In most cases, the single most important issue in a minority shareholder oppression dispute is the valuation of the complaining shareholder’s interest in subject closely held company. One important sub-issue is the applicability of marketability and minority discounts in valuing a less than controlling interest in the subject closely held corporation.
Before considering whether or not these discounts are applicable, a general understanding of the marketability and minority discounts and the rationale behind them is important. Generally, a minority discount is an adjustment which could be applied based upon the minority shareholder’s lack of control over the closely held business entity. The theory behind the minority shareholder discount is that non-controlling shares of non-publicly traded stock are not worth their proportionate share of the firm’s value because the minority owner lacks voting power to control the corporation’s actions. The marketability discounts adjusts for a lack of liquidity in one’s interest in an entity, on the theory that there is a limited supply of potential buyers of the stock of a closely held corporation.
The general rule in New Jersey is that in a statutory appraisal for purposes of determining the “fair value” of shareholders owned by a dissenting shareholder, N.J.S.A. 14A:11-1 to -11, or for valuing shares in a court-ordered buy-out resulting from an oppressed shareholder situation, N.J.S.A. 14A:12-7(1)(c), neither a marketability nor a minority discount should be applied absent extraordinary circumstances. Balsamides v. Protameen Chemicals, Inc., 160 N.J. 352 (1999); Lawson Mardon Wheaton, Inc. v. Smith, 160 N.J. 383 (1999). In other words, marketability and minority discounts generally are not applied in New Jersey valuation proceedings where there will be no actual transfer of shares and a sale of the entire business appears unlikely. Denike v. Cupo, 394 N.J. Super. 357, 383 (App. Div. 2007) (citing, Brown v. Brown, 348 N.J. Super. 466, 489 (App. Div. 2002)).
Although, the general rule sets forth that these discounts should not be applied the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that where “extraordinary circumstances” exist the application of the marketability and minority discounts maybe warranted. For example, in Balsamides the New Jersey Supreme Court found that a 35% marketability discount was appropriate because the oppressing 50% shareholder who was to acquire the shares of the oppressed 50% shareholder. The Balsamides Court found that equity demanded that the oppressor not be rewarded for his conduct by allowing a buy out at a discounted price. Hence, these discounts maybe applied where equity dictates.
It is extremely important that all parties involved in minority oppression litigation consider whether or not “extraordinary circumstances” warrant their application. Moreover, it is extremely important for the advocates to either prove or disprove that there are extraordinary circumstances present that warrant the application of the marketability and/or minority discounts. It is important to consider these principals throughout the litigation. Whether or not these discounts apply will have a huge impact on the ultimate resolution of this complicated form of litigation.