By Nick Brown, Reuters
New York — A U.S. judge dismissed the bulk of two lawsuits by bankrupt wireless venture LightSquared and equity owner Harbinger Capital Partners accusing Deere & Co and other GPS firms of misleading them about interference concerns and hastening the company's insolvency.
In an opinion rendered on Thursday in Manhattan federal court, Judge Richard Berman threw out Harbinger's lawsuit, and nixed nine of 11 claims asserted by LightSquared, serving a blow to its hope for hefty damages that could help salvage its business.
LightSquared has been in bankruptcy since 2012, when the Federal Communications Commission revoked its license to build a planned wireless network over fears it could interfere with GPS systems.
Harbinger, the hedge fund run by Phil Falcone, would have to give up much of its equity and all of its operational control of LightSquared under a restructuring plan being voted on by creditors.
The lawsuits alleged that Deere, Garmin International , Trimble Navigation Ltd, and a GPS industry group led LightSquared to believe the planned network would not pose an interference risk.
It wasn't until LightSquared had pumped $4 billion into the project, the plaintiffs argued, that the GPS industry voiced their concerns.
Judge Berman dismissed many claims from both plaintiffs, including breach of contract and civil conspiracy, leaving alive only LightSquared's claims for negligent misrepresentation and constructive fraud.
That Berman did not scrap the lawsuit entirely, however, means LightSquared will still have the chance to probe the GPS companies' books and records during discovery.
"LightSquared is pleased with the court's decision," a company spokesman said in an emailed statement to Reuters. "The litigation process will move forward with discovery."
LightSquared believes any potential interference is a result of GPS device designs, rather than LightSquared's planned network, the statement added.
Lawyers for Harbinger and for the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit could impact LightSquared's bankruptcy, where the company has been trying to convince potential investors that its spectrum will regain FCC approval and ultimately have value. That effort could benefit from a perception that GPS companies acted improperly in raising concerns about interference.
LightSquared's bankruptcy, a contentious case in which Dish Network Corp Chairman Charles Ergen is the largest creditor, has been closely watched in the restructuring world, as several reorganization attempts have fallen flat due to ongoing acrimony between the company and its creditors.