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R.D. Clark & Sons, Inc. v. Clark

Appellate Court of Connecticut

December 10, 2019

R.D. CLARK & SONS, INC., et al.
v.
James CLARK et al.

         Argued September 9, 2019

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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           Superior Court, Shortall, J.

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          Richard P. Weinstein, West Hartford, with whom, on the brief, was Sarah Lingerheld, for the appellant-cross appellee (named plaintiff).

         Jack G. Steigelfest, with whom was Christopher M. Harrington, Hartford, for the appellee-cross appellant (named defendant).

         DiPentima, C. J., and Devlin and Sullivan, Js.

          OPINION

         DEVLIN, J.

         [194 Conn.App. 693] In this case involving the buyout of minority shares of a closely held corporation, the plaintiff, R.D. Clark & Sons, Inc. (corporation),[1] appeals, and the defendant James Clark[2] cross appeals, from the judgment of the trial court determining the fair value of those shares, establishing the terms of payment for the purchase of those shares, and awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant. On appeal, the corporation asserts that the trial court erred in determining the value of the defendant’s shares by (1) not tax affecting the corporation’s earnings in analyzing its valuation, (2) not applying a minority discount to the value of the defendant’s shares, and awarding the defendant attorney’s and expert witness fees and costs, on the ground that the defendant suffered minority oppression at the hands of the plaintiffs, (3) not applying a marketability discount to the value of the defendant’s shares, and (4) incorrectly accounting for a certain loan due to the corporation from the defendant and ordering that certain sums be paid to the defendant within thirty days of the date of judgment. On cross appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred by not awarding him attorney’s fees in the amount of one third of the value of [194 Conn.App. 694] his shares in the corporation in accordance with the retainer agreement that he had signed with his counsel. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

          The following factual and procedural history is relevant to the issues on appeal. Since 1984, the corporation, which was founded by Robert D. Clark, the late father

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of the individual parties, who are all siblings, has operated as a specialty freight trucking business, transporting primarily gasoline, kerosene and water. Robert D. Clark owned one third of the shares of the corporation, and John Clark and the defendant also each owned one third. When Robert D. Clark died in May, 2011, Carolyn Manchester assumed his shares of the corporation. The three siblings served as officers and directors of the corporation, and managed the operations of the corporation until they had a falling out later in 2011, and the defendant was terminated from his position as a driver and occasional dispatcher. The defendant resigned from his positions as an officer and director of the corporation in February, 2012.

          On April 2, 2014, the plaintiffs commenced the underlying action against the defendant and Smart Choice. In their five count complaint, the plaintiffs alleged, inter alia, that the defendant, after being terminated from his employment with the corporation in 2011, improperly utilized certain proprietary information to start a new business, Smart Choice, and undermined the corporation’s business operations.

         On September 19, 2014, the defendant and Smart Choice filed an answer and special defenses, and the defendant, alone, filed a five count counterclaim seeking, inter alia, dissolution of the corporation pursuant to General Statutes § 33-896 (a),[3] on the ground that [194 Conn.App. 695] the individual plaintiffs had engaged in illegal, oppressive and/or fraudulent conduct to his detriment.

         On November 21, 2014, the corporation elected, in lieu of dissolution, to purchase the defendant’s shares in it at the fair value of those shares, pursuant to General Statutes § 33-900.[4]

          On February 24, 2016, the plaintiffs withdrew their complaint against the defendant and Smart Choice. Also on that date, the defendant filed a second amended counterclaim alleging that the corporation had a practice for many years of providing shareholders with funds to pay the federal income tax liabilities incurred by them as a result of the pass-through of the corporation’s profits to them, but that the defendant had not received any such payments from the corporation for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, although he remained a shareholder of the corporation. The defendant claimed that said conduct by the plaintiffs was oppressive.

         The parties were unable to reach an agreement as to the fair value of the defendant’s shares in the corporation and the

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terms of the corporation’s purchase of them, so those issues were presented to the court for determination. After a trial spanning several days in [194 Conn.App. 696] December, 2015, and February, 2016, the court issued a memorandum of decision on August 30, 2016, determining that (1) as of December 31, 2014,[5] the value of the corporation was $3,708,413, and the fair value of the defendant’s shares of the corporation was $1,236,138, and (2) because the corporation, through the actions of its majority shareholders, engaged in oppressive conduct toward the defendant, the value of the defendant’s interest in the corporation was not subject to a minority discount. The court further ordered that it would hold another hearing on the issues of whether there were extraordinary circumstances to justify the application of a marketability discount to the value of the defendant’s shares, the terms according to which the corporation would purchase those shares, and whether the defendant was entitled to an award of reasonable attorney’s and expert witness fees and expenses.

          On September 8, 2016, the corporation filed a motion for reargument and reconsideration. On October 24, 2016, the court issued a memorandum of decision granting in part and denying in part that motion, determining that, upon reconsideration, the value of the corporation as of December 31, 2014, was $2,356,719, and the fair value of the defendant’s shares in the corporation was $785,573.

         On December 30, 2016, following another evidentiary hearing, the trial court issued a memorandum of decision determining, inter alia, that the value of the defendant’s shares of the corporation should not be reduced by a marketability discount, the defendant was entitled to statutory attorney’s and expert witness fees and expenses pursuant to § 33-900 (e),[6] and the defendant [194 Conn.App. 697] was not entitled to prejudgment interest, but was entitled to postjudgment interest.

          On June 19, 2017, the trial court issued a memorandum of decision, following another hearing held on April 27, 2017, rendering judgment against the corporation and in favor of the defendant, holding that the defendant was entitled to a total sum of $983,028.09, including statutory attorney’s fees and expert witness fees and expenses. The court also found that the defendant was entitled to postjudgment interest at the rate of 2.25 percent. The court ordered the corporation to pay $87,653 to the defendant within thirty days and, further, to pay $8339.29 per month to the defendant for a period of ten years, and to maintain a performance bond to secure payment of the judgment. The court also dismissed the defendant’s counterclaim seeking a dissolution of the corporation.

          On June 28, 2017, the corporation filed a motion for reconsideration limited to the portions of the trial court’s June 19, 2017 decision requiring it to pay $87,653 to the defendant within thirty days and ordering it to obtain a performance bond. The court held an evidentiary hearing on these issues on August 24, 2017. On September 14, 2017, the court issued a memorandum of decision declining to modify its order that the corporation pay $87,653 to the defendant within thirty days. The court, however, vacated its order requiring the corporation to obtain a performance bond, but ordered that the corporation satisfy its

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monthly installments on the first of each month and that it be assessed a late charge if it did not timely satisfy that obligation.

          The corporation appeals from the judgment of the trial court determining the value of the defendant’s shares and its award of attorney’s and expert witness fees and expenses to the defendant. The defendant does not quarrel with the trial court’s determination of the value of his interest in the corporation, but challenges, [194 Conn.App. 698] by way of cross appeal, the court’s decision not to award attorney’s fees in the amount of one third of the value of his interest in the corporation pursuant to the contingency fee agreement that he had signed with his counsel.

          I

          APPEAL

         Because all of the claims raised by the corporation on appeal stem from the valuation of the defendant’s shares in it, we begin by setting forth the following general applicable legal principles. As noted herein, the corporation elected to purchase the defendant’s shares at the fair value of those shares pursuant to § 33-900 (a). Section 33-900 (d) provides that, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement as to the fair value of the shares, the court shall determine the fair value of them as of the day before the date on which the petition was filed or as of such other date as the court deems appropriate under the circumstances.

         "Fair value" is not defined in § 33-900. It is, however, defined in a separate provision of the Connecticut Business Corporation Act, which encompasses General Statutes § § 33-600 to 33-998. General Statutes § 33-855 (3)[7] provides in relevant part: " ‘Fair value’ means the value of the corporation’s shares determined ... (B) using customary and current valuation concepts and techniques generally employed for similar businesses in the context of the transaction requiring appraisal, and (C) without discounting for lack of marketability or minority status ...." This definition is identical to the definition of "fair value" contained in its counterpart under [194 Conn.App. 699] § 13.01 (4) of the American Bar Association’s Model Business Corporation Act.[8] Given this definition, it seems evident that neither a minority discount nor a marketability discount would apply to the determination of the fair value of shares that ...


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