Articles Posted in Breach of Fiduciary Duty


Shareholder derivative lawsuits are legal actions brought by individual shareholders on behalf of a corporation against its officers, directors, or other insiders. These lawsuits typically allege misconduct, mismanagement, or breaches of fiduciary duties by those in control of the corporation. Defending against a shareholder derivative lawsuit can be complex and challenging, but with the right strategies and considerations, it is possible to protect the interests of both the corporation and its shareholders. In this blog post, we’ll explore the key steps and considerations involved in defending against a shareholder derivative lawsuit.

1. Understand the Basics of Shareholder Derivative Lawsuits

Before diving into defense strategies, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of what a shareholder derivative lawsuit entails. These lawsuits are filed on behalf of the corporation, not individual shareholders, and seek to hold company insiders accountable for alleged wrongdoing. Understanding the legal framework is the first step in formulating an effective defense.

2. Evaluate the Merits of the Lawsuit

The first line of defense in any shareholder derivative lawsuit is a thorough evaluation of the merits of the claims. Engage experienced legal counsel to assess the allegations and evidence. Determine whether the allegations have a factual basis and whether they meet the legal requirements for pursuing a derivative action. If the claims lack merit, you may have grounds to seek dismissal. Continue reading ›

Corporate veil piercing is a legal concept that allows a court to hold individual shareholders or owners of a corporation personally liable for the corporation’s actions or debts. It is a complex legal doctrine that is typically associated with business law, but in the case of Oliver v. Isenberg, 2019 IL App (1st) 181551-U, it was invoked in the context of family law. In this blog post, we will explore the unique application of veil piercing in this case and its implications for corporate liability in family law matters.

Background of the Case

Oliver v. Isenberg was primarily a family law case involving child custody and visitation rights. However, a significant twist in this case involved the issue of veil piercing, which emerged when Mr. Oliver sought to hold Ms. Isenberg personally liable for certain corporate debts.

The Legal Issues

  1. Veil Piercing in Family Law: Veil piercing is a legal doctrine more commonly associated with business law. It allows a court to disregard the legal separation between a corporation and its owners when certain conditions are met. In Oliver v. Isenberg, the issue was whether this doctrine could be applied in a family law context.
  2. Corporate Debts and Personal Liability: Mr. Oliver argued that Ms. Isenberg had manipulated the family’s corporate assets and finances to avoid paying child support and alimony. He contended that her actions were tantamount to piercing the corporate veil, making her personally liable for the outstanding financial obligations.
  3. Complex Legal Terrain: Veil piercing cases are notoriously complex, requiring the court to consider various factors, including whether the corporation was used to commit fraud, evade legal obligations, or if it lacked a true separate identity from its owners. In the family law context, this complexity was compounded by the emotional and personal nature of the dispute.

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Donald J. Trump is already facing dozens of criminal charges for allegedly falsifying business records and misusing campaign funds in an alleged attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. Yet Trump is back in court suing his former attorney, Michael Cohen, for $500 million.

The lawsuit accuses Cohen of talking publicly about things that should have remained confidential between him and his former client. The lawsuit also accuses Cohen of telling lies about Mr. Trump in the media and in Cohen’s two books, Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump, and Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the U.S. Department of Justice Against His Critics.

The first book was published prior to the 2020 presidential election, whereas the second was released in 2022. Among other things, the books accuse Trump of being a racist and of lying about just about everything. Continue reading ›

We all know attorneys are not allowed to represent both sides in a lawsuit, but what if the law firm currently representing one side used to represent the other side? Wouldn’t that be considered a conflict of interest? It’s especially likely to pose a problem if the issue involved in the lawsuit is the same issue the law firm previously handled for the other side.

If the law firm had recently represented the company they’re currently suing, it’s obvious how that could cause problems. But what if the prior legal work in question was performed more than a decade ago? Would that be long enough to erase the conflict of interest?

All that is in question as Walgreens seeks to disqualify a law firm currently filing a lawsuit against it on behalf of major health insurance providers.

Walgreens claims the law firm, Crowell & Moring, has breached its fiduciary duty to the giant retail company by representing major health insurers suing Walgreens over drug prices. The law firm sought to have the claims dismissed, but U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said Walgreens had provided enough evidence to keep their claim alive, at least for now. Continue reading ›

In the case of Pickering v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 265 Ill. App. 3d 806, the plaintiff sought punitive damages against the defendant for the defendant’s failure to warn consumers of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure. Punitive damages are damages awarded in addition to compensatory damages and are intended to punish the defendant for their wrongful conduct and to deter similar conduct in the future.

In this case, the plaintiff sought to discover the net worth of the defendant as part of their efforts to establish punitive damages. The defendant objected to the request for net worth discovery, arguing that it was irrelevant to the issue of punitive damages and that it was overly burdensome and intrusive.

The court held that net worth discovery was relevant to the issue of punitive damages and that the defendant had a duty to disclose its net worth. The court noted that punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and that the amount of punitive damages awarded should be proportionate to the defendant’s ability to pay. The court also noted that net worth discovery is a common practice in cases involving punitive damages. Continue reading ›

“The focus of the crime fraud exception is on the intent of the client (citation omitted), not the legitimacy of the services provided by the attorney. An attorney may be completely innocent of wrongdoing, yet the privilege will give way if the client sought the attorney’s assistance for illegal ends.” People v. Radojcic, 2013 IL 114197, ¶ 49.

A lawyer’s participation in intentional breaches of fiduciary duty triggers the crime-fraud exception even though a fiduciary breach is no necessarily a crime or act of common law fraud. Intentional fiduciary breaches are regularly called constructive fraud however and give rise to the crime fraud exception. See Mueller Indus., Inc. v. Berkman, 399 Ill.App.3d 456, 469-73 (2d Dist. 2010) abrogated by People v. Radojcic, 2013 IL 114197 on other grounds (“In concluding that an intentional breach of fiduciary duty may serve as the fraud necessary to establish the crime-fraud exception, we take note of Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476 (Ky.1991). … The Kentucky Supreme Court held that the breach of fiduciary duty was ‘on an equal par with fraud and deceit.”’) Lawyers who aid and abet fiduciary breaches and other torts are subject to suit. As Thornwood, Inc. v. Jenner & Block, 344 Ill. App. 3d 15, 28–29 (1st Dist. 2003), as modified on denial of reh’g (Nov. 10, 2003) recognized, a lawyer may not “escap[e] liability for knowingly and substantially assisting a client in the commission of a tort.” Continue reading ›

Labovitz v. Dolan, 189 Ill. App. 3d 403 (1st Dist. 1989) is a case that was heard by the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Second Division. The case involved a dispute between Joel Labovitz and a group of investors, who were referred to as the “Labovitz Group,” and Charles F. Dolan and a group of investors, who were referred to as the “Dolan Group.”
The dispute centered around a real estate development project in Chicago. The Labovitz Group had entered into a joint venture agreement with the Dolan Group to develop a commercial real estate property in Chicago. The agreement specified that the parties would share equally in the profits and losses of the project. However, after the project was completed, the Dolan Group refused to distribute any profits to the Labovitz Group, claiming that there were no profits to distribute.

The Labovitz Group then filed a lawsuit against the Dolan Group, alleging breach of contract and fraud. The trial court ruled in favor of the Dolan Group, finding that there were no profits to distribute and that the Labovitz Group had failed to prove their fraud claims.

The Labovitz Group appealed the trial court’s decision to the Appellate Court of Illinois. The appellate court overturned the trial court’s decision, finding that the Dolan Group had breached the joint venture agreement and that the Labovitz Group was entitled to an equal share of the profits. The appellate court also found that the Dolan Group had committed fraud by misrepresenting the financial condition of the project.

One of the key issues in this case was the interpretation of the joint venture agreement. The appellate court found that the agreement was clear and unambiguous in its terms and that the Dolan Group had breached the agreement by failing to distribute profits to the Labovitz Group.

Another important issue in this case was the question of fraud. The appellate court found that the Dolan Group had made misrepresentations about the financial condition of the project, which constituted fraud under Illinois law.

Labovitz highlights the importance of clear and unambiguous contracts in business transactions. It also underscores the importance of honesty and integrity in business dealings and the legal remedies that are available to parties who have been wronged.  The case also highlights that controlling partners or owners owe very high fiduciary duties to other limited partners. shareholders or LLC members. The decision relies upon what has become the most celebrated pronouncement characterizing the fiduciary relationship that exists among partners, Chief Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo stated for the court in the case of Meinhard v. Salmon (1928), 249 N.Y. 458, 463–64 that:

“… copartners, owe to one another … the duty of the finest loyalty. Many forms of conduct permissible in a workaday world for those acting at arm’s length, are forbidden to those bound by fiduciary ties. A trustee is held to something stricter than the morals of the market place. Not honesty alone but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is then the standard of behavior. As to this there has developed a tradition that is unbending and inveterate. Uncompromising rigidity has been the attitude of courts of equity when petitioned to undermine the rule of undivided loyalty by the ‘disintegrating erosion’ of particular exceptions. [Citation] Only thus has the level of conduct for fiduciaries been kept at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd. It will not consciously be lowered by any judgment of this court.”
The case found that Dolan’s discretion to withhold cash was not absolute; it was limited by an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing implicit in every Illinois contract and by his fiduciary duty to his partners. “Good faith between contracting parties requires that a party vested with contractual discretion must exercise his discretion reasonably and may not do so arbitrarily or capriciously.” The Court held:
It is also clear, however, that despite having such broad discretion, Dolan still owed his limited partners a fiduciary duty, which necessarily encompasses the duty of exercising good faith, honesty, and fairness in his dealings with them and the funds of the partnership. (See: Couri, 95 Ill.2d 91, 69 Ill.Dec. 117, 447 N.E.2d 334; Mandell, 86 Ill.App.3d 437, 41 Ill.Dec. 323, 407 N.E.2d 821; Dayan, 125 Ill.App.3d 972, 81 Ill.Dec. 156, 466 N.E.2d 958; Foster Enterprises, 97 Ill.App.3d 22, 52 Ill.Dec. 303, 421 N.E.2d 1375.) It is no answer to the claim that plaintiffs make in this case that partners have the right to establish among themselves their rights, duties and obligations, as though the exercise of that right releases, waives or delimits somehow, the high fiduciary duty owed to them by the general partner—a gloss we do not find anywhere in our law. On the contrary, the fiduciary duty exists concurrently with the obligations set forth in the partnership agreement whether or not expressed therein. Indeed, at least one of the authorities relied upon by defendants is clear that although “partners are free to vary many aspects of their relationship inter se, … they are not free to destroy its fiduciary character.” Saballus, 122 Ill.App.3d at 116, 77 Ill.Dec. 451, 460 N.E.2d 755.
Thus, the language in the Articles standing alone does not deprive plaintiffs of the trial they seek against Dolan for breach of fiduciary *413 duty.

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When Stephen Easterbrook was first fired from his position as CEO of McDonald’s, the firing was listed as “without cause,” which allowed Easterbrook to keep his severance pay, including shares in the company. But that was before McDonald’s found out about the extent of Easterbrook’s alleged misconduct.

At the time he was fired, Easterbrook allegedly denied having any inappropriate relationships with any of his employees, except for one relationship, which he claimed had not been physical. Afterwards, an internal investigation found emails that allegedly revealed Easterbrook’s sexual relationships with multiple McDonald’s employees during his time as CEO. Once these emails were uncovered, the company sued Easterbrook in 2020.

The lawsuit resulted in Easterbrook returning his shares in the company, as well as cash, the combined value of which was about $105 million at the time he returned it. Continue reading ›

In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit federal court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of an action for breach of fiduciary duty brought against two investment firms by a disgruntled customer. In ruling that the District Court properly dismissed the claims, the Court found that the fiduciary duties the investment firms owed to the plaintiff did not include a duty to stop the plaintiff’s daughter who acted under a power of attorney from making certain withdrawals from the plaintiff’s accounts.

The plaintiff, Joseph Allen, amassed a net worth of nearly $8 million dollars. He enlisted the services of the defendants, Brown Advisory, LLC and Brown Investment Advisory & Trust Company, to help him invest and manage his wealth. When Allen and his wife experienced declining health and he could no longer manage their finances, Allen granted a financial power of attorney to his daughter Elizabeth Key. For several years Key used the power of attorney to make withdrawals from Allen’s investment accounts. Those withdrawals had depleted the value of Allen’s IRA accounts from approximately $2.3 million to less than $600,000.

Five years later, Allen revoked the power of attorney and sued the two investment companies in Indiana state court accusing the defendants of breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract. He alleged that Key’s withdrawals (or some of them) were not to his benefit and that the investment companies should not have honored them. The defendants moved to dismiss Allen’s complaint.

The District Court judge granted the defendants’ motion, reasoning that the investment firms could not be liable for breach of contract because the challenged withdrawals were directed by Key and authorized by her power of attorney. The trial court also dismissed Allen’s breach of fiduciary duty claim after holding that Maryland law does not recognize a separate cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty arising from a contractual relationship. Allen appealed the dismissal. Continue reading ›

The death of a loved one or a business partner can be difficult. The administration of a large estate can add to that difficulty. Often the duty of settling the estate and distributing the assets falls to a fiduciary such as an attorney, a trustee, a personal representative, an administrator or an executor. That fiduciary holds a position of trust and is responsible for holding and managing property that belongs to the beneficiaries.

With this position of trust comes certain legal obligations that are owed to the estate’s beneficiaries such as the duties of care and loyalty.

In the context of being an executor or administrator, a fiduciary duty is a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries of the estate. Illinois law imposes various responsibilities and duties on these individuals, including:

  • Acting in the grantor’s and beneficiary’s best interests
  • Acting loyally and uphold a duty of care
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest
  • Abstaining from engaging in self-dealing (i.e. taking actions that personally benefit the trustee or executor at the expense of or contrary to the best interest of the beneficiaries)
  • Avoiding favoring one beneficiary over another
  • Investing the estate’s assets to maintain or increase their value
  • Distributing estate assets to the intended beneficiaries correctly and in a timely manner

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