Articles Posted in Dissolution

For the closely held corporation, deadlock may be the result of a dispute among the shareholders, or among the directors in circumstances that the shareholders cannot fix by electing new directors.  Whether a court is asked to find deadlock under an applicable corporations statute or as part of a common-law remedy, deadlock is rarely found in circumstances in which there is no threat of significant or irreparable harm.

In this article, we will consider some of the circumstance in which courts have been asked to declare that a deadlock exists among the directors and/or shareholders of a corporation – often in a closely held corporation they are one and the same – and to fashion a remedy.  Most often the principal remedy in theINTERVIEW case of a “true deadlock” is the dissolution of the corporation, which entails the liquidation of the entity.  Courts rarely impose such an extreme remedy on a viable business entity, so such remedies as the sale of a minority interest, sale of the entity as a going concern or other types of injunctive relief are far more common.


A Series Examining Deadlock Among the Owners of Closely Held Corporations, Limited Liability Companies and Partnerships


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INTERVIEWDeadlock occurs when the owners of a closely held business, be it a close corporation, partnership or limited liability company, are unable to reach a decision on some matter involving the business. Because deadlock is typically associated with businesses in which most or all of the owners participate directly in management, they are characterized by emotions, self-interest and not always rational.


A Series Examining Deadlock Among the Owners of Closely Held Corporations, Limited Liability Companies and Partnerships


In the simplest case, two 50/50 owners are unable to come to some decision that is critical to the business, for example whether to provide additional capital or give personal guarantees to a lender. Because the ownership is equally shared, the principals have to govern by consensus, or not at all.  This is true whether it is a corporation, limited liability company or partnership.

The law that controls any business organizations is a creature of state law, and disputes among owners in a business divorce involve the application of the law where the business was formed. More often than not that means the law of the state in which the dispute is being heard, but not always. And significantly, at least for our present purposes, it does not mean that we will find the answer to a business divorce issue in the state in which the litigation is pending, even among the binding decisions of the state law where the enterprise was formed.

Here’s an example: a New York court is calleBusiness Divorce Attorneysd upon to determine whether a managing member of a limited liability company breached his or her duty in negotiating a sale of a substantial asset to a third party that the manager negligently believed was an objectively fair price. The plaintiff seeks to expel the manager or to force a dissolution and sale of the business as a going concern. Does the Court apply New Jersey law? If there is no New Jersey case on point – and there is no binding decision on all of the points in this scenario – does the Court apply New York law, and to which issues?

Even if this case is litigated in New Jersey, and there is no law on point, where does the trial court look to guidance. The nearly automatic response is Delaware, because the courts of Delaware have by far the most developed body of law applicable to corporate governance disputes. However, Delaware may be the wrong choice if the limited liability company statute needs interpretation. A well-reasoned decision from an Appellate Court in Illinois, for example, should be much more persuasive to a court construing New Jersey’s limited liability company statute because of the similarity between the two states’ laws.

Shareholder Deadlock AttorneyIs an intractable deadlock among the shareholders good grounds to force the sale of a large, successful corporation? That was the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in a case in which the trial court’s decision to sell the business as a going concern – over the objection of one shareholder –was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

In this case, a trial court’s ability to fashion and equitable remedy based on the circumstances of the case ran into direct conflict with the limited remedies that are available to minority shareholders under Delaware law.

Court Orders Sale of Corporation in Shareholder Deadlock

Limited liability operating agreement
It may take a unanimous action of the members of a limited liability company to dissolve the entity or to change the date on which the company will dissolve according to the terms of its operating agreement. But unless the Operating Agreement specifically requires the members to act unanimous to extend the company, a simple majority may suffice.

That was the holding of the New Hampshire Supreme Court in McDonough v. McDonough, a case in which one of the members of this family business attempted to enforce a dissolution provision in the operating agreement to force the purchase of his shares.

Limited Liability has Limited Term of Existence

Business Divorce Attorneys | Corporations
No one gets married expecting to get divorced.  And no one forms a business expecting that it will fall apart.  Just as people get divorced, many businesses come to the point at which a business divorce is the best alternative because the partners cannot, or will not, continue to work together.  When that happens, the parties need to restructure, and often separate, their business interests.

Business Divorce Defined

We use the term business divorce to describe a series of different types of lawsuits that involve the owners of a closely held business. The defining character of the business divorce is that co-owners of a business must separate their business interests.  There are typically two alternatives. In this article, we focus on the closely held corporation.  Some of the principles are similar with other types of businesses, which we address in other articles, but the application of the principles are often quite different.

LLC Member Enjoined from Competing

An LLC member breached his fiduciary duty by competing with his own company, a trial court in New York City holds in issuing an injunction against one of the principals of a successful company that makes automated parking systems.

The case involves the company that makes Parkmatic parking systems, mechanical stickers and carousels for parking cars in limited spaces. The complaint in Zacharias v. Wassef alleges that the defendant Max Wassef responded to complaints of misconduct by his partner Zacharias by forming a new company to siphon off business using the Parkmatic name.

Limited Liability Company Member Claims Unfair Competition by Manager

Oppressed Shareholder Litigation Attorney
New York’s oppressed shareholder statute has a unique provision that was initially intended to prevent the oppressed shareholder from destroying a viable business.  That is because the New York statute otherwise gives the court only two options: send the oppressed shareholder away or force the dissolution of the business.

Other states give court’s more discretion, and a judge also has the ability to force a sale of an interest.  New York’s statutory scheme, however, takes a different approach.  (See our discussion here of some of the quirks of New York’s oppressed shareholder statute:  Business Divorce New York Style.)  One of the wrinkles in the statute, however, is that once a litigant invokes the oppressed shareholder provision in Business Corporations Law § 1104-a, it’s very difficult to stop the process.

Peter Mahler’s New York Business Divorce blog reports on an decision by a trial judge in Nassau County’s commercial part who declines to allow the plaintiff to withdraw a claim under BCL 1104-a.  In that case, the plaintiff tried to get out of the substantive and procedural limitations that flow from the conclusory assertion of a claim under 1104-a.

Dissolution of Texas Oil Drilling Partnership
When is a partnership dissolution not a dissolution? When the partnership is not subjected to the formal dissolution procedures, even if it appears that the Court may have intended otherwise.

Express Finding of Dissolution of Partnership Required

That was the result of a split decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, coming some 14 years into the business divorce litigation between the partners to an oil well drilling venture, in Akuna Matata Investments Ltd. v. Texas No Limited Partnership. The Court affirmed a trial court decision terminating the partnership and awarding one of the partners a share of unpaid partnership profits.

New York | New Jersey Oppressed Shareholder Limited Liability Company atorneys
Reading through a recent court opinion out of the New York Supreme Court, I am struck by the way the law has diverged in corporate governance litigation.  There are two distinctly different approaches to the business divorce. Crossing the Hudson can make a world of difference in operating a closely held business.

Business Divorce State by State

Understanding the different approaches taken by the courts of different states is something that should be considered by business owners not just when they form the business, but as they work through the inevitable conflicts that are part of running a business.

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