Last Friday, in Southern Peru Copper, the Delaware Chancery Court held that a controlled company substantially overpaid when it bought a company from its controlling stockholder. Chancellor Strine awarded damages of $1.263 billion plus interest, which the he said could be satisfied by returning shares of common stock. Here’s a great Thomson Reuters article from Alison Frankel about the case, below is the first few paragraphs of her piece:
Grupo Mexico’s lead lawyer, Alan Stone of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, told me Monday that the company was “shocked” by Chancellor Leo Strine’s 106-page Oct. 14 ruling that the company owes $1.26 billion to the shareholders of Southern Peru Copper Company — the second-biggest shareholder derivative award in history.
It is a pretty shocking ruling. Strine found that Grupo Mexico, which at the time owned more than 50 percent of the shares of Southern Peru, basically forced the publicly-traded company to overpay, in stock, for Minera, Grupo’s privately-held Mexican mining company. In reaching that conclusion, the Chancellor managed to do three remarkable things: He rejected the judgment of Goldman Sachs, which advised Southern Peru on the deal; he questioned decisions by former Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner Harold Handelsman, who represented a minority owner of Southern Peru that was eager to cash out its stake; and he concluded that a special board committee of investment bankers conducted a tainted analysis. From the lead judge in a court that’s best known for making it almost impossible to prosecute a shareholder derivative suit successfully, this is a ruling every securities and corporate lawyer should read. (Plus, it’s written in Strine’s usual fluent, engaging style.)
Don’t cry too hard for Grupo Mexico (if you happen to be the sort of person who cries for corporate defendants found liable of breaching their duty to shareholders). Not only is it planning to appeal, according to Milbank’s Stone, but it now owns about 80 percent of the shares of Southern Peru, so even if it loses on appeal and has to pay up, it’s basically moving money from one pocket of Grupo Mexico’s fat wallet to another.