Fiat SpA (F) may have to wait until 2015 for a trial over the value of some Chrysler Group LLC shares owned by a union health-care fund, further delaying a plan to combine the two companies.
Lawyers for a United Auto Workers trust fund are asking Delaware Chancery Court Judge Donald Parsons to hold a January 2015 trial on the terms of a stock agreement covering at least 54,000 Chrysler shares, according to court filings. Fiat is seeking a May 2014 trial, according to the filings.
The union’s proposal “would bring this matter to trial within a reasonable time that would allow the parties and this court to proceed at a suitable pace,” the trust’s lawyers said in a letter filed with the court today in Wilmington.
Parsons refused in July to honor Fiat’s request to set a value on the shares without a trial. The judge did rule in Fiat’s favor on several claims affecting the value of the shares held by the trust. Fiat bought a stake in Chrysler in June 2009 after the U.S. carmaker sought bankruptcy-court protection from creditors.
Raymond DiCamillo, a Wilmington-based lawyer representing Fiat, didn’t immediately return a call after regular business hours for comment on the trial-schedule proposals. Gualberto Ranieri, a Chrysler spokesman, also didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
The trial will focus on the agreement’s techniques for valuing the first segment of more than 270,000 shares the trust received when Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. Sergio Marchionne, Fiat’s chief executive officer, wants to buy the shares as part of an effort to transform the two regional carmakers into a global auto producer.
Marchionne, who runs both Fiat and Chrysler, has spent the past four years seeking to unify the companies so they can better compete with Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), General Motors Co. (GM) and Volkswagen AG. (VOW) A fully integrated automaker would feature the mass-market Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, along with the high-end Maserati and Ferrari lines.
Fiat’s top executive has said the Delaware case will help set a value on the shares. Fiat wants to acquire the UAW’s entire Chrysler portfolio of 676,000 shares, or 41.5 percent of the carmaker, as part of its unification effort.
The UAW’s Retiree Medical Benefits Trust provides health-care services to more than 800,000 retirees and their dependents, according to the trust’s website. It’s the largest nongovernmental purchaser of retiree health services in the U.S.
Fiat’s review of the first bloc of union shares available for purchase pegged their value at about $140 million, according to court filings. The union trust countered that its calculations found the bloc was worth as much as $342 million.
The case is Fiat North America LLC v. UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, 7903, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).
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