In re Activision Blizzard, Inc.

Decision Date04 March 2015
Docket NumberConsolidated C.A. No. 8885–VCL
Citation124 A.3d 1025
PartiesIn re Activision Blizzard, Inc. Stockholder Litigation
CourtCourt of Chancery of Delaware

Joel Friedlander, Jeffrey M. Gorris, Friedlander & Gorris, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Jessica Zeldin, Rosenthal, Monhait & Goddess, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Lawrence P. Eagel, Jeffrey H. Squire, Bragar Eagel & Squire, PC, New York, New York; Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Raymond J. DiCamillo, Susan M. Hannigan, Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Joel A. Feuer, Michael M. Farhang, Alexander K. Mircheff, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Los Angeles, California; Attorneys for Defendants Vivendi S.A., Philippe Capron, Frédéric Crépin, Régis Turrini, Lucian Grainge, Jean–Yves Charlier, and Jean–François Dubos.

R. Judson Scaggs, Jr., Shannon E. German, Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell, Wilmington, Delaware; Robert A. Sacks, Diane L. McGimsey, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Los Angeles, California; William H. Wagener, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, New York, New York; Attorneys for Defendants Robert A. Kotick, Brian G. Kelly, ASAC II LP, and ASAC II LLC.

Garrett B. Moritz, Eric D. Selden, Ross Aronstam & Moritz LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; William Savitt, Ryan A. McLeod, Benjamin D. Klein, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, New York, New York; Attorneys for Defendants Robert J. Corti, Robert J. Morgado, and Richard Sarnoff.

Edward P. Welch, Edward B. Micheletti, Sarah Runnells Martin, Lori W. Will, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Attorneys for Nominal Defendant Activision Blizzard, Inc.

OPINION

LASTER, Vice Chancellor.

Anthony Pacchia (the Lead Plaintiff) and his attorneys (“Lead Counsel) challenged a transaction in which Vivendi S.A. divested its controlling equity position in Activision Blizzard, Inc. (“Activision” or the “Company”). The transaction restructured Activision's governance profile and stockholder base, so this decision calls it the Restructuring.

Shortly before trial, the parties entered into what this decision refers to as the Settlement. In exchange for a global release of all claims relating to the Restructuring, the defendants agreed to (i) pay $275 million to Activision, (ii) reduce a cap on the voting power wielded by Activision's two senior officers from 24.5% to 19.9%, and (iii) expand Activision's board of directors (the “Board”) to include two independent individuals unaffiliated with the two senior officers.

When Lead Counsel sought court approval for the Settlement, three objectors appeared. Douglas Hayes, who previously sought the lead plaintiff role, lodged the only objection to the Settlement itself. Hayes did not argue that he could have extracted more monetary or non-monetary consideration from the defendants. He rather complained that the Settlement did not allocate any consideration to Activision's stockholders as a class, and he complained most about its failure to provide any consideration to former stockholders who sold their shares. Joint objectors Milton Pfeiffer and Mark Benston did not object to the Settlement. They sought a fee award for their counsel.

This decision approves the Settlement, awards $72.5 million to Lead Counsel, and authorizes Lead Counsel to make a $50,000 payment to the Lead Plaintiff from their award. It denies any fee award to Pfeiffer and Benston's counsel.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts are drawn from the allegations of the Verified Fifth Amended Class and Derivative Complaint (the “Complaint”), which was the operative pleading at the time of the Settlement, and from the affidavits and supporting documents submitted in connection with the application court approval. Lead Counsel filed the Complaint two months before trial, after completing discovery. The pleading is lengthy, detailed, and contains quotations from the defendants' internal documents and depositions. The Complaint's contents provide a sound basis for evaluating the Settlement, because its allegations present Lead Counsel's claims in the strongest possible light. After trial, once the defendants introduced competing evidence, Lead Counsel's case could only become weaker. If the Settlement is adequate when judged against the allegations of the Complaint, then it should compare favorably to the range of potential outcomes post-trial. What follows are not formal factual findings, but rather how the court regards the record for purposes of evaluating the Settlement.

A. The Parties

Nominal defendant Activision is a Delaware corporation with its headquarters in Santa Monica, California. Its stock trades on Nasdaq under the symbol “ATVI.” Activision is a leading player in the interactive entertainment software industry and one of the largest video game publishers in the United States.

Defendant Vivendi is a société anonyme organized under the laws of France with its headquarters in Paris. Vivendi is a multinational media and telecommunication company that operates in the music, television, film, publishing, Internet, and video games sectors. Before the Restructuring, Vivendi owned 683,643,890 shares of Activision common stock, representing 61% of the outstanding shares. Vivendi also had the right to appoint six members to Activision's eleven-member Board.

Individual defendants Philippe Capron, Frédéric Crépin, Régis Turrini, Lucian Grainge, Jean–Yves Charlier, and Jean–François Dubos were the Vivendi designees on the Board who voted in favor of the Restructuring. Individual defendants Robert Kotick, Brian Kelly, Robert Corti, Robert Morgado, and Richard Sarnoff were the other five members of the Board who voted in favor of the Restructuring. Corti, Morgado, and Sarnoff were outside directors. Kelly was Chairman of the Board. Kotick served as Activision's CEO.

Defendant ASAC II LP (“ASAC”) is an entity that Kotick and Kelly formed to participate in the Restructuring. ASAC is an exempt limited partnership established under the laws of the Cayman Islands. ASAC's general partner is ASAC II, LLC (“ASAC GP”), a Delaware limited liability company. Kotick and Kelly are the managers of ASAC GP. Through ASAC GP, Kotick and Kelly control ASAC.

B. The Impetus For The Restructuring

In 2012, Vivendi was burdened with over $17 billion in net debt and needed liquidity. Vivendi's CEO informed Kotick that given its financial situation, Vivendi wanted to explore strategic alternatives for Activision.

The Board retained JP Morgan to provide advice about strategic alternatives. After evaluating a range of possibilities, JP Morgan identified two that would be attractive to both Vivendi and Activision's unaffiliated stockholders: selling Activision to a third party or having Activision redeem Vivendi's equity. JP Morgan advised that Activision could redeem nearly 80% of Vivendi's stake using $1.4 billion of Activision's available domestic cash plus $5.5 billion of new third-party debt. JP Morgan advised that the balance of Vivendi's stake could be monetized through a secondary offering or by selling it to a financial investor.

JP Morgan identified two strategic alternatives that would achieve Vivendi's liquidity needs but would not be attractive to Activision's unaffiliated stockholders: a debt-financed special dividend or a sale of Vivendi's shares to a third party. The former would limit Activision's strategic flexibility without reducing Vivendi's ownership stake. The latter would substitute one controlling stockholder for another.

C. Kotick And Kelly See An Opportunity.

In July 2012, Vivendi announced its interest in selling its Activision stake. In August, Kotick and Kelly began pursuing a transaction that would benefit themselves. They prepared a pitch book to raise $2–3 billion for an investment vehicle that would buy 38–44% of Activision. They presented the idea to Peter Nolan, then the Managing Partner of Leonard Green & Partners, L.P. (Leonard Green). They also approached other parties with whom Activision had relationships, including Activision's strategic partners in China. The independent directors were unaware of Kotick and Kelly's efforts.

In December 2012, Vivendi's CEO informed Kotick that Vivendi's discussions with third parties about its Activision stake had not panned out. Vivendi's CEO stated that at the next meeting of the Board, the Vivendi representatives would propose a special dividend of roughly $3 billion to be funded with cash on hand and new debt.

JP Morgan prepared a presentation analyzing the special dividend. JP Morgan opined that the special dividend “will almost certainly destroy significant value to shareholders” and justified “increased investor concerns about potentially diverging interests between [Vivendi] and [Activision].” JP Morgan recommended a full repurchase of Vivendi's stake in three parts: (i) the majority repurchased by Activision using cash and debt, (ii) $2–3 billion acquired by investors “supportive of management,” and (iii) a marketed secondary offering of the balance of Vivendi's stake. JP Morgan stated that it was “highly confident” that the transaction could be carried out.

On January 29, 2013, Kotick and Kelly submitted an informal proposal to Vivendi that contemplated Vivendi selling its entire Activision stake for $9 billion (a price representing a 15% premium to market) with Activision buying the majority and an investor group led by Kotick and Kelly purchasing the balance. Vivendi asked for more specifics, and on February 14, Kotick and Kelly formally proposed a two-part transaction in which (i) Activision would repurchase two-thirds of Vivendi's stake for $6 billion, or $13.15 per share, using $4.7 billion in financing provided by JP Morgan and $1.3 billion in cash, and (ii) an investment vehicle controlled by Kotick and Kelly would purchase the remaining third for $3 billion at the same price per share. Kotick and Kelly stated that they were “highly confident” that they could raise the money. They attached a letter from Leonard...

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