Judge offers Berkshire possible speedy trial over Pilot dispute

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – A Delaware judge said she will grant a January trial requested by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, if it agrees to certain conditions, to resolve claims that billionaire Jimmy Haslam tried to improperly inflate his stake in a truck stop chain.

Vice Chancellor Morgan Zurn of Delaware’s Court of Chancery said in a Friday ruling that efficiency favored hearing Berkshire’s allegations next month alongside a Jan. 8-9 trial over claims by the Haslam family that Berkshire was deflating the value of Pilot Travel Centers.

The dispute concerns how much Berkshire would owe if the Haslams, including Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, exercised their option to sell their 20% stake in the country’s largest truck stop chain to Berkshire in the first two months of 2024.

Zurn gave Berkshire until 9 a.m. ET (1400 GMT) Monday to decide if the company would accept a January trial on the condition that discovery will be limited to what was necessary to defend against the lawsuit filed by the Haslam family.

An attorney for Berkshire did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An attorney for the Haslam family declined to comment.

Berkshire said it would suffer irreparable harm if its case wasn’t resolved before the Haslams exercised their option to sell the stake.

Berkshire owns 80% of Pilot, having paid the Haslams $2.76 billion for a 38.6% stake in 2017 and $8.2 billion for another 41.4% in January.

Each side accuses the other of trying to manipulate Pilot’s earnings, the basis for valuing that stake.

The Haslams sued Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire in October, accusing it of seeking a “windfall” by adopting “pushdown” accounting for Pilot.

Berkshire countersued on Nov. 28, saying Jimmy Haslam tried to bribe Pilot executives with millions of dollars to inflate earnings in 2023 at the expense of future years.

According to court papers, the Haslams believe the 20% Pilot stake was worth $3.2 billion before Berkshire’s accounting change, an amount Berkshire disputes.

Pilot is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and has approximately 800 locations.

Berkshire also owns dozens of other businesses including the BNSF railroad and Geico car insurer.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by David Holmes)