DRAFTING ERRORS, ANYONE? A MESSAGE FROM PROFESSOR KLEINBERGER

At the Spring meeting of the ABA Business Law Section in Vancouver, on Thursday, March 28, 2019 from 2:30pm – 4:30pm, the Committee on Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships, and Unincorporated Entities is sponsoring a panel entitled, “Lessons from the Trenches for Transactional Lawyers.”  Here is a brief description:

Avoiding errors in transactional documents — insights from attorneys who have seen errors play out in litigation:  two litigators (including one who defends attorney malpractice claims), a transactional lawyer who often plays clean up, and an expert witness who frequently testifies in cases arising from problematic language in deal documents.

If you have some examples of problematic language, favorite (or disfavored) cases, or “occasions of sin” to share in, the panel would be grateful.  The presentation will not be merely war stories.  Instead, the panelists will present various categories of errors and occasions for error, as well as practical suggestions for avoiding error.  However, the more examples the panel has from which to work, the more useful the categorizations will be.

Redact as you see fit or transform examples into illustrations.  Please send info to:  daniel.kleinberger@mitchellhamline.edu .  We will not identify the sources of examples unless you ask for attribution.


What’s become known as the bad-faith petitioner defense in judicial dissolution proceedings first emerged in Matter of Kemp & Beatley, 64 NY2d 63 [1984], where the Court of Appeals in a minority stockholder oppression case wrote that “the minority shareholder whose own acts, made in bad faith and undertaken with a view toward forcing an involuntary dissolution, give rise to the complained-of oppression should be given no quarter in the statutory protection.”

It took several decades, but eventually the bad-faith petitioner defense made a salutary species jump to deadlock dissolution cases involving 50/50 shareholders as a result of Justice Vito DeStefano’s thoughtful analysis in Feinberg v Silverberg.

Kemp and Feinberg both involved judicial dissolution of closely held corporations governed by Article 11 of the Business Corporation Law. As I noted in a post a couple of years ago describing a Tennessee case in which the court found that the petitioner seeking dissolution of a Delaware LLC had “manufactured” the alleged impasse between 50/50 members, I’ve patiently been awaiting another species jump to dissolution proceedings under Section 702 of New York’s LLC Law.

My patience was rewarded last month, when Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Saliann Scarpulla confirmed a special referee’s report and dismissed a Section 702 dissolution petition by a 50% co-managing member of a realty holding LLC based on his own conduct in breach of the operating agreement designed to “force dissolution” and “push” the other husband-and-wife members “out of the building.” Advanced 23, LLC v Chambers House Partners, LLC, 2019 NY Slip Op 30173(U) [Sup Ct NY County Jan. 22, 2019]. Continue Reading The Bad-Faith Petitioner Defense Makes Successful Debut in LLC Dissolution Case

We call it deadlock dissolution when a 50% shareholder of a close corporation, who claims to be at an impasse with the other 50% shareholder, asks the court to dissolve and liquidate the corporation. New York’s deadlock dissolution statute, unlike its statutory cousin for minority shareholder oppression petitions, does not give the non-petitioning 50% shareholder the right to avoid dissolution by acquiring the petitioner’s shares for “fair value” as determined by the court, nor do the courts have statutory or common-law authority to compel a buyout. Absent a settlement, the litigation outcomes are binary: either dissolution is granted, in which case the court usually will appoint a receiver to sell the corporation’s assets, or it’s denied, in which case the co-owners continue indefinitely their fractious co-existence.

There’s one particular subspecies of deadlock dissolution that may not be motivated primarily by the usual disputes over finance, personnel, owner compensation, budget, distributions, or other such operational issues. Rather, sometimes a deadlock dissolution petition is brought when the two owners disagree whether to dissolve or continue to operate a functioning business. The petitioner may need the liquidity for unrelated financial reasons, or in contemplation of retirement, or because he or she believes the optimal time to sell the business or its assets is at hand. Perhaps the two owners also discussed a buyout but couldn’t agree on terms. Over time, as resentments fester and pressures grow, one or both owners typically undertake unilateral actions affecting the business, or block management actions advanced by the other, that push the standoff to crisis mode and into the hands of lawyers and judges.

A recent decision by Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Saliann Scarpulla shows how a deadlock dissolution petition of this existential sort can play out. Continue Reading One 50% Shareholder Wants to Sell or Liquidate the Business. The Other Wants to Keep It Going. Is That Deadlock?

Bad Faith 1In New York, the bad faith defense in dissolution proceedings traces its lineage to Matter of Kemp & Beatley, 64 NY2d 63 [1984], a landmark ruling by the state’s highest court that set the standard for minority shareholder oppression under § 1104-a of the Business Corporation Law, where the court wrote in dicta that “the minority shareholder whose own acts, made in bad faith and undertaken with a view toward forcing an involuntary dissolution, give rise to the complained-of oppression should be given no quarter in the statutory protection.”

Several years ago, I gave headline treatment to Justice Vito DeStefano’s decision in Feinberg v Silverberg recognizing the bad faith defense as applicable also in deadlock dissolution cases between 50/50 shareholders under BCL § 1104 notwithstanding a line of appellate rulings indicating that the underlying reasons for dissension and deadlock are not relevant. In reconciling those seemingly contradictory cases, Justice DeStefano wrote that the “manufactured creation of the dissension . . . is the sine qua non of bad faith” which “would belie a finding that the shareholders’ dissension poses an irreconcilable barrier to the continued functioning and prosperity of the corporation.”

Has the bad faith defense similarly osmosed to LLC dissolution? While I’m not aware of any New York cases directly addressing the issue, a recent decision by Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle of the Tennessee Business Court in Wilford v Coltea, Case No. 15-856-BC [Tenn. Ch. Ct. 20th Dist. May 16, 2016], echoes Justice DeStefano’s rationale in upholding a bad faith defense in a dissolution case involving a Delaware LLC whose two 50/50 members seemingly were at an alleged managerial impasse with no way out. Continue Reading Bad Faith Defense Gets Boost in LLC Dissolution Case

Catalina

An “anomalous situation” is how Nassau County Commercial Division Justice Vito M. DeStefano described what happened in a deadlock dissolution case involving the owners of the Catalina Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, New York (pictured).

As summed up by the judge in his decision last month in Carasso v Pauline J. Perahia Revocable Trust, Decision and Order, Index No. 606702/14 [Sup Ct Nassau County Dec. 28, 2015], the anomaly boiled down to this:

Petitioners and Respondents have changed their initial positions regarding dissolution in that the Petitioners, who initially sought dissolution, now move to discontinue the dissolution proceeding; and, the Respondents, who  initially opposed dissolution by filing objections in law, now oppose discontinuance of the dissolution proceeding and, in fact, seek dissolution.

Continue Reading A Doozy of a Discontinuance in Deadlock Dissolution Case

The so-called bad faith defense has been a staple in judicial dissolution proceedings brought by oppressed minority shareholders under § 1104-a of the Business Corporation Law (“BCL”) ever since the New York Court of Appeals articulated it in Matter of Kemp & Beatley, 64 NY2d 63 (1984):

The purpose of this involuntary dissolution statute is to provide protection to the minority shareholder whose reasonable expectations in undertaking the venture have been frustrated and who has no adequate means of recovering his or her investment. It would be contrary to this remedial purpose to permit its use by minority shareholders as merely a coercive tool. Therefore, the minority shareholder whose own acts, made in bad faith and undertaken with a view toward forcing an involuntary dissolution, give rise to the complained-of oppression should be given no quarter in the statutory protection[Citations omitted.]

In contrast, the bad faith defense has appeared sporadically and with uncertain effect in deadlock dissolution proceedings brought under BCL § 1104, which authorizes judicial dissolution at the behest of a 50% shareholder who can demonstrate one of:

  • director deadlock precluding board action;
  • shareholder deadlock precluding an election of directors; or
  • that “there is internal dissension and two or more factions of shareholders are so divided that dissolution would be beneficial to the shareholders.”

The great majority of deadlock cases turn on the catch-all internal dissension ground because, among other reasons, the shareholders eschew the formality of board meetings and/or the shareholders’ agreement creates permanent directorships for the two shareholders. So why has the bad faith defense fared differently in deadlock cases, and is it a viable defense at all in such cases? Continue Reading Is Bad Faith a Defense in Deadlock Dissolution Proceedings?