What’s Subsequent within the Elon Musk-Twitter Saga? A Courtroom Battle

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Now that Elon Musk has signaled his intent to stroll away from his $44 billion supply to purchase Twitter, the destiny of the influential social media community might be decided by what could also be an epic court docket battle, involving months of high-priced litigation and high-stakes negotiations by elite attorneys on each side.

The query is whether or not Mr. Musk might be legally compelled to stay together with his agreed-upon acquisition or be allowed to again out, presumably by paying a 10-figure penalty.

Most authorized specialists say Twitter has the higher hand, partially as a result of Mr. Musk connected few strings to his settlement to purchase the corporate, and the corporate is set to power the deal by way of.

However Mr. Musk revels in impulsiveness and brinkmanship and is backed by a fleet of prime bankers and attorneys. Slightly than participating in a protracted public brawl with the world’s richest man and his legions of die-hard followers, Twitter would possibly come below strain to discover a swift and comparatively peaceable decision — one that might protect the corporate’s independence however go away it in a tenuous monetary place.

Mike Ringler, a associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who’s representing Mr. Musk, knowledgeable Twitter late on Friday that his shopper was abandoning the takeover. Mr. Ringler argued in his letter that Twitter had violated the settlement with Mr. Musk by not offering him with detailed details about the way it measures inauthentic accounts. He additionally mentioned that Mr. Musk didn’t imagine the metrics that Twitter has publicly disclosed about what number of of its customers had been faux.

Twitter’s board responded by saying it supposed to consummate the acquisition and would sue Mr. Musk in a Delaware chancery court docket to power him to take action.

On the coronary heart of the dispute are the phrases of the merger settlement that Mr. Musk reached with Twitter in April. His contract with Twitter permits him to interrupt off his deal by paying a $1 billion price, however solely below particular circumstances reminiscent of dropping debt financing. The settlement additionally requires Twitter to offer knowledge that Mr. Musk might require to finish the transaction.

Mr. Musk has demanded that Twitter give an in depth accounting of the spam on its platform. All through June, attorneys for Mr. Musk and Twitter have wrangled over how a lot knowledge to share to fulfill Mr. Musk’s inquiries.

Mr. Musk’s chilly toes in regards to the Twitter deal coincided with an enormous slide within the valuation of know-how firms, together with Tesla, the electrical car firm he runs, which can also be his major supply of wealth. Mr. Musk didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Twitter maintains that its spam figures are correct, however has refused to publicly element the way it detects and counts spam accounts as a result of it makes use of personal info, like customers’ telephone numbers and different digital clues about their identities, to find out whether or not an account is inauthentic. A Twitter spokesman declined to touch upon when Twitter deliberate to sue to implement the merger settlement.

“The outcomes are: The court docket says Musk can stroll away,” mentioned David Larcker, a professor of accounting and company governance at Stanford College. “One other final result is that he’s compelled to undergo with the deal, and the court docket can implement this. Or there could be some center floor the place there’s a value renegotiation.”

For Twitter, finishing a sale to Mr. Musk is significant. It struck its take care of Mr. Musk as know-how firms had been having fun with optimistic valuations; some, like Snap and Meta, have now plummeted as they face promoting strain, international financial upheaval and rising inflation. Twitter’s inventory has fallen about 30 p.c because the deal was introduced, and trades nicely below the Mr. Musk’s providing value of $54.20 a share.

Authorized specialists mentioned Mr. Musk’s dispute over spam may very well be a ploy to power Twitter again to the bargaining desk in hopes of securing a cheaper price.

Throughout the deal-making, no different potential purchaser emerged as a white knight various to Mr. Musk, making his supply the very best that Twitter is prone to get.

Twitter’s trump card is a “particular efficiency clause” that provides the corporate the appropriate to sue Mr. Musk and power him to finish or pay for the deal, as long as the debt financing he has corralled stays intact. Compelled acquisitions have occurred earlier than: In 2001, Tyson Meals tried to again out of an acquisition of the meatpacker IBP, pointing to IBP’s monetary troubles and accounting irregularities. A Delaware court docket vice chancellor dominated that Tyson needed to full the acquisition,

However authorized authority is completely different than sensible actuality. A lawsuit will most likely price thousands and thousands in authorized charges, take months to resolve and add additional uncertainty to already jittery staff.

Deal disagreements have typically led to settlements or renegotiations on value. In 2020, luxurious big LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton tried to interrupt up its $16 billion deal to amass Tiffany & Firm, in the end securing a reduction of about $420 million.

“These things is a bargaining transfer in an financial transaction,” mentioned Charles Elson, a lately retired professor of company governance on the College of Delaware. “It’s all about cash.”

A cheaper price would profit Mr. Musk and his monetary backers, particularly as Twitter faces monetary headwinds. However Twitter has made clear it desires to power Mr. Musk to stay to his $44 billion supply.

Essentially the most damaging final result for Twitter could be for the deal to break down. Mr. Musk would want to indicate that Twitter materially and deliberately breached the phrases of its contract, a excessive bar that acquirers have not often met. Mr. Musk has claimed that Twitter is withholding info vital for him to shut the deal. He has additionally argued that Twitter misreported its spam figures, and the deceptive statistics hid a major problem with Twitter’s enterprise.

A purchaser has solely as soon as efficiently argued in a Delaware court docket {that a} materials change within the goal firm’s enterprise offers it the flexibility to cleanly exit the deal. That occurred in 2017 within the $3.7 billion acquisition of the pharmaceutical firm Akorn by the well being care firm Fresenius Kabi. After Fresenius signed the settlement, Akorn’s earnings fell and it confronted allegations by a whistle-blower of skirting regulatory necessities.

Even when Twitter reveals that it didn’t violate the merger settlement, a chancellor within the Delaware court docket should still permit Mr. Musk to pay damages and stroll away, as within the case of Apollo World Administration’s deal combining the chemical firms Huntsman and Hexion in 2008. (The lawsuits concluded in a damaged deal and a $1 billion settlement.)

Forcing an acquirer to purchase an organization is a sophisticated course of to supervise, and a chancellor might not need to order a purchaser to do one thing that he in the end doesn’t observe by way of on, a threat that’s significantly acute on this deal, given Mr. Musk’s behavior of flouting authorized confines.

“The worst-case state of affairs for the court docket is that it makes an order and that he doesn’t comply, they usually have to determine what to do about it,” mentioned Morgan Ricks, a professor at Vanderbilt Legislation College.

Whereas Mr. Musk usually depends on a small circle of confidants to run his companies, which embrace the rocket maker SpaceX, he has introduced in a bigger authorized crew to oversee the Twitter acquisition. Along with his private lawyer, Alex Spiro, he tapped attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Skadden is a go-to company legislation agency, with ample expertise arguing instances in entrance of the Delaware court docket, together with LVMH’s try to interrupt off its acquisition of Tiffany.

On its aspect, Twitter has deployed attorneys from two corporations, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, to handle the deal. Wilson Sonsini is Twitter’s longtime authorized counsel, which constructed its repute on offers in enterprise capital and know-how. Simpson Thacher is a New York-based legislation agency with extra expertise normally company mergers and acquisitions.

If Twitter renegotiates its acquisition value or accepts a breakup, it should most likely face extra authorized issues. Shareholders would sue over both state of affairs, including to a number of shareholder lawsuits Twitter is already dealing with over the acquisition. In April, monetary analysts referred to as Mr. Musk’s value a lowball supply, and Twitter shareholders may balk if the corporate agrees to additional cut back its acquisition value.

A breakup may additionally convey added authorized scrutiny to Mr. Musk. The Securities and Change Fee revealed in Might that it was inspecting Mr. Musk’s purchases of Twitter inventory and whether or not he correctly disclosed his stake and his intentions for the social media firm. In 2018, the regulator secured a $40 million settlement from Mr. Musk and Tesla over expenses that his tweet falsely claiming he had secured funding to take Tesla personal amounted to securities fraud.

“On the finish of the day, a merger settlement is only a piece of paper. And a bit of paper may give you a lawsuit in case your purchaser will get chilly toes,” mentioned Ronald Barusch, a retired mergers and acquisitions lawyer who labored for Skadden Arps earlier than it represented Mr. Musk. “A lawsuit doesn’t offer you a deal. It typically offers you a protracted headache. And a broken firm.”

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