Since Dallas-based Energy Transfer — owned by billionaire Kelcy Warren — successfully pulled the plug on the 2016 combination, it’s required under the merger agreement to pay a so-called break-up fee, Delaware Chancery Court Judge Sam Glasscock III ruled Wednesday.
“Having called a dirge for the merger,” Energy Transfer “must pay the piper,” Glasscock said in his 95-page ruling in the more than five-year dispute over the deal.
Glasscock’s ruling marks the latest twist in what was nicknamed the energy industry’s “deal from hell.” The proposed tie-up stands as one of the largest deals undone by a collapse in oil prices. The merger was aimed at creating the nation’s largest natural-gas transporter. Oil prices have since rebounded.
Representatives of Energy Transfer and Williams weren’t immediately available after regular business hours for comment on Glasscock’s ruling.
Following a trial, Energy Transfer convinced Glasscock in 2016 it had grounds to pull out of the merger after its advisers said the deal didn’t free investors from $1 billion in tax liabilities as envisioned by the agreement.
The ruling prompted both companies to demand break-up fees, arguing it was the other side that maneuvered to sink the deal.
But in 2017, Glasscock concluded it was Warren and Energy Transfer executives who were the moving force behind sinking the deal and rebuffed their bid for a $1.5 billion break-up fee. The company has 86,000 miles of pipeline traversing 36 states.
In that decision, the judge said it would be strange for a merger agreement to be drafted so the party who pulled the plug over its would-be partner’s objections received a “windfall of a substantial termination fee.”
In Wednesday’s ruling, Glasscock said Energy Transfer didn’t satisfy several underlying provisions of the agreement and that left it on the hook for $410 million plus interest.
But Glasscock agreed with Energy Transfer’s demand that Williams Chief Executive Officer Alan Armstrong pay a monetary sanction for wiping out a Gmail account he used to discuss the merger. Energy Transfer sought to prove Armstrong used the account in a secret effort to tank the merger.
At trial, Armstrong said he deleted the Gmail account over concerns about spam messages. Glasscock said he didn’t find the CEO’s explanation credible. “I find that Armstrong’s destruction of his Gmail account was spoliation of evidence,” the judge wrote. He didn’t specify how much Armstrong should pay.
The case is Williams Companies Inc. v. Energy Transfer Equity LP, 12168, Delaware Chancery Court (Georgetown).