By Tom Hals
NEW YORK, Jan 10 (Reuters) - A Delaware judge refused to fast-track a shareholder class action lawsuit seeking to block Sprint Nextel Corp’s deal to buy wireless service company Clearwire Corp, the investor leading the lawsuit said on Thursday.
The lawsuit by Crest Financial Ltd, Clearwire’s largest shareholder after Sprint, accuses Clearwire’s board of accepting a low-ball offer of $2.97 a share. Crest’s general counsel said last week he hoped for a full trial in April to try to stop the deal.
At a hearing on Thursday, which was closed to the public, Crest asked Delaware Court of Chancery Judge Leo Strine to approve a motion to expedite and to put the case on a schedule for a full trial in the coming months.
Strine denied that motion, but did so with leave for Crest to renew its motion, Crest said. He also left the door open for Crest to pursue damages against Clearwire’s board if Crest can prove they breached their duties to shareholders.
“We’re encouraged that the court recognized the seriousness and validity of our lawsuit. Crest intends to press forward and seek the significant damages that Clearwire’s minority shareholders will suffer because of Sprint’s grossly inadequate and coercive offer,” Crest said in a statement.
Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat said his company was pleased with the decision. A Clearwire spokesman declined to comment.
Shareholder lawsuits such as Crest’s generally do not get to a trial sooner than eight months or a year.
The Court of Chancery in Delaware, where a majority of large U.S. businesses are incorporated, is a busy venue for disputes over merger deals. The court’s judges have been reluctant to block takeovers, preferring instead to give shareholders the opportunity to vote on an offer.
On Tuesday, pay TV company Dish Network Corp topped Sprint’s offer with its own, at $3.30 per share. Crest said it was looking forward to getting details about Dish’s offer.