Oracle, JPMorgan, Potash, GMAC/Ally in Court News

Oracle Corp. sued Micron Technology Inc., alleging it overcharged Sun Microsystems Inc., which Oracle acquired, by conspiring to fix prices for computer memory chips.

Micron and other makers of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, artificially inflated the price of chips they sold to Sun, Oracle claimed in an antitrust complaint filed Sept. 24 in federal court in San Jose, California.

The case is partly based on a 2002 U.S. Justice Department investigation of price fixing in the memory-chip industry that led to claims against four companies and 16 people who have been fined as much as $731 million. Micron cooperated with U.S. officials in exchange for not being charged with a crime, according to Oracle’s complaint.

The memory manufacturers “conspired to control production capacity, raise prices or slow their decline, allocate customers, and otherwise unlawfully overcharge their DRAM customers,” Oracle said in its complaint.

Dan Francisco, a spokesman for Boise, Idaho-based Micron, declined to comment.

Ichon, South Korea-based Hynix Semiconductor Inc., Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung Electronics Co., Tokyo-based Elpida Memory Inc. and Neubiberg, Germany-based Infineon Technologies AG are indentified by Oracle as co-conspirators in the case. Those companies aren’t named as defendants.

The case is Oracle America Inc. v. Micron Technology Inc., 10-04340, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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Lawsuits

JPMorgan Based Home Foreclosures on Faulty Court Documents

JPMorgan Chase & Co. faces a legal challenge next month that could cast doubt on thousands of foreclosures after a mortgage executive at the bank said she didn’t verify documents used to justify home seizures.

Lawyers for a Palm Beach County, Florida, homeowner asked a judge to throw out a foreclosure as a penalty for misleading the court, according to attorney Tom Ice of Ice Legal PA. They’re citing a May 17 deposition in which the JPMorgan executive said she signed thousands of affidavits and documents supporting the New York-based bank’s claims without personally checking loan records. The court is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 19.

The Chase Home Finance operation supervisor, Beth Ann Cottrell, said in May she was among eight managers who together sign about 18,000 documents a month, according to a transcript of her sworn deposition provided by Ice. Asked how they were prepared, she said she relied on other people at the firm.

“My review is more or less signing the document unless it’s questionable,” she said. That means, “somebody has a question and brings it to me and says, ‘Beth, can you take a look at this?’”

Inaccurate statements by banks in foreclosure documents may give borrowers who have lost their homes a legal basis to challenge the seizures, derailing resales and casting doubts on property titles. A Florida court sanctioned Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC Mortgage unit for faulty affidavits in 2006, and the firm suspended evictions in 23 states this month after finding employees still signing affidavits without checking the data.

JPMorgan spokesman Tom Kelly declined to comment. Cottrell didn’t return phone calls to her office requesting comment. A lawyer representing her at the deposition, Joseph Mancilla of the Florida Default Law Group PL, didn’t return calls. Cottrell isn’t named as a defendant.

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Potash Corp. Can Examine BHP Evidence U.S. Judge Says

Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. is entitled to documentary evidence requested from BHP Billiton Ltd. in a lawsuit in which the Canadian fertilizer company seeks to block a $40 billion hostile takeover offer.

“Unless BHP is prepared to extend the tender date, I’m not going to stay discovery,” U.S. District Judge David H. Coar in Chicago told lawyers for both sides yesterday. BHP set a Nov. 18 deadline for Potash stockholders to accept its $130-a-share offer.

The world’s largest fertilizer maker, Saskatoon-based Potash sued BHP on Sept. 22, alleging that the company’s executives made misleading public statements to drive down its share value, increasing the likelihood of a successful bid.

Potash asked Coar for an order barring Melbourne-based BHP from taking further steps to acquire its shares. It also asked the judge to direct BHP to issue a “corrective disclosure” statement, and to give Potash shareholders 60 days to consider it.

Coar yesterday scheduled a hearing on the injunction request for Nov. 4.

BHP, in a Sept. 24 court filing, called Potash’s demand that it hand over large quantities of documents burdensome and a “fishing expedition” and said the company waited too long to make the request.

The company said Coar should deny the discovery demand until he rules on a dismissal request the Australian company has not yet submitted.

Coar yesterday told BHP attorney Michele Odorizzi that he won’t set any dates concerning a dismissal motion until one is actually filed.

He said the Potash evidence demand was overly broad and that BHP would not be required to produce documentation until the scope of that demand had been narrowed either by mutual agreement or the direction of a federal magistrate judge.

“We are pleased that the court has scheduled a hearing on Nov. 4, well in advance of the Nov. 18 scheduled expiration of our offer,” BHP said in an e-mailed press statement after yesterday’s court appearance. “We believe the case is without merit and we intend to contest it vigorously, including by filing a motion to dismiss later this week.”

Potash declined to comment on the court’s ruling.

The case is Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan v. BHP Billiton, 10-06024, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

BP’s Probation Over Fatal Texas Blast Won’t Be Revoked by U.S.

BP Plc’s probation for violating a plea deal that resolved the company’s criminal liability for a fatal 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery won’t be revoked by the U.S. Justice Department.

After consulting with BP, regulators and blast victims, prosecutors said they would give the company 18 more months to complete required safety reviews and upgrades at the Texas refinery, according to documents filed in federal court in Houston.

“The Department of Justice is not seeking a revocation or extension of probation at this time,” Daniel Dooher, a senior trial attorney in the U.S. environmental crimes division, said in a Sept. 8 letter to U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal. Dooher said safety regulators and “BP have executed a stipulation and agreement resolving the allegations of non-compliance,” which includes an extension of BP’s deadline to complete the work until March 12, 2012, the date its probation will expire.

BP Products North America, a unit of the London-based company, agreed in March 2009 to pay a $50 million fine and complete three years probation for violating U.S. air pollution laws linked to the March 2005 explosion that killed 15 and injured thousands.

BP’s plea deal required it to complete a review of pressure-relief valves throughout its largest U.S. refinery and complete installation of automated safety instrumentation, as required by the company’s settlement with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Brent Coon, the lead lawyer for victims of the explosion, called the government’s decision “disappointing but not surprising.” He said yesterday in an e-mail that prosecutors had told him they “don’t want to reopen the case unless negotiations with OSHA collapse.”

Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman, didn’t return a call and e- mail seeking comment yesterday after regular business hours.

The 2005 explosion occurred when an octane-boosting unit overflowed as it was being restarted, igniting a blast that shattered windows five miles away. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board found numerous safety lapses that rendered the plant “a catastrophe waiting to happen,” according to John Bresland, the board’s chairman.

The case is U.S. v. BP Products North America, 4:07-cr- 00434, U.S. District Courts, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

Kerimov’s Assets Are Frozen in Second Court Order

A Cyprus court extended a freeze on Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov’s assets, including stakes in mining company OAO Polyus Gold and fertilizer maker OAO Uralkali.

The case, reviewed yesterday, will be heard again on Nov. 17, Nicosia District Court President Michalis Christodoulou said at the court. A Sept. 17 order already banned Cyprus-registered entities controlled by Kerimov from any transactions using shares in Uralkali and Polyus.

The move follows a complaint against Kerimov by Ashot Egiazaryan, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, who claims Kerimov forced him to relinquish 25.5 percent of the Moskva hotel near Moscow’s Red Square. Egiazaryan filed a request for $2 billion in damages at the London Court of International Arbitration on Sept. 13, according to court documents in Cyprus.

A lawyer for Kerimov, Michael Stepek at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in Geneva, would only say he was aware of the Cypriot injunction.

Soteris Flourentzos and George Triantafyllides, lawyers who represent five of Kerimov’s companies affected by the injunction, had appealed against the Sept. 17 order.

Those five companies have been officially notified of the court’s latest ruling, Andreas Chaviaras, Egiazaryan’s lawyer, said yesterday. “We have indications that also the remaining companies have been notified,” he said.

Kerimov, ranked by Finans magazine as Russia’s fourth- richest man with a fortune of $14.5 billion, owns 37 percent of Polyus, according to a July 2009 company filing, and 25 percent of Uralkali. The stakes, of which part are pledged for bank loans, are worth $3.4 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively, Bloomberg calculations show.

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Legal Reviews

Bar to GMAC/Ally Foreclosures Sought by Connecticut

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said his office is investigating defective foreclosure documents filed by GMAC/Ally Finance Inc. and demanding that the company freeze foreclosures in the state.

“The GMAC/Ally foreclosure steamroller should be stopped so the company can be held accountable,” Blumenthal said yesterday in a statement. “My office has already confirmed that some defective documents were filed in Connecticut.”

Blumenthal’s action follows news of investigations by Texas, Iowa and Illinois into mortgage practices at Ally. California ordered the company to stop foreclosures until it can prove it is complying with state law.

Ally, the Detroit-based auto and home lender, faces claims that its GMAC unit evicted people from their homes without first ensuring that the borrowers were in default or the firm had legal standing to take possession of the homes.

GMAC Mortgage on Sept. 17 notified agents and brokers that it was suspending evictions in 23 states.

New Suits

Pfizer Sues Novo Nordisk Over Insulin-Device Patent

Pfizer Inc., the world’s biggest drugmaker, sued Danish competitor Novo Nordisk A/S in a U.K. court to invalidate its patent for an injection mechanism that prevents overdoses.

Novo Nordisk’s European patent for the dose-setting device is based on claims that weren’t new when the patent application was filed, New York-based Pfizer said in a complaint in the High Court in London. The suit, filed July 5 and made public this week, didn’t say if Pfizer is using the technology.

“We disagree with Pfizer’s claim and we will defend the patent in court,” Mike Rulis, a spokesman for Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based Novo Nordisk, said yesterday in a phone interview.

Pfizer and Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest maker of the diabetes treatment insulin, have sparred over delivery methods for the drug since at least 2005. The disputed patent concerns a device that lets doctors set maximum dose limits to prevent the visually impaired and other groups from using too much during self injections.

Pfizer also sued Novo Nordisk in Switzerland over the same patent, which expires in 2026, Pfizer spokeswoman Charlotte Binstead said in an e-mailed statement.

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Trials/Appeals

India Court Tells Authorities to Fix Vodafone Taxes

India’s Supreme Court gave the tax department four weeks to fix the amount it’s claiming from Vodafone Group Plc on the company’s purchase of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.’s wireless assets in the country.

A three-judge bench of India’s highest court headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia yesterday set Oct. 25 as the date for its next hearing on an appeal by Vodafone of a lower court ruling that upheld authorities’ right to claim the taxes. The company may need to pay a part of the liability, estimated at more than 120 billion rupees ($2.6 billion) including interest, pending disposal of the case, the court indicated.

The Newbury, England-based company is appealing against the Sept. 8 verdict of the Bombay High Court, which ruled authorities have the jurisdiction to seek taxes from Vodafone International Holdings BV on its 2007 purchase of Hutchison’s Indian wireless operations.

“The Supreme Court will now give a final take on the Vodafone matter,” Hitesh Jain, a partner at Mumbai-based law firm ALMT Legal, said by telephone. “It’s also one more forum for Vodafone to debate the issue, to explain their position, so it’s a positive development for the company.”

The carrier “firmly” believes its acquisition isn’t liable for tax in India, Vodafone said in an e-mail. The transaction was between Netherlands-based Vodafone International and Hong Kong-based Hutchison and the stake Vodafone acquired was owned by a Cayman Islands-based holding company.

U.S. Urges Stem-Cell Funding Stay by Appeals Court

The U.S. Justice Department urged a federal appeals court to maintain its stay on a lower-court order cutting off funds for embryonic stem cell research while it seeks to overturn the trial judge’s ruling.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, after an hour-long hearing, didn’t say when it would decide whether to make the emergency hold extend through the appeal. The Obama administration attorneys argued that even a temporary cutoff would cause irreparable harm to researchers, taxpayers and scientific progress.

The appeals court ruled on Sept. 9 that the government can keep funds flowing for the research at least during the initial stages of the administration’s challenge to the order banning taxpayer support for any activity using cells taken from human embryos.

U.S. Judge Royce Lamberth last month cited the still-in- force 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment in his ruling, saying Congress prohibited funding any research in which a human embryo was destroyed.

The decision will be made by Judith Rogers, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, and Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed by former President George W. Bush.

Beth Brinkmann, an attorney for the Justice Department, told the panel that cutting off funding would waste millions of dollars in already earmarked grants and force scientists to start research over should Lamberth’s ruling ultimately be overturned,.

“We’re not here to” decide “upon the wisdom of the government policy,” said Griffith. Rather, the court is deciding whether the funding violates the statute.

Thomas Hungar, an attorney for stem-cell research opponents, said government attorneys are only speculating on the potential harm, and no injury is imminent or irreversible.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 10-5287, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

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To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Amon in Brooklyn, New York, at eamon2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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