Tesla shareholder’s legal team adjusts demand to $1.44 billion in fees for Musk pay case

Credit: Tesla China

The legal team of Tesla shareholder Richard Tornetta, who filed a legal complaint against Elon Musk’s 2018 CEO Performance Award, has adjusted their plaintiff fee request to the Delaware Court. Tornetta’s legal team noted that they could adjust their proposed fee to just $73,948 per hour, which would amount to a cash award of roughly $1.44 billion.

The Tornetta vs. Musk case became a notable issue for the electric vehicle maker back in January when Judge Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery rescinded Musk’s 2018 CEO Performance Award. For their work in the case, Tornetta’s legal team argued that they should be granted 29.4 million TSLA shares. Such an amount would be worth over $5 billion, or more than $200,000 per hour. 

Tesla has argued against Tornetta’s legal team’s arguments. As noted in a Reuters report, the electric vehicle maker argued that the legal team of the Tesla shareholder — who held nine shares when he filed his complaint against Musk’s 2018 pay package — should be paid just about $13.6 million for their work. Longtime Tesla retail shareholder Amy Steffens has also secured legal counsel to challenge the $200,000 per hour fee request of Tornetta’s attorneys

In their recent filing, Tornetta’s legal team proposed an alternative way of looking at the fees for their work in the case. While the legal team rejected Tesla’s $13.6 million legal fee argument, and while the attorneys still argued that the court should strongly consider granting them over 29 million TSLA shares as payment, they noted that the Court could go for a cash-based alternative structure instead. Such a system would lower their hourly rate to $73,948, and would result in a payment of around $1.44 billion. 

Following are sections of the filing from Tornetta’s lawyers. 

“While Plaintiff’s Counsel sincerely believe the award sought is appropriate, earned, and indeed conservative under Delaware law—the Action did, after all, rescind an ‘unfathomable’ $55B compensation package, the largest in history by multiples—Plaintiff’s Counsel acknowledge the requested award, if granted, would be record-setting and the subject of significant commentary. Were the Court concerned by the requested award’s size and desirous of a different approach, there are other alternatives available that address the expressed concerns about “windfalls.”

“Specifically, $35,000/hour cannot be a ‘windfall’ because that hourly rate was awarded by this Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court over a decade ago in Southern Peru. Adjusted to today’s dollars, a $35,000 hourly rate would be over $55,600/hour. It follows, a fortiori, that for a substantial verdict on the order of Southern Peru, an award of at least $55,600/hour is not a ‘windfall.’ 

“Indeed, even Tesla argues that this Action created compensable value equal to its calculation of the Grant’s $2.3B GDFV. But even using this low-end value estimate, the benefit Plaintiff achieved here was significantly higher than the $1.347B (pre-interest) Southern Peru benefit. Thus, a low-end cash award of roughly $1.0842B could be fashioned based solely on the affirmed, inflation-adjusted Southern Peru numbers.

“But any such award would be unfairly low for two reasons. First, as noted in Plaintiff’s Opening Brief, this Court in Southern Peru—after admonishing plaintiff’s counsel to seek a conservative fee given ‘the reality [that] their own delays affected the remedy awarded’—further reduced that request by one-third as a penalty for counsel taking so long to prosecute the case that rescission was impossible. Second, the ~$51B benefit achieved here is approximately 38x higher than the benefit achieved in Southern Peru

“Adjusting for the one-third penalty assessed in Southern Peru—which was applied to an already conservative 22.5% request by that plaintiff—brings the inflation-adjusted lodestar to $73,948/hour, which yields a fee of approximately $1.44B. Adjusting further to reflect the much higher result here is a matter of the Court’s discretion Plaintiff’s Counsel would submit that exercising the Court’s discretion to award a cash fee of roughly twice the inflation-adjusted Southern Peru hourly rate after reversing for the discount appropriately reflects the substantially greater benefit achieved here,” Tornetta’s lawyers wrote. 

The fling from Tornetta’s lawyers can be viewed below (via Plainsite). 

gov.uscourts.delch.2018-0408-KSJM.387.0 by Simon Alvarez on Scribd

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Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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