How can majority business owners legally rid themselves of a problematic minority owner? Not by transferring the business’s assets to another entity for no consideration. That was the conclusion of Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich last month in a lawsuit over a minority shareholder’s stake in Bareburger, Inc., owner of its namesake restaurant chain.

The Bareburger Litigation

In Stavroulakis v Pelakanos, 2018 NY Slip Op 50180(U) [Sup Ct NY County Feb 13, 2018], Bareburger had no written shareholders agreement. Stavroulakis owned 16% of the corporation. He and his co-owners were friends before founding the business. After Bareburger took off, Stavroulakis’ co-owners complained that he was not involved enough to justify his ownership so, as related by Justice Kornreich, they did something rather drastic:

Unbeknownst to him and without his consent, after plaintiff moved to Greece, the defendants, who collectively owned the rest of the Company, transferred all of the Company’s assets to other entities in which defendants (but not plaintiff) have an interest. They did so for no consideration either to plaintiff or the Company, rendering the Company an empty shell.

Continue Reading The Cash-Out Merger Solution to the Problem Minority Owner

powerlessAn appellate decision last week sounds alarm bells for minority members of New York LLCs that have no operating agreement and for anyone considering becoming a minority member of an LLC without first having in place an operating agreement.

By the same token, the decision provides opportunities for majority members of existing LLCs without operating agreements to cement and expand their control powers.

Last week’s unanimous decision by the Manhattan-based Appellate Division, First Department in Shapiro v Ettenson, 2017 NY Slip Op 00442 [1st Dept Jan. 24, 2017], affirmed the lower court’s order enforcing an operating agreement signed by two of the LLC’s three co-founding, co-equal members, adopted two years after the LLC’s formation without the signature or consent of the LLC’s third member. Among other features, the operating agreement departed from the statutory default rule by authorizing the reduction of the percentage interest of a member who fails to satisfy a capital call approved by the majority, which is exactly what the two majority members did following their adoption of the agreement, along with eliminating the minority member’s salary. Continue Reading Thinking About Becoming a Minority Member of a New York LLC Without an Operating Agreement? Think Again

DouglasMollThe combination of majority rule and lack of exit rights leaves minority members of LLCs vulnerable to freeze-out and other oppressive conduct by the majority, yet unlike in the large majority of states which provide statutory dissolution and buy-out remedies to oppressed minority shareholders in close corporations, most states (including New York) do not offer similar protection and remedies for minority LLC members.

Perhaps no one has studied and written about the problem of minority oppression in LLCs and other closely held business entities more and with greater insight than Professor Douglas K. Moll, who teaches at the University of Houston Law Center. Back in 2009 I posted here an online interview of Doug on the subject of shareholder oppression in closely held corporations, in which he also commented on minority oppression in LLCs.

Since then the LLC’s growing hegemony has continued full throttle, with that form of business entity in most if not all states far surpassing the traditional corporation as the preferred form for newly formed firms, making all the more pressing the problem of trapped-in minority LLC members. A few months ago, Doug posted at the Business Law Prof Blog a short piece called Minority Oppression in the LLC in which he echoed many of the themes more fully developed in his 2005 article in the Wake Forest Law Review called Minority Oppression & The Limited Liability Company: Learning (or Not) from Close Corporation History (available here on SSRN). Continue Reading Minority Oppression in LLCs: Interview With Professor Douglas Moll