New York’s statutes governing buyouts in dissolution and dissenting shareholder cases use the term “fair value” (FV) as the standard used to determine purchase price. The statutes do not define FV.
In contrast, “fair market value” (FMV) is a widely recognized standard of value used in the business world, in tax assessment proceedings and elsewhere. The International Glossary of Business Valuation Terms defines FMV as “the price, expressed in terms of cash equivalents, at which property would change hands between a hypothetical willing and able buyer and a hypothetical willing and able seller, acting at arms length in an open and unrestricted market, when neither is under compulsion to buy or sell and when both have reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.”
Are FV and FMV the same?
Not by a long shot. As succinctly stated in one of the more prominent valuation treatises, “the term fair value is usually a legally created standard of value that applies to certain specific transactions”. S. Pratt, R. Reilly & R. Schweihs, Valuing a Business, p. 32 (4th ed. 2000). My even more succinct translation: FV means whatever the courts say it means.
In New York case law, the main difference between FMV and FV concerns application of a minority discount in valuing the shares of a dissolution petitioner or dissenting shareholder. A minority discount, also referred to as a discount for lack of control (“DLOC”), reflects the lower price a hypothetical buyer would pay for shares in a corporation that do not give their owner control of the board of directors, company management, distributions, changes to the articles of incorporation, etc. For over 20 years New York courts consistently have ruled that, unlike in proceedings applying the FMV standard of value, the FV standard excludes DLOC. In many other states that also use the FV standard in statutory buyout proceedings, unlike New York, the courts also exclude the discount for lack of marketability (“DLOM”) applicable to non-publicly listed shares that cannot be sold quickly and at low cost. Bottom line: in New York statutory valuation proceedings applying the FV standard, the selling shareholder gets a significantly higher price compared to the FMV standard.
For those who want to learn more on the subject, I recommend reading a recent appellate decision out of Arkansas in which the court explains the difference between FMV and FV in the context of a dispute over the valuation of the interests of withdrawing partners in a family limited partnership.