An overabundance of airplane time and a shortage of Internet access (not the mention my day job’s unrelenting requirements) have kept The D&O Diary on the blogging sidelines despite a host of noteworthy events in recent days. The march of events moves ever onward, but before the sands of time envelop recent notable events altogether, we note them briefly here.
Alcoa Settles Bribery Suit With Alba: On October 9, 2012, Alcoa announced (here) that it had agreed to pay Aluminum Bahrain B.S.C. (better known as “Alba”) $85 million to settle the long-running RICO action that the state-owned Bahraini aluminum smelter had filed against the company in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The settlement is noteworthy in a number of respects, not the least of which the settlement’s size. The settlement is also noteworthy given the identity of the claimant, as discussed below.
As discussed here, in February 2008, Alba had sued Alcoa, one of its affiliates, and two individuals (one of whom was an officer of an Alcoa affiliate), alleging that the defendants had engaged in a 15-year conspiracy involving overcharging, fraud and bribery of Bahraini officials. The complaint alleges that one of the individual defendants, Victor Daladeh, funneled payments to one or more (unnamed) Bahraini officials as part of an alleged conspiracy to cause Alba to cede a portion of its equity to Alcoa, to pay Alcoa inflated prices for alumina, and to corrupt the integrity of senior Bahraini officials. Alba’s complaint sought to recover damages from the defendants based on the alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), conspiracy to violate RICO, and for fraud.
The case was stayed for several years while related U.S. government investigations continued. (The government investigations are continuing.) However, in November last year, Alcoa’s lawyers persuaded the Western District of Pennsylvania Judge Donetta Ambrose to lift the stay so that the defendants could file a motion to dismiss. Among other things, the defendants argued, in reliance on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, that the court should dismiss the case because the alleged wronging on which Alba relied in support of its claim took place entirely outside the U.S. and therefore not appropriately the subject of a lawsuit in the U.S. under U.S. laws. As discussed in Victor Li’s August 1, 2012 Corporate Counsel article (here), Judge Ambrose rejected defendants’ motion, finding that Alcoa’s Pittsburgh headquarters was the “nerve center” of the alleged scheme, because the control and decision-making of the alleged conspiratorial enterprise came from Pittsburgh.
According to its October 9 press release, Alcoa will pay the $85 million settlement amount in two installments, with half to be made at the time of the settlement and the other half to be paid one year later. The press release also states that Alcoa and Alba have “resumed a commercial relationship” and entered into a long-term supply agreement, “demonstrating a mutual desire to work together going forward.” The settlement does not resolve Alba’s claims against Daladeh, who according to news reports, has been arrested in October 2011 by British officials and charged with bribing officials at Alba.
As I have previously noted on this blog, one of phenomena associated with the recent upsurge in FCPA enforcement activity has been related growth in follow-on shareholder litigation. However, by contrast to these more common types of follow-on civil suits, this action was not brought by Alcoa’s shareholders; rather, this lawsuit was brought by the alleged victims of the corrupt activity (and indeed, the suit was initiated before there had been any separate governmental enforcement action; the government action followed after the civil suit).
As anti-bribery enforcement activity has increased, the prospect for follow-on civil litigation has also grown. In that regard, the size of the settlement in this case and the claimant’s relative success in bringing its claim will not go unnoticed. The likelihood is that companies that become enmeshed in bribery allegations could also face related civil litigation, and in light of this sizeable settlement, the threat of civil litigation will include not only the possibility of claims from shareholders, but also possible claims from the purported victims of the alleged corrupt activity.
Pfizer Settles Celebrex-Related Securities Suit for $164 Million: According to papers filed with the Court, Pfizer has settled the long-running securities suit alleging that Pharmacia (which Pfizer acquired in 2003) had misrepresented the safety of its anti-inflammatory drug, Celebrex, for $164 million. A copy of the parties’ October 5, 2012 stipulation of settlement can be found here.
As discussed here, shareholders first sued Pharmacia and certain of its directors and officers in 2003, alleging that the company had released only part of a long-term clinical study the company had commissioned on the side effects of the drug. The complaint also alleged that scientists affiliated with the company had used the partial data to write an article in the Journal of t he American Medical Association, while failing to reveal that only part of the data was used. When Pharmacia later sought to the FDA’s approval to market the drug without certain warning labels, the agency declined based on questions concerning the completeness of the study results, following which the company’s share price declined.
This case had a long and complex procedural history. District of New Jersey Anne Thompson had initially dismissed the case on statute of limitations ground. But as discussed here, in 2009, the Third Circuit reversed the district court, and the case returned to the District Court. The settlement comes as an October 22, 2012 trial date loomed.
Nate Raymond and Ransdell Pierson’s October 9, 2012 Reuters article about the settlement can be found here.
This settlement is noteworthy in many respects, not least of which because of its size. However, in a world of class action securities lawsuit settlements measured in the billions, even a settlement of this size does not attract as much attention as it might have at one time. Indeed, according to my research, this $164 million settlement does not even break the top 50 of all time securities lawsuit settlements. It is not even the largest securities suit settlement, having been exceeded, among others, by Bristol Myers Squibb’s $300 million securities lawsuit settlement (about which refer here). The settlement amount alone does not take into account the defense fees incurred, which, given the case’s long and complicated procedural history, also likely were substantial (particularly given the approaching trial date).
It is not an original observation, but the total economic cost of this kind of litigation is truly astonishing.
Breaking Lull, FDIC Files Latest Failed Bank Lawsuit: On October 2, 2012, in the first lawsuit the FDIC has filed since July in its capacity as receiver of a failed bank against the bank’s former directors and officers, the FDIC filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois against six former directors and officers of the failed Benchmark Bank of Aurora, Illinois. The FDIC’s complaint can be found here.
Benchmark Bank failed on December 4, 2009 (about which refer here). In its complaint, the FDIC alleges that the defendants breached their duties of care by approving certain high-risk acquisition, development and construction loans. The FDIC seeks to recover losses “of at least $13.3 million” allegedly caused by the defendants gross negligence, negligence and breaches of fiduciary duties.
The Benchmark Bank lawsuit is the fifteenth failed bank lawsuit the FDIC has filed during 2012 and the 33rd overall that the FDIC has filed as part of the current bank failure wave. However, it is the first the FDIC has filed since mid-July and only the third the FDIC has filed since late May. The slow filing pace is all the more surprising as comes three years after what had been the period when bank closures were ramping up in earnest. All is equal, it seems as if there would have been more lawsuits filed like this one as the three year closure anniversary approached.
The slowdown is all the more surprising because the lull has come even though the FDIC has continued to indicate on its website (here) on a monthly basis that the number of lawsuits the agency has authorized has increased. Indeed, in its latest update (dated October 9. 2012), the FDIC indicated that it has authorized suits in connection with 80 failed institutions against 665 individuals for D&O liability. These figures are inclusive of the 33 filed D&O lawsuits involving 32 institutions, naming 272 former directors and officers. filed so far.
As the number of authorized lawsuits has continued to accumulate and as the three year closure anniversary of an increasingly large number of banks has approached, it has seemed as if we would be seeing increasing numbers of lawsuits filed. Yet in the last five months there have only been three new suits filed, and this latest complaint is the first in three months. Knowledgeable participants in this process have advised me that part of the reason for the slowdown is that in a number of instances the FDIC is engaged in negotiations to see if the matters can be resolved without litigation. But as the number of lawsuits authorized continues to increase it does seem likely that sooner or later we will be seeing an upsurge in new complaints. It just hasn’t happened yet.
In the meantime, it is reassuring to note that the number of new bank closures has dwindled. There have been no new bank closures so far during October 2012, after only three in September 2012 and only one in August 2012. It certainly can be hoped that now, more than four years after the depths of the financial crisis, perhaps the wave of bank closures is finally about to come to an end.