* Chrysler minority owner seeks January 2015 trial
* Fiat wants May trial to set buyout price
* Schedule dispute follows limited legal victory for Fiat in
By Tom Hals
Sept 5 Fiat SpA may have to wait until
2015 before a judge will decide the price the Italian automaker
would have to pay to buy out a minority shareholder of its
Chrysler business, according to court filings.
Delaware judge Donald Parsons should allow a "reasonable
time" to prepare for a trial to decide what Fiat must pay to buy
part of the 41.5 percent Chrysler stake held by a United Auto
Workers healthcare trust, according to a filing by the trust.
The UAW became Chrysler's second-largest shareholder when
Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 and the union swapped
future healthcare payments owed to it for a stake. The
healthcare trust, known as VEBA, manages those healthcare
benefits on behalf of the union.
Fiat is expected to buy the stake and then merge the two
manufacturers to create the world's seventh-largest auto group
The trust said in a Wednesday letter to Judge Parsons that
it has been unable to negotiate a trial schedule with Fiat,
which filed the lawsuit in September 2012. The healthcare trust
wants the judge to set a trial in January 2015, while Fiat has
pushed for a trial in May, which the trust described as "an
Fiat fired back in a letter on Thursday that it would fly
executives to the United States for depositions to help meet its
request for a May trial. The car maker also said it was
demanding only a limited number of documents from the trust and
said it would devote itself to turning over all requested
evidence by Sept. 18.
In July, Parsons ruled in favor of Fiat on key legal
positions in the dispute, but stopped short of ordering the
trust to sell 54,154 Chrysler shares for $139.7 million, as Fiat
VEBA put the value of those shares at $343.1 million.
The trust said in its filing with the Delaware Court of
Chancery that a decision on the price tag would require
accounting experts as well as testimony by those who negotiated
the agreement. That agreement mandated any disputes would be
settled in the Delaware court, which is a favored venue for
business disputes partly because of its reputation for speed.
The dispute covers the first of five call options that will
allow Fiat to acquire 16.6 percent of Chrysler over time. In
total, the difference between the two sides could amount to more
than $1 billion.
The options were negotiated in 2009, when Fiat gained
control of Chrysler after the U.S. carmaker filed for
Fiat runs the two carmakers as a single company, but wants
to buy the rest of Chrysler to cut borrowing costs and to tap
into Chrysler's cash flow.
Fiat said after Parsons' ruling in July that it was
confident the case would be resolved in its favor.
The case is Fiat North America LLC v UAW Retiree Medical
Benefits Trust, Delaware Court of Chancery, No. 7903