In this article...
• In Wisconsin, minority shareholders can be forced to sell their shares under specific circumstances outlined in squeeze-out provisions, as long as they are valid, included in the articles of incorporation or bylaws, and not unconscionable or against public policy.
• Squeeze-out provisions require a fair valuation process to determine the value of the minority shareholder's shares during a forced sale.
• Even without a specific squeeze-out provision, minority shareholders can seek a judicial dissolution of the corporation if oppressive conduct or breaches of fiduciary duties by majority shareholders or the corporation occur, potentially resulting in the forced sale of shares.
• Being forced to sell shares can have financial and emotional implications for minority shareholders, impacting their investment, influence over corporate decisions, and potential benefits from the company's growth.
• Seeking legal advice and understanding the provisions in the corporation's governing documents are essential for minority shareholders to protect their rights and explore potential avenues for recourse in the face of a forced sale.
In corporations, shareholders are indispensable stakeholders in corporations. They hold ownership interests in the company and often participate in the decision-making processes. Similar to other states and jurisdictions, shareholders generally have certain rights and protections. There are, however, circumstances in which a minority shareholder can be forced to sell their shares. In this article, our Wisconsin business attorneys will explore the legal framework that surrounds minority shareholders in Wisconsin, the circumstances under which a forced sale may occur, and the potential implications for minority shareholders.
There is a fundamental right for shareholders to retain their shares and participate in the management of the company. This applies to Minority and majority shareholders equally. There are certain situations in which a majority shareholder or the corporation itself may seek to force a minority shareholder to sell their shares. These situations typically arise when there is some disagreement or conflict amongst the shareholders that cannot be resolved through negotiation or other means.
What Situations Can a Minority Shareholder Be Forced to Sell?
A “squeeze-out” or “freeze-out” provision is one of the primary mechanisms in which a minority shareholder can be forced to sell their shares. Squeeze-out provisions give the majority shareholder or the corporation the authority to buy out minority shareholders under specified conditions.
In Wisconsin, the Business Corporation Law allows for a squeeze-out or freeze-out of minority shareholders only in certain circumstances. Section 180.1302 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides that if the articles of incorporation or bylaws of a corporation contain a provision permitting the forced sale of shares, the corporation or majority shareholders can compel the minority shareholders to sell their shares.
In the articles of incorporation or bylaws, S provisions have to be explicitly included. The provision must have been in effect at the time the minority shareholder acquired their shares, or the shareholder must have consented to its inclusion after acquiring the shares. Moreover, the provision must not be against public policy.
If a squeeze-out provision is valid and applicable, the process typically involves a fair valuation of the minority shareholder's shares. The valuation may be determined through negotiation, mediation, or appraisal, depending on the specific circumstances and the provisions set forth in the articles of incorporation or bylaws. It is crucial that the valuation process is conducted fairly and in accordance with applicable legal requirements to protect the rights and interests of the minority shareholder.
It is worth noting that even without a specific squeeze-out provision, there are other legal mechanisms through which a minority shareholder can be compelled to sell their shares. For example, if a majority shareholder or the corporation engages in oppressive conduct, unfairly prejudices the rights of minority shareholders, or breaches fiduciary duties, a minority shareholder may bring legal action for judicial dissolution of the corporation. In these cases, the court has the authority to order the sale of shares and the dissolution of the corporation if it determines that it is equitable to do so.
What are the Impacts of Being Forced to Sell Shares?
For minority shareholders, being forced to sell shares can have significant financial and emotional implications. Share ownership often represents a significant investment, and being compelled to divest from the company can result in financial losses. Being forced to sell shares may impact a minority shareholders' ability to influence corporate decisions or participate in the potential benefits of the company's growth and success.
To protect their rights and interests, minority shareholders should be familiar with the provisions outlined in the corporation's articles of incorporation and bylaws. Seeking legal advice and guidance is crucial in understanding their rights, the potential implications of a forced sale, and the available avenues for recourse.
It is important to emphasize that the rights and obligations of shareholders, including minority shareholders, can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the provisions set forth in the corporation's governing documents. Consulting with an experienced attorney who specializes in corporate law can provide invaluable guidance and support for minority shareholders facing the prospect of a forced sale. For more information read our article, When Should I Consult My Business Attorney?
While minority shareholders in Wisconsin generally have rights and protections, there are circumstances under which they can be compelled to sell their shares. Squeeze-out provisions, when valid and applicable, can provide a mechanism for majority shareholders or the corporation itself to buy out minority shareholders. Additionally, oppressive conduct or breaches of fiduciary duties by majority shareholders or the corporation can lead to a judicial dissolution and the forced sale of shares. It is essential for minority shareholders to understand their rights, seek legal advice when necessary, and explore their options to protect their interests in such situations.