Pomerantz LLP

New York Adopts Delaware Standards for Going Private Mergers


In a case called the Kenneth Cole Shareholder Litigation, the New York Court of Appeals adopted, as the rule in New York, the MFW decision of the Delaware Supreme Court. There, the Delaware court held that, for claims seeking damages, the business judgement rule can protect the decision of a board of directors to accept a going private merger if certain conditions are met. Ordinarily, such decisions are reviewed under the “entire fairness” test, a very pro-plaintiff standard. The MFW court held that the business judgment rule can apply instead, provided that a series of shareholder protections exist: the merger was approved by both a special committee of independent directors and a majority of the minority shareholders; the special committee was independent and was free to reject the offer and to hire its own advisers; and the vote of the minority was informed and uncoerced. To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must allege facts showing that the transaction lacked one or more of these shareholder protections.

Meanwhile, the Delaware Supreme Court has itself recently extended the MFW decision to apply also to director decisions to approve mergers with unrelated entities. In such cases, where the complaint seeks damages, the entire fairness rule is inapplicable, but the courts have typically applied an intermediate standard of review, called enhanced scrutiny.” In a case called KKR, the court has now held that if the MFW conditions are met, the business judgment rule protects such decisions in post-closing actions as well. It added that under those circumstances, a showing of “gross negligence” by the directors is not sufficient to rebut the protection of the rule; “waste” has to be shown, which is an almost insurmountable burden.