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No. 12-0045
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ROBERT WAYNE SNEED, JAMES H. TICHENOR, FRED WOLGEL, JAMES F. O’DONNELL, TEXAS UNITED CORPORATION, AND UNITED SALT CORPORATION v. LLOYD P. WEBRE, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND DERIVATIVELY ON BEHALF OF TEXAS UNITED CORPORATION AND UNITED SALT CORPORATION

Oral argument was held on December 9, 2014. The Court issued an opinion resolving the case on May 29, 2015. File Closed

In the news...

Tracking 3 articles about this case.

May 29, 2015

SCOTX approves a double-derivative shareholder suit over board objections, at least for closely held corporations [May 29, 2015]

from SCOTXblog

The Court has issued opinions:

June 16, 2014

Three opinions, one grant [Jun. 13, 2014]

from SCOTXblog

This article also mentions 18 other cases.

March 23, 2014

Two opinions, one rehearing grant, and six grants [Mar. 21, 2014]

from SCOTXblog

This article also mentions 8 other cases.

Opinion

May 29, 2015

Green
Hecht
Johnson
Willett
Guzman
Lehrmann
Boyd
Devine
Brown

Justice Green delivered the opinion of the CourtView Electronic Briefs | Oral Argument | Video PDF

 

Court of Appeals

Appellate District:1st Court of Appeals
Outcome Below:Reverse & Remand
COA Docket No.:01-10-00151-CV
Opinion Author:Honorable Evelyn Keyes

Trial Court

Trial Court:11th District Court
County:Harris
Trial Judge:Honorable Michael David Miller
Trial Docket:2009-23093

Docket Entries

Date Event Outcome  
2015-07-16 Case Stored  
2015-07-09 Mandate issued  
2015-05-29 Opinion issued   Court of Appeals' judgment affirmed
2015-05-29 Court approved judgment sent to attorneys of record Issued
  This case was awaiting the Court's decision after oral argument between December 12, 2014 and May 29, 2015.  
2014-12-12 Supplemental appendix (Respondent)  
2014-12-09 Oral argument  
2014-12-08 Supplemental Letter Brief (Petitioner)  
2014-12-08 Exhibits in case/cause filed (Respondent)  
2014-12-03 Letter brief (Respondent)  
2014-10-28 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
  This case was waiting for oral argument between August 29, 2014 and October 28, 2014.  
2014-08-29 Motion to re-set submission date disposed   Filing granted
2014-08-20 Designation of Lead Counsel  
2014-08-20 Motion to re-set submission date filed.  
2014-08-13 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
  This case was waiting for oral argument between June 13, 2014 and August 13, 2014.  
2014-06-13 Case set for oral argument   Case set for oral argument
  This case was waiting for oral argument between March 21, 2014 and June 13, 2014.  
2014-03-21 Petition for Review granted
2014-03-21 Petition for Review disposed   Filing granted
  This case was pending on merits briefs between February 26, 2013 and March 21, 2014.  
2013-02-26 Reply Brief (Petitioner)  
2013-02-05 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2013-02-05 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2013-01-22 Brief on the Merits (Respondent)  
2012-12-20 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2012-12-20 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2012-11-19 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2012-11-19 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2012-10-31 Brief on the Merits (Petitioner)  
2012-10-25 Case Record Filed  
2012-10-01 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2012-09-28 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2012-09-04 Record Requested in Petition for Review  
2012-08-31 Brief on the Merits Requested  
2012-07-13 Response to Petition (Respondent)  
2012-06-19 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response disposed   Filing granted
2012-06-15 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response  
2012-05-14 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response  
2012-05-14 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2012-04-13 Supreme Court of Texas Requested Response  
2012-03-13 Case forwarded to Court
2012-03-06 Response Waiver filed  
2012-02-23 Resubmitted Document  
2012-02-22 Appendix Filed (Petitioner)  
2012-02-22 Petition for Review (Petitioner)  
2012-01-23 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review disposed   Filing granted
2012-01-17 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review filed  

Parties

Party Counsel Role
Texas United Corporation
Mr. Ralph A. Midkiff
Mr. Kevin D. Jewell
Petitioner
O'Donnell, James F.
Mr. Neal S. Manne
Ms. Karen Appel Oshman
Petitioner
Sneed, Robert Wayne
Ms. Sydney Gibbs Ballesteros
Mr. Robin C. Gibbs
Petitioner
Tichenor, James H.
Mr. Ben A. Baring Jr.
Ms. Allison Diane Bonner
Mr. Paul J. McConnell III
Petitioner
Webre, Jr., Lloyd P.
Mr. David W. Holman
Ms. Jennifer Lynn Hebert
Mr. Michael Gary Orlando
Mr. Dwayne Richard Day
Mr. Christopher Paul Hanslik
Mr. Marc S. Tabolsky
Mr. Reagan W. Simpson
Respondent
Wolgel, Fred
Mr. Charles W. Schwartz
Petitioner

Shareholders in closely held corporations can bring derivative suits that would be barred to shareholders in public corporations

When family businesses are run as closely held corporations, can a shareholder bring a derivative suit more easily than could a shareholder in a public company? And does organizing a family's business into different layers of subsidiaries insulate some actions from review?

This derivative suit was brought by the 24% owner of a closely held corporation, against the wishes of that corporation's board. The suit was prompted by a bad business deal that was actually entered, not by that corporation but instead by a wholly owned subsidiary focused on a specific line of business (making this a so-called "double-derivative claim").

The trial court dismissed for lack of standing. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the controlling Texas statute does not impose the same hurdles to bringing a derivative suit for closely held corporations.

The Texas Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals, remanding to the trial court for the claim to move forward.

Standing: The defendants argued that the deference generally shown to corporate boards in the form of the business-judgment rule should extend to a board decision whether to pursue a claim and, thus, a shareholder lacks standing to bring a claim of which the board disapproves.

The Court acknowledged that the business-judgment rule does indeed apply to protect the general decisions of boards, even boards of closely held corporations. But it rejected the argument that this created a shield against derivative claims.

The Court rested that analysis on the statute governing derivative suits, in which it found a Legislative decision that stakeholders in closely held corporations should have more ready access to derivative suits. The specific provision is former Article 5.14(L),1 which excluded closely held corporations from some of the particular formalities of bringing such suits — including requirements that the potential derivative claims first be presented to the board and giving the board the opportunity to bring them itself. Because the Legislature carved closely held corporations out of those requirements, the Court reasoned, using the business-judgment rule to create a barrier to derivative claims would would contravene the Legislature's intent.

The Court also rejected the argument that a shareholder must plead and prove particular conduct that violates the business-judgment rule in order to have standing. It noted the longstanding concern in Texas law with carefully distinguishing between the jurisdictional concept of standing (which, among other things, cannot be waived) and the more substantive aspects of whether a particular plaintiff's claim might be legally valid. In the context of shareholder suits, the Court noted that any "confusion is understandable" because the statute (and the literature about derivative claims) often speak about the substantive aspect of a plaintiff's claim using the term "standing."

Double-derivative claims: The plaintiff here was a sharehodler in a parent corporation and sued over a busines deal entered by its wholly owned subsidiary. In doing so, the plaintiff was asserting the corporation's right to, in turn, step into the shoes of its subsidiary. This type of claim has been dubbed a double-derivative suit.

The question before the Court was whether Texas should permit such a claim.

On this issue, too, the Court's analysis proceeds from Article 5.14 of the statute, this time focuding on the article's expansion of the term "shareholder" to also "include[] a beneficial owner whose shares are held in a voting trust or by a nominee on the beneficial owner's behalf." Tex. Bus. Corp. Act art. 5.14(A)(2). Placing particular emphasis on the word "includes," the Court declined to treat this list as exclusive. Instead, the Court viewed this as opening the door to more general concepts of equitable or beneficial ownership, such as a shareholder's indirect interest in property held by the corporation itself. The Court thus held that Texas law does permit a double-derivative suit.

There is one notable contrast between this statutory analysis and the Court's analysis of standing: This definition in Article 5.14(A) is not, structurally, limited to closely held corporations. The same definition of "shareholder" appears, by the text, to apply to all derivative suits.2 Nonetheless, the Court tells us in footnote 14 that it does not (yet, at least) intend its holding to reach beyond the very limited context here:

We limit our holding to the situation presented in this case in which a shareholder of a closely held parent corporation asserts double-derivative standing to assert a cause of action on behalf of a wholly owned subsidiary.

What is clear is that the Court's immediate concern is with the special problems of closely held corporations. It draws support for its understanding of the word "shareholder" in Article 5.14(A) from the Legislature's decision to exempt closely held corporations from certain procedural requirements for derivative suits. ("Our holding is once again buttressed by the fact that the Legislature made the statutory standing provisions of article 5.14(B) inapplicable to closely held corporations."). And it frames the policy concerns in terms of the impact on closely held corporations: "Were we to hold otherwise, the directors of a closely held holding corporation could create a wholly owned subsidiary to circumvent the Legislature’s intent to make it easier for shareholders to assert derivative claims on behalf of closely held corporations."


  1. http://law.justia.com/codes/texas/2005/ba/005.00.000000.00.html 

  2. For example, one might note that the definition of a closely held corporation in Article 5.14(L) is written in terms of there being fewer than "35 shareholders," so an expansion of "shareholders" to include all forms of indirect ownership might result in some uncertainty whether a corporation is closley held at all. 

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