Shareholder Oppression

An Erie County, New York Supreme Court Justice recently held that the disrespectful and unfair dispropriate treatment of a female shareholder based upon her gender in a closely held corporation constituted oppression. In re Matter of Diane M. Straka, Index No. 807308-2017 (citing, Bus. Law. §1104(a)-(1).

In that case, the Plaintiff, Ms. Straka (a 25% shareholder in a closely held New York corporation) was able to prove at trial that she was subjected to disrespectful treatment based upon her gender. The other three shareholders were men. The Court found among other things, that:

  • When she first met one of the other shareholders, he asked Ms. Straka “…are you the one who makes the coffee;”
  • One of the shareholder’s posted a cartoon on his door that was deeming to women;
  • The Plaintiff stopped eating in the lunchroom because she was subjected to offensive comments; and,
  • One of the male shareholder asked if he could sit in her lap.


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Pursuant to New Jersey corporate law, directors are trustees for the entire body of the owners. Directors owe loyalties to all shareholders. If they disregard the rights of the majority shareholders, minority shareholders, or the corporation itself they could be liable for a breach of fiduciary obligations or duties.

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The termination of a shareholder’s employment may constitute oppression under N.J.S.A. 14A:12-7(b)(1)(c). That is because a person who holds a share in a closely held corporation often does so “for the assurance of employment in a closely-held corporation in the business.” Muellenberg v. Bilkon Corp., 143 N.J. 168, 180-181 (1996). That is because, a shareholder may have a “reasonable expectation” of continued employment. See, Brenner v. Berkowitz, 134 N.J. 488, 508 (1993).

When representing the minority, it is important to develop why the employee/shareholder had a reasonable expectation of continued employment. Of course, when representing the corporation or majority, counsel should present evidence that the employee/shareholder did not have a reasonable expectation of continued employment.


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On March 17, 2015, the Appellate Division issued an important decision which provides guidance to New Jersey Trial Courts asked to judicially expel a member of a Limited Liability Company. IE Test, LLC v. Kenneth Carroll (App. Div. 2015)

N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24(b)(3) permits the expulsion of a member of a New Jersey Limited Liability Company under

A 20% or greater shareholder in a closely held New York corporation may commence a special action for dissolution of the corporation on the grounds that those in control have either committed “illegal, fraudulent or oppressive actions toward the complaining shareholder” or have “looted, wasted or diverted for non-corporate purposes the corporation’s assets.”
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In 1993, the New Jersey Supreme Court conferred great powers to Courts when adjudicating minority oppression claims. Brenner v. Berkowitz, 134 N.J. 488 (1993). Last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court conferred even greater equitable powers to Chancery Division Judges deciding inter-company disputes. Sipko v. Koger, Inc., 214 N.J. 364, 383-384 (2013).
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On March 11, 2014, the Supreme Court of New York, New York County, denied a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss a Special Proceeding for Judicial Intervention seeking dissolution of three New York corporations premised upon violations of New York’s Minority Oppression Statute. Quazzo v. 9 Charlton Street Corp., 2014 N.Y. Misc. 1093; N.Y. Slip. Op. 30625 (U) (March 11, 2014).
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In 1982, the New Jersey Supreme Court in the oft-cited decision Crowe v. DeGioia, 90 N.J. 126 (1982), set forth the factors Courts should consider when petitioned for injunctive relief. For the past thirty-plus years, litigants arguing in favor of the issuance of an interlocutory injunction asserted their clients have demonstrated by “clear and convincing evidence” that: (1) there is no adequate remedy at law and the irreparable harm to be suffered in the absence of injunctive relief is substantial and imminent; (2) there is a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (3) the equities and hardships favors injunctive relief; and (4) the public interest will not be harmed. Id. at 520; McKenzie v. Corzine, 396 N.J. Super. 405, 414 (App. Div. 2007).
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