Deal Price as Cap on Fair Value: The Saga Continues

Vice Chancellor Glasscock’s opinion yesterday in Huff v. CKx is an interesting development in appraisal case law. Like many appraisal opinions, Huff reflects a persistent frustration with the (euphemistically speaking) indeterminacy of the valuation exercise, and a tendency to want to rely on the results of actual market transactions – in this case, the actual merger price.

The appraisal proceeding in Huff arose out of an acquisition resulting from what the court found to be a reasonable, arm’s length auction process. The Vice Chancellor considered but rejected petitioners’ effort to disregard the result of the auction on the theory that it proceeded on a suboptimal basis (i.e., didn’t use a Vickrey auction approach, in which the price offered in the second highest bid in a sealed bid competition is selected). Accepting the auction result as a reasonable indicator of maximum fair value, and finding comparable company and discounted cash flow analyses unreliable in the circumstances,* the Vice Chancellor instructed the parties to submit evidence regarding the extent to which the merger price impounded synergistic value that should be subtracted in order to arrive at the statutorily-mandated determination of “fair value.”

In adopting this approach, the Vice Chancellor candidly acknowledged direction from the Delaware Supreme Court in Golden Telecom (11 A.3d 214 (2010)) that the merger price resulting from even a full and fair auction cannot place a presumptive upper limit on “fair value.” Indeed, in some post-Golden cases, such as 3M Cogent, the Court of Chancery has been reluctant to rely on sale process results in lieu of strong evidence of going concern value. As Vice Chancellor Glasscock reads Golden Telecom, however, the Supreme Court has by no means denied to the Court of Chancery the ability to consider the merger price as evidence of value, where other indicia of value are found to be unreliable – or perhaps even along with such other indicia, even when reliable. To adopt a rule precluding such consideration of the merger price would be just as inconsistent with the flexibility contemplated by the statute as the presumption rejected in Golden Telecom.

*The primary uncertainty in the DCF analyses presented at trial was the inability to predict, within any reasonable tolerance, licensing revenues associated with the once (but perhaps not future) hit show “American Idol.”

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