareholders anything other than its own stock (e.g., it may not give any cash).

        c. "Type C" reorganization: A "type C" reorganization is basically a stock-for-assets exchange. Big Corp must acquire substantially all of Little Corp's assets, in return for Big Corp stock. (But Big Corp may make part of the payment in cash or bonds, so long as at least 80% of the acquisition price is in the form of Big Corp stock.)

      2. Sale-type transactions: If the transaction is a sale-type one (i.e., it is not a "reorganization"), here is how it is taxed: [430]

        a. Asset sale: In an asset sale, the target pays a corporate-level tax; then, if it dissolves and pays out the cash received in the sale to its own shareholders as a liquidating distribution, the target share holders each must pay a tax on the distribution. (Example: Big Corp buys all of Little Corp's assets for $1 million cash. Little Corp will pay a tax on the amount by which this $1 million exceeds the original cost of Little Corp's assets. If the remainder is paid out in the form of a liquidating distribution to Little Corp shareholders, each shareholder will pay a tax based on the difference between what he receives and what he originally paid for his Little Corp shares.)

        b. Sale of stock: In a stock sale, there is only one level of taxation, at the shareholder level. (Example: Some or all Little Corp shareholders sell their stock to Big Corp. Each shareholder pays a tax on the difference between what he receives per share and what he originally paid per share.) This tax is less, typically, than the combined two levels of tax in the case of an asset sale.

          i. Buyer dislikes: But the tax consequences on the buyer's side are less attractive than in the asset-sale situation. Thus the buyer will always want an asset sale and the seller will always want a stock sale.

    F. Accounting: The rules of accounting handle merger-type transactions differently from sale-type ones. [431]

      1. Pooling: In a merger-type transaction, the "pooling" approach is used. Under pooling, assets and liabilities for both companies are essentially added together on the resulting company's balance sheet (so that the survivor's post-merger balance sheet does not reflect the negotiated price that the survivor has effectively paid for the disappearing company's assets). [431]

      2. Purchase method: In sale-type transactions, by contrast, the "purchase method" is used. Here, the target assets acquired are valued at their purchase price, not their historical cost. [433]

      3. Significance: In the usual case where the acquired company's assets have a market value that is higher than the historical cost of these assets, use of the purchase method produces higher write-offs, and thus less net income, than the pooling method. Therefore, a publicly-held acquirer (which typically wants to show as high a net income as possible) will usually prefer the pooling method. [434]

    G. Federal securities law: Here are the federal securities-law implications of the various types of combinations: [437]

      1. Sale-type transactions: [437]

        a. Asset sales: If Big Corp is acquiring Little Corp's assets for cash, and Little Corp is publicly held, the only federal securities laws that are relevant are the proxy rules. Little Corp will have to send its holders a proxy statement describing the proposed transaction, so that the holders may intelligently decide whether to approve.

        b. Stock sale: If there will be a sale of stock by each Little Corp shareholder to Big Corp, Big Corp will usually proceed by a tender offer. If so, it will have to send special tender offer documents to each Little Corp shareholder.

      2. Merger-type deals: [438]

        a. Stock-for-stock exchange: If the deal will be a stock-for-stock exchange, for securities-law purposes this is the equivalent of public issue of stock by the acquirer. Thus if Big Corp will be acquiring each Little Corp share in exchange for a share of Big Corp, Big will have to file a registration statement and supply each Little Corp shareholder with a prospectus. Also, the tender offer requirements will generally have to be complied with.

        b. Statutory merger; stock-for-assets deal: If the deal will be a statutory merger or a stock-for-assets exchange: (1) Little Corp will have to send each shareholder a proxy statement to get the shareholder's approval; and (2) Big Corp must file a registration statement and supply a prospectus, as if it were issuing new stock to Little Corp's shareholders.

II. CORPORATE COMBINATIONS -- PROTECTING SHAREHOLDERS

    A. Appraisal rights: Appraisal rights give a dissatisfied shareholder in certain circumstances a way to be "cashed out" of his investment at a price determined by a court to be fair. [443]

      1. Mergers: In nearly every state, a shareholder of either company involved in a merger has appraisal rights if he had the right to vote on the merger. (Example: Little Corp merges into Big Corp. Any shareholder of either Big Corp or Little Corp who had the right to vote on the merger will in most states have appraisal rights.) [444]

        a. Whale-minnow: In the "whale-minnow" situation -- that is, a merger in which a corporation is merged into a much larger one, so that the increase in outstanding shares of the larger company is small -- the surviving corporation's shareholders do not get appraisal rights (since they would not get to vote).

        b. Short-form merger: But shareholders of the subsidiary in a short-form merger get appraisal rights even though they would not get to vote on the merger.

      2. Asset sales: In most states shareholders of a corporation that is selling substantially all of its assets also get appraisal rights. [446]

        a. Sale for cash, followed by quick dissolution: But if the selling corporation liquidates soon after the sale, and distributes the cash to the shareholders, usually there are no appraisal rights. See, e.g., RMBCA § 13.02(a)(3) (no appraisal rights where liquidation and distribution of cash proceeds occurs within one year after the sale).

        b. Delaware: Delaware does not give appraisal rights to the stockholders of a corporation that sells its assets.

      3. Publicly-traded exception: Some states deny the appraisal remedy to shareholders of a company whose stock is publicly traded. (But the RMBCA does give appraisal rights even in this situation.) [447]

      4. Triangular mergers: [448]

        a. Forward: In the case of a forward triangular merger: (1) on the acquirer's side, Big Corp's shareholders will not get appraisal rights; and (2) on the target's side, Little Corp's shareholders generally will get appraisal rights. [448]

        b. Reverse: In the case of a reverse triangular merger: (1) Big Corp shareholders do not get appraisal rights; and (2) Little Corp holders will get appraisal rights if Big-Sub is statutorily merging into Little Corp, but not if Little Corp is issuing its own stock in return for Big-Sub's stock in Big Corp.

      5. Procedures: Here are the usual procedures for appraisal:

        a. Notice: At the time the merger or sale transaction is announced, the corporation must notify the shareholder that he has appraisal rights.

        b. Notice of payment demand by holder: The holder must then give notice to the corporation, before the shareholder vote, that he demands payment of the fair value of his shares. Also, the holder must not vote his shares in favor of the transaction.

        c. Deposit of shares: Early in the process (in some states, before the vote is even held), the holder must deposit his shares with the company.

        d. Payment: Then, the company's obligations vary from state to state. In some states, the corporation does not have to pay anything until the court finally determines what is due. But under the RMBCA, the corporation must at least pay the amount that it concedes is the fair value of the shares (with the rest due only after a court decision as to fair value).

      6. Valuation: The court then determines the "fair value" of the dissenter's shares, and the corporation must pay this value. [450]

        a. Don't consider the transaction itself: Fair value must be determined without reference to the transaction that triggers the appraisal rights. (Example: Little Corp is worth $10 per share in the absence of any takeover attempt. Big Corp, recognizing possible synergies with its own business, acquires Little Corp for $15 per share. For appraisal purposes, the fair value of Little Corp stock will be $10, not the higher $15 price that reflects the benefits of the acquisition.)

        b. No "minority" or "nonmarketability" discount: Most courts do not reduce the value of P's shares to reflect that P held a minority or non-controlling interest. Instead, the court usually takes the value of the whole company, and then divides by the number of shares (so P, even though she is a minority holder, gets the same per-share price as the insiders would have gotten.) See, e.g., In Re Valuation of Common Stock of McLoon Oil Co.

        c. "Delaware block" method: Most courts use the "Delaware block" valuation method. Under this, the court considers three factors: (1) the market price just prior to the transaction; (2) the net asset value of the company; and (3) the earnings valuation of the company. These three factors can be weighted however the court chooses.

          i. Abandoned in Delaware: Delaware itself no longer requires use of the Delaware block approach. Delaware courts will now accept additional evidence of valuation, such as valuation studies prepared by the corporation, and expert testimony about what "takeover premium" would be paid.

      7. Exclusivity: Appraisal rights are the exclusive remedy available to an unhappy shareholder in some, but not all, circumstances. [454]

        a. Illegality: If the transaction is illegal, or procedural requirements have not been observed, the shareholder can generally get the transaction enjoined, instead of having to be content with his appraisal rights.

        b. Deception: Similarly, if the company deceives its shareholders and thereby procures their approval of the transaction, a shareholder can attack the transaction instead of having to use his appraisal rights.

        c. Unfair: On the other hand, if the shareholder is merely contending that the proposed transaction is a bad deal for the shareholders, or is in a sense "unfair," appraisal normally is the exclusive remedy (and the shareholder cannot get an injunction). But if unfairness is due to self-dealing by corporate insiders, the court may grant an injunction.

    B. "De facto merger" doctrine: Under the "de facto merger" doctrine, the court treats a transaction which is not literally a merger, but which is the functional equivalent of a merger, as if it were one. The most common result of the doctrine is that selling stockholders get appraisal rights. Also, selling stockholders may get the right to vote on a transaction, and the seller's creditors may get a claim against the buyer. [456]

      1. Only occasionally accepted: Only a few courts have accepted the de facto merger theory, and they have done so only in specialized circumstances. They are most likely to do so when the target has transferred all of its assets and then dissolves, and when the target's shareholders receive most of their consideration as shares in the acquirer rather than cash and/or bonds. [456]

      Example: Glen Alden Corp. agrees to acquire all of the assets of List Corp. (a much larger company). Glen Alden plans to pay for these assets by issuing a large amount of its own stock to List (so that List will end up owning over three-quarters of Glen Alden). Glen Alden will assume all of List's liabilities, and will change its name to List Alden Corp. List will then be dissolved, and its assets (stock representing a majority interest in List Alden) will be distributed to the original List shareholders. (The purpose of this bizarre structure is to deny the shareholders of Glen Alden appraisal rights, which they would have if Glen Alden was selling all of its assets to List, but will not have if Glen Alden "bought" List.)

      Held, this transaction was a de facto merger, so Glen Alden's shareholders have appraisal rights. See Farris v. Glen Alden Corp.

      2. Usually rejected: Most courts, including most notably Delaware, reject the de facto doctrine. [458]

      3. Successor liability: But even courts that normally reject the de facto merger doctrine may apply it (or something like it) to deal with problems of "successor liability." (Example: Big Corp acquires the assets of Little Corp, and carries on Little Corp's business. Normally, Little Corp's liabilities will not pass to Big Corp unless Big Corp has explicitly assumed them in the purchase contract. But a tort claimant who is injured by a product manufactured by Little Corp before the sale might be permitted to recover against Big Corp, on the theory that Big Corp should be treated as if Little Corp had merged into it.) [459]

    C. Judicial review of substantive fairness: Courts will sometimes review the substantive fairness of a proposed acquisition or merger. This is much more likely when there is a strong self-dealing aspect to the transaction. [459]

      1. Arm's length combination: If the buyer and the seller do not have a close pre-existing relationship at the time they negotiate the deal, courts will rarely overturn the transaction as being substantively unfair. For instance, under Delaware law a person who attacks the transaction for substantive fairness must: (1) bear the burden of proof on the fairness issue; and (2) show that the price was so grossly inadequate as to amount to "constructive fraud." P will rarely be able to satisfy this double-barreled test. [460]

      2. Self-dealing: But if the transaction involves self-dealing (i.e., one or more insiders influence both sides of the transaction), the court will give much stricter scrutiny. For instance, in Delaware, the proponents of the transaction must demonstrate its "entire fairness." [461]

        a. Two-step acquisition: This test is applied in two-step acquisitions.

        Example: Big Corp attempts to acquire Little Corp by means of a two-step hostile tender offer. Big Corp first buys 51% of Little Corp stock for $35 per share. As the second step, it then seeks to merge Little Corp into Big Corp, with the remaining Little Corp shareholders receiving $25 per share. (In the original tender offer, it announces that it plans to take the second step if the first step succeeds.) An unhappy Little Corp shareholder might (but probably would not) succeed in getting a court to enjoin this second-step "back end merger" on the grounds that it is substantively unfair. (The court would probably scrutinize the transaction fairly closely, but uphold it on the grounds that all shareholders were treated equally and knew what they were getting into.)

        b. Parent-subsidiary: Similarly, the court will take a close look for possible self-dealing where the transaction is a parent-subsidiary merger.

        Example: ABC Corp owns 80% of XYZ Corp (with the rest owned by a variety of small public shareholders). Most XYZ directors have been appointed by ABC. ABC proposes to have XYZ merge into it, with each XYZ share being exchanged for one share of ABC. Nearly all of the public XYZ minority holders oppose the merger, but ABC's 80% ownership allows the merger to be approved by a majority of all XYZ holders. A court would be likely to closely scrutinize this merger, because ABC's dominance of XYZ (and its ability to persuade the XYZ board to approve the transaction) amounted to self-dealing. Therefore, ABC will bear the burden of demonstrating that the merger terms are "entirely fair" to the minority holders of XYZ, and the court will enjoin the transaction if this showing is not made. (ABC could guard against this problem by having XYZ negotiate its side of the merger by the use of only "independent" directors, i.e., those not dominated by ABC.)

III. RECAPITALIZATIONS -- HURTING THE PREFERRED SHAREHOLDERS

    A. Problem: A board of directors dominated by common shareholders (as is usually the case) may try to help the common shareholders at the expense of the preferred shareholders. Typically, the common shareholders try to cancel an arrearage in preferred dividends, so that the common holders can receive a dividend. [467]

    B. Two methods: There are two basic recapitalization methods by which the common shareholders can attempt to eliminate the accrued preferred dividends: [467]

      1. Amending articles: First, they can cause the articles of incorporation to be amended to eliminate the accrued dividends as a corporate obligation. (But in most states, the preferred shareholders will have to agree as a separate class that this amendment should take place. See RMBCA § 10.04(a)(9).) [467]

      2. Merger: Second, the corporation can be merged into another corporation, with the survivor's articles not providing for payment of any accrued preferred dividends. (Again, in most states the preferred get to vote on the merger as a separate class. But under Delaware law, the preferred would not have this right.) [469]

    C. Courts don't interfere: Courts are generally very reluctant to interfere with such anti-preferred recapitalizations, even where the plans seems to be objectively unfair to the preferred holders. But in addition to possible veto rights, the preferred holders will also generally get appraisal rights. [469]

IV. FREEZEOUTS

    A. Meaning of "freezeout": A "freezeout" is a transaction in which those in control of a corporation eliminate the equity ownership of the non-controlling shareholders. [470]

      1. Distinguished from "squeezeout": Generally, "freezeout" describes those techniques whereby the controlling shareholders legally compel the non-controlling holders to give up their common stock ownership. The related term "squeezeout" describes methods that do not legally compel the outsiders to give up their shares, but in a practical sense coerce them into doing so. Squeezeouts are especially common in the close-corporation context, and are discussed briefly below. [470]

      2. Three contexts: There are three common contexts in which a freezeout is likely to occur: (1) as the second step of a two-step acquisition transaction (Big Corp buys, say, 51% of Little Corp stock, and then eliminates the remaining 49% holders through some sort of merger); (2) where two long-term affiliates merge (the controlling parent eliminates the publicly-held minority interest in the subsidiary); and (3) where the company "goes private" (the insiders cause the corporation or its underlying business to no longer to be registered with the SEC, listed on a stock exchange and/or actively traded over the counter). [471]

      3. General rule: In evaluating a freezeout, the court will usually: (1) try to verify that the transaction is basically fair; and (2) scrutinize the transaction especially closely in view of the fact that the minority holders are being cashed out (as opposed to being given stock in a different entity, such as the acquirer). [472]

    B. Techniques for carrying out a freezeout:

      1. Cash-out merger: The leading freezeout technique today is the simple "cash-out" merger. The insider causes the corporation to merge into a well-funded shell, and the minority holders are paid cash in exchange for their shares, in an amount determined by the insiders. [472]

      Example: Shark owns 70% of Public Corp. He wants to freeze out the minority holders. He creates Private Corp, of which he is the sole shareholder, and funds it with $1 million. He now causes both Public Corp and Private Corp to agree to a plan of merger under which each of Public's 1,000,000 shares will be exchanged in the merger for $1 in cash. The 30% minority holders in Public are completely eliminated by the $300,000 cash payments, and Shark receives $700,000 with which to pay down the bank debt that funded Private Corp in the first place. Such a "cash out" merger is allowed by most modern merger statutes, including RMBCA § 11.01(b)(3).)

      2. Short-form merger: A freezeout may also be done via the short-form merger statute. If ABC Corp owns 90% or more of XYZ Corp, then in most states at ABC's request, XYZ can be merged into ABC with all XYZ holders paid off in cash (rather than ABC stock). [473]

      3. Reverse stock split: Finally, a freezeout may be carried out by means of a reverse stock split. Using, say, a 600:1 reverse stock split, nearly all outsiders may end up with a fractional share. Then, the corporation can compel the owners of the fractional shares to exchange their shares for cash. [473]

    C. Federal law on freezeouts:

      1. 10b-5: A minority shareholder may be able to attack a freezeout on the grounds that it violates SEC Rule 10b-5. If there has been full disclosure, then P is unlikely to convince the court that 10b-5 has been violated, no matter how "unfair" the freezeout may seem to the court. But if the insiders have concealed or misrepresented material facts about the transaction, then a court may find a 10b-5 violation. [475]

      2. SEC Rule 13e-3: Also, SEC Rule 13e-3 requires extensive disclosure by the insiders in the case of any going-private transaction. If the insiders do not comply with 13e-3, they may be liable for damages or an injunction. [476]

    D. State law: A successful attack on a freezeout transaction is more likely to derive from state rather than federal law. Since a freezeout transaction will usually involve self-dealing by the insiders, state courts will closely scrutinize the fairness of the transaction. [476]

      1. General test: In most states, the freezeout must meet at least the first, and possibly the second, of the following tests: (1) the transaction must be basically fair, taken in its entirety, to the outsider/minority shareholders; and (2) the transaction must be undertaken for some valid business purpose. [477]

      2. Basic fairness: For the transaction to be "basically fair," most courts require: (1) a fair price; (2) fair procedures by which the board decided to approve the transaction; and (3) adequate disclosure to the outside shareholders about the transaction. [477]

      Example: Signal owns slightly more than half of UOP Corp., with the balance owned by the public. Four key directors of UOP are also directors of Signal (and owe Signal their primary loyalty). Two of these directors prepare a feasibility study, which concludes that $24 is a fair price for Signal to pay for the balance of UOP. Signal then offers $21 per UOP share. There is no negotiation between UOP and Signal on this price, and the non-Signal-affiliated UOP directors are never told about the $24 feasibility study. The deal goes through.

      Held, this acquisition did not meet the test of basic fairness to UOP's minority shareholders. The price was not fair (since Signal's own directors admitted that $24 was a fair price); the procedures were not fair (since there were no real negotiations between the two companies); and the disclosure was not fair (e.g., the public was never told about the feasibility study showing $24 as a fair price). See Weinberger v. UOP, Inc.

        a. Independent committee: A parent-subsidiary merger is much more likely to be found fair if the public minority stockholders of the subsidiary are represented by a special committee of independent directors who are not affiliated with the parent (e.g., if UOP had been represented by non-Signal-affiliated directors in a true bargaining session with Signal, the transaction in Weinberger might have been upheld).

      3. "Business purpose" test: Apart from the requirement that the transaction be basically fair, some but not all courts will strike down the freezeout unless it serves a "valid business purpose." In other words, in some courts the insiders, even if they pay a fair price, cannot put through a transaction whose sole purpose is to eliminate the minority (public) stockholders. [479]

        a. Going private: This business purpose test is especially likely to be flunked when the transaction is a going-private one (as opposed to a two-step acquisition or a merger of long-term affiliates).

        b. Delaware abandons: Delaware has abandoned the business purpose requirement, so in Delaware only the test of "basic fairness" has to be met.

      4. Closely-held corporations: If the freezeout takes place in the context of a close corporation, most courts will probably scrutinize it more closely than in the public-corporation context. This is especially true of "squeezeouts." (Example: Shark, who owns 70% of Close Corp, tries to coerce Pitiful, his long-time assistant, to sell his 30% stake. Shark fires Pitiful, cuts off his salary, and refuses to pay dividends, then offers to buy Pitiful's stake for a fraction of its true value. A court is likely to strike this transaction on the grounds that it is unfair, since it leaves Pitiful with no way to make a reasonable return on his investment.) [480]

V. TENDER OFFERS, ESPECIALLY HOSTILE TAKEOVERS

    A. Definition of tender offer: A tender offer is an offer to stockholders of a publicly-held corporation to exchange their shares for cash or securities at a price higher than the previous market price. [482]

      1. Used in hostile takeovers: A cash tender offer is the most common way of carrying out a "hostile takeover." A hostile takeover is the acquisition of a publicly held company (the "target") by a buyer (the "bidder") over the opposition of the target's management.

      2. Williams Act: Tender offers are principally regulated by the Williams Act, part of the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934. [491]

    B. Disclosure by 5% owner: Any person who "directly or indirectly" acquires more than 5% of any class of stock in a publicly held corporation must disclose that fact on a statement filed with the SEC (a "Schedule 13D" statement). [492]

      1. Information disclosed: The investor must disclose a variety of information on his 13D, including the source of the funds used to make the purchase, and the investor's purpose in buying the shares (including whether he intends to seek control). [492]

      2. "Beneficial owner": A 13D must be filed by a "beneficial owner" of the 5% stake, even if he is not the record owner. [492]

      3. When due: The filing must be made within 10 days following the acquisition. (Thus an investor has 10 days beyond when he crosses the 5% threshold, in which he can make further purchases without informing the world.) [492]

      4. Additional acquisitions: Someone who is already a 5%-or-more owner must refile his 13D anytime he acquires additional stock (though not for small additions which, over a 12-month period, amount to less than 2% of the company's total stock). [494]

      5. Groups: A "group" must file a 13D. Thus if A and B each buy 4% of XYZ acting in concert, they must file a 13D together as a "group" even though each acting alone would not be required to file. (A group can be formed even in the absence of a written agreement.) [494]

      6. No tender offer intended: The requirement of filing a Schedule 13D applies no matter what the purchaser's intent is. Thus even if an investor has no intent to seek control or make a tender offer, he must still file. [495]

    C. Rules on tender offers: Here are the main rules imposed by the Williams Act upon tender offers: [495]

      1. Disclosure: Any tender offeror (at least one who, if his tender offer were successful, would own 5% or more of a company's stock) must make extensive disclosures. He must disclose his identity, funding, and purpose. Also, if the bidder proposes to pay part of the purchase price in the form of securities (e.g., preferred or common stock in the bidder, junk bonds, etc.) the bidder's financial condition must be disclosed. [495]

      2. Withdrawal rights: Any shareholder who tenders to a bidder has the right to withdraw his stock from the tender offer at any time while the offer remains open. If the tender offer is extended for any reason, the withdrawal rights are similarly extended until the new offer-expiration date. [496]

      3. "Pro rata" rule: If a bidder offers to buy only a portion of the outstanding shares of the target, and the holders tender more than the number than the bidder has offered to buy, the bidder must buy in the same proportion from each shareholder. This is the so-called "pro rata" rule. [497]

      4. "Best price" rule: If the bidder increases his price before the offer has expired, he must pay this increased price to each stockholder whose shares are tendered and bought up. In other words, he may not give the increased price only to those who tender after the price increase. This is the "best price" rule. [497]

      5. 20-day minimum: A tender offer must be kept open for at least 20 business days. Also, if the bidder changes the price or number of shares he is seeking, he must hold the offer open for another 10 days after the announcement of the change. [498]

      6. Two-tier front-loaded tender offers: None of these rules prevent the bidder from making a two-tier, front-loaded tender offer. Thus the bidder can offer to pay an attractive premium for a majority but not all of the target's shares, and can tell the target's holders that if successful, he will subsequently conduct a back-end merger of the balance at a less attractive price. Such an offer often has a coercive effect on the shareholders (who tender because they are afraid of what will happen in the back end, not because they really want to be bought out). However, such two-tier offers are not very common today. [498]

    D. Hart-Scott-Rodino Act: The Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (H-S-R) requires a bidder to give notice to the government of certain proposed deals, and imposes a waiting period before the deal can be consummated. H-S-R applies only where one party has sales or assets of more than $100 million and the other has sales or assets of more than $10 million. [499]

    E. Definition of "tender offer": There is no official definition of "tender offer." [500]

      1. Eight factors: Courts and the SEC often take into account eight possible factors which make it more likely that a tender offer is being conducted: (1) active and widespread solicitation of the target's public shareholders; (2) a solicitation for a substantial percentage of the target's stock; (3) an offer to purchase at a premium over the prevailing price; (4) firm rather than negotiable terms; (5) an offer contingent on receipt of a fixed minimum number of shares; (6) a limited time period for which the offer applies; (7) the pressuring of offerees to sell their stock; and (8) a public announcement by the buyer that he will be acquiring the stock. [501]

      2. Vast quantities not sufficient: Mere purchases of large quantities of stock, without at least some of these eight factors, do not constitute a tender offer. [501]

      3. Privately-negotiated purchases: A privately-negotiated purchase, even of large amounts of stock, usually will not constitute a tender offer. This is true even if the acquirer conducts simultaneous negotiations with a number of large stockholders, and buys from each at an above market price. [502]

      4. Open-market purchases: Usually there will not be a tender offer where the acquirer makes open-market purchases (e.g., purchases made on the New York Stock Exchange), even if a large percentage of the target's stock is bought. [502]

    F. Private actions under § 14(e): Section 14(e) of the '34 Act (part of the Williams Act) makes it unlawful to make an "untrue statement of a material fact," to "omit to state" any material fact, or to engage in any "fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative act," in connection with a tender offer. [502]

      1. Substantive unfairness: This section does not prohibit conduct by a bidder that is substantively unfair, but that does not involve misrepresentation or nondisclosure. (Example: Bidder withdraws an attractive and over-subscribed tender offer, and replaces it with a much less attractive one. Held, even though this may be substantively unfair conduct, it is not deceptive, and therefore does not violate § 14(e) of the Williams Act. See Schreiber v. Burlington Northern.) [503]

      2. Standing: Several types of people can bring a suit for a violation of § 14(e), including: (1) the target (which can seek an injunction against deceptive conduct by the bidder); (2) a bidder (which can get an injunction against the target's management or against another bidder, but which cannot get damages against anyone); (3) a non-tendering shareholder (who can get either damages or an injunction); and (4) a person who buys or sells shares in reliance on information disclosed or not disclosed in tender offer documents. [503]

      3. Materiality: Plaintiff must show that the misrepresentation or omission was "material." That is, he must show that the omitted or misstated fact would have assumed actual significance in a reasonable shareholder's deliberations about whether to tender. [504]

      4. Scienter: Plaintiff probably must show scienter (i.e., an intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud) on the part of the defendant in a private § 14(e) action. [504]

      5. Reliance: D must normally show that he relied on D's misrepresentation (e.g., that he read D's tender offer materials). But there is no reliance requirement if P is complaining about the omission of a material fact. [505]

      6. Remedies: A private party may generally get either an injunction against consummation of the tender offer or damages. [505]

    G. State regulation of hostile takeovers: Many states have statutes which attempt to discourage hostile takeovers and protect incumbent management. [505]

      1. Modern statutes: Most modern anti-takeover statutes operate not by preventing the bidder from buying the shares, but instead depriving him of the benefit of his share acquisition, by: (1) preventing the bidder from voting the shares he has bought unless certain conditions are satisfied; (2) preventing the bidder from conducting a back-end merger of the target into the bidder's shell, or vice versa; or (3) requiring the bidder to pay a specified "fair price" in any back-end merger. [506]

      2. Delaware Act: The most important modern statute is the Delaware anti-takeover statute, Del. GCL § 203. Section 203 prohibits any "business combination" (including any back-end merger) between the corporation and an "interested stockholder" for three years after the stockholder buys his shares. Anyone who buys more than 15% of a company's stock is covered. The net effect of the Delaware statute is that anyone who buys less than 85% of a Delaware corporation cannot for three years conduct a back-end merger between the shell he uses to carry out the acquisition and the target, and therefore: (1) cannot use the target's assets as security for a loan to finance the share acquisition; and (2) cannot use the target's earnings and cash flow to pay off the acquisition debt. [507]

    H. Defensive maneuvers: Here are some of the defensive maneuvers that a target's incumbent management may use to defeat a hostile bidder. [509]

      1. Pre-offer techniques: Techniques that can be used before a concrete takeover attempt emerges are usually called "shark repellants." These generally must be approved by a majority of the target's shareholders. Here are some of the more common ones: [509]

        a. Super-majority provision: The target may amend its articles of incorporation to require that more than a simple majority of the target's shareholders approve any merger or major sale of assets. (Alternatively, the target can provide that such a merger or asset sale be approved by a majority of the disinterested shareholders.) There are called "super-majority" provisions.

        b. Staggered board: A target might put in place a staggered board of directors (i.e., only a minority of the board stands for election in a given year, so that a hostile bidder cannot gain control immediately even if he owns a majority of the shares.)

        c. Anti-greenmail amendment: The target might amend its charter to prohibit the paying of "greenmail", so as to discourage any hostile bidder bent on receiving greenmail.

        d. New class of stock: The target might create a second class of common stock, and require that any merger or asset sale be approved by each class; then, the new class can be placed with persons friendly to management (e.g., the founding family, or an Employee Stock Ownership Plan).

        e. Poison pill: "Poison pill" plans try to make bad things happen to the bidder if it obtains control of the target, thereby making the target less attractive to the bidder.

          i. "Call" plans: A "call" plan gives stockholders the right to buy cheap stock in certain circumstances. Most contain a "flipover" provision which is triggered when an outsiders buys, say, 20% of the target's stock. When the flipover is triggered, the holder of the right (the stockholder) has an option to acquire shares of the bidder at a cheap price.

          ii. "Put" plans: Other poison pills are "put" plans. If a bidder buys some but not all of the target's shares, the put gives each target shareholder the right to sell back his remaining shares in the target at a pre-determined "fair" price.

          iii. No approval required: Shareholder approval is not generally required for a poison pill plan. Also, such plans may sometimes be implemented after a hostile bid has emerged.

      2. Post-offer techniques: Here are some techniques that can be used after a hostile bid has surfaced: [512]

        a. Defensive lawsuits: The target's management can institute defensive lawsuits (e.g., a state suit alleging breach of state-law fiduciary principles, or a federal court suit based on the federal securities laws). Usually, lawsuits just buy time.

        b. White knight defense: The target may find itself a "white knight," who will acquire the target instead of letting the hostile bidder do so. Often, the white knight is given a "lockup," that is, some special inducement to enter the bidding process, such as a "crown jewel" option (i.e., an option to buy one of the target's best businesses at a below-market price).

        c. Defensive acquisition: The target might make itself less attractive by arranging a defensive acquisition (e.g., one that causes the target to take on a lot of debt).

        d. Corporate restructuring: The target may restructure itself in a way that raises short-term stockholder value. (Example: Target borrows heavily from banks and then pays holders a large one-time dividend, possibly followed by large asset sales to pay down the debt.)

        e. Greenmail: The target may pay "greenmail" to the bidder (i.e., it buys the bidder's stake back at an above-market price, usually in return for a "standstill" agreement under which the bidder agrees not to attempt to re-acquire the target for some specified number of years).

        f. Sale to friendly party: The target may sell a less-than-controlling block to a friendly party, i.e., one who can be trusted not to tender to the hostile bidder. Thus the target might sell new shares to its employees' pension plan, to an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan), or to a "white squire." In Delaware, if a friendly party owns 16%, the Delaware anti-takeover statute, GCL § 203, will be triggered, thus preventing a bidder from arranging a back-end merger or asset sale for three years.

        g. Share repurchase: The target might repurchase a significant portion of its shares from the public, if insiders hold a substantial but not controlling stake (thus raising the insiders' stake).

        h. Pac Man: The target may tender for the bidder (the "Pac Man" defense).

    I. Federal securities law response: A bidder who wants to overturn the target's defensive measures probably will not be able to do so using the federal securities laws. If the bidder can show the target's management has actually deceived the target's shareholders, it may be able to get an injunction under § 14(e) of the '34 Act. But if incoming management has merely behaved in a way that is arguably "unfair" to the target's shareholders (by depriving them of the opportunity to tender into the bidder's high offer), there will generally be no federal securities-law violation. [514]

    J. State response: The bidder has a much better chance of showing that the target's defensive maneuvers violate state law. [515]

      1. Summary of Delaware law: Most case law concerning what defensive maneuvers a target may employ comes from Delaware. [515]

        a. Business judgment rule: In Delaware, the target and its management will get the protection of the business judgment rule (and thus their defensive measures will be upheld) under the following circumstances (summarized in Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co.): [516]

          i. Reasonable grounds: First, the board and management must show that they had reasonable grounds for believing that there was a danger to the corporation's welfare from the takeover attempt. In other words, the insiders may not use anti-takeover measures merely to entrench themselves in power -- they must reasonably believe that they are protecting the stockholders' interests, not their own interests. (Some dangers that will justify anti-takeover measures are: (1) a reasonable belief that the bidder would change the business practices of the corporation in a way that would be harmful to the company's ongoing business and existence; (2) a reasonable fear that the particular takeover attempt is unfair and coercive, such as a two-tier front-loaded offer; and (3) a reasonable fear that the offer will leave the target with unreasonably high levels of debt.)

          ii. Proportional response: Second, the directors and management must show that the defensive measures they actually used were "reasonable in relation to the threat posed." This is the "proportionality" requirement.

            (1) Can't be "preclusive" or "coercive": To meet the proportionality requirement, a defensive measure must not be either "preclusive" or "coercive." A "preclusive" action is one that has the effect of foreclosing virtually all takeovers (e.g., a poison pill plan whose terms would dissuade any bidder, or the granting of a "crown jewels option" to a white knight on way-below-market terms). A "coercive" measure is one which "crams down" on the target's shareholders a management-sponsored alternative (e.g., a lower competing bid by management, if management has enough votes to veto the hostile bid and makes it clear that it will use this power to block the hostile bid).

          iii. Reasonable investigation: Third, the target's board must act upon reasonable investigation when it responds to the takeover measure.

        b. Independent directors: Court approval of the anti-takeover devices is much more likely if the board that approved the measure has a majority composed of "independent" directors (i.e., those who are not full-time employees and who are not closely affiliated with management). [516]

        c. Consequences if requirements not met: If one or more of the three requirements summarized in (a) above are not met, the court will refuse to give the takeover device the protection of the business rule. But it will not automatically strike the measure; instead, it will treat it like any other type of self-dealing, and will put management to the burden of showing that the transaction is "entirely fair" to the target's shareholders. [521]

    K. Decision to sell the company (the "Level Playing Field" rule): Once the target's management decides that it is willing to sell the company, then the courts give "enhanced scrutiny" to the steps that the target's board and managers take. Most importantly, management and the board must make every effort to obtain the highest price for the shareholders. Thus the target's insiders must create a level playing field: all would-be bidders must be treated equally. [522]

    Example: Target is sought by Raider and White Knight. Target's board favors White Knight. Target's board gives White Knight a "crown jewels option" to buy two key Target subsidiaries for a much-below-market price.

      1. Management interested: If the target's management is one of the competing bidders, the target's board must be especially careful not to favor management (e.g., it must not give management better access to information). Normally, the target's independent directors should form a special committee to conduct negotiations on the target's behalf.

    L. Sale of control: Similarly, "enhanced scrutiny" will now be give to transactions in which the board "sells control" of the company to a single individual or group.

    Example: Target's shares are widely dispersed, with no controlling shareholder. Acquirer, although it's a public company, has a controlling shareholder, Boss, who owns 30% of its shares. Target negotiates a merger agreement with Acquirer, under which each holder of Target will get a share of the combined Target-plus-Acquirer company. Because Target's board is proposing to sell "control" of Target to a single individual (Boss), the court will carefully scrutinize the deal, and make extra sure that all other possible buyers or merger partners are treated equally. [526]

      1. Friendly merger into non-controlled public company: It is only where the target is merging into a friendly "controlled" acquirer that enhanced scrutiny will be triggered -- if the target is merged into a friendly acquirer that's already held by the public at large with no single controlling shareholder or group, there will be no enhanced scrutiny. [Arnold v. Soc. for Savings Bancorp, Inc.]

    M. Board may "just say no": If the target's board has not previously decided to put the company up for sale or dramatically restructure it, then the board basically has a right to reject unwanted takeover offers, even all-cash, high-priced offers that the board has reason to think most shareholders would welcome. In other words, the board may "just say no," at least in Delaware.

      1. Illustrations: Thus the target's board may, as a general rule, refuse to redeem a previously-enacted poison pill, refuse to recommend a merger or put the proposed merger to a shareholder vote, or otherwise refuse to cooperate. [Paramount Communications, Inc. v. Time] [530]

    N. Particular anti-takeover devices: Here is how the courts respond to some of the particular anti-takeover devices: [534]

      1. Greenmail: Most courts seem to allow greenmail. (Example: If the target's board is worried that a particular bidder will damage the corporation's existence or its business policies, it may buy the bidder's shares back at a premium.) [535]

      2. Exclusionary repurchase: If the target repurchases some of its shares at a price higher than the bidder is offering, it may refuse to buy back any of the bidder's shares as part of the arrangement (at least in Delaware). [Unocal v. Mesa Petroleum] [535]

      3. Poison pill plans: Most poison pill plans have been upheld. Only where the poison pill plan has the effect of foreclosing virtually all hostile takeovers is it likely to be struck down. [Moran v. Household International, Inc.] [536]

      4. Lockups: Lockups are the type of anti-takeover device that is most likely to be invalidated. This is especially true of crown jewel options. Lockups, including crown jewel options, are not per se illegal; for instance, they can be used to produce an auction where none would otherwise exist. But if a crown jewel option or other lockup is used to end an auction prematurely rather than to create one, it will probably be struck down. [537]

      5. Stock option: An option to the acquirer to buy stock in the target will likely be struck down if it is for so many shares, or for so low a price, or on such burdensome terms, that its mere existence has a materially chilling effect on whether other bidders will emerge.[538]

      6. Termination fee: A fee payable to the acquirer if the merger should be terminated by the target may be upheld or struck down, depending on the amount and other circumstances. [538]

 

Chapter 11 
DIVIDENDS AND SHARE REPURCHASES

I. DIVIDENDS -- PROTECTION OF CREDITORS

    A. Terminology:

      1. Dividend: A "dividend" is a cash payment made by a corporation to its common shareholders pro rata. It is usually paid out of the current earnings of the corporation, and thus represents a partial distribution of profits. [550]

      2. Stated capital: "Stated capital" is the stockholder's permanent investment in the corporation. [552]

        a. Par stock: If the stock has "par value," stated capital is equal to the number of shares outstanding times the par value of each share.

        b. No-par: If the stock is "no-par" stock (now permitted in most states), stated capital is an arbitrary amount that the board assigns to the stated capital account. (This amount is never more than the shareholders paid for their stock when they originally bought it, but is otherwise whatever the directors decide it should be when the stock is issued.)

      3. "Earned surplus": "Earned surplus" is equal to the profits earned by the corporation during its existence, less any dividends it ever paid out. ("Retained earnings" is a more modern synonym.) [552]

      4. "Capital surplus": "Capital surplus" is everything in the corporation's "capital" account other than "stated capital." "Paid in" surplus, "revaluation" surplus, and "reduction" surplus are the main types of capital surplus. [553]

    B. Dividends generally:

      1. Authorized by board: The decision to pay a dividend must always be made by the board of directors. [550]

      2. Two tests: All states place certain legal limits (mostly financial ones) on the board's right to pay dividends, and directors who disregard these limits may be liable. In most states, a dividend may be paid only if both of the following general kinds of requirements are satisfied: (1) payment of the dividend will not impair the corporation's stated capital; and (2) payment will not render the corporation insolvent. [550]

    C. Capital tests:

      1. "Earned surplus" statutes: In most states, there are "earned surplus" restrictions: dividends may be paid only out of the profits which the corporation has accumulated since its inception. [554]

      2. "Impairment of capital" statutes: A substantial minority of states merely prohibit dividends that would "impair the capital" of the corporation. These states are less strict than the "earned surplus" states: they allow the payment of dividends from either earned surplus or unearned surplus. [554]

        a. Paid-in surplus: Thus an "impairment of capital" statute allows a corporation with no earned surplus to pay its entire "paid-in surplus" out again as dividends. "Paid-in surplus" is the difference between what the shareholders paid for their shares when they were originally issued, and the "stated capital" represented by those shares.

        b. Revaluation surplus: Many "impairment of capital" states also allow the board to create, and then pay out, "revaluation" surplus. This is the surplus produced by "writing up" the corporation's assets to their current market value (rather than using the historical prices normally reflected on a balance sheet).

        c. Reduction surplus: Finally, a "impairment of capital" statute usually allows the "reduction surplus" to be paid out. "Reduction surplus" is caused by reducing the corporation's stated capital (which in the case of stock having a par value requires a shareholder-approved amendment to the articles of incorporation).

      3. Nimble dividends: Some states allow payment of "nimble dividends." These are dividends paid out of the current earnings of the corporation, even though the corporation otherwise would not be entitled to pay the dividends (because it has no earned surplus in an earned-surplus state, or because payment would impair its stated capital in an impairment-of-capital state). [555]

        a. Delaware: Delaware GCL § 170(a) allows payment of nimble dividends: even if there is no earned surplus (normally required for a dividend in Delaware), the dividend may be paid out of the corporation's net profits for the current or preceding fiscal year.

    D. Insolvency test: Even if a dividend payment would not violate the applicable capital test (earned-surplus or impairment-of-capital, depending on the state), in nearly all states payment of a dividend is prohibited if it would leave the corporation insolvent. [557]

      1. UFCA: In half the states, this ban is imposed by the Uniform Fraudulent Conveyance Act (UFCA), which has the effect of prohibiting dividends by an insolvent corporation. [557]

      2. "Equity" meaning: In most states, a corporation is insolvent if it is unable to pay its debts as they become due (the "equity" meaning of "insolvent"). A minority of states define a corporation as insolvent if the market value of its assets is less than its liabilities (the "bankruptcy" meaning). [557]

    E. RMBCA: The RMBCA imposes only an insolvency test, not a capital-related test. Under RMBCA § 6.40(c), no dividend may be paid if it would leave the corporation insolvent under either the "equity" or the "bankruptcy" definition of insolvent. [557]

    F. Liability of directors: If the directors approve a dividend at a time when the statute prohibits it, they may be personally liable: [561]

      1. Bad faith: If the directors know that the dividend is forbidden at the time they pay it, they are personally liable in nearly all states. [561]

      2. Negligence: If they act in good faith but are negligent in failing to notice that the dividend is forbidden, they are liable in some but probably not most states. [562]

      3. Creditor suit: Usually, the suit to recover an improperly-paid dividend must be brought by the corporation (perhaps by means of a shareholder derivative suit, or by a trustee for the corporation once it declares bankruptcy). But some states allow suit to be brought by a creditor against the director(s) who approve an improper dividend. [562]

      4. RMBCA: Under the RMBCA, the corporation may hold liable any director who negligently approves an improper dividend. [562]

    G. Liability of shareholders: A shareholder who receives an improper dividend may also be liable. [562]

      1. Common law: At common law, the shareholder will be liable and required to return the improper dividend if either: (1) the corporation was insolvent at the time of, or as the result of the payment of, the dividend; or (2) the shareholder knew, at the time he received the dividend, that it was improper. But if the corporation is solvent and the shareholder takes the dividend without notice that it violates the statute, the shareholder does not have to return it at common law. [562]

      2. Statute: Some corporation statutes make the shareholder liable to return the improper dividend, even if he would not be liable at common law. Apart from the basic corporation statute, the statute dealing with fraudulent conveyances (e.g., the Uniform Fraudulent Conveyance Act) may permit a creditor or bankruptcy trustee to recover against a shareholder. [563]

II. DIVIDENDS -- PROTECTION OF SHAREHOLDERS; JUDICIAL REVIEW OF DIVIDEND POLICY

    A. Generally: A disgruntled shareholder will sometimes try to persuade the court to order the corporation to pay a higher dividend than it is already paying. [565]

      1. General rule: This is left to case law by most states. Usually, P will only get the court to order a higher dividend if he shows that: (1) the low-dividend policy is not justified by any reasonable business objective; and (2) the policy results from improper motives that harm the corporation or some of its shareholders. [566]

      2. Plaintiff rarely succeeds: Plaintiffs very rarely succeed in making these showings. Therefore, courts rarely order a corporation to change its dividend policies for the benefit of some group of shareholders. [566]

      3. Closely-held: Courts are more likely to order an increase in dividend payments when the corporation is closely held rather than publicly held. Some courts now hold that minority stockholders who are not employed by the corporation are entitled to a return on their investment in the form of a dividend, even in the face of an otherwise valid corporate objective (e.g., expanding the business). Courts sometimes say that the insiders have a fiduciary duty to grant a reasonable dividend to the outside minority investors. [566]

III. STOCK REPURCHASES

    A. Repurchases generally: A "stock repurchase" occurs when a corporation buys back its own stock from stockholders. This may happen by open market repurchases, by a "self-tender" (i.e., a tender offer by a public company offering to buy some number of shares pro rata from all shareholders), or by face-to-face selective purchases. [567]

    B. Protection of shareholders: One shareholder may object to the corporation's repurchase of another shareholder's shares (e.g., on the grounds that the corporation has paid too high a price, or has refused to give all shareholders an equal opportunity to have their shares repurchased). [570]

      1. General rule: Generally the court will not overturn a corporation's repurchase arrangements at the urging of a shareholder, so long as the board of directors: (1) behaves with reasonable care (i.e., makes reasonable inquiries into the corporation's financial health and the value of its shares before authorizing the repurchase); and (2) does not violate the duty of loyalty (e.g., the directors are not buying from themselves at an above-market price). [571]

      2. Self-dealing by insiders: The court will look extra closely at a repurchase that appears to benefit the insiders unduly. (Example: Ian, 40% owner of XYZ, induces the board to have XYZ repurchase his holdings for 50% more than the current stock market price. The court will look upon this as self-dealing, and will strike down the transaction unless Ian bears the burden of proving that the transaction is "entirely fair" to the corporation and its remaining shareholders.) [571]

    C. Protection of creditors; financial limits: In general, share repurchases are subject to the same financial limits for the protection of creditors as are dividends. [571]

 

Chapter 12 
ISSUANCE OF SECURITIES

I. STATE-LAW RULES ON SHARE ISSUANCE

    A. Par value: If shares have a par value, the corporation may not sell the shares for less than this par value. This rule protects both the corporation's creditors, and also other shareholders. [580]

      1. "Watered stock" liability: If shares are issued for less than their par value, creditors will often be allowed to recover against the stockholder who received the cheap stock (usually called "watered stock"). [581]

        a. "Trust fund" theory: A minority of courts apply the "trust fund" theory, under which the stated capital of the corporation is a trust fund for the benefit of creditors. Under this theory, a creditor can recover even if he became a creditor before the wrongful issuance, or even if he issued the credit after the wrong but with full knowledge of it.

        b. "Misrepresentation" theory: But most courts apply the "misrepresentation" theory, under which only a creditor who has relied on the corporation's false assertion that the shares were issued for at least par value, may recover. Under this theory, one who becomes a creditor before the wrongful issuance, and one who becomes a creditor after the wrongful issuance but with knowledge of it, may not recover since he has not "relied."

      2. Kind of consideration: In most states, shares may be paid for not only in cash, but also by the contribution of property, or by the performance of past services. States vary as to whether shares may be purchased and returned for promises to perform services or donate property (e.g., Delaware does not allow payment in the form of a promise to perform future services). [583]

        a. RMBCA: But the RMBCA is more liberal: any kind of consideration is valid, so long as the board acts in good faith and with reasonable care. Thus promissory notes and promises to perform future services are both valid consideration under the RMBCA.

      3. Valuation: If the board of directors sells stock to a stockholder in return for past or future services or property, the board's good faith computation of the value that should be attributed to those services or property will usually not be overturned by a court. See, e.g., Delaware § 152 ("in the absence of actual fraud in the transaction, the judgment of the directors as to the value of such consideration shall be conclusive"). [584]

      4. Use of no-par or low-par stock: Observe that all of these problems of "watered stock" are less likely to arise today, because of the extensive use of no-par or low-par stock. [584]

    B. Promoters' liability: If a promoter (i.e., an insider who is putting together the business, recruiting investors, and dominating the board) receives his shares in return for the transfer of overvalued property to the corporation, there are four theories on which the corporation or its other shareholders might recover against promoter for the overvaluation (even assuming that there is no "watered stock" problem, as where very low par stock is used): [584]

      1. Common law disclosure rules: The common law imposes upon a promoter the obligation to make full disclosure to the corporation of the facts underlying any proposed transaction between himself and the corporation. [585]

        a. Disclosed to other insiders: If the overvaluation was disclosed to the rest of the board, all of whom were insiders, courts are split about whether the corporation or subsequent public shareholders may later recover. Most states would allow recovery as long as, at the time that transfer took place, the insiders contemplated future public participation. (Example: Promoter sells a mine to ABC Corp, and causes the mine to be recorded on ABC's books as worth $1 million, when in fact it's worth $20,000. All other board members are aware of the overvaluation, and all, including Promoter, expect to raise money from the public eventually. Once public shareholders are brought in, ABC will be able to recover from Promoter at common law for deceit, in most states.)

      2. State self-dealing rules: Alternatively, ABC Corp (on the facts of the above Example) may be able to avoid the transfer by showing that it constituted self-dealing by Promoter, and that it was grossly unfair. [586]

      3. Federal-public offering disclosure: If ABC eventually goes public, it may have an obligation to disclose the transaction in its registration statement and prospectus. If required disclosure is not made, an investor will be able to sue both ABC and Promoter. [586]

      4. 10b-5: ABC itself might be permitted to recover against Promoter under SEC Rule 10b-5, on the theory that ABC was a defrauded seller when Promoter induced it to transfer shares to him in return for the overvalued mine. [587]

    C. Preemptive rights: A "preemptive right" is a right sometimes given to a corporation's existing shareholders permitting them to maintain their percentage of ownership in the corporation, by enabling them to buy a portion of any newly-issued shares. (Example: Inventor holds 49% of stock in Mousetrap Corp. If preemptive rights exist, then before Mousetrap's 51% holder can induce the board to issue new shares to himself or to the public, Inventor must first be given the right to buy as many new shares as will be needed to maintain Inventor's 49% ownership, on the same terms as offered to the 51% holder or to the public.) [587]

      1. Statutes: Today, every state governs preemptive rights by statute. All modern statutes allow the corporation to dispense entirely with preemptive rights if it chooses. This choice by the corporation is embodied in the articles of incorporation. [588]

        a. Opt-in provisions: Under most statutes, the preemptive rights scheme is an "opt-in" scheme. In other words, the corporation does not have preemptive rights unless it expressly elects, in the articles of incorporation, to have such rights. The RMBCA follows this "opt-in" pattern; see § 6.30(a).

        b. Opt-out: A minority of states give the corporation an "opt-out" election -- the corporation has preemptive rights unless it expressly specifies, in the articles of incorporation, that it does not want such rights.

      2. Exceptions: Even where preemptive rights would otherwise apply, there are some important exceptions under most statutes: [588]

        a. Initially-authorized shares: Preemptive rights usually do not apply to shares that are part of the amount that is initially authorized at the time the corporation is first formed. (However, initially-authorized-but-unissued shares do become covered by the preemptive scheme if a certain time period -- e.g., six months under the RMBCA -- elapses following the date of incorporation.)

        b. Treasury shares: Under most statutes, treasury shares (that is, shares that were once outstanding, but that have been repurchased by the corporation) are not covered. (But the RMBCA does not exclude treasury shares.)

        c. Property or services: Shares that are issued in exchange for property or services are generally not covered. Similarly, shares issued to allow the exercise of employee stock options are usually not covered.

      3. "Fiduciary duty" concerning dilution: Even in situations where there are no preemptive rights (either because they have been waived by the corporation, or because the case falls into an exception where preemptive rights do not apply), courts may protect minority stockholders against dilution by a "fiduciary obligation" theory. According to some courts, a majority stockholder has a fiduciary duty not to cause the issuance of new shares where the purpose is to enhance his own control at the expense of the minority. [590]

        a. Unfair price: The court is most likely to impose this fiduciary duty where the new shares are issued at a bargain price to those who are already in control.

        b. Bona fide business purpose required: Even if the price is fair, the court will frequently strike down the sale of new stock by the corporation to its controlling shareholders if there is no valid business purpose behind the sale. For instance, if the court becomes convinced that the controlling shareholder has caused the sale to take place solely for the purpose of enhancing his own control, the court is likely to strike the transaction even though the price was fair.

        c. Preemptive rights as a defense: If preemptive rights do apply, but the plaintiff declines to participate (perhaps because he doesn't have the money), courts are split about whether P may attack the sale of new shares to other existing shareholders on the grounds that the price is unfairly low. Some courts treat the fact that P declined to exercise his preemptive rights as a complete defense (so the court will not inquire into whether the shares were sold at an unfairly low price). Other courts hold that the existence of preemptive rights is not a defense, and that the board must bear the burden of showing that the price of the sale to insiders was at least within the range of fairness.

II. PUBLIC OFFERINGS -- INTRODUCTION

    A. Generally: Public offerings of securities are extensively regulated by the Securities Act of 1933 (the "'33 Act"). [593]

      1. Section 5: The key provision of the '33 Act is § 5. Section 5 makes it unlawful (subject to exemptions) to sell any security by the use of the mails or other facilities of interstate commerce, unless a registration statement is in effect for that security. This "registration statement" must contain a large amount of information about the security being offered, and about the company that is offering it (the "issuer"). Additionally, § 5 prohibits the sale of any security unless there is delivered to the buyer, before or at the same time as the security, a "prospectus" which contains the most important parts of the registration statement. [593]

      2. Disclosure: The entire scheme for regulating public offerings works by compelling extensive disclosure. The SEC does not review the substantive merits of the offering, and cannot bar an offering merely because it is too risky, overpriced, or valueless. [594]

    B. "Security": The '33 Act applies to sales of "securities." "Security" is defined very broadly. It includes not only ordinary "stocks," but "bonds," "investment contracts," and many other devices. [595]

      1. Stock in closely held business: Even where the owners of a closely held business sell all of the stock in the company to a single buyer who will operate the business himself, this is still the sale of a "security," so it must comply with the public-offering requirements (unless an exemption applies). [595]

      2. Debt instruments: Debt instruments will often be "securities." For instance, a widely-traded bond will typically be a security. But a single "note" issued by a small business to a bank will typically not be a security. In general, the more a debt instrument looks like an "investment," and the more widely traded it is, the more likely the court will be to find it a "security." [Reves v. Ernst & Young] [595]

III. PUBLIC OFFERINGS -- MECHANICS

    A. Filing process: Here is how the process of going public works:

      1. Filing of registration statement: The process begins when a registration statement is filed with the SEC. [596]

      2. 20-day waiting period: The issuer must now wait for the registration statement to become "effective." This normally happens 20 days after it is filed. [596]

      3. Price amendment: The registration statement is usually filed without a price. Then, the statement is amended to include the price term just before the end of the 20-day waiting period. [596]

    B. Rules during the three periods:

      1. Pre-filing: During the pre-filing period (before the registration statement has been filed with the SEC), no one (including underwriters or issuers) may sell or even offer to sell the stock. (This means that press releases touting the issue, and oral offers, are forbidden, with narrow exceptions.) [597]

      2. Waiting period: During the "waiting period" (after filing but before the effective date), most offers to sell and offers to buy are allowed, but sales and binding contracts to sell are not allowed. [597]

        a. Red herring: The underwriters may (and typically do) distribute during the waiting period a "red herring," i.e., a preliminary prospectus which is identical to the final prospectus except that it typically omits the price.

        b. No binding offers to buy: During the waiting period, no offer to buy or "acceptance" will be deemed binding. Thus even if Customer says, "Yes, I'll buy 1,000 shares," he is not bound and can renege after the effective date.

      3. Post-effective period: Once the registration statement becomes effective, underwriters and dealers may make offers to sell, and actual sales, to anyone. However, the final prospectus (complete with the final price) must be sent to any purchaser before or at the same time he receives the securities. [598]

IV. PUBLIC OFFERINGS -- EXEMPTIONS

    A. Generally: There are two key exemptions to the general rule that securities can only be issued if a registration statement is in force: [600]

      1. Sales by other than issuer, underwriter or dealer: First, § 4(1) of the '33 Act gives an exemption for "transactions by any person other than an issuer, underwriter, or dealer." Because of an exemption for most sales by dealers, registration will generally be required only where the transaction is being carried out by a person who is an "issuer" or "underwriter." (But these terms are defined in a broad and complex way.) [600]

      2. Non-public offerings: Second, under § 4(2), there is an exemption for "transactions by an issuer not involving any public offering." So if an issuer can show that its sale was "non-public" rather than "public," it need not comply with the registration requirements. [600]

    B. Private offerings: There are two different bodies of law by which an issuer may have its offering treated as "private" rather than "public": [601]

      1. Statutory exemption: First, the issuer may show that the broad statutory language of § 4(2) (exempting transactions "not involving any public offering") applies. [601]

        a. Sales to institutions: For instance, a sale by a corporation of a large block of stock or bonds to one or a few large and sophisticated institutions (e.g., insurance companies or pension funds) will be a private offering based on this statutory exemption.

        b. Sales to key employees: Similarly, stock sales to key employees will usually qualify under this statutory exemption.

        c. General test: In general, an offering will not be "private" unless: (1) there are not very many offerees (though there is no fixed limit); and (2) the offerees have a significant level of sophistication and a significant degree of knowledge about the company's affairs. (Example: XYZ Corp offers shares to 10 secretarial-level employees at the company, without giving them any special disclosure. Since the secretaries' knowledge of the company's financial affairs is probably limited, this is a "public" rather than "private" offering, even though the number of offerees is small. Therefore, a registration statement must be used.)

      2. SEC Rule 506: Separately, SEC has enacted Rule 506. If Rule 506's conditions are met, the offering will be deemed "private" regardless of whether it would be private under the cases decided under the general § 4(2) statutory exemption. [602]

        a. Gist: The gist of Rule 506 is that an issuer may sell an unlimited amount of securities to: (1) any number of "accredited" investors; and (2) up to 35 non-accredited investors. (An "accredited" investor is essentially one who is worth more than $1 million, or has an income of more than $200,000 per year.)

        b. Sophisticated: Although an "accredited" investor can be very unsophisticated without ruining the Rule 506 exemption, a non-accredited investor must be sophisticated. (More precisely, the issuer must "reasonably believe" that the non-accredited investor, either alone or with his "purchaser representative," has such knowledge and experience in financial and business matters that he is capable of evaluating the merits of the investment.)

        c. No advertising: The issuer may not make any general solicitation or advertising, for a Rule 506 offer.

        d. Disclosure: If the offering is solely to accredited investors, there are no disclosure requirements. But if even one investor is non-accredited, then all purchasers (accredited or not) must receive specific disclosures about the issuer and the offering.

    C. Small offerings: Two other SEC rules give an exemption for offerings that are "small" (as opposed to "private"): [604]

      1. Rule 504: Rule 504 allows an issuer to sell up to a total of $1 million of securities. (All sales in any 12-month period are added together.) [604]

        a. Unlimited number: There is no limit on the number of investors in a purchase.

        b. Disclosure: No particular disclosure is required.

        c. Advertising: Generally, the offering may not be publicly advertised or accomplished by widespread solicitation.

      2. Rule 505: Under Rule 505, the issuer can sell up to $5 million of securities in any 12-month period. [605]

        a. Number: The number of investors is limited to 35 non-accredited and any number of accredited investors (like Rule 506).

        b. Disclosure: The same disclosure to all investors as would be required under 506 is required under 505, if there is even a single non-accredited investor.

        c. Type of investor: But 505 (in contrast to 506) imposes no requirements concerning the type of investor: the investor need not be either accredited or sophisticated.

    D. Sales by non-issuer: [606]

      1. Sales by or for controlling persons: If a controlling stockholder sells a large number of shares by soliciting a large number of potential buyers, this may be held to be a "public offering." If so, the shareholder will have to register the shares, or else he (as well as his broker) will face liability for the crime of distributing unregistered stock. The key concept is "distribution": if a broker sells for a controlling shareholder in what is found to be a "distribution," a registration statement is required. (The larger the number of shares sold, and the larger the number of potential buyers contacted, the more likely a "distribution" is to be found.) [607]

        a. Rule 144: But SEC Rule 144 provides a safe harbor: if the terms of the rule are complied with, sales by or for a controlling shareholder will not need to be registered. The key requirements for 144, in the case of a sale by a controlling shareholder, are:

          i. Limit on amount of sales: The sales must be made gradually: In any three-month period, the controlling shareholder may not sell more than the greater of: (1) 1% of the total shares outstanding; or (2) the average weekly trading volume for the prior four weeks.

          ii. Holding period: The controlling shareholder must normally have held the securities for at least two years before reselling them. (But this does not apply if he bought the shares in a public offering.)

          iii. Disclosure: The issuing company must be a "public" company (one which files periodic reports with the SEC), or must make equivalent information about itself publicly available. So Rule 144 is not usually usable by the controlling shareholder of a private company.

          iv. Ordinary brokerage transactions: The stock must be sold in ordinary brokerage transactions. The controlling shareholder's broker may not solicit orders to buy the stock.

          v. Notice: A notice of each sale must be filed with the SEC at the time the order to sell is placed with the broker.

      2. Non-controlling shareholder: Non-controlling persons may also sometimes have to register their shares before selling them. A person who has previously bought stock from the issuer in a private transaction, and who now wishes to resell that stock, could be liable for making an unregistered public offering if a court finds that he bought with an intent to resell rather than for investment. [609]

        a. Rule 144: But Rule 144 may help in this situation, too.

          i. Held less than three years: If the non-controlling shareholder has held his restricted stock for less than three years, then he may only use Rule 144 if all the requirements listed above for controlling-shareholder sales are met.

          ii. Held for more than three years: But if a non-controlling shareholder has held his restricted stock for more than three years, most limitations are removed: a non-controlling shareholder who buys stock in a private offering and then holds that stock for three years may sell to whomever he wishes, and whatever amounts he wishes, by whatever type of transaction he wishes, without reference to whether the company files SEC reports, and without any need to file any notice with the SEC. (But, of course, the resale must not itself constitute a brand new public offering.)

    E. Other exemptions: There are two other significant exemptions: [612]

      1. Intrastate offerings: Section 3(a)(11) of the '33 Act exempts "intrastate offerings." However, this exception is very hard to qualify for, and is rarely used except in isolated areas that are very far from any state border. [612]

      2. Regulation A: Regulation A is a set of SEC Rules that gives an exemption for certain issues of up to $5 million. Its main use is for offerings made under employee stock option or stock purchase plans. [613]

V. PUBLIC OFFERINGS -- CIVIL LIABILITIES

    A. Generally: There are four liability provisions under the '33 Act, at least three of which impose civil liability in favor of an injured investor. [614]

    B. Section 11: Section 11 imposes liability for any material errors or omissions in a registration statement. [614]

      1. Who may sue: A Section 11 suit may be brought by anyone who buys the stock covered by the registration statement (even if he did not buy at the initial public offering). [614]

      2. Reliance: P does not have to show that he relied on the registration statement. (However, D can raise the affirmative defense of showing that P knew of the untruth or omission at the time he purchased it.) [614]

      3. Who may be sued: A wide range of people may be sued under § 11, including: (1) everyone who signed the registration statement (which always includes at least the issuer and the principal officers); (2) everyone who is a director at the time the registration statement was filed; (3) every expert who consented to being named as having prepared part of the registration statement; and (4) every underwriter. [615]

      4. Standard of conduct: The issuer's liability is absolute; even if the misstatement or omission was inadvertent and in fact non-negligent, the issuer is strictly liable. But all other defendants may raise the "due diligence" defense. [615]

        a. Expertised portions: With respect to any part of the registration statement prepared by an expert: (1) the expert can establish the due diligence defense only by affirmatively showing that he conducted a reasonable investigation that left him with reasonable ground to believe, and the actual belief, that the part he prepared was accurate; but (2) all other persons (the non-experts) merely have to prove the negative proposition that they "had no reasonable ground to believe and did not believe" that there was any material misstatement or omission. (Thus an ordinary director can entrust to the issuer's accounting firm the preparation of the audited financial statements, as long as he is not on notice of inaccuracies.)

        b. Non-expertised portions: With respect to parts of the registration not prepared by experts, D must show that: (1) he made a reasonable investigation; and (2) after that investigation, he was left with reasonable ground to believe, and did in fact believe, that there was no material misstatement or omission. (Inside directors will usually find this harder to show than will outside directors.)

    C. Section 12(1): Section 12(1) imposes liability on anyone who sells a security that should have been registered but was not. Liability here is imposed even for an honest and in fact non-negligent mistake. However, a buyer may only sue his immediate seller, not someone further back in the chain of distribution. [617]

    D. Section 12(2): Section 12(2) imposes liability for untrue statements of material fact and for omission of material fact. Unlike § 11, it is not limited to misstatements made in the registration statement. (For instance, misstatements made orally, or in a writing other than the registration statement, are covered.) Not only the seller but anyone who is a "substantial factor" in making the sale (e.g., a broker or public relations consultant for the seller) may be sued. A negligence standard is used. [617]

    E. Section 17(a): Section 17(a) imposes a general anti-fraud provision. Unlike the three sections discussed above, most courts have held that 17(a) does not support a private right of action by investors (merely a right on the part of the government to prevent or punish violations). [617]

VI. PUBLIC OFFERINGS -- STATE REGULATION

    A. State "Blue Sky" laws generally: Every state regulates some aspects of securities transactions through regulations collectively known as "blue sky" laws. [618]

      1. '96 Act changes rules: However, Congress took away a large portion of the states' Blue Sky Powers, in the National Securities Improvement Act of 1996. State regulation of securities issuance is now largely preempted by federal regulation.