Shareholder Oppression and Family Disputes
For many years, Susman Godfrey has reaped record results for its clients in high-profile disputes among shareholders and family members. Susman Godfrey has successfully tried many of these cases in venues throughout America. On behalf of its plaintiff clients, Susman Godfrey has recovered substantial settlements; on the defense side, the firm has obtained resounding take-nothing judgments. Although these emotionally charged cases can be highly disruptive to both individual and business clients, Susman Godfrey’s extensive experience helps minimize unnecessary conflict and uncertainty so that the focus remains not on waging every conceivable battle, but on winning the war.
Whether representing individuals, groups of affiliated individuals, or companies, Susman Godfrey offers its clients an array of fee arrangements allowing each client to choose the fee structure best suited to the client’s circumstances and resources. Our fee arrangements are geared to compensate the firm not for time spent, but for results achieved. Through contingent fee, reverse contingent fee and various hybrid fee arrangements, the firm seeks to achieve success for its clients in a manner that provides for mutual sharing of risks and rewards.
- In 2015, the California Court of Appeal issued an opinion ruling in favor of Susman Godfrey client Frank McCourt in his marital dissolution proceeding with his former wife, Jamie McCourt. In this proceeding, Jamie McCourt filed a motion to set aside the parties’ property settlement agreement which confirmed Frank McCourt’s ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the time of the settlement, the Dodgers were in bankruptcy. Frank McCourt subsequently entered into a settlement with MLB to allow the sale of the Dodgers pursuant to a public auction process, and the Dodgers were ultimately sold for $2.15 billion. Several months later, Jamie McCourt filed a motion to set aside the property settlement agreement, alleging that Mr. McCourt had misled her about the value of the Dodgers. The trial court denied Jamie McCourt’s motions, finding that Mr. McCourt had disclosed all of the material information he had regarding the value of the Dodgers. The Court of Appeals affirmed that decision and the Supreme Court of California declined to review that decision.
- In one of the largest jury verdicts in the country that year, Susman Godfrey, along with co-counsel Fish & Richardson, won a $178.7 million verdict in July 2009 against NL Industries, Inc. and other corporate and individual defendants, including Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons. The firm’s clients had been minority investors in an NL subsidiary that they had also run, greatly increasing the subsidiary’s value by managing and decreasing its environmental liabilities. The jury awarded the nine-figure verdict, which included $145 million in punitive damages, after a two-week trial state court in Dallas, Texas. The case settled for a substantial sum while on appeal.
- Susman Godfrey represented Brent Redstone in his suit to dissolve the eight-billion-dollar family company controlled by his father, Sumner Redstone. The company, National Amusements, Inc., is the controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc. and CBS Corporation. Susman Godfrey filed suit in state court in Maryland, alleging that the company and Sumner Redstone had oppressed Brent by freezing him out of any meaningful role in management and by denying him his proportionate share of company profits.
- Susman Godfrey successfully defended two members of a prominent Texas family in a series of complex cases in state district and probate courts. Our clients, heirs of a family estate, were accused by the other heir, their sister, of mismanaging and looting family funds held in a number of trusts and family partnerships. Susman Godfrey repelled the plaintiff‘s attacks time and again, winning two jury trials and one bench trial. Not only were our clients completely exonerated of all claims of wrongdoing, but they also obtained a court order declaring the plaintiff had forfeited her inheritance.
- A Susman Godfrey partner defended a Dallas investment brokerage when the client was accused by a former investor in the company of oppressing his rights as a shareholder. The plaintiff claimed the client had improperly failed to issue part of a huge windfall that the company had received as a shareholder dividend. There was one added difficulty — the case had to be tried in the plaintiff’s home town, where he was a popular and influential figure. Overcoming this home field advantage, the Susman Godfrey lawyer not only obtained a take-nothing judgment but also prevailed on a counterclaim for attorneys’ fees, which the client collected in full.
- Susman Godfrey represented one of the daughters in the high profile litigation over the large Harold Simmons’ Trust. The case pitted two beneficiaries against their father, the trustee, and two other sibling beneficiaries, one of whom was Susman Godfrey’s client. The plaintiffs sought to break the trust and have Mr. Simmons ousted as trustee. If the plaintiffs prevailed, our client’s share of the trust could be greatly reduced. After a long, arduous trial in Dallas, the parties reached a confidential settlement to our client’s satisfaction.
- In a case originating in North Carolina, Susman Godfrey defended the majority shareholder of a closely-held family corporation. Our client, a daughter of the founder of the corporation, was sued by her sister, a minority shareholder. The plaintiff alleged that our client had used her position as majority shareowner to squeeze the plaintiff out of the corporation. After Susman Godfrey won a motion to transfer the case to Texas, we capitalized on the momentum gained from that victory to negotiate a mutually-favorable confidential settlement.
- Susman Godfrey scored a victory for Elizabeth Miller, founder of Big Ball Sports, an apparel company. After being fired, Miller sued the company and its other co-founders for shareholder oppression and breach of fiduciary duty. Susman Godfrey tried the case in Houston and the jury found for Miller on all of her claims. The jury valued Miller’s interest in the business at $3.3 million, which the judge then ordered the company to pay her for her stock.
- Shortly before trial, two elderly sisters, Victoria Baks and Florence McBrien, turned to Susman Godfrey to take charge of their case against their brother. The high profile dispute involved their family’s trucking empire, Centra Inc. — one of America’s largest privately owned trucking companies. The sisters brought claims of shareholder oppression and breach of fiduciary duty against M. J. Moroun who was allegedly using complex corporate transactions to dilute their interest in Centra. After eleven weeks of trial in Oakland County, Michigan, Centra agreed to pay the sisters a huge confidential settlement that was many times greater than what had been offered before trial.