A frequently asked question involves the availability of appraisal rights when investors are being offered only stock in the acquiring corporation in exchange for their shares.
The answer is typically no. The Delaware appraisal statute provides that appraisal rights are available in a wide range of statutorily permitted mergers. 8 Del. C. § 262(b). However, in what is commonly referred to as the “market-out exception,” the statute further provides that appraisal rights are not available for stock that is “either (i) listed on a national securities exchange or (ii) held of record by more than 2,000 holders.” 8 Del. C. § 262(b)(1). Of course, if this is where the story ended, the market-out exception would render appraisal rights unavailable in most cases. But the Delaware legislature created another exception in the appraisal statute, which Delaware courts have labeled the “exception to the exception.” The exception to the exception states that the market-out exception does not apply when the shareholders of the target corporation are required to accept consideration for their shares that is not (a) shares of stock in the surviving corporation, (b) shares of stock in any other corporation that are either listed on a national securities exchange or held of record by more than 2,000 holders, or (c) cash in lieu of fractional shares described in (a) or (b). 8 Del. C. § 262(b)(2). Thus, the statute provides that when the holders of a nationally listed or widely held stock are offered cash consideration for their shares (other than cash in lieu of fractional shares), appraisal rights exist, but when they are offered only the stock of the acquirer or other nationally listed or widely held stock, there are no appraisal rights.
In Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System v. Crawford, 918 A.2d 1172 (Del. Ch. 2007), the Delaware Chancery Court addressed the interesting question of whether appraisal rights exist when the shareholders of the target company are offered only stock of the acquiring company, but the acquiring company also causes the target’s board to declare a special dividend immediately prior to the merger. The acquiring company argued that appraisal rights were not available because the merger was technically an all-stock deal and the special dividend was not part of the merger consideration being offered by the acquirer. The Chancery Court rejected that argument, however, finding that it elevated form over substance. The payment of the special dividend was dependent on the shareholders of the target approving the merger. Thus, the Court found, “[w]hen merger consideration includes partial cash and stock payments, shareholders are entitled to appraisal rights. So long as payment of the special dividend remains conditioned upon shareholder approval of the merger, [shareholders of the target corporation] should not be denied their appraisal rights simply because their directors are willing to collude with a favored bidder to ‘launder’ a cash payment.”
In another interesting application of the appraisal statute, Krieger v. Wesco Financial Corp., 30 A.3d 54 (Del. Ch. 2011), the Chancery Court addressed whether appraisal rights exist when shareholders are given the option of receiving either cash or stock. Shareholders who failed to make an election would receive cash. The Chancery Court held that appraisal rights were not available in that instance because the shareholders had the option to elect to receive stock. Even though they might ultimately receive cash, they were not required to accept cash.
Accordingly, whether or not an ostensibly all-stock deal is appraisal eligible requires an examination of all the forms of consideration being offered in the merger and any election features available to stockholders.