Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two important appellate briefs filed this week

  • Shareholder derivative suits present interesting conflicts of interest. The suit is purportedly brought on behalf of shareholders, but when the case settles, the corporate defendant—i.e., the plaintiff shareholders—are the ones paying the bill. Thus, if the suit does not actually extract any wealth from directors or officers for their supposed breaches of duty, shareholders are frequently worse off. This is the case in Robert F. Booth Trust v. Crowley, a derivative suit against Sears Holding Corp. where the alleged breach was failure to recognize the risk of Clayton Act litigation. The irony, of course, is that the actual shareholder derivative suit is far more expensive than the possibility of Clayton Act litigation. I objected; the posture is muddied by some procedural issues relating to the Seventh Circuit's intervention requirement, as you can see, but the fundamental point—shareholder derivative suits should not be permitted to be maintained when they are designed to benefit the attorneys, rather than the shareholders—remains valid, and we believe this is the first case to present this principle in the shareholder derivative context. The case is No. 10-3285, Robert F. Booth Trust v. Crowley (7th Cir.).
  • Claims-made settlements are the successor to coupon settlements in structuring settlements to divert the lion's share of relief to the attorneys, rather than the class. The parties typically structure a claims process that will reward less than a tenth of the class (in this case, less than 3% of the class), hide the claims rate from the lower court by scheduling the fairness hearing well before the claims deadline (though that evasion didn't happen in this case), and then ask for attorneys' fees on the illusion that the entire class got relief. Thus, we have cases like Brazil v. Dell, where the class got less than $500,000, but the attorneys received $7 million. We think that is per se unfair, and have asked the Ninth Circuit to weigh in. The case is No. 11-17799, Brazil v. Dell (9th Cir.).

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