PTT, Arpaio, Luminant, Vivendi, Ford in Court News

A Thai court ruled that most of the 76 industrial projects halted last year because of pollution and licensing concerns can be restarted, a decision that may resolve uncertainties about the nation’s investment regulations.

The Administrative Court will allow 74 of the projects to proceed, Banyat Wisuddhimark, the senior state attorney, said after the ruling in Bangkok yesterday. It revoked operating licenses for two projects that are included on a government list of “harmful activities,” he said.

The projects were halted last year after environmental groups and residents complained about pollution levels and the lack of consultation on new investments at Map Ta Phut, the nation’s largest industrial port. Petrochemical, refinery and power projects in the area underpin manufacturing and exports that account for about 60 percent of Thailand’s economic output.

An ethylene plant operated by TOC Glycol Co. Ltd. and a vinyl chloride monomer project owned by Thai Plastic & Chemical Pcl remain suspended, said Banyat, the senior state attorney. TOC Glycol is a unit of PTT Chemical Pcl.

The industry ministry in January said the stoppage may cause losses of 600 billion baht ($19.2 billion). The most-affected companies were PTT Pcl, Thailand’s biggest by market value, and Siam Cement Pcl, the third-largest.

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New Suits

U.S. Sues Arizona Sheriff in Discrimination Probe

The Obama administration sued an Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, saying he refused to cooperate with an investigation of allegations that his department discriminates against Hispanics.

The U.S. Justice Department said in a statement yesterday that it filed suit after “exhausting all cooperative measures” to gain access to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office documents and facilities as part of its investigation into alleged discrimination in police practices and jail operations.

The U.S. has tried since 2009 to get the sheriff to cooperate with the investigation, according to the lawsuit. Federal civil rights law bans discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs receiving federal funding. The federal government has provided funding to the sheriff’s office, the lawsuit says.

Arpaio said in a statement that, in a recent meeting, “Washington got our cooperation; they admitted they already have thousands of pages of the requested documents; and they were given access to interview my staff and get into my jails.”

“They smiled in our faces and then stabbed us in the back with this lawsuit,” Arpaio said. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, also names Maricopa County and the sheriff’s office.

NewAlliance Sued by Investor Over First Niagara Deal

NewAlliance Bancshares Inc., the bank holding company First Niagara Financial Group Inc. plans to buy for about $1.5 billion, was sued by a shareholder seeking more money in the takeover.

First Niagara, based in Buffalo, New York, said Aug. 19 that it would acquire New Haven, Connecticut-based NewAlliance to form one of the 25 biggest U.S. lenders.

Alan Kahn, who owns 3,845 NewAlliance shares, claimed in the complaint that the consideration “NewAlliance’s public shareholders will receive in the merger is inadequate and unfair.”

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has said that his office is looking into the combination and its potential effects on jobs and small businesses in the state.

Leslie Garrity, a First Niagara spokeswoman, said she was aware of litigation filed in Connecticut Superior Court and said such lawsuits are “typical of litigation commonly filed when transactions of this nature are announced. We do not believe it has any merit.”

Paul McCraven, a senior vice president for NewAlliance, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.

The case is Kahn v. Patterson, CA5785, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

Luminant Sued by Sierra Club Over Texas Power Plant

Energy Future Holdings Corp. and its Luminant Generation unit were sued by the Sierra Club over pollution emitted by the Martin Lake coal-fired power plant in Texas.

The plant near Longview is among the dirtiest in the U.S., the environmental group said in its complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Texarkana, Texas. The San Francisco-based group asked a judge to find the plant’s operators in violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Energy Future Holdings, based in Dallas, and Luminant are the state’s largest power providers, according to the complaint.

Luminant said in a statement on its website that it is “disappointed” the Sierra Club is using litigation “instead of continuing a dialogue” with the company about its concerns, and called the complaint “without merit.”

Formerly known as TXU Corp., Energy Future was sold in 2007 to a group led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and TPG Inc.

The case is Sierra Club v. Energy Future Holdings Corp., 10-cv-00156, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Texarkana).

Billionaire Batista Is Sued by Former Executive, O Globo Says

Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista is being sued by Rodolfo Landim, a former executive at Batista’s holding company EBX Group Ltda., O Globo newspaper reported.

Landim claims Batista didn’t fulfill an agreement, O Globo said, citing Landim’s lawyer Sergio Tostes. The lawyer said the compensation Landim is asking may surpass 250 million reais ($143.2 million), the Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper reported.

Eike said in a statement that he hasn’t being officially informed about the lawsuit and that he doesn’t owe anything to Landim, as all agreements they had were fulfilled, O Globo reported.

For the latest news about new suits, click here. For copies of recent civil complaints, click here.


Yucaipa Appeals Barnes & Noble Defense Ruling

Yucaipa Cos. said it challenged a Delaware judge’s decision upholding Barnes & Noble’s poison pill anti-takeover defense during a fight for control of the U.S.’s largest bookstore chain.

Officials of Los Angeles-based Yucaipa, headed by billionaire Ron Burkle, said in a statement yesterday they asked the Delaware Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that Barnes & Noble properly enacted the defense. Burkle is waging a proxy fight to replace three of the company’s directors.

Yucaipa sued New York-based Barnes & Noble saying Chairman Leonard Riggio and other directors engineered a “self-dealing scheme designed to entrench the Riggio family” and stop Burkle from gaining control of board seats. Burkle targeted the company’s poison-pill defense in the suit.

The company adopted the poison pill, designed to make takeovers prohibitively expensive, in November after Burkle said his stake in the bookseller rose to 17 percent. Burkle argued that the pill was improperly designed and unfairly stymied his efforts to gain control of the board seats.

Delaware Chancery Court Judge Leo Strine rejected Burkle’s claims last month. Yucaipa’s Barnes & Noble stake is now 19 percent. The pill takes effect when an outside shareholder’s interest reaches 20 percent.

Burkle’s appeal forces Barnes & Noble to spend more on legal fees in the case, the company said. The company said on Aug. 24 that it may report a loss in the current quarter as costs of its proxy contest with Burkle climb.

“We are not surprised Mr. Burkle cannot accept defeat in the baseless litigation he brought,” Mary Ellen Keating, a Barnes & Noble spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The company said in August that it was examining a possible sale and that Riggio, its largest shareholder with about 29 percent, may be a bidder.

The case is Yucaipa American Alliance Fund II LP v. Riggio, CA5465, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

Vivendi Labels’ ‘Ellen’ Suit Set for November Trial

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles ordered a November trial for the case in which Vivendi SA’s music labels charge that Time Warner Inc.’s “Ellen DeGeneres Show” plays their recordings without authorization.

Wilson on Aug. 30 denied a request by both sides to halt the case for arbitration. He ordered the case to proceed to trial on Nov. 30.

Labels in Paris-based Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record company, sued New York-based Time Warner, the distributor of the daytime “Ellen” talk show, and its producers, accusing them of infringing copyrights by playing recordings without obtaining a license and paying royalties.

Lawyers for “Ellen” claimed Universal granted an implied license because it knew its songs were being played and took no action for almost six years.

The two sides said last month that they had agreed to binding arbitration and asked Wilson to halt the case. The judge didn’t give a reason for denying the stay. Lawyers for Time Warner and Universal weren’t immediately available for comment.

The case is Interscope Records v. Time Warner Inc., 10-cv-01662, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

For the latest trial and appeals news, click here.


Ford Settles With Minor Leaguer’s Family After Losing Verdict

Ford Motor Co., after being ordered to pay the estate of New York Mets minor league baseball player Brian Cole $131 million, settled a lawsuit over his Explorer rollover death before punitive damages could be considered in the trial.

Ford settled the case on confidential terms, said attorney Tab Turner, who represented Cole’s family.

Cole, 27, was ejected from an Explorer in a March 2001 accident in Florida. His family claimed the Explorer’s seat belt was defective and failed to keep him in the vehicle during the rollover, Turner said yesterday in a phone interview.

The Jasper County, Mississippi, jury issued the verdict yesterday and also awarded $1.5 million to Cole’s cousin, Ryan, who was injured in the accident. The total verdict is the eighth-largest jury award in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s the ninth biggest U.S. verdict against an auto company.

Brian Cole “was not wearing his safety belt,” Marcey Evans, a Ford spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. He was going more than 80 miles per hour before drifting off the road, according to Evans.

Turner said Cole’s belt was buckled.

The lawsuit is Cole v. Ford Motor Co., 12-0076, Circuit Court, Jasper County, Mississippi.

For the latest verdicts and settlements news, click here.

On The Docket

Court to Rule on GN Polish Case Today, Says

An arbitration court is expected to rule today on DPTG I/S’s 5 billion-Danish-krone ($862 million) claim against Telekomunikacja Polska SA, Poland’s largest phone company, reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the case.

The Vienna-based court’s decision will cover profits from 1994 through 2004 from a joint venture operating a fiber-optic cable, the website of Rzeczpospolita reported. DPTG, a unit of GN Store Nord A/S, may file claims for later years, it said.

GN heard this year that the decision would come at the beginning of September and doesn’t have more specific information, Mikkel Danvold, a spokesman for the Ballerup, Denmark-based company said by phone.

Mariusz Loch, a spokesman for Telekomunikacja in Warsaw, didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment.

Stuyvesant Town Judge Puts Off Foreclosure Ruling

A New York judge said he will rule later this month on whether to stop a foreclosure sale of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village apartment complex sought by investors including William Ackman.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Lowe in Manhattan heard arguments yesterday on whether to issue a preliminary injunction blocking a sale by Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP and by Winthrop Realty Trust.

Trustees representing holders of the $3 billion mortgage loan on the Manhattan apartment complex sued Pershing and Winthrop to block their bid to take over the property through a foreclosure sale and possible bankruptcy filing.

The case is Bank of America NA v. PSW NYC LLC, 10-651293, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

Polly Peck Founder Nadir Has Trial Set for October, Gets Bail

Asil Nadir, the executive who returned to the U.K. last week to face fraud charges two decades after fleeing the country, is scheduled to face trial in October 2011, a London judge ruled today.

Justice David Bean at the Old Bailey overruled a request by Nadir’s lawyer William Clegg to hold the trial earlier, saying that it was “unrealistic” for the prosecution to be expected to re-compile a 17-year-old case on short notice, adding the “delay is not the fault of the prosecution.”

Nadir left the U.K. in 1993 after being charged with theft and false accounting by the Serious Fraud Office, which prosecutes major financial crime. The SFO said Nadir embezzled about 30 million pounds ($46 million) from Polly Peck, a food-packaging firm that collapsed in 1990 when it was unable to pay its debts.

Nadir denies wrongdoing and plans to bring an abuse of process application to halt his prosecution, Clegg said. Bean ruled that application will be heard in March.

Bean granted Nadir bail on conditions including a curfew and weekly check-in at a police station.

Litigation Departments

Madoff Victims Object to Trustee’s $34.6 Million Fee Request

A group of “several hundred” former customers of con man Bernard Madoff objected to $34.6 million in legal fees requested by Irving Picard, the trustee overseeing the Madoff bankruptcy, and his law firm.

Picard and Baker & Hostetler LLP on Aug. 20 asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland to approve the fees for work done from February through May, bringing their total fee requests in the case to $96.7 million.

Picard said in court papers that “thousands of hours” have been expended by the trustee and the law firm in support of liquidating the estate and advancing the interests of claimants.

The trustee has recovered more than $1.5 billion for Madoff’s victims. He said the fees in the case are paid by the Securities Investor Protection Corp. and don’t reduce the amount of money available to pay Madoff’s creditors.

Madoff, 72, pleaded guilty to masterminding the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. He is serving a 150-year prison term in a federal prison in North Carolina.

The case is Securities Investor Protection Corp. v. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, 08-01789, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

For the latest litigation department news, click here.

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