Articles Posted in Shareholder Squeeze Out

Recently, the Delaware Court of Chancery refused to dismiss an action for post-closing damages stemming from alleged breaches of fiduciary duty brought by former stockholders of Authentix Acquisition Company, Inc. In doing so, the Court rejected the defendants’ arguments that a provision in a stockholders agreement entered by the plaintiffs waived such claims for breaches of fiduciary duties.

The dispute arose out of the sale of Authentix to Blue Water Energy in 2017. The plaintiffs in the case were holders of common stock in Authentix. In connection with their investment in the company, the plaintiffs entered into a Stockholders Agreement which provided that they would “consent to and raise no objections against” any sale of the company approved by Authentix’s board and holders of at least 50% of outstanding shares. In 2017, the board approved a sale to Blue Water Energy over the objection of one of the plaintiffs, a director stockholder. The sale was also approved by holders of more than 50% of the company’s outstanding shares.

In response to the sale, the plaintiffs filed suit for post-closing damages, alleging various breaches of fiduciary duties by three former directors and officers of Authentix as well as the preferred stockholders of Authentix who plaintiffs alleged controlled the company. In response, the defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims arguing that the plaintiffs had waived any right to bring such claims. According to the defendants, because the sale was approved by Authentix’s board and at least 50% of the outstanding shares, the Stockholders Agreement precluded plaintiffs from raising any objections related to the sale. Continue reading ›

While most securities fraud lawsuits accuse the defendant of manipulating their stock prices to keep them artificially high, the current lawsuit against Goldman Sachs alleges the company lied to maintain its high stock prices, rather than lying to cause the prices to rise. It’s a unique allegation, and one the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet recognized, but two lower courts have already upheld it as a valid claim.

Goldman appealed the decision made by the district court and the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. The company alleges that, if the Supreme Court were to allow the securities lawsuit against it to proceed, the result would be devastating for public companies all over the country.

Goldman is arguing that the allegations against it are too weak to be valid. The allegations made by the shareholders rely on Goldman’s advertising claims that included words like “honesty” and “integrity” and claimed the company always prioritized the interests of its clients, when the opposite turned out to be true.

According to Goldman, the statements cited by the lawsuit are too vague to make the basis of a securities-fraud case. The company has also denied the statements had any effect on its stock price. If the lawsuit is allowed to proceed through the courts, the bank alleges it will allow shareholders to file securities-fraud lawsuits in the future simply by pointing to any kind of aspirational statement that nearly all companies make in their marketing materials. Continue reading ›

After discussions about going public, Promega Corp., a privately-held biotech company based in Wisconsin, decided instead to remain a privately held company back in 2014 and tried to buy back the stock owned by its minority shareholders and regain a controlling interest in the company. Those minority shareholders claimed the price at which Promega wanted to buy back their shares was deeply discounted, and when they tried to negotiate for a higher price point, Promega allegedly refused, which ultimately led to the massive lawsuit between the company and its minority shareholders that dragged on for about five years.

The team of attorneys arguing the case for the minority shareholders was headed by James Southwick and Alex Kaplan, two partners of the Susman Godfrey law firm in Houston, Texas. They recently announced that the lawsuit settled for $300 million, a victory to which they attribute their months of research and preparation leading up to the trial, as well as their decision to stick to one main allegation: shareholder oppression.

Other attorneys might have argued that the defendants had breached their fiduciary duty to their shareholders, or they would have alternated between making the case for shareholder oppression, arguing breach of fiduciary duty, and making the case for other allegations throughout the course of the trial. Instead, Southwick and Kaplan decided their best bet was to argue that Promega had tried to oppress its shareholders and to continue to make that case throughout the month-long bench trial. It was an unusual strategy, but one that ultimately paid off. Continue reading ›

Leprino Foods Co. is the largest manufacturer of mozzarella cheese in the world and is solely responsible for making all the mozzarella that goes on top of Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut’s pizzas. It’s worth billions of dollars, but it’s also a family business.

It was founded in Denver, Colorado in the 1950s by Michael and Susie Leprino. The couple had five children, including Michael Jr. and James. James went into the family business as soon as he had graduated from high school, and while Michael Jr. was involved in the business, he also had his own career in banking and real estate.

James and his daughters, Terry Leprino and Gina Vecchiarelli, together own 75% of the company’s stock.

Michael Jr. died in August of 2018 and his daughters, Nancy, Mary, and Laura Leprino, together own the remaining 25% of the stock in the company. In July, Nancy and Mary sued their uncle and cousins in Denver District Court for allegedly managing the company in a way that provided the greatest financial reward for them, while ignoring the financial interests of the minority shareholders.

The lawsuit alleges James and his daughters tend to align their votes so the outcome always provides them with the greatest financial benefits, but allegedly leaves Nancy and Mary out in the cold. Nancy and Mary also allege they have been unable to obtain financial records to which they are legally entitled as shareholders of the company. Continue reading ›

Envoy Medical is a medical device manufacturer based in Minnesota with technology that has the ability to restore hearing to the deaf. Unfortunately, the company’s prospects were allegedly cut short after Glen Taylor took over as CEO, which not only caused financial harm to the company but denied life-changing technology to the deaf.

As CEO of the medical-device company, Patrick Spearman guided the company to the early success it enjoyed, including getting FDA approval for the invention and marketing the company’s new device as a replacement for hearing aids. A video advertising the device that showed a mother getting emotional when she heard her voice for the first time after getting the implant went viral.

Another remarkable story of the potential of the device was of a Deputy Sheriff with profound hearing loss who, after receiving the implant, passed the hearing test that allows him to work the streets, while law enforcement officers with hearing aids are kept off the streets.

The medical invention was also featured on a variety of prominent television programs, including The Celebrity Apprentice, CNN, and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, among others. In 2011, Google gave the company an award for having created one of the top 11 inventions of the year.

In 2012, Taylor’s daughter was fired with cause by Spearman’s management team, at which point Taylor allegedly retaliated by having Spearman fired as CEO and taking his place in that role. Taylor allegedly then went on to fire all the key people who had the knowledge necessary to ensure the company’s financial success.

The billionaire business owner and majority shareholder of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minneapolis Star Tribune allegedly went on to use his money and influence to force control of the company out of the hands of its shareholders by using a series of loans and preferred share purchases to dilute their voting power. According to the lawsuit, the terms of those loans and purchases were allegedly not fully disclosed to the shareholders. Continue reading ›

After partners in a closely held corporation entered into years of adversarial litigation, a settlement agreement was reached. One of the partners later sued the other two, alleging that he was fraudulently induced into agreeing to the settlement when the defendant’s counsel misrepresented the financial position of the corporation at the time of the settlement. The circuit court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, finding that the defendants did not owe him a fiduciary duty during the litigation settlement discussions. The appellate court reversed, determining that because there was no document specifying that the parties’ relationship had been dissolved at the time of the settlement talks, the defendants still owed the plaintiff a fiduciary duty, and there was a question of material fact as to whether the resulting settlement agreement was valid. The appellate panel then reversed the decision of the circuit court.

Samuel Arndt, III, Nicholas Nardulli, and Diana Johnson were shareholders in Redhawk Financial Services, Inc. Arndt owned 49 percent of Redhawk’s shares; Nardulli was the controlling shareholder, a director, and the president of Redhawk; Johnson was a shareholder, a director, and the secretary of Redhawk. In December 2012, Redhawk filed a complaint against Arndt for breach of fiduciary duty. The complaint alleged that Arndt withdrew over $100,000 from Redhawk without an apparent business justification and also diverted Redhawk’s commissions into Arndt’s personal bank account. Arndt filed a counterclaim against Redhawk as well as a third-party complaint against Nardulli and Johnson, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and oppression of him as a minority shareholder. 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 ›

After CEO and Chairman of closely held company was removed by board of directors, he sued, requesting specific performance of the removal of the other members of the board. The Chancery Court dismissed several claims in the complaint for want of personal jurisdiction, and also denied the CEO’s motion for summary judgment, finding that each side of the litigation alleged disputed facts and complex legal theories not appropriate for resolution on summary judgment.

In 2016, Craig Bouchard founded Braidy Industries, Inc., a Delaware corporation with principal places of business in Kentucky and Massachusetts whose purpose is to manufacture efficient and eco-friendly aluminum alloys. Bouchard served as CEO, Chairman of the board of directors, and Secretary. The board also consisted of John Preston, Charles Price, Michael Porter, and Christopher Schuh. All members of the board were Braidy stockholders.

In 2018, Bouchard and the other directors entered into an Amended and Restated Voting Agreement. The directors and Bouchard executed the agreement in their capacity as stockholders. The board unanimously approved the agreement, and the agreement was referenced throughout the Braidy bylaws. The agreement specified that only persons who were nominated in accordance with the agreement were eligible for election as directors. The agreement also contained provisions regarding the removal of directors. Continue reading ›

We obtained justice in a shareholder dispute and shareholder oppression case after Defendants hired a former partner of the judge.

The Sun-Times reported the story as follows:

Lawyer’s motives questioned after judge’s recusal 

Did lawyers for one side of a case hire the judge’s former law partner just so the judge would recuse himself?

It doesn’t matter — it “just simply looks bad,” Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird, presiding judge of the Cook County Circuit Court’s Chancery Division, wrote in a rare order knocking attorney Myron “Mike” Cherry off a case. Cherry is a heavyweight fund-raiser for Democrats such as former President Bill Clinton and 2004 presidential candidate
John Kerry.

Kinnaird found Cherry’s 11th-hour entry into the case of Yvonne DiMucci vs. Anthony DiMucci suspicious because the judge in the case, Peter Flynn, practiced law with Cherry for 23 years as the firm of Cherry & Flynn. And Cherry’s entry into the case just two days after Flynn ruled against Anthony DiMucci on some motions prompted Flynn to recuse himself.
Yvonne DiMucci’s lawyers suggested that could have been the goal of Anthony DiMucci’s’ attorneys. Yvonne alleges her brother-in-law, Anthony, froze her out of a business in which he and her late husband, Salvatore DiMucci, were equal partners. The case has dragged on for six years.

“The court believes that the filing of the appearance by Mr. Cherry under the circumstances of this case constitutes the appearance of impropriety and that no objective, disinterested observer would perceive otherwise,” Kinnaird wrote. “This court is specifically not finding that Mr. Cherry entered the case in order to force Judge Flynn’s recusal or in an attempt to
incur favor with him.” However, Kinnaird wrote, given that Flynn recused himself the last time Cherry was on a case, “a persuasive argument
can be made that . . . Mr. Cherry should have known that such a recusal would occur.”

Kinnaird called it “egregious” for Cherry to file his appearance on behalf of Anthony DiMucci without getting Flynn’s
permission, a sentiment echoed by other Chancery Court judges. Judges rarely, if ever, refuse to allow an attorney to join an existing legal team for a case, unless there appears to be
some conflict of interest, as charged in this case. Cherry did not appear in court to file his appearance as Kinnaird said is the custom. Rather, he sent Flynn a copy of the notice that he was joining the case.

“This court has never seen or heard of a situation in the Chancery Division where an attorney has filed an appearance without leave of court and then sent a copy of that appearance by messenger directly to the judge,” Kinnaird wrote. Kinnaird’s solution was to strike Cherry’s appearance from the record and transfer the case back to Flynn. Cherry can
seek Flynn’s leave to join the case. She ascribes no “ill motive” to Cherry or anyone else in the case. Cherry respectfully disagrees with Kinnaird’s ruling, saying the law allows anyone to have the attorney of his choice.

Cherry’s reading of the law is backed by Northwestern University Law Professor Steve Lubet and former Cook County Judge Brian Crowe, who authored an affidavit served on the court.
The law further states that a judge need only recuse himself for three years after practicing with a lawyer. Flynn left Cherry’s firm five years ago. Kinnaird said some Chancery Court judges continue to recuse themselves from cases involving their old firms 20 years after leaving them. Continue reading ›

When two sisters, minority shareholders and directors of a moving company, were denied access to corporate books, the trial court erred in finding that, as corporate directors, they had absolute access to corporate records. Rather, they had presumptive access and the corporation was required to demonstrate that request for documents was made for the improper purpose.

Barbara Munroe-Diamond, Sally Sharkey, James P. Munroe, and Michael F. Munroe are siblings and the shareholders and directors of the Pickens-Kane Moving and Storage Company. In the winter of 2013, the board of directors hired Ft. Dearborn Partners, Inc. to provide a fair market value for the company’s stock. The next summer, a valuation of $3158 per share for controlling share and $1522 per share for minority shares was issued. Controlling shares of the company were entirely owned by James and Michael Munroe, while Barbara and Sally owned minority shares.

The board of directors unanimously authorized the company to redeem minority shares for $1522 per share. In early 2015, following negotiation, the company paid $1600 per share for minority shares. Every minority shareholder except Barbara and Sally redeemed their stock. Both sit on the board of directors. In July 2016, Barbara and Sally made a demand upon the company to make available for inspection and copying any and all documents pertaining to the corporate minutes, stock certificates, lists of assets and liabilities, and other business records. James and Michael refused to comply with the request, arguing that Barbara and Sally gave no purpose for their request or how their request related to their duties as directors.

After negotiations for the records failed, the sisters filed a mandamus action in Illinois court seeking to compel production of the records. The circuit court entered an interim order requiring the brothers to allow access to the books, finding that the sisters, as directors, had an absolute and unqualified right to examine the books and records of the corporation. The brothers then appealed. Continue reading ›

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