The Delaware Supreme Court made its ruling this week in the ISN Software appraisal case.  A three-judge panel (not the full bench) affirmed the Chancery Court’s decision awarding a premium that was more than 2.5 times the merger price, as reported in Law360 [$$].  The Supreme Court affirmed without rendering its own opinion, relying instead on the trial court’s reasoning.  ISN Software was a privately held software company, with the appraisal case stemming from the controlling stockholder’s cash-out of some of the minority shares.

We have previously posted on the Chancery decision here, and have posted on the Supreme Court oral argument here.

As reported in Law360 [$$], on October 11, 2017 the Delaware Supreme Court heard argument appealing the Chancery Court’s ruling in the ISN Software appraisal case.  We have previously posted on the trial court’s decision here, in which Vice Chancellor Glasscock awarded a premium to the merger price.  The Supreme Court did not rule and did not indicate when it would do so.  You can see the complete oral argument here (under the October 11, 2017, listing; ISN Software v. Ad-Venture Capital).  Unlike the Dell and DFC Global arguments, the Supreme Court did not convene en banc – that is, with a full five-justice proceeding – and instead conducted argument by a three-justice panel, which did not include the Chief Justice.

We will continue to monitor the docket and post when the ruling is issued.

As reported today in Law360 [$$], the Delaware Supreme Court heard argument yesterday on the chancery court’s ruling in the Dell appraisal case.  The court did not render its decision and did not indicate when it would do so.  We’ll continue to monitor the docket and post when the ruling comes down.

** Note: this law firm is one of the counsel of record in the Dell case.

As we have posted before, the Delaware Supreme Court rendered its much-awaited ruling in the DFC Global case on August 1. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the key elements of that ruling.

I. No Judicial Presumption Imposing Mandatory Merger Price Ruling

The Court started off its opinion by rejecting DFC Global’s request to establish “by judicial gloss” a presumption that fair value would be tethered to merger price in certain cases involving an arm’s-length M&A transaction. The Court said that it would “decline to engage in that act of creation, which in our view has no basis in the statutory text, which gives the Court of Chancery in the first instance the discretion to ‘determine the fair value of the shares’ by taking into account ‘all relevant factors.’” The Court adhered to its 2010 ruling in Golden Telecom in finding the statute’s “all relevant factors” inquiry to be broad, and reaffirmed the chancery court’s discretion to undertake that inquiry until such time as the Delaware legislature may choose to revise the statute in this regard (we are not aware of any such legislative activity currently underway).

Continue Reading Breaking Down the Delaware Supreme Court’s DFC Global Decision**

Today the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded the appraisal decision of the Chancery Court in the highly watched DFC Global case.  A more detailed post will follow, but we wanted to flag the ruling in the meantime.

The court declined DFC Global’s request to impose a presumption by “judicial gloss” that would peg fair value at the merger price in cases involving arm’s-length mergers.  The court found that such an approach would have no basis in the statutory text, which gives the Chancery Court discretion to determine fair value by taking into account “all relevant factors.”

The court did accept two other “case-specific” arguments by DFC Global.  First, the Supreme Court directed that on remand (i.e., when the trial court gets the case back from the Supreme Court), the Chancery Court — which in its valuation analysis had given equal weight to each of (i) the deal price, (ii) its DFC analysis, and (iii) a comparable companies analysis — should reconsider the weight it gave to the deal price in finding fair value based on certain factors in this case.  Second, the Supreme Court found that there was not adequate basis in the record in this case to support the Chancery Court’s increase in the perpetuity growth rate it assumed for DFC Global from 3.1% to 4.0% when it corrected an error that had been raised during reargument.

In addition, the Supreme Court denied the cross-appeal, by which the stockholders argued that the DCF analysis be given primary, if not sole, weight in the valuation analysis. The court found that giving weight to the comparable companies analysis in this case was within the Chancellor’s discretion.

We will continue to monitor the proceedings to follow in the Chancery Court.

**As previously noted, this law firm was counsel of record on one of the amici briefs filed in this case.

Professors Korsmo and Myers, whom we have blogged about before, have a new post on CLS Blue Sky Blog, titled “A Reality Check on the Appeals of the DFC Global Appraisal Case.”  The Professors argue that the DFC Global appeal, which we’ve been covering, presents an attempt by deal advisors “to alter Delaware’s appraisal jurisprudence[,]” seeking to “undermine appraisal rights and shield opportunistic transactions from judicial scrutiny.”  Urging the Supreme Court not to “tie the Court of Chancery’s hands in future cases” – the Professors cite recent research showing that appraisal petitions are “more likely to be filed against mergers with perceived conflicts of interest, including going-private deals, minority squeeze outs, and acquisitions with low premiums, which makes them a potentially important governance mechanism.”

The Supreme Court heard argument yesterday from DFC Global and its dissenting stockholders. The court has not yet ruled, and nobody can predict how it will decide the case; the following questions and observations are just some of the points that different members of the full five-justice panel raised during argument:

  • The court asked DFC Global why they did not introduce an economics expert to corroborate the reliability of the merger price as the measure of the company’s fair value; the Chief Justice said that by not doing so, they didn’t offer much help to the Chancellor in his evaluation of the merger price and the process of wading through the respective valuation experts’ reports.
  • The court observed that DFC’s own expert gave 50% weight to the merger price, so it asked why the Chancellor’s one-third weighting of merger price isn’t entitled to deference.
  • The court observed that the statutory requirement that the chancery court consider “all relevant factors” in determining fair value is pretty “squishy,” suggesting that the trial court has the discretion to decide which factors to examine and what weight to give them.
  • The court asked both sides to describe the relationship between working capital and perpetuity growth rates and whether the calculation of the growth rate is necessarily based on working capital assumptions; e., does a higher level of working capital inevitably mean that a higher growth rate must be used?
  • The court observed that the appraisal statute requires the courts to focus on the fair value of the shares and that the pre-existing, unaffected market price would be highly informative of the stock’s fair value, but the jurisdictional definition of fair value looks beyond just the shares to the value of the company as a going concern.
  • One of the justices was “troubled” by the Chancellor’s equal weighting of the three chosen valuation sources – merger price, comparable companies analysis, and DFC – insofar as the support for such equal weighting seemed lacking in the record.
  • The court asked the stockholders why their valuation expert didn’t open up his own private equity shop if he really believed in the valuation delta between merger price and his own valuation, which came out nearly two times higher than the merger price.
  • The court further asked why none of the 40 people apparently contacted during the sale process bid higher, given that valuation gap; are the markets really that broken?
  • The court observed that on average, M&A buyers lose out and tend to overpay.

You can see the complete oral argument here (under the June 7, 2017, listing; DFC Global Corp. v. Muirfield Value Partners).

We will post again when the court issues its decision.

**As previously noted, this law firm was counsel of record on one of the amici briefs filed in this case.

Professor Guhan Subramanian of the Harvard Business School, who was one of the Dell stockholders’ experts in the Dell appraisal case focused on the M&A deal process, has developed an ostensive “middle ground” between the competing approaches advanced by the respective amicus briefs filed by some two dozen law and economics professors in the DFC Global appeal.

In his February 6, 2017 essay, “Using the Deal Price for Determining ‘Fair Value’ in Appraisal Proceedings,” Professor Subramanian has proposed that courts adopt a presumption that the merger price represents fair value in an appraisal proceeding where the deal process involved “an adequate market canvass, meaningful price discovery, and an arms-length negotiation.”  And where the deal process lacks these features, he believes that deal price should receive no weight whatsoever.  His suggested “synthesizing principle” is a response to what he believes to be an increase in perceived appraisal risk since the Dell appraisal ruling in May 2016.