In what is one of the largest ever shareholders’ derivative lawsuit settlements, the parties to the consolidated federal options backdating related derivative lawsuit involving Broadcom Corp. have agreed to settle the case for $118 million, to be funded entirely by the company’s D&O insurance carriers. The settlement does not include the company’s co-founders, Henry Samuels and Henry T. Nichols, III, against whom the suit will continue. As discussed below, the settlement has a number of interesting features, including certain details surrounding the insurers' settlement participation, particularly the substantial participation in the settlement of Broadcom's Excess Side A insurance carriers.
As reflected in Broadcom’s August 28, 2009 filing on Form 8-K (here), and the accompanying stipulation of settlement (here), the $118 million settlement, which is subject to court approval, is to be funded by the company’s D&O insurers and includes $43.3 million that "Broadcom had already recovered in connection with prior reimbursements from its insurers (subject to a reservation of rights that will be released upon settlement approval."
The stipulation also provides that in connection with the settlement Broadcom will pay plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs of $11.5 million.
There are a number of interesting things about this settlement. The first is its size. The settlement’s total value of $118 million would make this the second largest options backdating related derivative lawsuit settlement, exceeded only by the $900 million UnitedHealth Group options backdating derivative settlement (about which refer here and here).
Indeed, the $118 million settlement may be among the largest shareholders’ derivative settlements of any kind, exceeded or equaled only by a small handful of prior derivative settlements (including, in addition to the UHG settlement noted above, the $115 million AIG derivative settlement and the $122 million Oracle derivative lawsuit settlement).
These settlements are of course all dwarfed by the $2.876 billion judgment entered against Richard Scrushy in the HealthSouth shareholders' derivative lawsuit, but that astronomical judment represents its own peculiar point of reference, like some odd parallel universe.
But notwithstanding the settlement’s size, the net overall benefit to the corporation on whose behalf the lawsuit nominally was filed is an interesting issue. Not only is $43.3 million of the total settlement amount in the form of previously reimbursed defense expense, and not only is the settlement amount further reduced by the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees of $11.5 million, but the roughly $63.2 million remainder from the $118 million total is more than offset by litigation expenses the company has incurred in connection with the options backdating scandal.
As stated in the recitals in the separate Insurance Agreement (here) filed as an exhibit to the settlement stipulation, Broadcom has "advised the Insurers that it has claims for reimbursement exceeding $130 million in respect of the Broadcom Stock Option Matters, of which approximately $85 million remains outstanding."
Broadcom and its directors and officers were and are involved in a diverse range of lawsuits and claims as a result of the options backdating scandal, not just the shareholders derivative lawsuit. But the fact is that the remainder of the forthcoming cash settlement payment (after payment of plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees) effectively represents only a partial offset of the company’s enormous options backdating related litigation expenses.
The corporation’s recovery of disputed legal expenses is unquestionably a benefit to the corporation, but how much additional litigation expense was generated along the way? It does seem to raise certain questions about the efficiency of the process. Indeed, in an August 31, 2009 American Lawyer article about the settlement (here), Susan Beck commented that "we’re still scratching our heads over this one."
The answer to the question of why the derivative lawsuit was a necessary vehicle to secure this extent of defense expense reimbursement from the carriers lies in the way Broadcom's D&O insurance was structured
The Insurance Agreement accompanying the settlement shows that Broadcom had a total of $200 million of D&O insurance, arranged in various layers, with $100 million of "traditional" D&O insurance, and an additional $100 million of Excess Side A insurance. Excess Side A insurance only provides protection to individual directors and officers (and not to the company itself) and only against loss that is nonindemnifiable, whether due to insolvency or legal prohibition. This element of insurance for nonindemnifiable loss is critical to understanding this settlement.
The Insurance Agreement recites that the insurance carriers believed they had certain defenses to coverage, but that in connection with the settlement, these coverage issues were being compromised. In exchange for relinquishing these potential coverage defenses, the carriers each paid amounts less than their full policy limits, with each successive carrier contributing a correspondingly smaller amount.
The Insurance Agreement specifies the dollar amount each carrier is to contribute to the settlement. Among other things, the Insurance Agreement shows that the Excess Side A insurers will contribute a total of $40 million, with each of the successive Excess Side A carriers contributing a correspondingly smaller amount.
Given the number of carriers involved, the complexity of the coverage issues and the sheer quantity of dollars involved, the completion of this settlement is an extraordinary accomplishment. I tip my hat to all of the lawyers involved in putting this together.
The key to understanding the inner logic of this deal is to recognize that without the existence of a shareholders' derivative lawsuit against the individual directors and officers creating the type of nonindemnifiable loss that is the sole type of loss for which the Excess Side A policies provide coverage, the Excess Side A policies would not have been triggered.
The defense expenses incurred in connection with the other options backdating related litigation matters are presumptively indemnifiable. The company's payment of these indemnifiable amounts, in and of itself, would not have triggered the Excess Side A policies.
However, the derivative lawsuit's claim against the individual defendants for the harm to the corporation caused by the backdating includes claims on the corporation's behalf for the enormous litigation expense the company incurred due to the alleged misconduct. The settlement of the claims in the derivative lawsuit against the individual defendants to recoup the harm to the corporation was not indemnifiable, triggering a potential payment obligation for the Excess Side A carriers.
So if, for example, there had been no derivative lawsuit, and the company had, say, tried to recoup its defense expense from the carriers directly in a declaratory judgment action, the Excess Side A carriers would have taken the position that because there was no nonindemnifiable loss, their policies were not implicated. The derivative lawsuit, asserting nonindemnifiable claims against the individual defendants, triggered the Excess Side A policies, which ultimately contributed a total of $40 million toward the settlement.
The fact that the Excess Side A carriers are contributing so significantly to this settlement is particularly noteworthy. When the options backdating scandal first arose and the wave of derivative lawsuits began to flood in, it was a topic of discussion in the industry whether the options backdating scandal might be the event that would break through and produce significant aggregate losses for the Excess Side A insurers. Whether or not other options backdating claims have hit Excess Side A insurers, the Broadcom options backdating derivative lawsuit settlement certainly did, and the Excess Side A insurers’ $40 million contribution toward the settlement in and of itself makes this settlement a noteworthy event.
With jumbo derivative settlements now a more frequent occurence, Excess Side A insurers could begin to accumulate substantial claims losses. The rising tide of corporate bankruptcies as a result of the global financial meltdown could also produce significant Excess Side A claims losses ahead. Both developments underscore the value to policyholders of the inclusion of this kind of insurance within their D&O insurance program.
I have in any event added the Broadcom options backdating-related derivative settlement to my chart of options backdating related case resolutions, which can be accessed here.
Citigroup Subprime ERISA Class Action Dismissed: Following close on the heels of his dismissal of the Citigroup subprime-related derivative lawsuit (about which refer here), on August 31, 2009, Southern District of New York Judge Sidney Stein granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the Citigroup subprime-related ERISA class action as well. A copy of Judge Stein’s August 31 opinion can be found here.
The plaintiffs had alleged that the defendants had breached their fiduciary duties under ERISA in a number of ways, most significantly by offering Citigroup stock as an investment option even though defendants knew or should have known that Citigroup was an imprudent investment. Among other things, Judge Stein held that the Plan itself required the Citigroup stock to be offered as an investment option and therefore the defendants had no discretion in that regard.
With respect to the plaintiffs’ allegations that the defendants had failed to give complete and accurate information, Judge Stein held that the defendants did not have an affirmative duty to disclose financial information about Citigroup because ERISA fiduciaries are not required to provide investment advice, and to the extent the defendants did provide information about Citigroup it was not in their capacities as ERISA fiduciaries, and, in any event, "plaintiffs have failed to allege facts showing that the defendants knew the statements were misleading."
I have in any event added the Citigroup ERISA class action dismissal to my register of subprime and credit crisis-related case resolutions, which can be accessed here.