A judge in Delaware ruled Thursday that a lawsuit brought by the Dolan family against Altice USA over layoffs at News 12 Networks can proceed to trial in September.
In a 31-page decision, Delaware Chancery Court Judge Joseph R. Slights III denied a motion by Altice to throw out the Dolans’ suit in its entirety.
However, he narrowed the claims to be heard at trial to principally whether Altice violated the 2016 sales agreement under which its parent, Altice N.V. of the Netherlands, acquired Cablevision Systems Corp. of Bethpage and its News 12 division. The Dolans were Cablevision’s controlling shareholders at the time and allege that Altice promised not to lay off News 12 employees through 2020.
The Dolans allege that Altice USA terminated 70 News 12 employees in 2017 in violation of the sales agreement. Altice argues the employment promise isn’t in the agreement.
“I find that the contested clauses of the merger agreement, when read together, are ambiguous,” the judge wrote. “It is, in my view, appropriate to receive…evidence to discern if that was the parties’ intent,” he said, referring to Altice’s contention that it never committed to a no-layoffs policy at News 12.
The judge continued, “The motion to dismiss the Dolan family’s breach of contract and related declaratory relief claims is denied.”
He dismissed the Dolans’ other claims against Altice: breach of implied covenant of good faith, fraudulent inducement and equitable fraud.
The judge also removed News 12 anchors Colleen McVey and Danielle Campbell as plaintiffs in the case, saying they “lack standing to enforce” the sales agreement.
Patrick Dolan, a plaintiff in the suit and former News 12 president, said: “We are extremely pleased with the judge’s decision. We will now have our day in court to show how Altice cynically disregarded its contractual promise to protect the jobs of News 12 employees.” He now is owner of Newsday Media Group.
Altice spokeswoman Lisa Anselmo said: “We are pleased that the judge dismissed several claims made by the Dolans and that we can finally proceed to trial to present the facts of the case. News 12 is thriving due to our significant investments and we will continue to invest in News 12 to deliver the best hyper local news to our local communities.”
The judge’s decision came two months after a hearing in Wilmington, Delaware, on Altice’s motion to dismiss the case. At the close of the two-hour hearing, the judge had urged the parties to negotiate an out-of-court settlement, saying, “this is an incredibly close case.”