In In re GGP Stockholder Litigation, 2022 WL 2815820 (Del. July 19, 2022), an M&A transaction split the merger consideration into two parts: an oversized pre-closing dividend totaling over $9 billion, followed by a nominal post-closing payment of about 31 cents a share. In this case, a majority of the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that divvying up merger consideration in this manner does not defeat a dissenting stockholder’s appraisal rights. The majority held that a pre-closing dividend (at least one dependent upon the consummation of the transaction) is part and parcel of the total “merger consideration,” and therefore will be taken into account when determining the fair value of a stockholder’s shares prior to the transaction. However, the Court added, the proxy materials must be clear that the merger consideration subject to an appraisal action includes not only the post-closing per share payment, but also any pre-closing dividend—no matter how large it might be. Otherwise, a stockholder could (incorrectly) believe that the fair value of her shares will be appraised only after deducting the padded dividend from the value of the company, thus depleting the fair value of her shares and making the pursuit of an appraisal action highly unsavory. Here, the Court held that the proxy statement was less than clear in this regard, and upheld plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claims on a motion to dismiss. In reaching its decision, the Delaware Supreme Court provides important guidance to practitioners structuring deals with an eye towards diminishing the usual deluge of appraisal actions—shoehorning the lion’s share of merger compensation into a pre-closing dividend will not do the trick, nor can the accompanying proxy materials make that suggestion (no matter how subtly or perhaps unintentionally).
Kristin Housh is an associate in the Business Trial Practice Group in the firm's San Diego (Del Mar) office.