The Corporate Council of the Corporation Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association has put out proposed amendments to Delaware law, including a technical change to Section 262, the statutory basis for Delaware appraisal. Richards Layton, a Delaware law firm, summarizes the proposed amendment:

The proposed amendments would amend Section 262(b) of the General Corporation Law to provide that the “market-out” exception to the availability of statutory appraisal rights will apply in connection with an exchange offer followed by a back-end merger consummated without a vote of stockholders pursuant to Section 251(h). As currently drafted, Section 262(b)(3) provides that appraisal rights will be available for any “intermediate-form” merger effected pursuant to Section 251(h) unless the offeror owns all of the stock of the target immediately prior to the merger. Practically speaking, under existing Section 262(b)(3), holders of shares of stock of a target corporation that is listed on a national securities exchange are entitled to appraisal rights in an intermediate-form stock-for-stock merger in which they receive only stock listed on a national securities exchange even if they would not be entitled to appraisal rights in a comparable “long-form” merger as a result of the market-out exception set forth in subsections (b)(1) and (b)(2) of Section 262. To address the incongruity between long-form and intermediate-form mergers with respect to the availability of appraisal rights in stock-for-stock mergers, the proposed amendments to Section 262(b)(3) provide that in the case of a merger pursuant to Section 251(h), appraisal rights will not be available for the shares of any class or series of stock of the target corporation that were listed on a national securities exchange or held of record by more than 2,000 holders immediately prior to the execution of the merger agreement as long as such holders are not required to accept for their shares anything except (i) stock of the surviving corporation (or depository receipts in respect thereof), (ii) stock of any other corporation (or depository receipts in respect thereof) that at the effective time of the merger will be listed on a national securities exchange or held of record by more than 2,000 holders, (iii) cash in lieu of fractional shares or fractional depository receipts in respect of the foregoing, or (iv) any combination of the foregoing shares of stock, depository receipts, and cash in lieu of fractional shares or fractional depository receipts. Accordingly, if the proposed amendments are enacted, exchange offers followed by a merger under Section 251(h) will receive the same basic treatment as long-form mergers requiring a vote of stockholders with respect to the availability of appraisal rights.

We’ve covered before whether appraisal is available in an all-stock deal: generally, it is not. We’ve also discussed the market-out exception and the way in which it is applied in Delaware.

A second technical change in the proposed amendments would clarify the information a corporation must disclose in an intermediate-form merger.

Section 262 was amended in 2016, though whether that amendment achieved what its proponents sought is a subject of debate.

**Update: For another view on the proposed amendments, see Shearman & Sterling’s take.

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.