Vivendi lost the liability phase of the securities class action jury trial, and now it has lost a rearguard action to try to have French investors excluded from the U.S. investor class. According to press reports (here and here), Judge Jean-Claude Magendie of the Court of Appeals of Paris ruled on April 28, 2010 that Vivendi can’t block French investors from participating in the U.S. class action lawsuit.
The U.S. class action lawsuit involved the financial impact on the company from the $46 billion December 2000 merger between Vivendi, Seagram’s entertainment businesses, and Canal Plus. The plaintiffs contended that as a result of this and other debt-financed transactions, Vivendi experienced growing liquidity problems throughout 2001 that culminated in a liquidity crisis in mid-2002, as a result of which, the plaintiffs contend, Vivendi’s CEO Jean-Marie Messier and CFO Guillaume Hannezo were sacked.
The plaintiffs contended that the between October 2000 and July 2002, the defendants misled investors by causing the company to issue a series of public statements "falsely stating that Vivendi did not face an immediate and severe cash shortage that threatened the Company’s viability going forward absent an asset fire sale. It was only after Vivendi’s Board dislodged Mr. Messier that the Company’s new management disclosed the severity of the crisis and that the Company would have to secure immediately both bridge and long-term financing or default on its largest credit obligations."
The long-running case resulted in a January 2010 jury verdict against the company on all 57 counts, as discussed here. Damages are yet to be awarded.
In the French court action, Vivendi sought to reduce the number of investors who could claim an award from the class action lawsuit. According to Bloomberg (here), about two-thirds of the members of the U.S. plaintiff class live in France. The same article states that the French court noted the "serious ties existing" between the French company, French investors and the U.S.
Significantly, the court restricted its opinion to the question whether the French investors could participate in the action, and did not reach the question whether French courts would enforce any eventual award.
This latter question of enforceability is particularly critical in this case, as Judge Richard Holwell in his March 22, 2007 order certifying the class had included investors from certain countries (including France) and excluded investors from other countries (such as German and Austria) based on his assessment of whether or not the judgment of a U.S. court in a securities class action lawsuit would be enforceable in the various countries.
In an April 28, 2010 press release (here), Vivendi said that it "regrets that the Court of Appeal has decided not to make a ruling at this stage on the question of whether American class actions were in accordance with French public policy."
The press release also states that no judgment has been rendered in the U.S. court action, which the company intends to appeal.
In a March 1, 2010 press release (here), the company announced that it had created a reserve of 550 million euros ($723 million) "with respect to the estimated damages, if any, that might be paid to the plaintiffs." The company added that "the amount of damages that Vivendi might have to pay the class plaintiffs could differ significantly, in either direction, from the amount of the reserve."