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Shareholder May Withdraw Complaint, Appeals Court Rules in Corporate Dispute

 

A minority shareholder may withdraw his complaint under the Illinois Business Corporation Act of 1983, because the majority shareholder failed to meet requirements of that law, the Illinois Third District Court of Appeal ruled in an Illinois shareholder dispute lawsuit. Lohr v. Havens, 3-06-0930 (Nov. 11, 2007).

Charles Lohr owned a large minority of the stock in Phoenix Paper Products, Inc., a closely held private corporation in Illinois. He and another shareholder, James Durham, became concerned about possible financial mismanagement by the majority shareholder and president, Terry Havens, and their accountant, Samuel Morris. In months of correspondence, they accused Havens and Morris of taking unspecified inappropriate actions without shareholder approval.

This culminated in a 2003 lawsuit by Lohr alleging that Havens and Morris were misusing the company’s resources and acting illegally. Count I of the suit asked the court to either order a buyout of all Lohr’s stock or dissolve the company. Havens filed a timely election to buy Lohr’s shares, but Lohr accused Havens of illegally doing this without shareholder approval. After two years of discovery, Lohr asked to withdraw Count I and its associated demands, but Havens objected. The trial court found that because Havens hadn’t notified shareholders about the election, it was invalid, allowing Lohr to dismiss Count I of his complaint. Havens appealed.

The Illinois Third District Court of Appeal ruled that because Havens did not notify other shareholders of the election, the election was invalid, leaving Lohr free to drop his claim. In its analysis, the court noted that a proper election would stop a shareholder in Lohr’s position from dismissing a petition — but the plain language and the intent of the law both require notice of an election to shareholders within ten days. For the same reasons, the court also disagreed with Havens’s contention that the trial court was required to hold a hearing to assess equities before allowing Lohr to dismiss his petition.

As Chicago, Oak Brook and Naperville business and shareholder rights litigators with a substantial practice in business and shareholder disputes we’re always pleased to see clarifications of Illinois business law from the courts.