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Bader v. Blankfein

December 18, 2008

JEFFREY W. BADER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LLOYD C. BLANKFEIN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Townes, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Plaintiff Jeffrey W. Bader, brings this derivative action on behalf of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. ("Goldman" or the "Corporation"), a Delaware corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE"), alleging that defendants violated Section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78n(a), and Delaware state law by filing a proxy statement on February 21, 2007 (the "2007 Proxy Statement") that contained false and misleading information. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that the 2007 Proxy Statement, which asked the shareholders to vote on the Corporation's Board of Directors, misstated the "grant date present values" of stock options which had been granted to three directors and two other highly compensated employees in Fiscal Year 2006, thus misleading the stockholders as to the enormity of the compensation packages bestowed upon these individuals.

Defendants now move to dismiss this action, arguing, inter alia, that plaintiff failed to make a demand on Goldman's Board of Directors prior to commencing this action. Plaintiff concedes that he did not make such a demand, but argues (1) that no such demand is necessary in § 14(a) actions and (2) that such a demand would have been futile because of a majority of the Corporation's directors were not disinterested and independent. For the reasons set forth below, this Court concludes that a demand was necessary and was not futile, and that this action must, therefore, be dismissed due to plaintiff's failure to satisfy the "demand requirement," a precondition for bringing this action.

BACKGROUND

Goldman, a Delaware corporation, is a global investment banking and securities firm, headquartered in New York City. See http://www2.goldmansachs.com/s/prospectus/Prospectus Summary.html. At all times relevant to this action, its Board of Directors consisted of thirteen members, each elected annually for a one-year term. Three of these directors--defendants Lloyd C. Blankfein, Gary D. Cohn, and Jon Winkelried (collectively, the "Employee Directors")--are officers of Goldman; Mr. Blankfein is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, while Messrs. Cohn and Winkelried are both presidents of the Corporation and co-Chief Operating Officers (Complaint at ¶¶ 19-21). The other ten directors are "independent," insofar as they have been determined by Goldman's Board of Directors not to have any direct or indirect material relationship with Goldman. See http://www2.goldmansachs.com/our-firm/corporate-governance/ corporate-governance-documents/policy-regarding-director-independence-determ.pdf. At the time this action was commenced in March 2007, the independent directors were defendants John Browne (also known as Lord Browne of Madingley), John H. Bryan, Claes Dahlbäck, Stephen Friedman, William W. George, Rajat K. Gupta, James A. Johnson, Lois D. Juliber, Edward M. Liddy and Ruth J. Simmons. See Complaint at ¶¶ 8-17.

On February 21, 2007--approximately one month prior to the 2007 Annual Meeting of its shareholders--Goldman filed the 2007 Proxy Statement, which asked the shareholders to vote, inter alia, to re-elect all thirteen directors for year-long terms expiring at the 2008 shareholders' meeting. The 2007 Proxy Statement was prepared in accordance with Schedule 14-A, 17 C.F.R. § 240.14a-101, which prescribes the information that must be included in a proxy statement. Item 8 of Schedule 14-A provides that, if a proxy statement solicits action with regard to the election of directors, the proxy statement must include "the information required by Item 402 of Regulation S-K." Item 402, which is set forth at 17 C.F.R. § 229.402, mandates the disclosure of specific information relating to executive compensation.

Among the disclosures mandated by Item 402 is information concerning stock options which have been granted by the corporation to the chief executive officer of the corporation and the other four most highly compensated executive officers during the preceding fiscal year. At the time the 2007 Proxy Statement was issued, Item 402(c)(2) dictated that this stock option information be presented in a table, listing, inter alia, the number of securities underlying the options granted, the percentage that each grant represents of all options granted to employees during that fiscal year, the per-share exercise or base price of the options and the expiration dates of the options. 17 C.F.R. § 229.402(c)(2)(ii)-(v). Item 402(c)(2)(vi) further required that the table include information concerning the value of the options, but provided two alternatives for supplying this information. Under the first alternative, the table had to include at least two additional columns stating "[t]he potential realizable value of each grant of options..., assuming that the market price of the underlying security appreciates in value from the date of grant to the end of the option... at the... annualized rates [of] 5%... [and] 10%...." 17 C.F.R. § 229.402(c)(2)(vi)(A).*fn1 Under the second alternative, the table had to include the "grant date present value" of the options--that is, "[t]he present value of the grant at the date of grant."

17 C.F.R. § 229.402(c)(2)(vi)(B).

There are several option pricing models that can be used to calculate "grant date present value," including the Black-Scholes model and the binomial option pricing model.*fn2 Item 402(c)(2)(vi)(B) expressly provided that any option pricing model could be utilized. However, the Instructions to Item 402(c)(2) required that the table providing the stock option information include a footnote "describ[ing] the valuation method used" to derive the "grant date present value." Instructions to Item 402(c)(2) at ¶ 9. In addition, the Instructions to Item 402(c)(2) provided:

Where the registrant has used a variation of the Black-Scholes or binomial option pricing model, the description shall identify the use of such pricing model and describe the assumptions used relating to the expected volatility, risk-free rate of return, dividend yield and time of exercise. Any adjustments for non-transferability or risk of forfeiture also shall be disclosed.

In preparing the 2007 Proxy Statement, Goldman elected to provide the "grant date present value" of stock options granted to CEO Blankfein and its four other most highly compensated executive officers: Presidents Cohn and Winkelried, Vice Chairman John S. Weinberg and Executive Vice President David A. Viniar. As required by the instructions to Item 402(c)(2), the 2007 Proxy Statement included a footnote which stated that the "grant date present value" was "based on a Black-Scholes option pricing model." 2007 Proxy Statement (attached as Ex. 1 to Declaration of David M.J. Rein, Esq., dated July 20, 2007) at 17, fn. (b)) (emphasis added). The footnote then described the assumptions used as follows:

The exercise price of each Option ($199.84) is equal to the closing price-per-share of Common Stock on the NYSE on December 15, 2006, the date the Options were granted. The primary inputs to the Option valuation model were: 27.5% volatility; 4.6% risk-free rate of return; 0.7% dividend yield; and 7.5 year expected life, which reflects the sales restrictions on the underlying shares that apply until January 2011. The values of Options described above are hypothetical and have been provided solely to comply with the rules of the SEC. The actual value, if any, that will be realized upon the exercise of an Option will depend upon the difference between the exercise price of the Option and the market price of the Common Stock on the date that the Option is exercised.

Id. (emphasis added). Although the terms in the footnote which this Court has italicized at least suggested that Goldman was using a variant of the original Black-Scholes model, the footnote did not describe the variation and made no mention of any adjustments to the model for non-transferability or risk of forfeiture.

On March 16, 2007, a Goldman stockholder, plaintiff Jeffrey W. Bader, commenced this derivative action pursuant to section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78n(a), and Delaware state law, principally alleging that the "grant date present values" set forth in the 2007 Proxy Statement were "materially false." Complaint at ¶ 39.*fn3 Using the assumptions set forth in the 2007 Proxy Statement at page 17, footnote (b), plaintiff calculates the "correct Black-Scholes Value[s]" of the options as being approximately 50% greater than the values reported in the proxy statement. Id. For example, plaintiff calculates that the correct grant date present value of stock options granted to CEO Blankfein in the 2006 fiscal year was $15,915,974, not $10,453,031 as stated in the 2007 Proxy Statement. Id. Similarly, the 2007 Proxy Statement lists the grant date present value of options granted to Presidents Cohn and Winkelried in fiscal year 2006 as $10,253,191, while ...


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