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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

Oppressed Shareholder Valuation in Sale of Plant Business
Interior Plant Installation of Plaintiff Parker Interior Landscapes

The general rule is that a court should not apply discounts for marketability or lack of control (the later known as the minority discount) unless there is some unfairness or wrongdoing among the parties. Still, in the world of oppressed minority shareholder litigation, there is always some allegation of wrongdoing, so the question of discounts, or not, is invariably part of the ruling in any court-ordered valuation.

A trial court in Union County recently applied a 25 percent discount in the purchase of a 50% share of a family business after a 35-day trial. The net result was that the defendant in the case took significantly less for the acquisition of his shares in a family owned business than might have been available if there was not a finding of wrongdoing. Parker v. Parker, Docket No. UNN-C-108-13 (Chancery December 22, 2016) The parties involved in a business divorce litigation need to be cognizant that the allegations of bad behavior may have a significant effect on the ultimate determination of value made by a court.

Limited Liability Company AttorneysProbably the most litigated issue in my practice involves the expulsion of a member of a limited liability company in response to some wrongful conduct or breach of the operating agreement. We represent majority owners when they are trying to remove a member and we represent the minority member who is fighting removal. Not all states permit removal or expulsion – known as involuntary dissociation – for misconduct and some recent decisions indicate that in the states that do, it may be harder than once thought.

Involuntary Dissocation of a Limited Liability Company Member

There was a belief, perhaps unreasonably so, that Courts were unwilling to keep people in business together when plainly the owners were no longer capable of maintaining a working relationship. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in the first decision by any state supreme court on the topic, held that the concept of “not reasonably practicable” to stay in business together means more than a personality conflict. It requires a structural inability to act, such as ongoing deadlock or significant wrongful conduct.

share-certificate
We counsel many owners of limited liability companies that the filing of a Certificate of Formation does note automatically protect the owners from person liabilities.  There are a number of business practices, often referred to as the “corporate formalities” that should be followed.

A case from Iowa’s Court of Appeals illustrates this principle, in which the court affirmed the finding of a trial court that the owners of a limited liability company were personally liabile for $235,000 owed to a supplier.  Keith Smith Co. v. Bushman, 873 N.W.2d 776(Table), 2015 WL 8364910(Table) (Iowa App., 2015).

The supplier claimed that the defendant was essentially a shell company with inadequate capitalization.  The trial court agreed and the appeals court affirmed.

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

Limited Liability Company Attorneys

The modern trend is business relationships is to allow the owners of an enterprise to contract among themselves in almost any manner they choose and order their own affairs as they see fit.  We see this in the law of a number of influential states, particularly Delaware, and in the model partnership and limited liability company acts.

Obligations of Good Faith and Fair Dealing in Partnership Agreements

One of the principles underlying this “contractarian approach”  is that the owners of a business can decide for themselves what fiduciary duties they will owe among each other and to the entity.  In virtually every case, it is a limitation of those duties, and most often in the context of a limited liability company or a partnership.

Restrictive Covenant Attorney
Litigating with a former employee for violation of a restrictive covenant agreement becomes more complicated when the former employee was terminated without good cause.  And because we are an at-will employment economy, this becomes an issue more frequently than one might imagine.

As one author notes, it typically is not the underperformer who creates a problem for their former employer.  It’s the superstars, of course, that threaten to walk out the door not because they were fired but because they plan on taking a big chunk of business.

Include Poor Performance as Grounds for Termination

Indemnification legal fees attorney | lawyer
The potential liability of a director for attorney’s fees is what determines whether recoverable litigation expenses are due under the indemnification provisions of Delaware law, the Chancery Court holds.


The expenses at issue were incurred in litigation that wound its way through state and federal courts in Illinois for nearly a decade, including a bankruptcy. The Plaintiff in Dore v. Sweports, Ltd, C.A. No. 10513-VCL (Del. Chancery January 31, 2017) was a former director and investor in Sweports, who was ousted in a dispute with the other directors and locked out of the business. A significant component in the lawsuit involved the services of the law firm that was general counsel and also represented the plaintiff in some of the underlying litigation.

Court Awards Expenses Incurred Under Oral Agreement to Defend Counterclaims by Corporation Against Former Director

LLC Receiver Attorney
A claim that one of the members has misappropriated assets of a limited liability company and ousted the other member from management is a “quintessential breach” of the fiduciary duties that may exist in a closely held business. It is not, however, grounds for the appointment of a receiver.

This decision of the New Supreme Court in Chen v. Dai, Index Co. 653601/2015 (New York County January 18, 2017) holds that the fact that a claim arises from the existence of a contract – in this case an operating agreement – it may also involve duties independent of the contract. The court finds in a decision on a motion dismiss that pleading that the plaintiff was a co-member of two New York limited liability companies is sufficient to state a cause of action.

LLC Member Misappropriation is Breach of Fiduciary Duty

limited liability company expulsion attorney
An Illinois appellate court affirmed a finding of breach of fiduciary duty and the expulsion of a limited liability company member under a version of the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act. The case is of interest for the way it construes the model partnership and limited liability company acts.

Explusion of LLC Member After Transfer of Interests

The court in Kenny v. Fulton Assocs., LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 152536 (Ill. App., 2016) holds first that under Illinois’ LLC statute the actual activities of the parties determined their fiduciary duties, not the agreements. The management of the entities were vested in one side as manager, but the day-to-day operations actually handled by the other side. The management of the business creates a fiduciary duty under Illinois law. The other significant holding is that refusing to honor a valid transfer of an interest is not just a breach of contract, but a breach of fiduciary duty. Finally, the court affirms the holding that when one of the principals is a lawyer that represents the firm, his breach of duty as an attorney is also a breach of fiduciary duty as a member or partner.

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