In the recent decision of In Re Allion Healthcare
Inc. S'holders Litig., C.A.No. 5022-CC (Del. Ch. Mar. 29, 2011), read
Chancellor Chandler decided the rarely discussed issue of the division of
attorneys' fees between plaintiffs' counsel in what has become common and problematic
in multi-forum deal litigation.
Kevin F. Brady of Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz LLP
prepared this summary.
The underlying transaction involves a going-private
transaction regarding Allion Healthcare, Inc. After the merger was announced,
there occurred what the Chancellor described as the "fairly typical
race-to-the-courthouse." Various plaintiffs filed suit: first one suit in
New York, then three actions were filed in Delaware. In the last filed case,
the plaintiff's lawyers were unhappy with the leadership positions and opted to
voluntarily withdraw its suit in Delaware and file in New York where it moved
for co-lead plaintiff status, which was granted. The cases moved forward
on parallel tracks and preliminary injunction hearings were scheduled in both
Delaware and New York. Then the Delaware plaintiffs announced that they
had reached a settlement involving corrective disclosures. A supplemental
proxy was issued, the stockholders approved the merger and it closed on January
Plaintiffs in Delaware and New York filed amended
complaints asserting claims arising out of the merger. Motions to dismiss
were filed. And a few months later the Delaware plaintiffs announced an
agreement in principle to settle the Delaware action. The proposed
settlement resulted in a $4 million increase in merger consideration. The
Court set a date for the settlement hearing and the New York plaintiffs
immediately filed an emergency motion to intervene and take discovery. The
Court denied the emergency request but did allow some
The Court approved the settlement between defendants and
the Delaware plaintiffs, over the objection of New York plaintiffs. The Court
approved the certification of the settlement class and a fee award totaling $1
million, which constituted a $250,000 disclosure fee award and a $750,000
increased share price fee award. When the Delaware and New York
plaintiffs' attorneys could not resolve their disagreement over the fees, the
Court was forced to address the division of those attorneys' fees.
The Delaware plaintiffs' counsel argued that the New York plaintiffs'
portion should not exceed $100,000, amounting to 40% of the disclosure fee and
that the New York plaintiffs were "not entitled to any portion whatsoever of
the increased share price fee." Counsel for the New York plaintiffs requested
50% of the disclosure fee and one-third of the increased share price fee,
amounting to a total of $375,000.
Problems Associated With Multi-Deal
The Chancellor discussed the many practical problems that
resulted from plaintiffs' counsel filing multiple actions in different
jurisdictions regarding the same deal with no workable solutions." The
Defense counsel is forced to litigate the same case-often
identical claims-in multiple courts. Judicial resources are wasted as judges in
two or more jurisdictions review the same documents and at times are asked to
decide the exact same motions. Worse still, if a case does not settle or
consolidate in one forum, there is the possibility that two judges would apply
the law differently or otherwise reach different outcomes, which would then
leave the law in a confused state and pose full faith and credit problems for
Efficiency and comity would be better served if these
cases were litigated in one jurisdiction. Of course, if a stay or dismissal is not
granted in one jurisdiction, defense counsel may attempt to "forum shop"
for the jurisdiction in which the best outcome for its client is likely. As has
been noted recently before this Court, the forum shopping issue, in and of
itself, is not necessarily problematic at all, and indeed may be
"unquestionably proper or  part of the zealous advocacy expected of
attorneys." But it in turn does highlight the potential, at least, for
collusive settlements or "reverse auctions"-even if what defense counsel is
ultimately doing is simply attempting to litigate its case in one jurisdiction
only, wherever that may be. Plaintiffs' counsel may similarly engage in forum
shopping for the jurisdiction where the judge is most likely to approve their
The problems do not end there. In the event that defense
counsel settles in Delaware over another jurisdiction, leaving one set of
plaintiffs' counsel out in the cold, the unfavored forum's plaintiffs' lawyers
then often flock to Delaware to oppose the settlement (and vice versa). And
there are the post-settlement or post-litigation issues as well: class
certification, approval of attorneys' fees, and then dividing those attorneys'
fees between the various plaintiffs' counsel.
Chancellor Chandler did offer some advice and suggested
an approach that has "worked for me in every instance when it was tried":
My personal preferred approach, for what it's worth, is
for defense counsel to file motions in both (or however many) jurisdictions
where plaintiffs have filed suit, explicitly asking the judges in each
jurisdiction to confer with one another and agree upon where the case should go
forward....[The] defendants [should] "go into all the Courts in which the matters
are pending and file a common motion that would be in front of all of the
judges that are implicated, asking those judges to please confer and agree
upon, in the interest of comity and judicial efficiency, if nothing else, what
jurisdiction is going to proceed and go forward and which jurisdictions are
going to stand down and allow one jurisdiction to handle the matter." Of
course...judges in different jurisdictions might not always find common ground on
how to move the litigation forward. Nevertheless, this would be, I think, one
(if not the most) efficient and pragmatic method to deal with this increasing
In the end, the Court determined that because the
disclosure benefits were negotiated by both Delaware and New York plaintiffs'
counsel, they were entitled to equally share in the disclosure fee award, 50%
or $125,000 to each. With respect to the increased share price fee award,
the Court determined that New York counsel were not parties to the settlement
agreement between the Delaware plaintiffs and defendants even though they had
the opportunity to sign on to the settlement. Based on the evidence
presented at the settlement hearing, the Court found that the New York
plaintiffs "in no way caused any of the benefit achieved by the Delaware
plaintiffs in the settlement." As a result, the Court awarded the full
increased share price fee award of $750,000 to the Delaware plaintiffs.
Further expert insights on this case were recently provided by Theodore
"Ted" Mirvis, William Savitt and Ryan McLeod of the Wachtell Lipton
firm on the Harvard Law School Corporate Governance Blog here.
Read more Delaware business
litigation case summaries and commentary on Delaware
Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog, a blog hosted by Francis G.X.
Pileggi, of Fox Rothschild LLP.
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