Articles Tagged with valuation

  • A limited liability company operating agreement may be amended informally by oral agreement or by a course of conduct.

  • The party that claims amendment of an operating agreement by a course of conduct must establish the clear and mutual intent of the parties to agree to the amendment.

  • A clear and unambiguous provision in an operating agreement that governs how the limited liability company will be valued in the future is an enforceable contract.


attorney for medical practice valuationA retiring member of a limited liability company was unable to convince a trial judge that the parties had amended the operating agreement through their course of conduct to adopt a new valuation approach.

Certificate of Agreed Value Required by Operating Agreement is not Updated for 17 Years

The opinion in the Chancery Division dismissed on summary judgment the plaintiff’s claim that sought to order the majority owners of a medical practice organized as an LLC to use a fair market value determination of the value of the interest of a retiring member, rather than to rely on an outdated “Certificate of Agreed Value” prepared in March 2001.

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  • Business Divorce’ refers to disputes in which the owners of a closely held business, whether a corporation, limited liability company, partnership or limited partnership, must separate their business interests.

  • In many cases, such as oppressed minority shareholder cases or oppressed LLC member cases, there are allegations that those in control of the company have engaged in wrongful behavior.  In other cases, the deadlock of the owners on an important issue is the source of the dispute.

  • Courts that hear business divorce cases have the ability to intervene and impose short-term relief, such as an injunction or appointment of a custodian, and a permanent remedy, include the sale of the business, the compelled purchase of an owner’s interest or even the dissolution and liquidation of the enterprise.


achievement-agreement-body-language-1179804-1024x600No 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.

The law varies from state to state and much of this discussion is general.  To the extent that we discuss specific state laws that apply to business divorce, we focus on New York, New Jersey and Delaware law. Continue reading

  • In valuing the shares of a minority shareholder, a trial court must consider any valuation technique that is generally acceptable in the financial communities.  Determining fair value is an art, not a science.

  • Directors that hold a majority interest in a closely held business have a duty to deal fairly with the minority and in a merger to make full and fair disclosures and offer a fair price in exchange for shares.

  • A minority shareholder that sits by or acquiesces to wrongful conduct by the majority waives the right to later pursue a claim based on that behavior.

  • Fee awards are available only to shareholders with a statutory right to dissent and in the discretion of the judge.


Casey v. Brennan, 344 N.J. Super. 83 (App. Div. 2001)

Minority Shareholder Valuation Attorney

Statues: NJSA 14A:11-1, NJSA 14A11-3; NJSA 14A:6-14: NJSA 14A:11-6; NJSA 14A:11-10

Action challenging the valuation provided by controlling directors (also majority shareholders) in corporate reorganization as plan to reduce number of shareholders to 75 or less to qualify for subchapter S status. Directors approved plan of merger at $73 a share in reorganization plan requiring small shareholders to sell. Trial Judge set value at $90 a share. (Opinion here.)  The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division.  (Opinion here.)

Facts: Community Bank adopted a plan of merger as part of a plan of reorganization that would reduce the number of shareholders by acquring holdings of persons with less than 15,000 sharesat a price of $73 per share. Statutory dissenters and non-statutory dissenters brought various actions consolidated for trial. Trial court holding that proxy statement was misleading and provided non-statutory dissenters with right to sue, and determined fair value $90 per share. Affirmed in part and remanded for reconsideration of valuation issues that were rejected by trial court. Continue reading

Oppressed Shareholder Valuation in Sale of Plant Business
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.

Discounts Reduce Value of Buyout in Family Business Dispute

Value

Sometimes an expert valuation opinion, however well documented, leads to a conclusion that just doesn’t square with reality.  That was the case with an expert opinion in Rughani-Shah v. Noaz, Docket No. A-4943-08T2 (Sept. 16, 2011) that valued a one-third interest in a medical practice at just $25,000.  The trial court’s decision was affirmed by the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court.

The trial judge didn’t buy it – not when the practice was grossing $1.7 million a year and not when the buy-in for the shareholder seeking the buyout had been eight times that amount.  Common sense said the number was just too low, and the expert’s opinion was rejected.

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minority_mike

This case goes into the “be careful what you say” category – particularly when it’s under oath, and particularly when you are involved in an oppressed shareholder action, or any other type of business divorce, for that matter.

can-you-say-that

Oppressed Shareholder Litigation

Oppressed shareholder actions almost invariably involve the purchase of the interests of some of the principals based upon valuations prepared by experts. One of the issues that the valuation expert will consider is whether a discount (or reduction in value) should be applied for the loss of a key person.

The inclination of the oppressed shareholder  is to insist that they were absolutely critical to the success of the business, while the controlling shareholders insists that the shareholder who was forced out or frozen out was of no use anyway.

There is no bonus for being important to the business in valuation proceedings. In fact, the opposite is true. It runs contrary to the emotions of the parties and is completely counterintuitive to non-lawyers. For example, the big rainmaker who accounts for 80 percent of his professional firm’s business, but has somehow gotten frozen out of the enterprise, should keep his opinion about the extent of the contribution to himself or herself.  The fact is that the enterprise is worth a lot less without them around, and that decrease in value may be reflected in a lower price for the purchase of their interests.

Key Person Discounts

There is surprisingly little case law on this topic in either New York or New Jersey and I am surprised that the issue does not come up more often between feuding principals. Yet you can have the unexpected situation in which a controlling shareholder fires key sales people and then asserts that they were absolutely critical – i.e., “key persons” – to the success of the business.

That was the case recently when the Supreme Court of New York County reviewed an application of this discount, which revealed an interesting point of the very personal nature of business divorce.  Matter of Abraham (Elite Techonology NY, Inc.), 2010 NY Slip Op 33225(U) (Sup. Ct. NY County Nov. 10, 2010), (opinion here) (Thanks to Peter Mahler’s NY Business Divorce blog for finding the decision and publishing the referee’s report).

The key person discount, in the context of business valuation, is defined by….

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controlling-interests

The important battle in an oppressed shareholder lawsuit most often is the battle of the valuation experts. And almost inevitably, the parties will litigate the minority discounts and discounts for lack of control that may or may not be applied to 11493-discountbdflickrthe minority interest.

As we previously discussed here, business valuation in a shareholder dispute involving a closely held business is a thorny issue. The shareholders that remain in the closely held business scramble for discounts that reduce the minority’s interest and the departing shareholders try to avoid them as much as possible.  What are the rules for application of discounts?  Well, there are some litigators who can’t help but smile when the say this, it depends.

Minority Interest

business-analytics

When one or more of the owners of a business think it is time to get divorced, the decision in invariably accompanied by hard feelings.  As most clients ultimately learn, the courts are incapable of resolving emotional issues.  But they deal pretty well with money – which is why it makes sense to find out how much is at stake in the fight that is likely to ensue.  Save the emotions for therapy; money is what the case is about.

The Pitfalls of Misinformation

My experience is that most clients are pretty thoroughly misinformed about the “fair value” of their business as well as their individual interests.  Not infrequently, clients will presume that the high price-to-earnings ratio that one may find in the market of publicly traded stocks will apply equally to their closely held business.  Not so.  Others will fail to recognize the effect that the unusually high salaries paid to the owners will likely have in inflating the value of the business.

Attorney for Buy-Sell Agreement

I often find myself counseling caution to business owners that want to use equity to reward or attract key employees.  The reason, quite simply, is that if the relationship sours, the employee not only has to be fired but you then have to deal — at best — with a disgruntled former employee as owner or, more likely, he or she likely will have to be bought out.

It’s Not Easy to Fire the Owner-Employee

To get a sense of how difficult these circumstances can be, let’s look at Ross Holding and Management Co. v. Advance Realty Group (Ross Holding v. Advance Realty (Del).pdf), a case recently decided in Delaware construing New Jersey law.  Advance Realty Group managed real estate properties on the East Coast and awarded membership interests to key managers.  The managers received “Class A” general ownership units and “Class B” units reserved for management.  Reading between the lines of the opinion, it seems that a new investor came into the business and the old management team got their walking papers.

value-price

A court orders a business valuation in a matter involving an oppressed shareholder claim. The appraiser, carefully applying the standards of his profession, sends an engagement letter describing a fair market value determination.  The appraisal will value the enterprise as a whole, then apply minority and marketability discounts.  The selling shareholder is going to argue for discounts – they always do – but the report will have all the information necessary for a determination either way.

For the minority shareholder, this can be a trap. And it may be the wrong move to wait for the trial to fight out the discount issue and the battle over the definition of fair value should be fought as early in the case as possible.  Here are a few reasons why.

The appraiser is going to prepare a report based on the standards of the valuation industry and that standard is fair market value – what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller.  He is going to try to avoid the tough issue of whether any discounts should apply. The AICPA’s Statement on Standards for Valuation Services No. 1 relegates the definition of “fair value” to a single paragraph in an appendix as a matter determined by state law in judicial proceedings.

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