A bitter legal dispute has erupted between Cargill’s largest money market firm and its former leader, after the company forced him out amid efforts to sell the business.
John Brice sued CarVal Investors last month seeking to be reinstated as president of the firm, which he took charge of in 2006, not long after it became an independently managed unit of Cargill.
The Delaware chancery judge presiding over the suit late last month ordered CarVal to remain “status quo,” meaning Cargill cannot proceed with any sale. Some major private investment groups, including Blackstone Group and Carlyle Group, had shown interest in CarVal, which has about $10 billion in assets.
New documents filed in the case, while heavily redacted, outline a caustic relationship between CarVal and Brice. CarVal’s lawyers said Brice was fired for “creating a corrosive and demoralizing environment, for being dishonest, and because CarVal’s board lost faith and confidence in his ability to lead the organization,” according to a court transcript.
Brice’s lawyers said his own finances are tied up in the firm and that decisions made in the weeks since he was forced out have substantially reduced the value of his investments. They claim he is eligible for $60 million from one CarVal fund and “a very large portion” of $165 million in another, his lawyers told the judge.
CarVal’s lawyer said the board had “no choice at all but to terminate him” after Brice called an all-employee meeting at its Hopkins headquarters on June 9 where he told everyone that “the relationship between himself and the board of directors had been fractured to the point of no return.”
The wrongful termination case will likely hinge on legal interpretation of a May 2011 agreement outlining the governing rights of CarVal’s board and management, the Delaware judge, Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, said during initial arguments last month. CarVal said the agreement explicitly gives the board the right to hire and fire the president. Brice’s lawyers said the circumstances surrounding his firing make the action unlawful.
While the judge granted a narrow status quo order, she denied Brice’s request to be immediately reinstated at CarVal.
CarVal’s lawyers argue Brice should not be given his job back because this “was not a happy ending. There were a lot of damaged relationships,” adding that “employees would depart” if a “former disgruntled officer” were brought back in to lead the company.
The judge ordered a speedy trial. Lawyers on both sides are negotiating a timeline.
“We look forward to an expedited trial and a result consistent with the court’s initial finding,” said Mark Lerner, one of Brice’s lawyers from the New York-based firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.
The statements made in court have not yet been substantiated through burden of proof.
“Our returns and our team are strong,” said Ann Folkman, managing marketing director for CarVal. “We have a strong leadership team in place in Jody Gunderson, Lucas Detor and James Ganley who have been managing the firm with John [Brice] for several years. We have not lost any employees or investors over John Brice’s departure.”
Cargill last year spun off its other independent investment subsidiary, Black River Asset Management, which had $7 billion in assets, into three different firms.