Claim That LLC Made Unlawful Distributions Was Derivative, Not Direct

Regions Bank v. Regional Property Development Corp., 2008 NCBC 8 (N.C. Super. Ct. April 21, 2008) (Diaz)

The Business Court ruled today that a member of a North Carolina LLC could not sue the LLC's lender for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, because that claim was derivative, not direct.

Here are the facts: The LLC had defaulted on its loan.  The Bank then sold the loan to the other members of the LLC.  The Defendant asserted in a counterclaim that the Bank had done so knowing that the other LLC members would use their ownership of the defaulted loan as leverage to obtain a substantial cash distribution to which they were not entitled.

The Court relied on “[t]he well-established general rule . . . that shareholders cannot pursue individual causes of action against third parties for wrongs or injuries to the corporation that result in the diminution or destruction of the value of their stock.”   That principle applies "equally to suits brought by members of a limited liability company."

The unlawful distribution claim was "just another way of saying that the Individual Members wrongfully diverted Company assets."  That was a derivative claim belonging to the Company, not to its members.  The Motion to Dismiss the Counterclaim was therefore granted.

The Court did not resolve a parallel ground for the Motion to Dismiss: whether North Carolina still recognizes a claim for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Central Bank of Denver, N.A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N.A., 511 U.S. 164 (1994).  That question has come before the Business Court a number of times in recent years, but has not been resolved by North Carolina's appellate courts.

Brief In Support Of Motion To Dismiss

Brief In Opposition To Motion To Dismiss

Supplemental Brief In Support Of Motion To Dismiss

Supplemental Brief In Opposition To Motion To Dismiss

Fiduciary Duty Claims Can Proceed Against Director And Employee Who Allegedly Sank $100 Million IPO

Voyager Pharmaceutical Corp. v. Bowen, April 15, 2008 (Jolly)(unpublished)

Voyager, a company engaged in pharmaceutical research directed at slowing or halting Alzheimer's disease, was attempting a $100 million public offering in 2005.  It alleged in its Complaint that it was unable to complete the IPO due to the actions of one of its directors, Bowen, and one of its employees, Atwood.  It made a variety of claims, including claims for breach of fiduciary duty.

The allegations as to what Bowen had done are pretty interesting.  Here's how the Court characterized some of them:

While Voyager's management was in the 4:30 p.m. conference with Hambrecht, Bowen was in a hospitality suite in the Marriott Marquis Hotel that had been set up to accommodate Voyager's shareholders. (Compl. ¶ 66.)  There, Bowen told one or more shareholders that the IPO was not going to proceed because "God had told him so," and because Voyager had refused to add "the glorification of God" to its mission statement.  (Compl. ¶ 66.)  Bowen also told the shareholders present that day that any further attempts to complete the IPO would fail until his demands were met, including giving credit to God in Voyager's mission statement.  (Compl. ¶ 66.)  Bowen also asked one of the shareholders whether he would be willing to serve as a director of Voyager "when I regain control of the Company."  (Compl ¶ 66.)  Bowen also falsely told one or more shareholders that there was a problem with the Phase I data that had not been resolved and also falsely stated that when he raised this issue with management, management had locked him out of his office.  (Compl. ¶ 68.)

The Court first confronted the issue of choice of law on Voyager's claims for breach of fiduciary duty. The Court noted that there was little guidance in North Carolina as to the proper application of the internal affairs doctrine.  It determined that it would apply the law of Delaware, the state of Voyager's incorporation, to those claims.

It then rejected Bowen's argument that his actions were protected by the business judgment rule.  It held:

Voyager has alleged that Bowen, during his tenure as a board member and in his capacity as a director, made false statements designed to materially affect Voyager without consulting or informing other board members.  Such conduct, even if well-motivated, does not constitute the type of "business decision" the business judgment rule is meant to insulate.

The Court then turned to the breach of fiduciary duty claims against Atwood, who was formerly employed as a researcher with Voyager.  The Court noted that "an employer-employee relationship is not generally a fiduciary relationship," but held that this determination involved a fact-intensive inquiry, and denied the Motion to Dismiss. 

The unfair and deceptive practices claims brought by Voyager was dismissed, however.  The Court held that all of Voyager's claimed injuries related to the failed IPO, and that "the IPO, which is clearly a securities transaction, is beyond the scope of Chapter 75."

The Court let stand claims for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty.

Bowen's Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Atwood's Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Voyager's Brief in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss