When A Plan Comes Together

Can a corporate 401(k) profit-sharing plan claim a share of the settlement proceeds from a securities class action brought against the company? In In re Motorola Securities Litigation, 2011 WL 1662838 (7th Cir. May 4, 2011) the court held that Motorola’s plan, despite being a purchaser of Motorola common shares during the relevant period, could not participate in the settlement because it was an “affiliate” of the issuer.

The Motorola 401(k) Profit-Sharing Plan (the “Plan”) is “a participant-directed, defined-contribution retirement plan established for the benefit of current and former Motorola employees.” The Plan was controlled by a committee appointed by Motorola’s board. One of the plan’s investment options was a fund that allowed participants to acquire beneficial ownership of Motorola common stock.

In 2007, a securities class action brought against Motorola was settled for $190 million. (The 10b-5 Daily also has posted about the lead plaintiff and motion to dismiss decisions in the case.) The settlement specifically excluded any “affiliate” of Motorola from making a claim. The Plan filed a claim with the claims administrator for the benefit of its participants, which the district court eventually rejected.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit found that the district court’s rejection of the Plan’s claim was correct. The key issue was whether, pursuant to the securities-law meaning of “affiliate,” the Plan was controlled by or under common control with Motorola. Motorola’s board appointed the Plan committee, which in turn had managerial control over the Plan’s policies and operations. The court held that “[t]his degree of control is sufficient to make the Plan an affiliate of Motorola, and as an affiliate of Motorola, the Plan is specifically excluded from the class.”

Holding: Order disallowing the Plan’s claim to a share of the Motorola settlement proceeds affirmed.

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