David F. Johnson presented his paper “Business Divorce: Minority Shareholder Rights In Texas” to the State Bar of Texas’s Business Disputes Course on September 2-3, 2021. This presentation addressed shareholder oppression claims in Texas, minority shareholder rights (such as contractual rights, stock rights, disclosure rights, distribution rights, employment rights, and receivership rights), fiduciary duties in

The owners of a corporation may enter into shareholder agreements. In Richie, the Texas Supreme Court stated: “Shareholders of closely-held corporations may address and resolve such difficulties by entering into shareholder agreements that contain buy-sell, first refusal, or redemption provisions that reflect their mutual expectations and agreements.” Ritchie v. Rupe, 443 S.W.3d 856, 871 (Tex. 2014).
Continue Reading Shareholder Agreements Are Very Powerful In Texas: Parties Should Carefully Review Those Agreements Before Obtaining Stock In A Corporation

In Trinh v. Cent. River Healthcare Group, a brother sued his sister over the management of a PLLC. No. 03-19-00393-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 4542 (Tex. App.—Austin June 9, 2021, no pet. history). The brother claimed that the sister promised to pay him a salary, and she did not. The court of appeals affirmed

In Villareal v. Saenz, two co-owners of a limited liability company sued each other regarding conduct surrounding a business divorce. 5-20-CV-00571-OLG-RBF, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94183 (W.D. Tex. May 18, 2021). After the parties asserted allegations against each other, they entered into a release agreement. The parties agreed that “Saenz would assign his entire interest to ZroBlack LLC to Villarreal.” After the release, Saenz refused to return certain property to the company. Villarreal sued for breach of fiduciary duty and other claims.

Saenz filed a motion to dismiss, and the district court magistrate judge recommended that the claims that arose before the release be dismissed, but recommended that the claims that arose after the release continue. Regarding Saenz’s fiduciary duties after the release agreement was executed, the court stated:
Continue Reading Business Divorce: Exiting Member of LLC May Still Owe Fiduciary Duties

In Adam v. Marcos, an attorney and his client agreed to a joint venture/partnership. No. 14-18-00450-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 2060 (Tex. App.—Houston March 18, 2021, no pet. history). The attorney sued the client for breaching the agreement. The trial court ruled for the client on the attorney’s breach of the partnership agreement claim and a breach of fiduciary duty claim. The court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals first held that the partnership agreement was presumptively invalid because the attorney owed fiduciary duties to the client when it was entered into:

Contracts between attorneys and their clients negotiated during the existence of the attorney-client relationship are closely scrutinized. Because the relationship is fiduciary in nature, there is a presumption of unfairness or invalidity attaching to such contracts. The burden is on the attorney to prove the fairness and reasonableness of the agreement. Moreover, as a fiduciary, Marcos had the burden to establish that Adam was informed of all material facts relating to the agreement. Additional important factors in determining the fairness of a transaction involving a fiduciary include whether the consideration was adequate and whether the beneficiary obtained independent advice.

Id. The court of appeals held that the jury’s finding of breach of duty by the attorney supported invalidating the partnership agreement: “Because the jury found that Marcos failed to fulfill his fiduciary duties to Adam in regard to the alleged partnership agreement, and the evidence supports that finding, the presumption that the contract was invalid applies. Thus, the trial court did not err in holding the agreement was invalid and unenforceable.” Id.
Continue Reading Business Divorce: Partnership Agreement Was Invalid Where It Was Entered Into Between A Fiduciary And Principal And Was Otherwise Unfair And The Principal Did Not Owe Fiduciary Duties As A Partner Where There Was No Enforceable Partnership

In TSA-Tex. Surgical Assocs., L.L.P. v. Vargas, one partner sued his other partners for various claims regarding the defendants attempt to squeeze the plaintiff out of the partnership. No. 14-19-00135-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 1330 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] February 25, 2021, no pet. history). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA), and the trial court denied the motion. The defendants appealed.

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The TCPA was enacted “to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely, and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.” Id. (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 27.002). It does so by authorizing a party to file a motion to dismiss a legal action that “is based on, relates to, or is in response to a party’s exercise of the right of free speech, right to petition, or right of association.” Id.

The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss under the TCPA. The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s claims were based on, related to, or in response to the exercise of free speech because the claims purportedly involve communications regarding the provision of medical services. The court of appeals disagreed:
Continue Reading Business Divorce: Court Affirms Denial Of SLAPP Motion Regarding Partnership Divorce Suit

Parties often begin a business together without thinking through all of the legal details that define their rights. When they eventually divorce, they need to resort to the language in agreements that they entered into and also rely on statutory and common-law principles. In one recent case, the court held that the parties’ agreement’s language

Parties often begin a business together without thinking through all of the legal details that define their rights. When they eventually divorce, they need to resort to the language in agreements that they entered into and also rely on statutory and common-law principles. In one recent case, the court held that the parties’ agreement’s language on the requirements for the formation of a partnership will trump other legal theories.
Continue Reading Business Divorce: Court Held That Parties Did Not Form A Partnership Where Certain Express Conditions Precedent Were Not Met

A business divorce may mean that the owners need to sell the business or the business’s assets. In the following case, some of the owners/officers took advantage of a sale transaction to benefit from that transaction at the expense of their co-owners. In Rex Performance Prods., LLC v. Tate, a company sued its former officers for breaching fiduciary duties related to the sale of the company’s assets. No. 02-20-00009-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 10465 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth December 31, 2020, no pet.). The company alleged that the officers intentionally drove down the price of the sale in order to obtain a separate bonus from the buyer. The defendants alleged that the plaintiff knew of the side bonus agreement and consummated the transaction anyway, thereby establishing a waiver or ratification. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.
Continue Reading Business Divorce: Court Found That There Was A Fact Question On Whether Officers Violated Fiduciary Duties By Obtaining A Side Bonus From A Purchaser When Negotiating A Sale Of The Company’s Assets