A federal judge in Columbia on Thursday designated lead lawyers and plaintiffs in two types of shareholder lawsuits against SCANA over its bungled V.C. Summer expansion.
The lawsuits charge SCANA and its top officers with misconduct and breaches of fiduciary duty in their handling of the failed $9 billion construction project.
Cayce-based SCANA, the corporate parent of the SCE&G utility, denies any wrongdoing.
The moves, involving nearly 20 lawyers, were the initial steps in moving the lawsuits forward.
U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour also dealt a mild setback to SCANA, rejecting its plea to give one group of shareholders suing the company only three weeks to amend their lawsuits.
“I would like to make sure that whatever is filed (by the plaintiffs) in this court is complete,” said Seymour, granting lawyers for the shareholders 60 days to amend their lawsuits against SCANA and some of its top executives.
The numerous lawsuits against SCANA in both state and federal courts are expected to take months, if not years, to play out.
On Thursday, Seymour:
▪ Designated the New York firms of Bernstein Litowitz and Labaton Sucharow as the lead attorneys in one class of shareholder lawsuits against Cayce-based SCANA. The Motley Rice law firm of Charleston was named local liaison counsel.
The lawsuits allege shareholders suffered huge losses when SCANA’s stock price plummeted — from almost $75 a share to the just more than $42 Thursday — after the nuclear project failed. They also allege SCANA misled shareholders about the project for years, propping up its share price.
If shareholders prevail, SCANA will have to pay monetary damages to numerous shareholders, including pension funds and individuals.
▪ Designated the Weiser law firm of Philadelphia and Bernstein Liebhard of New York as lead counsel in a second group of lawsuits, called “shareholder derivative” actions. S.C. liaison counsel include Bill Hopkins of Pawleys Island and Eric Bland of Columbia.
In the cases, the plaintiffs allege SCANA and its officers exposed the utility to liability by violating federal securities laws – including laws that require them to be open with regulators and the public – by their handling of the nuclear project.
SCANA and its officers artificially drove up the utility’s stock price by issuing false public statements and using a “strategy of deception and misdirection” about the nuclear project’s progress, cost and completion schedule, the lawsuits allege.
The goals of the shareholder derivative lawsuits include forcing top SCANA officers and board members to give back all “profits, benefits and other compensation,” including annual incentive bonuses.
Another group of lawsuits against SCANA is pending in state court. Those suits, mostly brought by ratepayers who claim they were cheated when SCANA hiked their monthly bills for years to pay for the failed project, were not affected by Thursday’s actions.
Seymour — who has 20 years’ experience as a federal judge, and widely is regarded as fair, low key and methodical — is overseeing one of South Carolina’s most complex, high-stakes legal battles in years.
Although many of the almost 20 lawyers in the Columbia courtroom Thursday came from Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia, S.C. lawyers also were present.
South Carolinians I.S. Leevy Johnson, Stephen Pugh and George Johnson are representing SCANA. The attorneys for the various plaintiffs suing SCANA included South Carolinians Bland, Hopkins and Marlon Kimpson, a Democratic state senator from Charleston.