This case summary was prepared by Marielle MacMinn.
Factual and Legal Background
Capone involves two former, high-level employees of an LLC challenging the valuation used in a call of their equity. Per the terms of the LLC Agreement, the valuation was conducted prematurely, and failed to consider offers for the sale of company assets which occurred shortly after the valuation date. The valuation of the entity was considerably lower than the value of just the assets sold mere weeks later, without any evidence whatsoever to indicate that the assets materially increased in value between the valuation and their sale.
Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Vice Chancellor Glasscock held for the Plaintiffs, finding that the management of the LLC was aware of the claims at the time of dissolution and improperly failed to reserve reasonable funds to address them because they wrongly considered those claims meritless. As a result, the court ruled that the “LLCs were dissolved in violation of Section 18-804(b)(1), and the certificates of cancellation should be nullified.”
The Law and the Court’s Analysis
The court considered the case in terms of (1) a violation of the provisions of the Act, and (2) a breach of contract for violating the LLC Agreement.
- Violations of the Act
Although there are instances that may justify setting aside a reserve of zero dollars, in Capone the court limited those instances to (1) “where the claim is procedurally barred,” or (2) “where the claim itself is legally frivolous.” A claim is not considered frivolous if its chances of success are unlikely, but rather only where the claim “lacks even a good faith, arguable basis in law.” These strict standards imply a limited flexibility for dissolving LLCs. In Capone, the court unequivocally concluded that the management of the LLC was aware of specific accusations alleging improper methods and breach of contract in connection with the valuation of the LLC Units a year and a half before its dissolution. Because of the LLC’s failure to set aside provision for these known claims, the dissolution violated the Act, therefore justifying the nullification of the certificate of cancellation.
- Violations of the Agreement
Second, the LLC Agreement required management to “adjust the Gross Asset Value of LDH’s assets immediately prior to the sale in good faith.” As the court notes, there is no evidence on the record to indicate that the assets materially increased in value between the time of valuation and the sale. The Plaintiffs successfully argued that the LLC Agreement’s “good faith valuation could not ignore market evidence suggesting” that the assets were worth far more than the valuation implied and thus the value should have been adjusted prior to the redemption of their Units.
The court held that the LLC’s certificate of cancellation should be nullified due to its violations of both the Act and the Agreement. Because the LLC failed to provide a reasonable reserve for the Plaintiffs’ non-frivolous claims at the time of dissolution, the entity was reinstated, and the litigation for substantive claims continues in New York.