Corporation, Not 50/50 Shareholders, Responsible for Provisional Director Fees in Shareholder Dispute

In a recent order, the Illinois Appellate Court held that Section 12.56(g) of the Business Corporation Act of 1983 (the “Act”) must be read to provide compensation for provisional directors by the corporation as opposed to it shareholders. Sinkus v. BTE, 2016 IL App (1st) 152135-U. In Sinkus, the plaintiff, Sinkus, and one of the defendants, Carl Thomas (“Thomas”), were 50/50 shareholders of BTE. Id. at ¶ 5. Sinkus and Thomas could not reach an agreement on the dissolution and liquidation of BTE, which led Sinkus to resign as an officer and director of BTE, leaving Thomas to manage the corporation. Shortly thereafter, Sinkus learned of Thomas’ solicitation of BTE’s business and sale of all corporate assets for his own benefit. Sinkus brought derivative and direct claims for breach of fiduciary duties, conspiracy to breach fiduciary duties, and minority shareholder oppression. Id. at ¶ 5.

The trial court appointed retired judge Daniel J. Kelley (“Kelley”) as “a provisional director of BTE pursuant to sections 12.56(b)(4) and 12.56(c) of the Act” to “direct the litigation” and “ensure that Thomas does not unduly influence” BTE’s counsel. Id. at ¶ 6. In order to compensate Kelley for his time as BTE’s provisional director, Kelley made capital calls from each shareholder for $25,000.00 and later $30,000.00. Id. at ¶¶ 8-10. Sinkus refused to make either capital contribution stating that he was under no obligation to make additional capital contributions and “that he was not responsible for BTE’s debts.” Id. at ¶ 8. The trial court ordered Sinkus to make both capital contributions, but he continued to refuse and was eventually held in indirect civil contempt. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.

On appeal, the Court analyzed whether the trial court had the authority to order the shareholders to compensate a provisional director under the Act. Id. at ¶ 14. Section 12.56(b) of the Act provides for several remedies the court may order, including the appointment of a provisional director. Section 12.56(g) of the Act, however, states:

"the court shall allow reasonable compensation to the custodian, provisional director, appraiser, or other such person appointed by the court for services rendered and reimbursement or direct payment of reasonable costs and expenses, which amounts shall be paid by the corporation."

805 ILCS 5/12.56(g).

BTE argued that Sections 12.56(b)(1) and 12.56(c) give the trial court the authority to order shareholders to pay a provisional director’s fee. Sinkus, 2016 IL App (1st) 152135-U, ¶ 19. Section 12.56(b)(1) of provides the trial court authority to order the “performance . . . of its shareholders” and Section 12.56(c) provides the court authority to fashion “equitable remedies.” See 805 ILCS 5/12.56(b)(1), (c).

The Appellate Court rejected BTE’s argument because if Sections 12.56(b)(1) and 12.56(c) were interpreted to provide trial courts authority to order shareholders to compensate a provisional director, then the “specific directive of section 12.56(g) that the provisional director be compensated by the corporation is rendered meaningless.” Sinkus, 2016 IL App (1st) 152135-U, at ¶ 20. Any interpretation that would render a portion of a statute meaningless must be avoided. Id. at ¶ 15. Therefore, the Appellate Court concluded that Section 12.56(g) of the Act controls and the trial court erred by ordering the shareholders to compensate a provisional director. Id. at ¶ 20.

In sum, pursuant to Section 12.56(g), the coporation itself, and not its shareholders, must must compensate a provisional director appointed pursuant to Section 12.56 of the Business Corporation Act.