Keeping Shareholder Activism Alive: A Comparative Approach to Outlawing Dead Hand Proxy Puts in Delaware
By Danielle A. Rapaccioli
Current trends in shareholder activism have brought to light the competing interests of management and stockholders. With a rise in shareholder activism, firms are continuing to include change in control provisions, known as proxy puts, in their debt agreements to counter activist success. Recent litigation regarding the use of these provisions has created a debate as to whether these provisions are valid under Delaware law. Moreover, companies and lending institutions have morphed these provisions into a more restrictive form, known as “dead hand proxy puts.” The controversy analyzed in this Note arises out of the use of dead hand proxy puts in debt agreements.
The Delaware Chancery Court has considered the issue of proxy puts in three recent cases. On no occasion has the court declared traditional or dead hand proxy puts invalid; the court, however, expressed skepticism toward these provisions. With a recognized entrenchment effect on management and a deterrent effect on the stockholder franchise, the court indicated that they could potentially be invalid in Delaware as a matter of public policy.
This Note considers the rise of shareholder activism in the United States and the use of both proxy puts and poison pills to defend against activist investors and hostile takeovers. It analyzes the current debate over dead hand proxy puts and compares these provisions to the already illegal dead hand poison pills. It ultimately argues that dead hand proxy puts should be outlawed in Delaware on the same basis as dead hand poison pills.