Minority shareholder oppression: What can be done?

What is a minority shareholder?

 

A minority shareholder is a shareholder who owns less than 50% of the total shares in a private company. In other words, a minority shareholder is one who does not hold a controlling interest in the company. The majority shareholders, on the other hand, are those who hold more than 50% of a company shares and therefore have the power to control the company’s affairs.

Minority shareholders may still have a significant financial stake in the company and may be entitled to vote on important matters, but they do not have the power to control the company’s decision-making. As a result, minority shareholders can be vulnerable to the actions of the majority shareholders, particularly where the majority shareholders act in a way that is unfairly prejudicial to the interests of the minority shareholders.

What is minority shareholder oppression?

 

Minority shareholder oppression refers to a situation where the majority shareholders of a company take actions that unfairly disadvantage minority shareholders. Oppressive conduct can include a wide range of behaviors, such as:

  • Denying minority shareholders access to company information
  • Excluding minority shareholders from important company decisions
  • Failing to pay dividends or otherwise distributing profits to minority shareholders
  • Diluting the value of minority shareholders’ shares through stock issuance
  • Engaging in self-dealing or conflicts of interest that benefit the majority shareholders at the expense of the minority shareholders
  • Abuses of power, for example, using their voting power to pass resolutions that unfairly advantage the majority shareholders and disadvantage the minority shareholders.

Minority shareholder oppression can be a significant issue in closely-held companies or family-owned businesses. In these circumstances, a small group of controlling shareholders make decisions on the company’s operations.

Minority shareholders who believe they are being oppressed may have legal options to seek relief.

 

Protections for minority shareholders

 

In England and Wales, there are several legal protections in place to limit oppression of minority shareholders, including:

  1. Statutory rights: Minority shareholders have certain statutory rights under the Companies Act 2006, including the right to receive notice of general meetings, the right to vote on important matters, and the right to bring a derivative action on behalf of the company.
  2. Fiduciary duties: Directors and majority shareholders owe fiduciary duties to the company and its shareholders, including minority shareholders. This means they must act in the best interests of the company as a whole, and not just in the interests of the majority shareholders.
  3. Unfair prejudice claims: Minority shareholders have the right to bring an unfair prejudice claim if they believe that the actions of the majority shareholders are unfairly prejudicial to their interests. If successful, this can result in the court ordering a remedy, such as a buyout of the minority shareholder’s shares.
  4. Derivative actions: Minority shareholders can bring a derivative action on behalf of the company if they believe that the directors or majority shareholders have breached their fiduciary duties or acted unlawfully. If successful, any damages or compensation awarded will be paid to the company and benefit all shareholders, including minority shareholders.
  5. Shareholder agreements: Minority shareholders can negotiate shareholder agreements with the other shareholders that provide additional contractual protections, such as veto rights over certain decisions or the right to appoint a director.

It is important to note that the specific protections available to minority shareholders can depend on various factors. These include the size and structure of the company, the terms of any shareholder agreements, and the specific circumstances of the case.

If you have concerns about your rights as a minority shareholder, you should seek legal advice from a solicitor.

 

Making a claim for minority shareholder oppression

 

if you are a minority shareholder and believe that the actions of the majority shareholders are unfairly prejudicial to your interests, you may be able to bring a claim for minority shareholder oppression.

In England and Wales, minority shareholder oppression claims are typically brought under the Companies Act 2006. This act provides a statutory remedy for shareholders who have been unfairly prejudiced. To bring a successful claim, you would need to demonstrate that the actions of the majority shareholders are unfairly prejudicial to the interests of the minority shareholders. You should also demonstrate that these actions are beyond what a reasonable shareholder would find acceptable.

If a minority shareholder can demonstrate that they have been subject to unfair prejudice or oppression by the majority shareholders, there are a number of shareholder oppression remedies that may be available. These remedies may include:

  • An order for the purchase of shares: In some circumstances, minority shareholders may wish to sell their shares. The court may order the majority shareholders to purchase the minority shares at a fair value. This can be an effective remedy where the majority shareholders have taken actions that have significantly devalued the minority shareholder’s shares.
  • Injunction: The court may issue an injunction to prevent the majority shareholders from taking certain actions that would be prejudicial to the minority shareholder.
  • Damages: If the minority shareholder has suffered financial loss as a result of the majority shareholders’ actions, they may be entitled to seek damages.
  • Restoration of the company: In cases where the majority shareholders have taken actions that have resulted in the company’s affairs being conducted in an unfairly prejudicial manner, the court may order the restoration of the company to its prior state.
  • Derivative action: The minority shareholder may be able to bring a derivative action on behalf of the company, seeking damages or injunctive relief for the company as a whole.

It is important to note that the remedies available for minority shareholder oppression can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, and the court has broad discretion to fashion a remedy that is appropriate and proportionate to the particular case.

If you believe you have been subject to minority shareholder oppression, it is recommended that you seek legal advice from a qualified commercial law solicitor who can advise you on your legal rights and help you determine the best course of action.

 

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Please note, we are not a firm of solicitors; however, we maintain a panel of trusted and regulated legal experts. If you contact us in relation to a commercial law case, we will pass your case onto a panel firm in return for a fee from our panel firms. We will never charge you for passing on your case to a panel firm. 

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