In Shanda Games Ltd v. Maso Capital Investments Ltd  UKPC 2 (27 January 2020) the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has considered one important aspect of s.238 of the Cayman Islands’ Companies Law, relating to minority shareholder appraisal rights in the context of a corporate merger or consolidation involving a Cayman Islands company. While the case focuses on the law of the Cayman Islands, its wider discussion of fair value should be of broader interest to practitioners in the UK and beyond.
In summary, the Privy Council has concluded that in a corporate merger, a dissenting minority shareholder’s shares should ordinarily be valued by the Cayman Islands Court as a minority shareholding, with the application of a “minority discount”, subject to the facts of any particular case. This is the first time that the meaning and effect of s.238 of the Companies Law has been considered by the Privy Council at a final appellate level since its enactment in 2009.
It is unlikely to be the last time, since a number of other controversial, and high-value, s.238 shareholder appraisal cases still remain pending before the Grand Court and the Court of Appeal of the Cayman Islands, giving rise to significant potential for further appeals to be brought before the Privy Council (despite the fact that an appraisal action is particularly fact sensitive, and quintessentially a matter for resolution by a trial judge at first instance, with the benefit of expert valuation evidence).
The Privy Council’s judgment in Shanda Games Ltd is particularly important for its general appellate guidance to the Cayman Islands courts (and to lawyers and expert witnesses dealing with valuation issues) as to the manner in which the Cayman legislation should be interpreted and applied, having regard to reported case law on similar, or related, statutory provisions from Delaware, Canada, England and Wales, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.
The judgment is almost as important, however, for what it has not yet decided, as much as what it has decided.
Under s.238 of the Cayman Islands’ Companies Law, where there has been a merger or consolidation involving at least one Cayman company pursuant to Pt XVI of the Companies Law, a dissenting shareholder is entitled to payment of the “fair value” of his shares.
If the dissenter and the company cannot agree on the “fair value”, the company shall, or the dissenter may, present a petition to the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands for its determination of the fair value of his shares and a fair rate of interest, if any, to be paid by the company.
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Shanda Games in the Privy Council: the beginning of the end of share appraisal litigation involving Cayman Islands companies, or just the end of the beginning?
This article was originally published in the 2020 edition of Sweet and Maxwell’s Company Law Newsletter