The Court Determines Fair Value
The court shall take evidence and determine fair value but has a right to assess expenses and attorney fees. The expenses assessed may also include the cost of experts. The court may find against the corporation in favor of the dissenter if it finds the corporation did not comply with procedural requirements, against the dissenter if the fair value does not materially exceed” the amount offered by the company; or against either the company or dissenter if it finds that the party against whom the fees and expenses assessed acted “arbitrarily, vexatiously, or not in good faith with respect to the rights provided …” by the dissenters’ rights process.
The term “fair value” is defined in the dissenters’ rights statutes to mean the value of shares immediately before the effectuation of the corporate action to which the dissenter objects excluding any appreciation or depreciation in anticipation of the corporate action unless such exclusion is inequitable. The statutory definition does not deal with the issue of discounts for either a minority interest or lack of marketability, discounts commonly given for fair market value calculations. However, in Arizona, case law states that fair value is not the same as fair market value and does not include discounts for marketability or minority interest.
The practitioner should be alert to any of the possible triggering events during an owner dispute as the existence of any such triggering device may conclude a business divorce. The parties must carefully calculate their estimations and demands of fair value since the entire cost of the proceeding, including expert fees is at risk of being awarded to a successful party. The statutes were designed to deter an actual court proceeding by increasing the risk of loss. The court proceeding should probably only be one day with the evidence likely limited to the expert reports and perhaps some other related matters.
The dissenters’ rights statutes present an admirable, limited procedure to allow a shareholder, under key circumstances, to remove themselves from their business partners and hopefully terminate a dispute receiving fair value for their interest in the company.