A recent Law 360 story by Rose Krebs, “Fight on Tap Over Firms’ $4M Fee Bid in CytoDyn Suit Deal,” reports that as a Delaware vice chancellor is set to consider a proposed stockholder suit settlement that will require five directors of life sciences venture CytoDyn Inc. to forfeit certain awards, three firms have come under fire for seeking $4.1 million in fees for their work on the case. In a letter to Vice Chancellor Paul A. Fioravanti Jr., attorney Mark Richardson of Labaton Sucharow LLP argued that a special litigation committee set up by CytoDyn's board is being unreasonable in proposing that the firms representing shareholders only receive $1 million in attorney fees and expenses.
In the letter, Richardson told the vice chancellor that the committee's proposal is "well outside the range of reasonableness, lacks support under Delaware law, and is not the product of a 'logical deductive process' that is helpful to the court." In a March court filing, Labaton Sucharow, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Purcell Julie & Lefkowitz LLP asserted they are entitled to the $4.1 million award for successfully challenging "fiduciary malfeasance that was blatant and egregious in equal measure, and, thus, entirely unfair to CytoDyn."
Earlier this year, the CytoDyn special litigation committee asked the Chancery Court to approve the settlement, which would require five directors to forfeit some or all of the 7.2 million shares they were granted in 2019. The committee said it could find no "meaningful" justification for the compensation. The recommendation followed Vice Chancellor Fioravanti's decision in 2020 granting the SLC's request to stay the litigation so it could investigate the December 2019 and January 2020 stock awards that were flagged by the suing stockholders in their 2020 derivative suit.
The three firms asserted that the rescission of December 2019 awards and additional stock options from CytoDyn's CEO, Nader Z. Pourhassan, "represents an economic benefit for the company valued at approximately $15,647,828." The firms also argued the plaintiffs "deserve at least partial credit" for the forfeiture of January 2020 awards that were valued at roughly $41 million. The firms argued that the six suing stockholders obtained a roughly $13.6 million benefit for the company through their challenge of the 2020 stock awards.
The firms said the suit also led to important corporate governance reforms by CytoDyn, including considering the addition of a new independent director within the next year, a reconstituted compensation committee that will have at least three independent directors and strengthened compensation policies.
The fee award the firms are seeking amounts to roughly 10% of the nearly $27.2 million "economic benefit achieved for CytoDyn as a result of this lawsuit" and is "appropriate and reasonable," they said in a court filing. But the committee is unhappy with the fee award being sought with its attorney Andrew D. Cordo of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati telling the vice chancellor in a recent letter that "a $1 million fee award to plaintiffs' counsel would be reasonable."
The committee takes issue with the way the firms calculated the monetary value for the benefit achieved as a result of the lawsuit and asserts that "there is no factual basis for plaintiffs (or anyone) to take credit for the expiration of the January awards."
Those awards "lapsed on their own due to the failure of a vesting condition unrelated to this litigation," the committee said. "Removing the value incorrectly attributed to the January awards and otherwise applying plaintiffs' methodology yields a fee of $1.875 million," the committee asserted. However, the committee also argued the amount still needed to be reduced to take into account that the plaintiffs' firms only played a "relative role in bringing about the settlement." "The SLC conducted the investigation and negotiated the settlement," Cordo's letter contended. The committee also argued that a $4.1 million award "would be damaging to the company's financial condition."