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Court of Chancery Finds Hidden Appraisal Right

Posted In Appraisal, M&A

Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System et al v. Crawford, C.A. No. 2635-N (Del. Ch. February 16, 2007).

In Delaware's corporate law, the doctrine of independent legal significance has a great importance. Basically, this means that if a transaction is authorized by any provision of our law, then it may go forward even if, in substance, it may seem to violate some other provision of that law. Thus, for example, a merger that really seems to be a sale of assets is still valid if it complies with the terms of the statute governing mergers. Here, the strength of that doctrine is called into question.

To make the merger of Caremark and CVS more competitive to a third party offer for Caremark, the directors of Caremark resolved to pay a special dividend to the Caremark stockholders. The problem was that the dividend was conditioned on those stockholders approving the merger with CVS. The plaintiffs argued that this dividend was really a cash payment as part of the merger consideration and thus triggered stockholder appraisal rights that occur when stockholders receive cash in a merger. The Court of Chancery agreed with the plaintiffs and rejected application of the doctrine of independent legal significance.

The result clearly was influenced by the evidence that the Caremark directors were motivated to declare the dividend to make the merger go through and thereby receive large personal benefits in the form of change of control payments. The point then is that when  the so-called "independent" event is really tied to personal interest and not to just getting a deal done, the Court is less likely to give it recognition as truly independent.

The decision is also interesting for its review of the deal protection clauses and its point that there is no per se formula that protect such clauses. Thus, for example, a 3% termination fee is not automatically valid, but all the circumstances must be considered. Share

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