A judge in Las Vegas refused to issue an order Thursday that would have gummed up the proposed $360 million buyout of Summerville-based Force Protection Inc.
The Nevada ruling appears to remove a potential legal roadblock by allowing defense giant General Dynamics Corp. to proceed with its purchase offer, which expires late tonight.
Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez's office told The Post and Courier that Gonzalez denied a request for a temporary restraining order from Force Protection shareholders who are suing to block the deal.
Among their allegations, the investors said General Dynamics' all-cash offer of $5.52 a share is too low. They also have said that Force Protection, which makes armored military vehicles, agreed to the buyout too hastily.
Gonzalez ruled from the bench, and a written order was not available late Thursday, her office said. The restraining order request was argued in Las Vegas because several shareholders filed lawsuits in Nevada, where Force Protection was incorporated.
The company said it had no comment on Thursday's ruling.
General Dynamics does not comment on active lawsuits, said Kendell Pease, vice president of government relations and communications.
Local attorneys who represent several investors could not be reached.
Force Protection, which is one of the region's largest manufacturers, agreed to be sold to General Dynamics' Land Systems unit on Nov. 7. The companies have said they hope to finalize the deal by the end of the year.
Separate from the Nevada ruling, General Dynamics said it was notified Thursday afternoon that the acquisition has been given early clearance from the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust review.
"That satisfies one condition of the ... offer," Pease said. The next key step is to determine how many Force Protection shareholders support the deal, he said. That number will become clearer after the buyout offer expires at midnight.
Founded about 15 years ago, Force Protection swelled from a $10 million business with 200 workers in 2004 to a $1.3 billion company with 2,000 employees three years later, driven largely by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As orders slowed, its payroll has been trimmed to about 1,100, including about 600 at its main Ladson manufacturing plant.
While a sizable employer at the local level, chief executive Michael Moody said last month that Force Protection is relatively tiny when compared to many of its peers. The disadvantage is that the company must invest a higher percentage of its revenue on research and other expenses when competing for contracts, he said.
At the same time, cash-strapped governments worldwide are cutting their military budgets.
"This reduction in defense spending, combined with general national budget uncertainty, presents a challenging environment for smaller companies such as ourselves," Moody said. He called the unsolicited offer from General Dynamics an "opportunity to be part of a larger organization with more resources and a long-term future."
This week, Force Protection disclosed that it entertained at least two other buyouts deals from unidentified bidders since last fall.