Stock Transfer Restrictions

Matter of Bernfeld, decided last week by a Brooklyn appellate panel in a signed opinion authored by Justice John Leventhal, offers a rare and fascinating encounter with an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to obtain judicial dissolution of a professional corporation under Section 1103 of the Business Corporation Law, brought by the widow of the deceased majority shareholder. If you are, or have a client who is, a co-owner of a professional corporation, do yourself a favor and read this week’s New York Business Divorce.

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A highly instructive decision by Westchester Commercial Division Justice Alan D. Scheinkman in Matter of Piekos (Home Studios Inc.) grabs the spotlight in this week’s New York Business Divorce. The question presented: Does the mere filing of a dissolution petition by an allegedly oppressed minority shareholder trigger a mandatory buyback of the petitioner’s shares at book value under the terms of the shareholders’ agreement?

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The right of first refusal, commonly used to restrict stock transfers in closely held corporations, continues to live up to its reputation as one of the most reliable generators of employment for litigation attorneys in Giaimo v. EGA Associates Inc., in which the Appellate Division, First Department, recently reversed a lower court’s ruling denying summary judgment in a battle for corporate control between brother and sister. It’s in this week’s New York Business Divorce.

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Shareholder and operating agreements typically contain provisions restricting the right to transfer stock or membership interests. A recent decision by Justice Ira Warshawsky in Verderber v. Commander Enterprises Centereach, LLC, in which he refused to grant a preliminary injunction enforcing a transfer restriction, prompts this week’s New York Business Divorce to examine the ancient rule against unreasonable restraints on alienation.

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When majority shareholders, for good or bad reason, terminate the minority shareholder’s employment in a closely held company that pays no dividends, is the minority shareholder’s at-will employment status a defense to an involuntary corporate dissolution proceeding? The answer arrives in this week’s New York Business Divorce courtesy of a recent decision by Justice Marily Shafer in the case of Ambar v. Devington Technologies, Ltd.

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Danger lurks for the dissolution petitioner and attorney who beforehand don’t thoroughly analyze whether the mere filing of a petition may trigger rights of first refusal in the shareholders’ agreement. This week’s New York Business Divorce highlights a recent appellate decision where the unwary petitioner fell into the self-made trap.

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