Heathfield Grosvenor Lawyers

Valuation of Minority Interests in Shareholder Oppression Claims

In Australia, shareholders who feel oppressed or unfairly treated by the company or its directors can seek remedies under various statutory provisions. Here are some of the remedies available to shareholders:

  1. Oppression proceedings under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth): Under section 232 of the Corporations Act, shareholders can apply to the court for relief if they believe that the company’s affairs are being conducted in a manner that is oppressive, unfairly prejudicial, or discriminatory to them. The court has broad powers to make orders to remedy the situation, including ordering the company to buy back the shareholder’s shares, ordering the company to pay compensation, or ordering the company to amend its constitution or replace its directors.

  2. Derivative actions under the Corporations Act: Shareholders can bring derivative actions under section 236 of the Corporations Act if they believe that the directors have breached their duties to the company. In such actions, the shareholder sues on behalf of the company to recover damages from the directors for any losses suffered by the company as a result of their breaches.

  3. Personal actions against directors under the Corporations Act: Shareholders can also bring personal actions against directors under section 180 of the Corporations Act if the director has breached their duty of care and diligence. This may occur if a director has made a decision that causes harm to the company, such as approving a risky investment without proper research or due diligence.

  4. Compulsory acquisition of shares under the Corporations Act: In some cases, shareholders may be able to force the company to buy their shares under section 461 of the Corporations Act. This may occur if the shareholder can show that they have been unfairly treated, and that it would be just and equitable for the company to buy their shares.

The amount that is awarded will depend on the particular facts of the case. 

In BAM Property Group Pty Ltd as trustee for BAM Property Trust v Imoda Group Holdings Pty Ltd [2019] FCA 1192, the Federal Court of Australia provided guidance on the principles that should be applied in valuing company shares in shareholder oppression claims. The following are some of the key principles:

  • Compensation for oppression: The purpose of granting a remedy between parties in an oppression case is to “to compensate the oppressed shareholder for the oppression which has taken place”.
  • Wide discretion: In cases where the relief to be granted is the compulsory purchase of shares, that object is achieved by the Court having a wide discretion to fix a price that “represents a fair value in all the circumstances”. That does not necessitate fixing a price only by reference to ordinary valuation principles. The question is to identify the price which should be paid in the circumstances.
  • No benefit to oppressor for oppression: Where shares are to be valued as a starting point for determining the price which should be paid, the usual date for valuation is the date of the filing of the proceedings, but that is by no means a universal approach. The valuation does not value the shares at that date as if nothing but the ordinary course of business had preceded it. That would effectively allow the oppressing party the benefit of the wrongful conduct as, inevitably, that conduct has diminished the value of the oppressed party’s interest in the company before the proceedings are commenced. In Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society v Meyer [1959] AC 324 , Lord Keith identified (at 364) that the valuation process must negate the effects of the oppressive conduct. His Lordship said the amount to be determined was:

… what would have been the value of the shares at the commencement of the proceedings had it not been for the effect of the oppressive conduct of which complaint was made. This is clearly not a matter on which a calculation can be made with mathematical accuracy or by the application of strict accounting principles …

  • Fair price to put applicant into position as if no oppression: A fair price would be the value which the shares would have had at the date of the petition, if there had been no oppression. In relation to the claim for oppression, when the court is valuing the oppressed shareholder’s interest in the determination of the relief to be awarded for oppression, the aim is to put the applicant in the position as if there had been no oppression.

There are different methods of valuation that might be deployed, and there is no one size fits all answer.  Quite often, the outgoing shareholder will have been excluded from management, leaving the remaining shareholders / directors “in control”.  It is clear however from the authorities that the oppressors will not be entitled to benefit from the relevant oppression.

Our corporate lawyers in Sydney specialise in dispute resolution relating to shareholder disputes and directors duties.  Be prepared to have to issue proceedings before the other parties properly come to the negotiating table.

Heathfield Grosvenor Lawyers Pty Ltd