Substantiating the Explosive Growth in M&A-Related Litigation

Substantiating the Explosive Growth in M&A-Related Litigation

There seems to be a general consensus that the amount of M&A-related litigation is increasing. The question of how to quantify the increase has attracted quite a bit of attention lately. In a recent post, I previewed a forthcoming report from Cornerstone Research that will provide detailed statistic analysis of the M&A litigation phenomenon.

My post attracted considerable commentary, and also drew a communication from NERA Economic Consulting, which has released its own statistical analysis of M&A-related litigation, and which they shared with me.

In addition, this week I separately received from Ohio State University Law Professor Steven Davidoff a copy of the January 1, 2012 paper that he and Notre Dame Finance Professor Matthew Cain have written entitled "A Great Game: The Dynamics of State Competition and Litigation" (here), in which they analyze M&A related Litigation from 2005-2010., with particular attention to the question of whether or not there is now competition between the states for this type of corporate litigation. Davidoff should be familiar to many readers as The Deal Professor from the New York Times Dealbook blog.

These two reports add substantial additional quantitative and analytic support for the general observations surrounding the growth in M&A-related litigation. Both of these reports corroborate the explosive growth in M&A-related litigation in recent years. I examine both of these reports below, starting first with Professors Davidoff and Cain's analysis.

Professors Davidoff and Cain's Paper

The Professors' primary interests relate to the question of whether or not the states are competing for corporate litigation. Their interest in this question is driven in part by recent analyses suggesting that Delaware may be losing "market share" for this type of litigation. In order to determine how "both attorneys and courts interact in this game," the authors examine state court merger litigation. The authors analyzed 955 merger transactions that took place between 2005 and 2010 and having a transaction value great than $100 million.

The authors found that 49.7 percent of transactions during that period attracted at least one shareholder lawsuit, and that the litigation rate increased "sharply" during the period, with only 38.7 percent of the transactions incurring litigation in 2005, compared to 84.2 percent in 2010. In addition, merger transactions increasingly are attracting multiple lawsuits. In 2005, only 8.6 percent of the deals attracted litigation in more than one jurisdiction, compared to 46.5 percent in 2010.

The authors found that during the sample period, 69.8 percent of cases settled, while 30.2 percent were dismissed. Only 4.9 percent of the settlements involved in increased in the amount of the transaction consideration, while 52.1 percent of the settlements involved only the disclosure of additional information. The average plaintiffs' attorneys' fee for settled suits is $1.4 million. Cases that settled for additional disclosure only pay the lowest level of attorneys' fees (average attorneys fees of $793) while settlements involving an increase in the deal consideration  pay the most (average attorneys fees $8.5 million)

The authors used this information to calculate an expected dismissal and attorneys' fee baseline, as a way to measure "unexplained" dismissal rates and attorneys fees. The authors used these unexplained amounts as an "indicator for state competition." The authors found significant variation across states, with certain states awarding higher fees than others. Delaware awarded fees $400,000 to $500,000 higher while dismissing a greater portion of cases than other states.

The authors found some statistical support for the claims that Delaware is losing the state court litigation competition, but they also found that "the game" is complex and that the dynamic varies depending on which states are compared. The authors also found evidence that Delaware's courts are responsive to this competition, concluding that Delaware's courts award" higher attorneys' fees to compensate for a higher dismissal rate," and adjust "dismissal rates down when it loses prior cases to other jurisdictions." The authors cite the recent $300 million award in the Southern Peru Copper case as an indication that Delaware is" competing more overtly in this game."

The NERA Economic Consulting Presentation

In a December 6, 2011 presentation done in conjunction with the Wilson Sonsini law firm and entitled "Merger Objection Litigation" (here), NERA provided a detailed statistical review of M&A-related litigation. The NERA study is based on the firm's examination of the 731 merger transactions it identified as having been announced between 2006 and 2010 and that were completed by February 28, 2011, and that had a value equal to or greater than $100 million. NERA found that 285 of those transactions were challenged in a state or federal lawsuit, through June 20, 2011. NERA also found that litigation settlements had been reached in connection with 162 of the deals.

The NERA study found that while there were fewer deals overall in the last three years of the 2006-2010 study period, the incidence of M&A related litigation escalated significantly in those three later years. Thus, while only 26.1% of the 2006 deals and only 21.9% of the 2007 deals attracted litigation, 45.4% of the 2008 deals, 78.6% of the 2009 deals, and 60.7% of the 2010 deals attracted litigation. Though the 2010 figure represent a slight decline from the prior year, the 2010 level of litigation still represents a significant increase compared to the earlier years in the study period.

The NERA study also found that throughout the 2006-2010 period, the litigation rate increased as the size of the deal increased. Thus, only about 25% of the deals under $500 million attracted litigation, but 38.7% of the deals between $500-$999 million, 40.8% of the deals between $1 billion and $1.9 billion, 53.0% of the deals between $2 billion and $4.9 billion and 70.1% of the deals equal to or greater than $5 billion attracted litigation.

Merger objection litigation can be expected to arise fairly quickly after the deal is announced. The NERA study shows that a third of the litigation arrives in the first two days after the deal is announced and about 60% arrived in the first week. 81% of the merger litigation arrives within the first thirty days after the deal is announced. Although the takeover target is consistently named as a defendant in this litigation, 70% of the time the named defendants also include the acquirer.

The vast majority of the litigation is filed in state court only. 83% of the deals that were litigated attracted only state court litigation. Another 14% attracted both state and federal litigation. Only three percent of the deals attracted only federal court litigation.

The NERA study suggests that many of the deals that attract litigation are attracting litigation outside Delaware. Of the deals that were litigated, 20% were litigated only in Delaware and another 13% were litigated in both Delaware and another state. So about one third of the deals that attracted litigation were litigated at least in part in Delaware. The remaining two thirds of the deals were litigated only outside Delaware. However, the presentation does not show how many of the deals that were litigated only outside Delaware involved target companies that were incorporated in Delaware. The presentation also does not show whether or not the prevalence of litigation outside Delaware changed during the 2006-2010 study period.

With respect to the M&A-related lawsuits in the study period that had settled, the NERA report found that the vast majority of the settlements involved cash payments of less than $1 million. 106 of the 154 settlements in the settlement analysis (nearly 69%) settled for less than $1 million. Another 33 out of the 154 in the settlement analysis settled for less than $10 million. Only 15 of the 154 settlements in the analysis settled for amounts of $10 million or greater, including only 4 with settlements between $100 million and only one with a settlement greater than $1 billion. (The NERA presentation includes a detailed list of the largest settlements at slide 19.)

Thus, while the settlement period included a few very large settlements, the vast majority of the settlements were for less than $10 million, and more than two-thirds were below $1 million.

In fully 87% of the litigated deals that had settled, the only beneficiary from the monetary settlement was the plaintiffs' attorneys. In only 9% of the settlements did the beneficiaries include both the plaintiffs' attorneys and class members. Thus the vast majority of monetary settlements pay only for the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and expense, and the "benefits" to the class, although occasionally monetary, more often take another form, such as reduced target company termination fee; fuller disclosure; or improved corporate governance.

Discussion

The information in these two studies provides valuable additional perspective on the increasingly important M&A-related litigation phenomenon. The two studies corroborate that in creasing numbers of M&A transactions are attracting litigation. The NERA data also provides some interesting additional information that has not been a part of other statistical perspectives on this litigation phenomenon, including in particular the data showing how quickly the lawsuits arrive and the information showing the range of settlement outcomes.

The Professors' report provides additional information about the increasing prevalence of multi-jurisdiction litigation, as well as average attorneys' fees and dismissal rates. Perhaps most significantly, the Professors' study provides important insight into the question of state competition for corporate litigation.

The data in these studies are directionally consistent with the previously released studies, including the information I previewed in a recent post about the forthcoming Cornerstone Research report. They are also directionally consistent with each other, while differing somewhat in their details. The two reports also differ somewhat from the Cornerstone Research data I previously reviewed.  (The Cornerstone Research analysis suggests a higher litigation rate both in 2007 and in 2010 than the analysis in either of the two studies discussed above, although all three of the analyses agree that that the litigation rate increased between 2007 and 2010.)

The difference between the analyses may be attributable to the differing data sources used in the studies. There may have been methodological differences as well. For those of use who are studying and trying to understand the growing M&A-related litigation phenomenon, it will be important to understand these differences. We can certainly hope as the various research sources release their analyses that they will help the rest of us understand not only where their data came from and how it was analyzed, but how the approach they used may differ from other analyses that have been published.

In any event, no matter how you slice it, the level of M&A related litigation is growing. The defense expenses and settlement amounts associated with this litigation represent a growing problem as well. All signs are that this phenomenon will remain a significant part of the corporate and securities litigation landscape for the foreseeable future. For that reason it will remain important to understand what this litigation means. The willingness of NERA and of the Professors to share their analysis is extraordinarily helpful in that regard. Along those lines, I would like to express my deep thanks here to NERA and to Professor Davidoff for their willingness to share their presentations with me.

Read other items of interest from the world of directors & officers liability, with occasional commentary, at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.

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