The nominations are in, the votes are counted, envelope please! Following are my picks for last year’s top 10 business divorce cases, all of which were featured in prior posts:
- Tzolis v. Wolff, 10 NY3d 100 (2008), in which the Court of Appeals resolved conflicting First and Second Department decisions on the question whether LLC members can bring derivative actions on the LLC’s behalf. They can.
- Matter of Beverwyck Abstract, LLC, 53 AD3d 503 (3d Dept 2008), in which an appellate court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the de facto dissolution of an LLC did not terminate the members’ fiduciary duty to account for ongoing profits up until formal dissolution.
- Tal v. Superior Vending, LLC, 20 Misc 3d 1103(A) (Sup Ct Westchester County 2008), in which the court crafted an equitable remedy in an LLC dissolution by ordering a return of the petitioner’s investment.
- Dingle v. Xtenit, Inc., 20 Misc 3d 1123(A) (Sup Ct NY County 2008), in which the court required a bona fide purpose for a controlling shareholder’s dilution of the minority shareholder’s interest.
- Caplash v. Rochester Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Associates, LLC, 19 Misc 3d 1138(A) (Sup Ct Monroe County May 12, 2008), subsequent decision, 20 Misc 3d 1104(A), in which the court upheld the petitioner’s standing to seek LLC dissolution after finding that the other member lacked authority to engage the LLC’s attorney who had accepted the petitioner’s resignation.
- Hellman v. Hellman, 19 Misc 3d 695 (Sup Ct Monroe County 2008), modified, 2009 NY Slip Op 02418 (4th Dept Mar. 27, 2009). involving a corporation owned 50-50 by brothers, in which the court upheld a new company lease executed by the brother who served as president over the other’s objection that the lease required board approval.
- Murphy v. U.S. Dredging Corp., 2008 NY Slip Op 31535 (Sup Ct Nassau County May 19, 2008), a valuation proceeding involving shares in a subchapter C real estate holding corporation in which the court applied a discount for built-in capital gains.
- Matter of Youngwall, 2008 NY Slip Op 30811(U) (Sup Ct Nassau County Mar. 14, 2008), adhered to upon reargument in unreported decision dated July 28, 2008, in which the court granted dissolution of an unprofitable LLC and also ruled that a provision in the operating agreement waiving the right to seek judicial dissolution is void as against public policy.
- Ross v. Nelson, 54 AD3d 258 (1st Dept 2008), in which the court enforced the LLC’s default statute in upholding a majority vote of the members to remove one of the managers.
- Manitaras v. Beusman, 56 AD3d 735 (2d Dept 2008), in which the court found that an LLC operating agreement’s silence on the sale of the LLC’s sole asset permitted majority approval under the default statute even though the sale automatically triggered dissolution.
What will 2009 bring? It’s not illogical to think that the stress of the economic meltdown will lead to an increase in business divorce. But in my years watching the scene I’ve never detected any correlation between business cycles and the rate of litigious business break-ups involving closely held companies. If anything, I would lean in favor of the theory that financial success and opportunity in a business create even more incentive for dissension among co-owners. A recent NY Times article pointed out how falling real estate values are impeding marital divorces by eliminating the primary resource for financial settlement. I think a similar phenomenon could be at play with businesses in the current climate, by reducing the upside for a disgruntled owner contemplating a tactical lawsuit designed to induce a buyout.