Ideally, in a perfect world, corporate shareholders of a family-owned business would always get along and cooperate effectively. Unfortunately, the real world is not a perfect world, and sometimes shareholder disputes arise and end up in litigation. That is when you need to be sure you have experienced Georgia business attorneys on your side. One such shareholder dispute recently went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court earlier this year, with that court reversing a trial judge’s decision and sending the case back for more action.
The corporate entity at the center of this dispute demonstrates the issues that can arise when family relationships and business relationships collide. The business, an electric services contractor, had been in existence since 1937 and incorporated since 1959. In 1988, the incorporator decided to award ownership interests to each of his three sons, all of whom were working for the company at the time. (The bylaws restricted stockholders to employees of the entity.) Two sons, Gary and Phillip, got 25% each. A third son, Doss, received 16.67%. (The father retained 33.33% himself.)
The sons moved in different directions. Doss ended his employment at the family business in 1994. Gary and Phillip went on to become the company’s CEO and CFO, respectively. By 2011, the brothers were in court. Doss alleged that he had not received a payment that the business owed him for his stock. All sides agreed that only employees of the business could be stockholders and that Doss ceased being an employee in 1994. Doss, in his complaint, contended that the entity’s bylaws required the company to buy out his stock and to pay him for his ownership interest based upon the book value of the stock. This buyout and payment, Doss alleged, never took place.