Though the Supreme Court’s 2014 unanimous ruling in Fifth Third Bank v. Dudenhoeffer announced the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) standards for stock valuation in the context of a large public employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), the vast majority of ESOPs are still grappling with valuation issues. ESOPs that hold stock of closely-held corporations—approximately 90% of all ESOPs— remain almost unaffected by Dudenhoeffer’s valuation discussions, and face continued scrutiny by the Department of Labor (DOL). Appraisal of closely-held stock is an inexact science that involves an inherent level of uncertainty in assessing a variety of potential fact patterns.
This article summarizes valuation issues in acquisitions of closely-held corporation stock by ESOPs in the context of Perez v. Bruister, a recently decided Fifth Circuit case. The case stressed the importance of ‘‘process’’ in valuation determinations being utilized for acquisitions of a corporation’s stock by an ESOP. In reviewing the case, this article provides a detail of the process that should be followed to ensure consideration of the appropriate factors by fiduciaries in reviewing valuations for ESOP transactions. The article concludes with a discussion of guidance provided by the court in Bruister that may be instructive as to best practices for ESOP fiduciaries charged with establishing the value to be used by an ESOP holding shares of stock of a private company.