Recent Massachusetts decision on director and shareholder duties

A recent decision by the Massachusetts Superior Court for Suffolk county (Boylan v. Boston Sand & Gravel Co., 2007 WL 836753 (Mass.Super.) has a very good synthesis of duties owed by directors and stockholders of Massachusetts corporations:

“[The defendants] as directors of [the company] , owed a fiduciary duty to the corporation, which included both a duty of care and a duty of loyalty. Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Markets, Inc., 424 Mass. 501, 528 (1997). Since they were both directors and shareholders of [the company] and since [the company]was a closely-held corporation, they owed their fellow shareholders, …, “substantially the same duty of utmost good faith and loyalty in the operation of the enterprise that partners owe to one another, a duty that is even stricter than that required of directors and shareholders in corporations generally.” Id. at 529; Donahue v. Rodd Electrotype Co. of New England, Inc., 367 Mass. 578, 592-594 (1975).

*7 If [the defendants] wished [the company] to engage in a self-dealing transaction … they must:
1. make full and honest disclosure of all the known material facts of the proposed transaction, including the details of the transaction and their conflict of interest; Demoulas at 531. See Puritan Medical Ctr. Inc. v. Cashman, 413 Mass. 167, 172 (1992); Dynan v. Fritz, 400 Mass. 230, 243 (1987) (“good faith requires a full and honest disclosure of all relevant circumstances to permit a disinterested decision maker to exercise its informed judgment”); ALI Principles of Corporate Governance § 5.02(a) (1994); and
2. “then either receive the assent of disinterested directors or shareholders, or otherwise prove that the decision is fair to the corporation.” Demoulas at 533. The burden of proving that the assenting directors were disinterested rests with the self-dealing directors, see Houle v. Low, 407 Mass. 810, 824 (1990), as does the burden of proving that the self-dealing was “intrinsically fair, and did not result in harm to the corporation or partnership” if the transaction was approved by self-interested directors. Demoulas at 530-531, quoting Meehan v. Shaughnessy, 404 Mass. 419, 441 (1989).

If the self-dealing directors fail to provide full disclosure of the material facts of their proposed transaction, then they breach their fiduciary duty by proceeding with the transaction, regardless of its approval by the Board or its fairness to the corporation. See Geller v. Allied-Lyons PLC, 42 Mass.App.Ct. 120, 128 (1997) (“full disclosure of all material facts respecting the finder’s fee agreement [is] a prerequisite for enforcement”). The Board’s approval is vitiated by the failure of full disclosure.

If the self-dealing directors provide full disclosure to the Board and the transaction is approved by the disinterested directors, then the decision enjoys the deference provided by the business judgment rule. See Harhen v. Brown, 431 Mass. 838, 847 (2000). If the self-dealing directors provide full disclosure to the Board and the transaction is approved by self-interested directors, the decision does not enjoy the benefit of the business judgment rule and must be demonstrated to be fair to the corporation. Demoulas at 533.”

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One Response to “Recent Massachusetts decision on director and shareholder duties”

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