A recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision is a good example of how the courts can grant relief to minority shareholders of a family business where there has been unfair conduct denying reasonable expectations.
The relevant facts of Tannenbaum v. Tanjo Investments Ltd. are quite simple. There were seven shareholders in a family business. One shareholder (the Applicant in the case) owned 1/3rd of the shares. The other shareholders each owned 1/7th of the shares. The Company paid dividends equally to each shareholder regardless of the fact that the Applicant owned three times the shares of the others. The Applicant applied to court under the oppression remedy.
The Court ruled that the reasonable expectation of a shareholder is to receive dividends proportional to their holdings. As a result the company was Ordered to compensate the Applicant accordingly.
Connolly Nichols Allan & Snelling is an Ottawa law firm. We are Ottawa Lawyers who regularly represent minority shareholders in family business disputes. We have succeeded in using the oppression remedy to enable our clients to assert their rights to their just entitlements time and again.
To read the full reasons in Tannenbaum v. Tanjo Investments Ltd. click here: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2009/2009canlii48526/2009canlii48526.html
My friend and I have an idea for a business and we are considering forming a partnership. How does a partnership work and how should one be setup?
Whether or not a partnership exists is a fundamentally a legal question. Ontario’s Partnerships Act says that a relationship between “persons carrying on a business in common with a view to profit” is a partnership within the meaning of the Act. This is important because it means that whether or not you declare yourself to be a partnership, legally speaking, you might be a partnership anyways, whether you intended to or not.
A partnership can exist between you and your friend personally, or even as between two corporations controlled by each of you. Unlike a corporation, however, a partnership has no separate legal existence from the partners themselves and each partner has the power to bind the partnership and each partner is jointly liable for any obligations incurred on behalf of the firm. This is why, when deciding to form a partnership, a partnership agreement can be very practical.
A partnership agreement sets out the rights and obligations for partners in the partnership and provides for what should happen in circumstances of partnership incapacity, retirement or death. Without one, the Partnerships Act will provide for what happens to the partnership in these circumstances, often with unintended results. A partnership agreement can also provide mechanisms for the distribution of partnership income and a process for bringing additional persons into the partnership. Creating a partnership agreement that meets your goals with the help of a commercial Lawyer ensures that your partnership will continue in a manner of your design.
I am a practicing family physician with two young children. My accountant mentioned the idea of incorporating my practice into a professional corporation. How does this work?
As a physician, you are generally permitted to create a physician corporation. The Ontario Business Corporations Act (OBCA) and the Regulated Health Professions Act govern physician corporations. Once incorporated, a Certificate of Authorization from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) is required for your professional corporation to practice medicine in Ontario.
There may be significant benefits to incorporation arising from income splitting through the payment of dividends to adult shareholders and the deferral of tax through retention of excess cash and investing in the corporation.
A professional corporation carries on the practice of medicine with you as both a shareholder and employee of your corporation. It is important to note that under the provisions of the OBCA, a professional corporation does not shield the shareholders from professional liability as acts of a professional corporation are deemed to be acts of the shareholders. Non-voting shareholders who are not members of the CPSO are exempted from any professional liability.
All voting shares of the corporation must be held by a member of the CPSO. Non-voting shares can be held by a parent, spouse or child (and minor children must have their shares held in trust). Professional corporations are only permitted to carry on the practice of the profession or activities that are related to or ancillary to the profession. Furthermore, a professional corporation is permitted to invest its surplus funds in passive investments.
A Lawyer with experience in incorporating professionals can help you set up your professional corporation such that your objectives may be realized.
“I’ve been told I need a Shareholder’s Agreement - do you have a standard agreement I can use” is something we hear with frequency. It reflects an understanding by the client that a Shareholder’s Agreement is a “good thing”, but without an understanding of what that good thing is. Generally the response of legal counsel to this question is that there is no such thing as a “standard” Shareholder’s Agreement, let’s meet and talk. So what is it about Shareholder’s Agreements that are so valuable and why isn’t there a standard form, like a real estate agreement?
At a high level of abstraction, a Shareholder’s Agreement is a document that expresses the expectations of shareholders in respect of a corporation through legal obligations and rights. The task of the Lawyer in preparing the Shareholder’s Agreement is threefold - discerning what the expectations are (and those expectations are often not fully formed) – providing counsel on the legal and tax implication on the various alternatives by which those expectations may be realized - and expressing those expectations in the form of contractual terms that bind the parties.
For example, shareholders in a narrowly held private corporation may have an expectation that on death the shares will be purchased. In the absence of a Shareholder’s Agreement, this expectation may not be realized. There is no statute or common law requiring or obligating a purchase. If the remaining shareholders are unwilling to agree to a purchase, the estate is left with the shares and a tax bill. Nothing of course prevents the parties from negotiating a purchase, but the relative bargaining power may have shifted in unpredictable ways, and planning opportunities, such as insurance funding, may have been missed. A Shareholder’s Agreement that addresses these expectations will reflect the parties prior expectations for fairness, and will create certainty. Legal counsel will discuss alternatives including the corporate purchase of the shares, purchase by the remaining shareholders, and hybrids including spousal rollovers, the tax implications under the alternatives to the estate and to the remaining shareholders, the use of insurance funding, payment terms, security and so forth.
In family held corporations, expectations for succession (how management is succeeded) and liquidation (how the shareholding interests are turned into cash) are particularly difficult and require unique and sometimes innovative solutions. A Shareholder’s Agreement is a valuable tool in estate planning for resolving how competing expectations for liquidation and succession are accommodated.