Articles Posted in Shareholder Oppression

We often hear people talk about private companies going public, but it’s not as often that it goes the other way around – from a public company to a private one. There’s a lot of paperwork involved either way, but unless you have a plan for repaying your investors, going from public to private also means you are denying your shareholders (especially minority shareholders) the stake in the company for which they have already paid.

The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) said as much in a recent ruling in which it decided against allowing Tata Sons, the holding company of Tata Group, to convert itself from a public company to a private one. Although the Registrar of Companies had approved the transition, the NCLAT said that approval went against Section 14 of the Companies Act of 2013. The NCLAT also pointed out that the move, made by the directors and majority shareholders of the software conglomerate, would be oppressive towards the company’s minority shareholders.

The NCLAT also reinstated Cyrus Mistry as the company’s executive chairman. He had previously been fired back in October of 2016 due to a supposed lack of performance, but the NCLAT ruled that his firing had been illegal.

Mistry’s family owns an 18.4% stake in Tata Sons, making them a minority shareholder of the conglomerate, and Mistry’s legal troubles with Tata Sons began in 2016 with accusations of mismanagement and oppressing minority shareholders – charges that eventually led to Mistry getting ousted as executive chairman. Continue reading ›

Investing is supposed to be a long-term strategy to build wealth, but expecting shareholders to wait more than 60 years before they can get a fair return on their investment is far beyond what any investor would consider reasonable.

That was allegedly the case for the minority shareholders of Promega Corp., the biotechnology company based in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. According to a lawsuit filed by shareholders back in 2016, Bill Linton, Promega’s founder and CEO, allegedly used manipulative and bullying tactics to become a majority shareholder of the company. His actions allegedly left the minority shareholders with no hope of getting a decent return on their investments before 2078 at the earliest.

Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn, who has been hearing the case, has said that she was leaning towards the plaintiffs and agreeing that they had been oppressed by Linton’s actions. Now the only two things left to determine are 1) how to punish Promega and provide restitution for the minority shareholders who were allegedly oppressed by Linton’s actions; and 2) how to determine the price of the stocks for which the minority shareholders are allegedly owed compensation. Continue reading ›

Back in January of 2012, the City of Westland Police and Fire Retirement System filed a class-action lawsuit against MetLife Inc. They alleged that the insurance company used data from the Social Security Administration’s “Death Master File” (DMF) to determine when to stop paying annuities to deceased policyholders, but allegedly did not use the same database to determine when to pay out life insurance policies or the Retained Asset Account, although it could have easily done so.

The insurance company also allegedly failed to include data from the DMF regarding its pending payouts in its quarterly reports to its shareholders, thereby underreporting to its investors the amount of money it would have to pay out to policyholders and overestimating its quarterly profits. This withholding of information made MetLife’s investors think the company had less money in outgoing payouts than it actually had, which allegedly resulted in MetLife maintaining stock prices that were artificially high – as soon as the information was made public, the insurance company’s stock prices allegedly dropped and the plaintiffs of the lawsuit allege they suffered financial damages.

Despite the fact that regulators had looked into the insurance company’s alleged misuse (or at least misreporting) of the data contained in the DMF, MetLife also allegedly failed to disclose to its shareholders the fact that regulators were investigating the insurance company’s misuse of the DMF. Continue reading ›

Directors of a corporation owe fiduciary duties to the shareholders of the company. This means that when directors communicate with shareholders about the company, they have a fiduciary duty to exercise due care, good faith and loyalty. Directors can be held personally liable if they intentionally or recklessly mislead shareholders about the business or condition of the corporation. A Delaware Chancery Court recently dismissed a suit filed against the directors of GoPro, Inc. by a group of disgruntled shareholders who alleged that the directors misled them by issuing overly optimistic revenue guidance that the company was unable to live up to.

In 2016, GoPro, the camera manufacturer, had plans to roll out several new products to the market including a premium drone equipped with the latest GoPro cameras and a new wearable camera that has become ubiquitous among outdoor enthusiasts and influencers around the globe. GoPro’s board of directors issued revenue guidance for 2016 based on projected sales of both products. The revenue forecasts were generally positive. Continue reading ›

After several former employees stole and destroyed internal data from their employer in order to found a competing business, and were sued, the trial court’s appointing of a third party to monitor the new company’s compliance with discovery and restraining orders was not error.

Shamrock Corporation has sold antifreeze, motor oil, and heat transfer fluids since 1974. Eventually, John Dreamer, Sr. became the sole shareholder of Shamrock. When John died, his wife, Annie Dreamer, became the sole shareholder. The entirety of Shamrock’s stock is held in a trust with Annie as the beneficiary.

Shamrock had five employees: John Dreamer, Jr., Les Kreifels, Steven Wroblewski, David Wells, and Chris England. The Dreamer family decided to sell Shamrock and offered Wroblewski and Wells the opportunity to make the first offer. The two submitted an offer that was financially acceptable but included collateral terms that the Dreamer family refused to accept. In August 2017 Shamrock made a counter-offer that revised some of the collateral terms.

In September 2017, Wroblewski and Wells abruptly resigned. England resigned four days later. Just prior to their resignations, the three had Beaver Shredding, Inc. destroy several boxes of documents at Shamrock’s headquarters. The three also deleted large amounts of data from Shamrock’s internal computer system. Prior to the deletion, Wroblewski had uploaded data from the computers to the digital storage site Dropbox. Continue reading ›

As we have written about previously, one of the concerns with purchasing a minority stake in a closely held corporation is the potential for shareholder oppression. This concern is even more relevant when a non-family-member considers buying into a family-owned business. One minority shareholder found this out the hard way when he suffered a backlash after raising concerns about the conduct of the founder and majority shareholder of a closely held Illinois corporation.

In 1962, Kenneth Packer founded Packer Engineering Inc. (“PEI”) and its parent company, The Packer Group, Inc. (“TPG”), in Du Page County. Packer soon grew PEI into a well-respected professional engineering firm. Both PEI and TPG shared a number of the same officers and directors, including Packer who served as the board chairman for both companies.

In 1979, Edward Caulfield was hired by PEI as its director of mechanical engineering. In 2002, Caulfield became president and chief technical officer of PEI. Caulfield was offered a minority equity interest in TPG in addition to his base salary of $500,000. Continue reading ›

No withstanding allegations of majority shareholder oppression, the Seventh Circuit rejected those arguments paying deference to the business judgment rule because of the Indiana Legislature’s directive to give officers and directors a wide berth for their business decisions.  The Court observed:

 “Indiana has statutorily implemented a strongly pro-management version of the business judgment rule,” G & N Aircraft, Inc. v. Boehm, 743 N.E.2d 227, 238 (Ind. 2001)— the rule that creates “a presumption that directors making a business decision, not involving self-interest, act on an informed basis, in good faith, and in the honest belief that their actions are in the corporation’s best interest.” Grobow v. Perot, 539 A.2d 180, 187 (Del. 1988), overruled on other grounds in Brehm v. Eisner, 746 A.2d 244 (Del. 2000).

You can listen to the oral argument before the court here:

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