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Berkshire declines to pursue its Pilot claims at January trial

FILE PHOTO: Berkshire Hathaway logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the NYSE in New York

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway declined a judge's offer for a January trial to resolve its claims that billionaire Jimmy Haslam tried to improperly inflate his stake in a truck stop chain, according to a Monday court filing.

Berkshire decided to forgo its request for a speedy trial "given the uncertainty in the amount and type of evidence that will be allowed" under the judge's conditions, an attorney for Berkshire told the court.

Vice Chancellor Morgan Zurn of Delaware's Court of Chancery said in a Friday ruling that Berkshire could make its case at a previously scheduled January trial if the conglomerate limited discover to what was needed to defend itself from the Haslams' claims.

The Jan. 8-9 trial is scheduled to resolve claims brought by the Haslam family, alleging that Berkshire was deflating the value of the Pilot Travel Centers truck stop chain.

The dispute concerns how much Berkshire would owe if the Haslams, including Jimmy Haslam who owns the NFL's Cleveland Browns, 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.

Attorneys for Berkshire and the Haslam family did not respond to requests for comment.

Berkshire had said it would suffer irreparable harm if its case was not resolved before the Haslams exercised their option to sell the stake.

Zurn had pushed back on that argument, saying Berkshire could pursue its case on normal schedule since any harm it might suffer from buying the Pilot stake could be resolved by obtaining a ruling ordering the Haslams to compensate the company.

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% stake in Knoxville, Tennessee-based Pilot was worth $3.2 billion before Berkshire's accounting change, an amount Berkshire disputes.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Bill Berkrot)