As a part of their oversight duties, boards of administrators are anticipated to periodically evaluation their firm’s organizational paperwork. Challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated financial stresses have uncovered varied alternatives to enhance firms’ organizational paperwork. In mild of the continuing impacts of the present pandemic and the opportunity of related future shocks, we imagine that is an opportune time for boards to take a contemporary take a look at their organizational paperwork. Particularly, we advocate that boards consider potential revisions to their bylaws to permit for better flexibility and readability regarding shareholder conferences and board actions. As well as, the board of any firm that has lately skilled a major lower in its inventory value (or any related vulnerability) ought to evaluation the corporate’s takeover defenses and preparedness within the occasion of shareholder activism or a hostile takeover try. For firms which have already held their 2020 annual assembly and don’t face a pending risk, any near-term revisions to the corporate’s takeover defenses would benefit from being adopted on a “clear day,” as described additional beneath.
This consumer alert discusses prompt areas of focus for the board in its evaluation of the bylaws given the present local weather.
In early 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most US firms confronted difficulties with respect to holding shareholder conferences. Varied quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and related governmental mandates restricted journey and restricted the variety of folks in a position to attend in-person gatherings. These and different associated points required firms to rethink and reorganize sure procedural features of their annual conferences.
Through the first a part of 2020, many public firms addressed these challenges by electing to carry their annual shareholders assembly partly or wholly via a digital format. As beforehand mentioned right here, along with confirming that state regulation permitted a digital assembly format, firms needed to verify that their organizational paperwork didn’t prohibit such a gathering format, and if their bylaws prohibited a digital assembly format, boards needed to rapidly amend the corporate’s bylaws. To maximise future flexibility, an organization’s bylaws ought to explicitly allow a digital assembly format. As well as, we propose that you simply evaluation bylaws provisions regarding the situation of conferences, discover of conferences, quorum, adjournment, and document holder lists to substantiate that every one such provisions both accommodate a digital assembly format or at a minimal don’t preclude such a format.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many firms needed to think about sure changes to their long-standing assembly procedures. For instance, firms that held in-person conferences needed to think about whether or not to change their assembly procedures to account for well being screenings, private protecting tools and social distancing steerage, and all firms, no matter their assembly format, needed to determine learn how to regulate visitor attendance and shareholder enter. Though state regulation continuously consists of useful steerage on these points, we advocate that boards think about together with a bylaw provision clarifying that the board or presiding officer has full discretion to ascertain the protocols for the assembly together with, for instance: (i) figuring out when the polls will open and shut on objects submitted for shareholder motion; (ii) establishing an agenda and procedures to take care of order on the assembly and guarantee security of attendees; (iii) fixing the time allotted for consideration of every agenda merchandise and for questions and feedback by attendees; (iv) adopting guidelines for figuring out who might pose questions and feedback through the assembly and when; (v) adopting guidelines for figuring out who might attend the assembly; and (vi) adopting procedures requiring attendees (if any) to supply the corporate advance discover of their intent to attend the assembly. As well as, whatever the format of the assembly, many boards thought-about learn how to correctly delegate authority to a different director or officer to preside over conferences in conditions the place the unique presiding officer couldn’t attend in case of an emergency. Boards ought to evaluation their bylaws to make sure that the board is supplied the best flexibility to designate who will preside over a gathering and the authority of such presiding officer.
COVID-19 additionally has heightened the necessity for the board to have the ability to take motion and conduct conferences remotely. Though the organizational paperwork of most public firms have expressly permitted telephonic conferences for years, boards ought to evaluation their bylaws to substantiate that it has most flexibility to conduct conferences in all kinds of distant codecs, together with by phone and different distant communications (reminiscent of the assorted videoconferencing providers obtainable on-line like Zoom and Microsoft Groups), in addition to to supply approval by written consent, together with approval by way of e mail or different related types of digital communication. As well as, boards ought to evaluation their bylaws regarding the type of discover with the intention to verify all digital technique of communication are permissible, and any advance discover requirement (or waiver thereof) within the occasion a particular assembly of administrators known as or a beforehand scheduled common assembly is rescheduled.
Whereas these commonplace provisions are essential for the conventional conduct of the board, these technique of taking motion are efficient solely when a quorum is current or, within the case of motion by written consent, all administrators can be found. However what if some administrators are incapacitated as a consequence of a pandemic or in any other case, or are unavailable as a consequence of a pure catastrophe, terrorist assault, or social unrest? Many states, together with Delaware, New York, and most of the states with company legal guidelines based mostly on the Mannequin Enterprise Company Act (MBCA) (reminiscent of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, and Texas, to call just a few), have statutes granting sure powers to the board of administrators throughout an emergency. Beneath these statutes, an emergency usually exists when a quorum of the board of administrators can not readily be assembled due to some catastrophic occasion.
Along with these emergency statutory powers, the legal guidelines of many states, together with those talked about above, present boards with pretty broad authority to undertake bylaws that govern in case of an emergency. These emergency bylaws sometimes grant boards extra powers past their statutory powers. Moreover, individuals who act in good religion in accordance with emergency bylaws usually usually are not topic to legal responsibility for these actions. Nonetheless, be aware that emergency bylaws are usually topic to shareholder modification or repeal.
Boards ought to think about adopting emergency bylaws to supply for extra orderly administration of the corporate in a time of disaster. Emergency bylaws might:
allow any director or officer to name a gathering of the board;
require discover solely to administrators who might feasibly be reached;
allow discover to be supplied in any practicable method underneath the circumstances, reminiscent of by e mail, textual content, or broad dissemination (reminiscent of a newspaper, social media, or the corporate’s web site);
allow advance discover of the assembly to be as quick because the circumstances might require;
make clear that any technique of distant communication is permitted so long as the administrators can hear one another;
allow any director(s) in attendance to rely as a quorum (even when only one director), and supply that motion by the board could also be taken by such director(s) in attendance;
allow officers or different individuals of authority to behave as extra or substitute administrators; and
allow administrators to be appointed to any momentary or standing committee of the board.
Though we advocate that you simply rigorously think about the breadth of any such emergency bylaws, there may be little doubt that such bylaws afford boards a possibility to function with better flexibility in occasions of emergency.
As famous above, if an organization has lately skilled a major lower in its inventory value, the board ought to think about reviewing the corporate’s present takeover defenses and its basic takeover preparedness and decide whether or not any motion must be taken. Frequent anti-takeover provisions embrace:
adoption of a rights plan, or “poison tablet”;
multi-class capital buildings;
preclusion of shareholders performing by unanimous consent;
advance discover necessities, pursuant to which a shareholder should present discover of any proposals or director nominees prematurely of an annual or particular shareholder assembly;
authorization of blank-check most well-liked inventory, which is mostly needed if the corporate needs to have the choice of adopting a poison tablet;
a significant possession threshold for a shareholder (or group of shareholders) to name particular conferences and detailed advance discover necessities for any particular assembly request;
supermajority voting necessities for sure actions by the shareholders, together with modification of the bylaws;
limits on the flexibility of shareholders to fill board vacancies or improve the dimensions of the board;
categorized (or staggered) board of administrators;
a “for-cause solely” requirement for shareholders to take away administrators;
preclusion of cumulative voting; and
company constituency provisions.
Boards ought to periodically evaluation with their advisors the corporate’s organizational paperwork to find out what, if any, anti-takeover protections the corporate at present has in place. It will allow the board to evaluate whether or not to reinforce current protections or add new ones to deal with gaps within the firm’s defenses. Please be aware, nonetheless, that a number of of those protecting units would require approval of the shareholders, which is tough to acquire from non-affiliated shareholders within the present setting. As an example, current public firms which can be predominantly owned by unaffiliated shareholders will discover it extraordinarily tough to obtain shareholder approval of a brand new multi-class capital construction or staggered board. Furthermore, a number of of the opposite units that may be carried out unilaterally by boards, reminiscent of rights plans, will possible invite a unfavourable response from shareholders and proxy advisory companies, until accompanied by shareholder-friendly options that continuously undercut the units’ utility to the corporate.
As famous above, the Delaware courts have held that they may grant better deference to provisions that will inhibit adjustments of management if an organization adopts such provisions on a “clear day,” when no particular takeover risk is looming. Firm actions taken on a transparent day shall be extra more likely to be judged underneath the deferential enterprise judgment rule slightly than a extra exacting commonplace.
Along with anti-takeover safety, when reviewing the procedures for shareholder conferences, the board ought to think about proxy contests and different shareholder activism to substantiate no extra readability is required regarding assembly notices, quorum, withdrawal of shareholders, adjournment, postponement, voting requirements, remedy of abstentions and dealer non-votes, and presiding officer protocols for the assembly (that are mentioned above).
Unique Discussion board Provisions
Lastly, in reference to any periodic bylaw evaluations, boards ought to think about whether or not to undertake an unique discussion board provision in the event that they haven’t already finished so.
Conventional State Discussion board Provisions
Conventional unique discussion board provisions usually require by-product actions and different intra-corporate disputes of an organization to be litigated completely within the state or federal courts of a selected state. Firms sometimes select their state of incorporation or the state of their principal place of work because the unique discussion board to resolve such disputes. Unique discussion board provisions are supposed to keep away from multijurisdictional litigation over the identical set of details. These provisions search to keep away from the associated fee and uncertainty of parallel litigation, the danger of inconsistent outcomes, and the potential for one state’s regulation to be misinterpreted by different courts. Moreover, for Delaware companies, unique discussion board provisions are supposed to permit Delaware companies to have intra-corporate disputes resolved by the courts most skilled in dealing with company regulation points. Delaware companies, in addition to companies in sure states which have adopted the MBCA, are permitted underneath state company regulation to incorporate an unique discussion board provision of their governing paperwork.
Whereas the speed of adoption of unique discussion board bylaw provisions has elevated, boards needs to be conscious that some shareholders and proxy advisory companies view the proper to pick the discussion board through which to sue as an essential shareholder proper. Due to this fact, boards that unilaterally implement an unique discussion board bylaw with out shareholder enter might encounter an opposed response from buyers.
Federal Discussion board Provision
Topic to the constraints famous beneath, a March 2020 ruling by the Delaware Supreme Courtroom provides a possibility for sure public firms to think about adopting a federal discussion board provision. A federal discussion board provision is a sort of unique discussion board provision that addresses jurisdiction over claims introduced underneath the US Securities Act of 1933 (the Securities Act). In its March 2020 ruling, the Delaware Supreme Courtroom discovered that firms included in Delaware can require litigation underneath the Securities Act to be filed in federal courts slightly than state courts, successfully allowing federal discussion board provisions in firm charters or bylaws. The choice additionally doubtlessly opens the door to constitution or bylaw provisions that might go even additional to rein in abusive shareholder litigation, reminiscent of provisions requiring arbitration of Securities Act claims. Whereas the Delaware Supreme Courtroom discovered that such federal discussion board provisions in bylaws are usually legitimate, the court docket declined to state that such provisions are legitimate in all circumstances (together with, for instance, if adopted or used for an inequitable goal). As well as, the enforceability of federal discussion board provisions will must be examined in different state and federal courts. Furthermore, shareholders might be anticipated to object to the adoption of those provisions with out their enter or approval.
Federal discussion board provisions relate to Securities Act claims arising from choices underneath registration statements, and subsequently provide the best potential promise to pre-IPO firms or post-IPO firms that continuously promote registered debt or fairness securities. Different public firms will obtain much less profit from adopting federal discussion board provisions, and subsequently might want to defer adopting such provisions till they’ve change into extra broadly accepted by courts and buyers.
 This consumer alert focuses totally on potential revisions to firms’ bylaws, which in most cases might be amended with out shareholder approval. Revisions to articles or certificates of incorporation usually require shareholder approval and sometimes are addressed by most public firms in reference to their annual shareholder conferences. Whereas a lot of the ideas on this consumer alert are geared primarily towards public firms, some is likely to be helpful to bigger personal firms with numerous constituencies, together with pre-IPO firms.
 For a abstract of the legal guidelines of every of the 50 states with respect to allowing a virtual-only or hybrid shareholder assembly as of March 2018, see “Rules and Finest Practices for Digital Annual Shareholders Conferences,” Broadridge Monetary Options, Inc. (2018).
 For instance, the Louisiana Enterprise Company Act (which is modeled after the MBCA) offers that the chair of the assembly determines the order of enterprise and has the authority to ascertain the foundations for the conduct of the shareholder assembly.
 For instance, emergency bylaws for Delaware companies might include any provision that “could also be sensible and needed for the circumstances of the emergency,” and emergency bylaws for Louisiana companies (and different companies ruled by the MBCA) might include all provisions “needed for managing the company throughout an emergency.”
 Part 115 of the Delaware Normal Company Regulation (DGCL) permits a company’s governing paperwork to require that “all or any inside company claims shall be introduced solely and completely in any or the entire courts on this State.” The 2015 modification to the DGCL codified Delaware case regulation. Much like the DGCL, in 2016, Part 2.08 was added to the MBCA, which permits a company’s governing paperwork to require that “all or any inside company claims shall be introduced completely in any specified court docket or courts of this state and, in that case specified, in any extra courts on this state or in every other jurisdictions with which the company has an affordable relationship.”
 See Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi, 227 A.3d 102 (Del. 2020).