The suddenness of the COVID-19 crisis has left many companies rethinking their liquidity needs. Those that declared a cash dividend before the crisis hit but haven’t yet paid it may be reconsidering whether that dividend is still a good idea. The problem is that there are several Delaware cases holding that once a company declares a dividend, it creates a debtor-creditor relationship between the company and its shareholders.
A recent memo from Morris Nichols, Richards Layton, Potter Anderson and Young Conaway provides some guidance on alternatives that may be available for companies that find themselves in this position. Here’s a suggestion for companies with record dates that haven’t yet passed:
If the record date for determining stockholders entitled to receive the dividend has not yet occurred, the board may determine to defer the record date and payment date for the dividend. The DGCL does not prohibit changing a record date or payment date that has not occurred. Accordingly, subject to any requirements under the certificate of incorporation, such as those relating to required quarterly payments of dividends on preferred stock, where the record date has not occurred, a board could change the record date and payment date for a dividend that has already been declared to a future date, so long as the payment date occurs within 60 days after that new record date.
The memo also points out that, even if the record date for the dividend has passed, there may be constraints prohibiting its payment. If the board is unable to determine that at the payment date, the corporation has sufficient “surplus” (as defined in the DGCL) available to pay the dividend, or if the board believes payment of the dividend would leave the corporation insolvent, then Delaware law would prohibit the payment of the dividend.
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net March 23, 2020
Want to keep reading?
Great. Enter your email address and gain instant access to this article