According to papers filed in the Southern District of New York on August 3, 2012, the parties to the Tronox securities litigation have agreed to settle the case for a total of $37 million. As I noted at the time that this suit was first filed back in July 2009 (here), the case, which alleged that the defendants had misrepresented Tronox’s environmental liabilities when the company was spun out of Kerr-McGee and thereafter, involved a host of recurring and interesting issues.
A copy of the parties’ stipulation of settlement can be found here. The settlement agreement is subject to court approval.
As discussed in greater detail here, the action was filed on behalf of those who purchased certain securities of Tronox, Inc. between November 25, 2005 and January 12, 2009. The plaintiffs named as defendants certain former directors and officers of Tronox, as well as Kerr-McGee Corporation, Andarko Petroleum Corporation and certain Kerr-McGee executives.
As reflected in the their amended consolidated complaint (here), the plaintiffs alleged that Tronox’s IPO was a “scheme orchestrated by Defendant Kerr-McGee to foist the vast majority of its enormous environmental remediation and related tort liabilities, accumulated over decades, onto Tronox, so that Kerr-McGee could thereafter present itself for sale.” The plan, which allegedly involved spinning Tronox out as a separate company in an initial public offering, “reaped massive and almost immediate benefits when, on August 10, 2006, Defendant Anadarko acquired Kerr-McGee for $18 billion in cash and assumption of debt purportedly free and clear of any obligation for what had become, as of that date, Tronox’s environmental remediation and tort liabilities.”
The plaintiffs’ case survived, in whole or in part, multiple motions to dismiss, and following mediation, the parties agree to settle the lawsuit. As reflected in the parties’ stipulation of settlement, the $37 settlement consists of the following: Anadarko, Kerr-McGee and the Kerr-McGee director and officer defendants “shall pay, or shall cause their insurance carriers to pay $21,000,000”; the former Tronox individual director and officer defendants “shall cause their insurance carriers to pay $14,000,000”; and Tronox’s auditor, Ernst & Young, “shall pay $2,000,000.”
As I noted at the time the case was first filed, one of the interesting things about this case is that it presents the clear example of a securities claim based upon disclosures relating to environmental liabilities. The possibility of this kind of claim is often a key concern at the time of D&O insurance policy placement, as the question often arises whether the standard policy’s pollution exclusion will preclude coverage for a securities claim based on environmentally-related disclosures. As this case demonstrates, it is critically important for the standard pollution exclusion to be revised to carve back coverage for securities claims and derivative claims based on environmental disclosures. (It is probably worth noting that many of the modern Excess Side A DIC insurance policies often have no environmental or pollution exclusion, which could well have been relevant here, given that by the time these suits were filed, Tronox was in bankruptcy.).
Another interesting thing about this case is that it involved three corporate entity defendants (Tronox, Kerr-McGee, and Anadarko), but the securities of only one of the three, Tronox. The issue here has to do with the definition of the term Securities Claim in the standard D&O policy. In many policies, the term is defined to refer to any claim based upon the purchase or sale of the securities of the Insured Entity itself. The question here would be whether or not a claim involving the purchase or sale of Tronox’s securities would constitute a “securities claim” under the Kerr-McGee’s and Anadarko’s policies. Of course, the individual Kerr-McGee directors and officers would be entitled to coverage whether or not the lawsuit represented a “securities claim” within the meaning of the term; this question has to do with whether or not there would be coverage under the policies for the entities themselves.
In the end, it appears that the portion of the settlement pertaining to the liabilities of the former Tronox director and officer defendants is to be covered by insurance, and the portion relating to the liabilities of the Kerr-McGee director and officer defendants, as well as Kerr-McGee and Anadarko themselves, would be funded in whole or in part by insurance. This outcome suggests that in the course of negotiations these issues, if actually involved in this case, were worked out or compromised in the course of the settlement negotiations.
As I previously observed, the allegations in the underlying complaints are noteworthy because they represent specific examples of what I have previously identified (most recently here) as the growing disclosure risks public companies face regarding their environmental liabilities. Although more recently I have emphasized the growing risks surrounding climate change related issues, as this case demonstrates, the disclosure risks also include the risks associated with more conventional environmental liability exposures. The case also underscores the importance of addressing at the time of policy placement the possibility of securities claims arising based on environmental disclosures.