No U TurnArticle 11 of the Business Corporation Law governs dissolution of closely held New York business corporations. Article 11 has existed, more or less in its current form, for decades. Some of its provisions have been heavily litigated, including Sections 1104 and 1104-a governing judicial dissolution for deadlock and oppression, and Section 1118 governing buyout of a minority’s interest in an oppression proceeding. Other provisions have received surprisingly little attention.

In Morizio v Roeder, 2017 NY Slip Op 50248(U) [Sup Ct Albany County Feb. 17, 2017], Albany County Commercial Division Justice Richard M. Platkin addressed one of these latter, relatively-overlooked sections.

Section 1116 of the Business Corporation Law governs the circumstances in which a party who sues for dissolution may later change his or her mind and withdraw the claim for dissolution. The key language of the statute provides that a petitioner who wishes to withdraw his or her claim must “establish” to the court “that the cause for dissolution did not exist or no longer exists.”

What does that mean? Only a few courts have considered the issue, including a decision last year by Justice Timothy Driscoll in the Cardino case. As it turns out, a leading case to consider the legal standard to withdraw a dissolution claim was an earlier decision in the Morizio litigation. Continue Reading Withdraw a Dissolution Claim? Not So Fast


shutterstock_581026324As promised in the postscript to last week’s post about the appellate ruling in the Gould case, affirming Justice Platkin’s order granting the oppressed minority shareholder’s dissolution petition involving a pair of construction firms, we now arrive at Justice Platkin’s subsequent determination of the fair value of the minority shareholder’s equity stake.

The decision raises several important issues of interest to business appraisers and business divorce counsel, including selection of tax rates, the appropriate look-back period in determining historical earnings, adjustments for non-arm’s length inter-company transactions, and use of the market approach.

Justice Platkin’s valuation ruling last month in Matter of Digeser v Flach [Gould Erectors & Rigging, Inc.], 2017 NY Slip Op 50220(U) [Sup Ct Albany County Jan. 31, 2017], is the culmination of an oppressed minority shareholder dissolution petition filed in April 2013. In his November 2015 post-trial decision, which I wrote about here, Justice Platkin found that Digeser, a minority shareholder in the two corporations, established grounds for dissolution based on oppression, but he left open the question of remedy. Continue Reading Business Appraisers Spar Over Tax Rates, Market Approach and Other Key Issues in Fair Value Buy-Out Case

OppressionAn earlier post on this blog, examining a post-trial decision in Matter of Digeser v Flach, 2015 NY Slip Op 51609(U) [Sup Ct Albany County Nov. 5, 2015], described the minority shareholder’s dissolution claim under Section 1104-a of the Business Corporation Law as a “classic case of minority shareholder oppression.” The Albany-based Appellate Division, Third Department, recently agreed with that assessment in affirming the lower court’s order finding sufficient grounds for dissolution.

The appellate panel’s unanimous decision in Matter of Gould Erectors & Rigging, Inc., 146 AD3d 1128, 2017 NY Slip Op 00228 [3d Dept Jan. 12, 2017], affirmed in every respect Albany County Commercial Division Justice Richard M. Platkin’s post-trial decision to dissolve two affiliated construction businesses. Here’s a quick recap of the case as it unfolded at the trial level.

Background

The story begins with two father-son pairs. The petitioner, Henry A. Digeser, is a 25% shareholder of two New York corporations, Gould Erectors & Rigging, Inc. (“Gould”) and Flach Crane & Rigging Co., Inc. (“Flach Crane”). The respondent, John C. Flach, owns the remaining 75%. Digeser’s father was a close friend and business colleague of Flach’s father, who founded the companies, and served on the businesses’ boards. Eventually, the younger Digeser got involved in the businesses and became an owner. Continue Reading An Oppression How-To: Revoke Employment, Profit Sharing and Control

Goodwill

This is a story about a recent case involving a fight over the inclusion or exclusion of goodwill in valuing the interest of a retired partner in a medical practice organized as a limited liability partnership, and how it easily could have been avoided. But first, it helps to understand the legal framework for valuing such an interest and the type of goodwill at issue.

The limited liability partnership or LLP is a highly popular form of business association for professional practices including law firms and medical groups. As its name suggests, the LLP combines the attributes of a partnership with the limited liability traditionally associated with corporations, except that professionals in LLPs generally remain personally liable for their own misconduct or negligence.

In New York, the formation and registration of LLPs is governed by Article 8-B of the Partnership Law. In all other respects, as to both their internal and external affairs, the New York LLP is governed by the same provisions governing general partnerships codified in Sections 1 through 82 of the Partnership Law based on the ancient Uniform Partnership Act promulgated in 1914. Continue Reading How to Avoid Bad Blood Over Goodwill in Professional Partnership Valuations

Lady JusticeWe’re two-thirds of the way through the official winter season, which thus far has dumped a lot of snow on the Northeast making it a good one for skiers. It’s also been a good season for business divorce aficionados with plenty of interesting decisions in judicial dissolution cases and contested buy-outs.

Each August for the last five years, I’ve published a Summer Shorts edition offering several bite-sized case synopses highlighting decisions that, while not meriting extended analysis, nonetheless offer valuable insights for business owners, transactional lawyers involved in business formation and, of course, business divorce lawyers. I figured it’s time to start the hibernal version, so welcome to the inaugural edition of Winter Case Notes.

First up is a decision by Justice Richard Platkin in which the validity under the operating agreement of an LLC manager’s removal hinged on the parties’ relative capital contributions. Next is Justice Stephen Bucaria’s latest of many rulings in a decade-long litigation saga, dissolving a holding company with an indirect ownership interest in a Massachusetts operating company. Last is a decision by Justice Cynthia Kern in which she denied dismissal of a claim for the belated sale of a LLC membership interest. Continue Reading Winter Case Notes: LLC Manager Removal and Other Recent Decisions of Interest

deathThe death of a shareholder amidst a court battle for control of a closely held business can have a dramatic effect on the direction and outcome of the case.

We saw it happen in my post a few weeks ago about the Catalina Beach Club case which started as a deadlock dissolution case between feuding 50/50 factions, but was discontinued abruptly after the petitioning faction gained voting and board control by acquiring an additional 25% interest from the estate of one of the respondent shareholders who died a few months after the suit began, much to the chagrin of the surviving 25% respondent now downgraded to non-controlling, minority shareholder.

Not one but two deaths in another, fractious family-owned business resulted in shifts in control with game-changing consequences for the positions and leverage of the litigants. The resulting travails of two generations of the Lewis family are laid bare in a recent decision by Albany Commercial Division Justice Richard M. Platkin in Heller v Lewis, 2015 NY Slip Op 51867(U) [Albany County Dec. 21, 2015], in which he denied preliminary injunctive relief sought by the majority-turned-minority faction. Continue Reading Death of a Shareholder

OppressionNew York and most other states have judicial dissolution statutes protecting minority shareholders in close corporations against “oppressive actions” by controlling shareholders and directors. In many of those states, including New York, courts define oppression as conduct that defeats the minority shareholder’s “reasonable expectations.” The reasonable-expectations standard necessarily is a flexible one that allows courts to address the myriad circumstances under which minority shareholders, who generally lack exit rights and whose shares have no public market, face squeeze-out or freeze-out by the majority.

If I had to describe the classic case of minority shareholder oppression, it would be (1) an owner-operated business (2) that pays no stock dividends (3) in which the majority shareholder terminates the minority shareholder’s employment (4) thereby cutting off the minority shareholder’s sole source of economic benefits in the form of salary and bonus (5) while also removing the minority shareholder from the board of directors (6) thereby depriving the minority shareholder of any voice in company management.

I’ve pretty much just described the circumstances present in Matter of Digeser v Flach, 2015 NY Slip Op 51609(U) [Sup Ct Albany County Nov. 5, 2015], a post-trial decision handed down earlier this month by Albany County Commercial Division Justice Richard M. Platkin in which the court concluded that the petitioning minority shareholder established grounds for dissolution of two affiliated construction companies. Continue Reading A Classic Case of Minority Shareholder Oppression

Charlie, a minority shareholder of Troubled Corp., petitions for judicial dissolution based on alleged oppressive acts by the majority shareholder, Ted, who, in turn, exercises his statutory right to avoid dissolution by electing to purchase Charlie’s shares for fair value. Charlie and Ted are miles apart on price, so it falls on the court to determine the fair value of Charlie’s shares at an appraisal hearing. Chances are the appraisal determination is many months or even years away, depending on the complexity of the appraisal, the pace of pretrial discovery, delays on account of motion practice, and the court’s own schedule.

In the meantime, although still legally a shareholder until the buyout is consummated, Charlie, whose employment Ted previously terminated and whom Ted voted off the board, has little or no ability to monitor much less control Troubled’s finances and business affairs. In effect, Charlie’s been demoted to creditor status while he awaits the court’s fair-value determination and his eventual payday.

Charlie’s concerned that, by the time the court renders its decision, Ted won’t have the financial wherewithal to pay or finance the fair value award. Of even greater concern, Charlie believes that Ted is running Troubled’s business into the ground either negligently or deliberately as part of a scheme to transfer the company’s good will and other assets to another company under the sole ownership of Ted’s family members. Likely the buyout will never happen if the company’s assets aren’t sufficient to finance Ted’s purchase of Charlie’s shares.

What can Charlie do the ensure that he’ll be able to collect his fair-value award? Continue Reading Post-Buyout Election Interim Remedies: Bond, Injunction, or Both?

Last week, in Matter of Gould Erectors & Rigging, Inc., 2014 NY Slip Op 05004 [3d Dept July 3, 2014], an upstate appellate panel affirmed in part and reversed in part a lower court’s decision that highlights the special rules governing the filing and service of petitions seeking judicial dissolution of close corporations under Article 11 of the Business Corporation Law.

In an “ordinary” lawsuit, due process as embodied in the rules of civil procedure requires service of the summons and complaint on named defendants to confer personal jurisdiction over them. If service is not effected, or if service is not effected properly, the non-served defendant can appear and move to dismiss, which can have especially drastic consequences if the statute of limitations has expired in the interim. A non-served defendant who doesn’t appear in the case, i.e., who defaults, and against whom a judgment is entered, can later apply to have the judgment vacated.

The rules for corporate dissolution proceedings are different. The first important difference is that each of the statutory grounds for dissolution, including deadlock under BCL § 1104 and shareholder oppression under BCL § 1104-a, authorizes the filing of a “petition” —  not a complaint — in what New York practice refers to as a “special proceeding” governed by Article 4 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. In general, the rules for special proceedings provide for expedited judicial review in statutorily delimited categories of disputes. One of the other, more frequent uses of special proceedings is for challenges to decisions made by administrative and other quasi-judicial governmental bodies under CLPR Article 78. Continue Reading Special Rules Govern Service in Corporate Dissolution Proceedings

It’s hard enough to explain to clients in business divorce cases the complicated statutory and judge-made law governing the substantive rights of the parties, for example, what constitutes shareholder oppression, or what kind of deadlock between 50/50 owners warrants dissolution, or how a stock interest gets valued in a buy-out proceeding.

But try explaining to clients the confoundingly intricate rules of civil procedure that dictate how a lawsuit must be prosecuted and defended, and, well, let’s just say you tend to get a lot of blank stares in return.

Whatever clients do or don’t comprehend, lawyers know that the rules of civil procedure present pitfalls and opportunities that can make or break a case, regardless of the more meaningful questions about who did what to whom, and which side should win or lose on the merits.

So primarily for all you lawyers reading this, I present below a series of short summaries of recent court decisions addressing a potpourri of procedural issues in dissolution cases, including service of the petition, time to answer, consolidation and intervention, and seeking unpleaded relief. Continue Reading A Potpourri of Procedural Issues in Dissolution Cases