North Carolina Business Litigation Report

Classic Coffee Concepts, Inc. v. Anderson, 2008 NCBC 1 (N.C. Super. Ct. Jan. 31, 2008)(Diaz)

Defendant, a terminated employee, owned one third of the outstanding stock of Classic Coffee Concepts. The issue was the price to be paid for the stock, which the corporation was obligated to repurchase under a Stockholders Agreement. The Agreement said that the price would be determined by looking to the fair market value of the stock as determined by an independent appraisal of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan. But no ESOP had ever been established.

A variety of conflicting appraisals were presented to the Court at trial.  Defendant would have been entitled to a multi-million recovery under two of them. The first, prepared pre-litigation for the accounting purpose of conducting a goodwill impairment, set the company's "fair value" at $12,500,000. A "fair value" appraisal ignores discounts in value that are typical for closely held corporations, like those for lack of marketability and lack of control. Defendant's shares would have been worth $4 million if this appraisal applied. A second appraisal factored in the discounts applicable to closely held corporations, and concluded that the corporation had a value of $8,390,000. If this appraisal had controlled, defendant's shares would have been worth more than $2.7 million.

For purposes of the litigation, the company obtained a hypothetical appraisal which valued the company as if the ESOP required by the Agreement was in place. The value placed on defendant’s shares under this approach was markedly lower, only $120,000. Yet another appraisal assuming the existence of the ESOP valued defendant's shares at $192,000, and the last of the many appraisals before the Court valued them at zero.

After analyzing this thicket of conflicting appraisals, the Court held that it would apply the first hypothetical ESOP appraisal, because that was "the only evidence of value that attempts to honor the parties' agreement." The Court ruled that the establishment of the ESOP was not a condition precedent excusing performance by both parties, because conditions precedent are not favored in the law and also because neither party had argued the point at trial.

The Court also found that the company had materially breached the Stockholders Agreement by failing to redeem defendant's shares within sixty days of the date of the termination of his employment, and that the pledging of defendant's stock as collateral did not excuse it from having to do so. In a small victory for the defendant, the Court held that the company could not invoke its right to pay for defendant's stock over a sixty month period, but that it was required to make an immediate, lump sum payment.

Full Opinion

Plaintiff's Trial Brief

Defendant's Trial Brief

 

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Mack Sperling
Brooks Pierce, LLP
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