As you all know, loan agreements include financial and non-financial covenants imposed on the borrower. Failure to maintain a covenant leads to an event of default. A financial covenant might be maintaining a certain debt-to-equity ratio. A non-financial covenant might be preventing a change in control of the board of directors. Changing the make-up of a board of directors, is of course, the right of the shareholders. When a board of directors agrees that such a change could trigger a default under a loan it may be impermissibly intruding on the shareholders' franchise.
Here is what Vice Chancellor Lamb had to say on the subject in San Antonio Fire & Police Pension Fund v. Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2009 WL 1337150 (May 12, 2009):
“This case does highlight the troubling reality that corporations and their counsel routinely negotiate contract terms that may, in some circumstances, impinge on the free exercise of the stockholder franchise. In the context of the negotiations of a debt instrument, this is particularly troubling, for two reasons. First, as a matter of course, there are few events which have the potential to be more catastrophic for a corporation than the triggering of an event of default under one of its debt agreements. Second, the board, when negotiating with rights that belong first and foremost to stockholders (i.e., the stockholder franchise), must be especially solicitous to its duties both to the corporation and to its stockholders. This is never more true than when negotiating with debtholders, whose interests at times may be directly adverse to those of the stockholders. Outside counsel advising a board in such circumstances should be especially mindful of the board’s continuing duties to the stockholders to protect their interests. Specifically, terms which may affect the stockholders’ range of discretion in exercising the franchise should, even if considered customary, be highlighted to the board. In this way, the board will be able to exercise its fully informed business judgment.”
The case is on appeal.