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CBS sues controlling Redstone family, in bid for independence

Reuters 

By and Tom Hals

(Reuters) - filed a lawsuit on Monday to reduce the voting power of controlling shareholder National Amusements Inc, the movie theatre company owned by Sumner and Shari Redstone, in an act of defiance aimed at thwarting the Redstones' plan to merge CBS with

CBS said in its lawsuit it is seeking to prevent the Redstones from ousting any directors or changing the company's bylaws before its full board meets on Thursday to consider issuing a dividend that would curb National Amusements' voting power.

If the dividend is approved, National Amusements' voting rights in CBS would shrink to about 17 percent from about 80 percent, more in line with CBS's economic stake of 10.3 percent, according to CBS's legal complaint, filed with the in

Legal experts said the lawsuit was a rare example of a company attempting to use a "nuclear option" to free itself from its controlling shareholder, setting the stage for a high-stakes legal battle over the future of one of the biggest U.S. entertainment companies.

"(CBS is) at least sending the signal and creating evidence they had the best interests of everyone in mind, and not her," said Brian Quinn, a at the Boston College Law School, referring to Shari

National Amusements denied it had any plan to oust CBS's board.

"National Amusements had absolutely no intention of replacing the CBS board or forcing a deal that was not supported by both companies," it said in a statement. "National Amusements' conduct throughout supports this, and reflects its commitment to a well-governed process."

CBS shares rose 4.7 percent to $54.98 in on Monday on hopes of a better deal for the company, giving it a market value of $20 billion. Viacom shares dropped 7 percent to $28.05, giving it a market value of $12 billion, as investors fretted over the company's prospects as a standalone company.

CBS's lawsuit comes after its merger negotiations with smaller peer Viacom, which National Amusements also controls, failed to produce a deal. The talks, that started in February, had hit an impasse over disagreements about price as well as the role of Viacom in the combined company, sources said earlier this month.

It was the second attempt in three years by Shari to merge CBS and Viacom, after her father separated them 12 years ago.

National Amusements believes a deal is needed for the two companies to gain scale and compete with growing and Inc pushing deeper into the business.

In its lawsuit, CBS cited the battle for control of publisher Hollinger International Inc, which like CBS had a controlling shareholder, Conrad Black, who wanted to sell control of the company over opposition from the board.

A court ruled in 2004 that the Hollinger board could dilute Black's voting control in response to what it considered to be the damage he had done to the company.

"Ms. has acted to undermine the (CBS) management team, including, without board authority, talking to potential replacements, deriding the and threatening to change the board," the lawsuit said.

INTEREST FROM VERIZON

In a sign that CBS is keeping the door open to negotiations with Redstone, CBS said in its lawsuit that if it is granted an injunction against Redstone, it would agree not to issue the dividend once it approves it, pending further orders from the court.

CBS said in its lawsuit that had taken actions over the past two years that have led the special committee of the board considering the merger to conclude that she presents a "significant threat" to the company and its stockholders.

Its proposed dividend would not dilute the economic interests of any CBS stockholder, but would help the company to operate as an independent, non-controlled company and fully evaluate strategic alternatives, the company said.

CBS's lawsuit also said Redstone rejected an approach by an unnamed potential acquirer of CBS, citing that as another reason her interests are not aligned with other CBS shareholders.

The undisclosed party is U.S. , according to two sources familiar with the situation who requested anonymity to disclose confidential details. Verizon declined to comment.

CBS's lawsuit has been assigned to Andre Bouchard, who will consider the request for a temporary restraining order on Wednesday.

(Reporting by in and Tom in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by and in Bengaluru and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by and Bill Rigby)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, May 14 2018. 23:05 IST
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