Cablevision: On June 4, 2008, Cablevision Systems announced (here) that it had entered a stipulation to settle the options-backdating litigation pending against the company, as nominal defendant, certain of its directors and officers, and other defendants. Although the Cablevision settlement is only the latest in a growing list of options backdating-related lawsuit resolutions (as is detailed on my running tally, which can be accessed here), the settlement is noteworthy both regarding the nature of the allegations involved and regarding certain aspects of the settlement, particularly as pertains to the individuals’ contributions to the settlement.
The options backdating problems at Cablevision drew a great deal of attention when first disclosed. The company revealed that it had awarded options to a Vice Chairman after his 1999 death, but backdated the options to make it appear that the grant was awarded when he was still alive. A front page September 22, 2006 Wall Street Journal article entitled “Cablevisions Gave Backdated Grant to Dead Official” (here) quoted Columbia Law Professor John Coffee as saying that “trying to incentivize a corpse suggests they were not complying with the spirit of the shareholder-approved stock-option plan.” The ISS Corporate Governance Blog referred (here) to the awards as “Sixth Sense” options (“I pay dead people.”)
As if that were not enough, the company also disclosed that it had also awarded options to its outside compensation consultant, Lyons Benenson & Co., but the grant had been accounted for as if the consultant (Harvey Benenson) were an employee. As I noted in a blog post at the time (here), the derivative lawsuit allegations were amended to include allegations against the compensation consultant.
According to the Stipulation of Settlement (here), the Cablevision derivative lawsuit was settled for cash payments and other consideration that the parties have represented to the court has an aggregate value of $34.4 million. Specifically, the parties agreed that Cablevision will received a cash payment of $10 million from its D&O insurer, and “cash payments from and/or relinquishment of value and/or the waiver of specific claims by certain individuals” totaling $24.4 in valued. The plaintiffs’ counsel will seek payment of fees and expenses of no more that $7.116 from the settlement fund.
The description of the components of the individuals’ $24.4 million contribution makes for some interesting reading. First, the compensation consultant, Harvey Benenson, and/or his firm, Lyons Benenson, agreed to pay $2 million over three years, at 6 percent interest, secured by his Connecticut home. He will also forfeit $1.5 million severance he claimed.
The estate of former Vice Chairman Marc Lustgarten (the recipient of the Sixth Sense option grant) relinquished all claims to $4.9 million in stock options and restricted shares, including those granted improperly after his death.
A number of other individuals agreed to return specified amounts in connection with prior option grant exercises and to relinquish other unexercised options or waive other stock or share rights.
In addition to these individual contributions, and in what is to me the most interesting part of this settlement, Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan agreed to make a $1 million cash payment to Cablevision, “to facilitate the resolution of the case.” His son, Chief Executive James Dolan, will also make a $1 million contribution, in addition to returning $366,250 for previously exercised options.
What makes this agreement of the two Dolans to pay $1 million each interesting is Section 3.4 of the Stipulation of Settlement, which provides that the Settling Defendants “will not seek insurance coverage, reimbursement, contribution or indemnification for any of the consideration they provide …from any source, including but not limited to Cablevision, other Settling Defendants, any of the Insurers, or any other Related Person.”
The various individual defendants’ returned options exercise proceeds or waived benefits arguably would not have been covered under the typical D&O policy in any event, as it appears to represent the return of compensation to which they were not entitled (coverage for which arguably would be excluded under most policies). However, there might well have been at least a colorable basis on which the Dolans might have been able to argue that their million dollar payments would be covered, assuming the typical D&O policy and assuming other potential policy provision did not otherwise preclude coverage. The language of Section 3.4 appears to represent a deliberate effort to ensure that the Dolans and the other defendants directly bore the cost of their settlement contributions.
There was a time following the Enron and World Com settlements when there was a concern that indemnity and insurance bar provisions might become a regular feature of the settlement of claims against corporate officials. These fears were largely unrealized, and the presence of an indemnity and insurance bar remains an unusual settlement feature. Nevertheless, the possibility that these provisions might become more commonplace is a concern for corporate officials and their advisors.
It remains to be seen whether these types of provisions will be a part of other options backdating settlements, but in light of recent judicial concerns about possible collusive options backdating settlements (refer here), litigants may feel some pressure to show that the settlement was both arms’-length and represents real value. To that extent at least, there could be some pressure for other options backdating litigants to consider incorporating settlement provisions like an indemnity and insurance bar.
Marvell Technology: It its June 6, 2008 filing on Form 10-Q (here), Marvell Technology disclosed that on March 5, 2008, the company had entered a stipulation of settlement regarding the consolidated options backdating-related shareholders’ derivative lawsuit that had been filed against the company, as nominal defendant, and certain of its directors and officers. According to the 10-Q, the settlement includes “certain corporate governance enhancements and an agreement by us to pay up to $16 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees, an amount less than the $24.5 million that we received from a recent settlement with our directors’ and officers’ liability insurers.”
There are a number of interesting things about this settlement, particularly concerning the $16 million plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fee. At least in the absence of any other details about the settlement in any of the company’s disclosure document or even in the court filings to date, the amount of the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fee seems, well, high. For example, compare the $16 million fee in the Marvell Technology settlement to the $7.116 million fee amount agreed to in the Cablevision case. The Cablevision case involved some fairly noteworthy complications, and the settlement of the Cablevision case resulted in the payment of significant amounts back to the corporation. By contrast, at least as far as can be discerned from the company’s recent 10-Q, the Marvell Technology settlement involved no cash payment to the company.
The $8.5 million increment of the insurance settlement in excess of the $16 million plaintiffs’ counsel’s fee is not explained in the 10-Q. It could be supposed that that $8.5 million represents a benefit to the corporation (although it could just as easily represent a reimbursement to the company for its own fees incurred in defense of the lawsuit). Even if the $8.5 million represents some benefit that accrued to the company as a result of the derivative lawsuit, the expenditure of $16 million in fees to recover $8.5 million seems like a poor exchange.
The question of what the company got out of the lawsuit is relevant and likely to be asked in light of the concerns that Judge Alsop raised in connection with the recent Zoran options backdating-related derivative lawsuit settlement (about which refer here). The Marvell Technology settlement could be argued to have the same issues as the Zoran settlement, in which, as Judge Alsop stated, “the corporation would receive no cash, all the cash is going to the counsel.” Of course, the $8.5 million insurance settlement increment could be argued to represent some cash to the company, but the ratio of the benefit to the corporation versus the benefit to plaintiffs’ counsel does not favor the settlement.
According to Marvell’s 10-Q, the settlement still requires court approval. Perhaps with the benefit of a full explanation of the settlement, the merits of the settlement might be more apparent. However, the description of the settlement in the 10-Q does at least suggest some serious questions.
A June 9, 2008 Law.com article discussing the Marvell Technology settlement can be found here. Special thanks to Zusha Elinson of The Recorder for providing a link to the 10-Q.