Submitted: April 24, 2014
P. Clarkson Collins, Jr., Esq., Peter B. Ladig, Esq., Brett M. McCartney, Esq., MORRIS JAMES LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Robert C. Heim, Esq., Michael L. Kichline, Esq., Sabrina L. Reliford, Esq., DECHERT LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Petitioner General American Holdings, Inc.
Jody C. Barillare, Esq., MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Marc J. Sonnenfeld, Esq., Steven A. Reed, Esq., Jason H. Wilson, Esq., MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Attorneys for Interstate General Media Holdings.
Collins J. Seitz, Jr., Esq., Garrett B. Moritz, Esq., Anthony A. Rickey, Esq., SEITZ ROSS ARONSTAM & MORITZ, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Richard A. Sprague, Esq., Joseph R. Podraza, Jr., Esq., Alan Starker, Esq., Neil R. Troum, Esq., Brooke Spigler Cohen, Esq., SPRAGUE & SPRAGUE, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Intertrust GCN, LP, Intertrust GCN GP, LLC and H.F. Lenfest.
Sean Michael Brennecke, Esq., Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Lisa A. Lori, Esq., Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Attorneys for Intervenor The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, Local 38010, AFL-CIO, CL.
PARSONS, Vice Chancellor.
This petition for judicial dissolution of a Delaware limited liability company ("LLC") arises not from a dispute as to whether judicial dissolution is necessary or appropriate, but rather, how the dissolution should be effectuated. The petitioner seeks an order from this Court requiring that the LLC be sold in an auction in which only the LLC's members and a specific labor union are eligible to participate. Furthermore, the petitioner requests that the auction be structured as an "English-style, " open outcry auction. According to the petitioner, its proposal for auctioning the LLC is both: (1) more consistent than the respondents' with the terms of the company's LLC agreement; and (2) most likely to maximize the value of the members' ownership interests in the LLC.
Respondents are members of the LLC other than the petitioners, and they urge the Court to order an auction in which the sale of the LLC is open to the public. The respondents aver that the company's LLC agreement is neither controlling nor relevant to the issue of how best to auction the company, and that the most likely way to maximize the value of the members' interests in the LLC is through a public auction in which each bidder submits only a single, sealed bid.
For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, I will order that the LLC be dissolved, and that it be liquidated in a private, "English-style" open outcry auction held among the LLC's members.
A. The Parties
The principal subject of this litigation is Interstate General Media Holdings, LLC ("IGM" or the "Company"). IGM is a Delaware limited liability company that was formed in 2012 for the purpose of acquiring all or substantially all of the capital stock of Philadelphia Media Network LLC ("PMN"). PMN's subsidiaries include The Philadelphia Inquirer (the "Inquirer"), the Daily News, and Philly.com. Through PMN and its subsidiaries, IGM engages in the business of publishing, printing, reporting, advertising, and performing other activities of a multimedia news and information company.
Petitioner, General American Holdings, Inc. ("General American"), is a Pennsylvania corporation and a Class A Member of IGM. General American owns a 54.3638% interest in the Company and is one of its two Managing Members. As a Managing Member, General American has the right to appoint one of the two members of IGM's Management Committee. George E. Norcross, III serves as General American's appointee on the Management Committee.
Respondent Intertrust GCN, LP ("Intertrust") is a Delaware limited partnership and a Class A Member of IGM. Intertrust GCN GP, LLC is a Delaware limited liability company and the general partner of Intertrust. Intertrust owns a 26.1819% interest in the Company and is IGM's other Managing Member. Lewis Katz serves as Intertrust's appointee on IGM's Management Committee.
Respondent H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest is a Pennsylvania resident and a Class A Member of IGM. Lenfest owns a 16.3637% interest in the Company and serves as the Chairman of its Board of Directors (the "Board").
Intervenor, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, Local 38010, AFL-CIO, CLC (the "Guild"), is IGM's largest labor union. The Guild represents over 550 employees, including reporters, editors, and photographers, of IGM's main assets, The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. Currently, IGM and the Guild are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that is effective from February 8, 2013 through February 8, 2015.
1. The recent ownership history of PMN
In 1969, Knight Ridder purchased the The Inquirer and Daily News from Walter Annenberg for $55 million. Knight Ridder owned the papers exclusively and continuously until 2006, when it sold them to McClatchy, another large newspaper chain. Later in 2006, McClatchy resold The Inquirer and Daily News to a local Philadelphia investor group led by Brian Tierney for over $500 million. At some point, the Tierney-led group created PMN to house The Inquirer, Daily News, and other properties.
In February 2009, PMN filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Approximately twenty months later,  in September 2010, PMN was sold in a bankruptcy auction for $139 million to a group of hedge funds led by Angelo Gordon and Alden Global Capital. Less than two years later, in April 2012, PMN was sold again, this time to IGM for $55 million.
Thus, since 2005, The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com have operated under five different owners.
2. IGM acquires PMN
In October 2011, Katz and Norcross discussed the possibility of purchasing PMN and conducted at least some due diligence on a potential transaction. As early as December 2011, PMN began working with investment bank Evercore Group LLC ("Evercore") to facilitate a sale. In January 2012, Katz and Norcross formally retained investment bank The Blackstone Group ("Blackstone") to assist them in evaluating a potential acquisition of PMN. Between January 2012 and March 2012, Katz and Norcross, with the assistance of Blackstone, continued their due diligence regarding PMN. This diligence included, among other things, reviewing the contents of a "data room" established by Evercore and conducting interviews with PMN's senior management.
In early February 2012, the Katz/Norcross-led group that ultimately became IGM sent an initial offer letter to PMN. On March 1, 2012, IGM submitted its final, and prevailing, bid of $55 million. IGM's acquisition of PMN closed on April 2, 2012.
Both Katz and Norcross testified that their interest in acquiring PMN and, thus, The Inquirer, was not a purely profit-driven business decision. Rather, it appears that both individuals were brought into the group that became IGM by former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, at least in part, for the purpose of "rescuing" The Inquirer from its non-Philadelphia-based hedge fund owners. As The Inquirer is one of this country's oldest and most venerable news publications, which all parties seem to agree is not merely a business, but also an important "community asset, " the receptiveness of Katz, Norcross, and eventually, Lenfest to Governor Rendell's call to action is unsurprising.
3. IGM's LLC Agreement
On March 30, 2012, shortly before the close of IGM's acquisition of PMN, IGM's Members executed an LLC agreement (the "LLC Agreement"). Under the LLC Agreement, IGM was to be managed by a Management Committee and the Board. The day-to-day operations of the Company were managed by the two-member Management Committee, which at all relevant times consisted of Katz, as Intertrust's appointee, and Norcross, as General American's appointee. Importantly, any action by the Management Committee required the approval of both Katz and Norcross. IGM's six-person Board, which also included Katz and Norcross, was meant to govern and direct IGM's business and affairs. As with the Management Committee, the Board could not take any action without the ...