Gonzalez v. Gonzalez

In stockholder derivative cases, (A) the “individual shareholder steps into the shoes of the corporation.” In re Crown Castle Int’l Corp., 247 S.W.3d 349, 355 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, orig. proceeding). And therefore (B), the “stockholder has no greater right in a stockholder’s derivative suit” than the corporation in whose right he is suing. Henger v. Sale, 365 S.W.2d 335, 339 (Tex. 1963). Right? Well, not exactly, says the Dallas Court of Appeals.

In Gonzalez, two stockholders of a corporation brought suit derivatively against a manager. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant, because the corporation itself was barred from asserting those claims, having forfeited its charter, and therefore plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue the claims derivatively. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed. The Court agreed that the corporation itself “no longer has the legal right to assert its causes of action in court,” because of the forfeiture of its charter. See TEX. TAX CODE § 171.252(1). But, it said, “when a corporation forfeits its privileges, title to its assets, including its causes of action, is birfurcated; legal title remains with the corporation and the beneficial interest is vested in its shareholders.” In that situation, the Court continued, “the shareholders holding beneficial title to the claims may assert the corporation’s causes of action as the corporation’s representatives” to protect their (the shareholders’) beneficial rights—i.e., the shareholders can step out of the shoes of the corporation and pursue such claims even if the corporation cannot.

Not addressed in the Dallas Court’s opinion or the briefing was the recent decision of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in Carter v. Harvey, 2017 WL 2813936 (Tex. App.—Ft. Worth June 29, 2017, no pet.). There, the Fort Worth Court affirmed summary judgment dismissing derivative claims with respect to a corporation that had been dissolved for more than three years. Section 11.356 of the Business Organizations Code provides that a corporation can prosecute or defend claims only until the third anniversary of the entity’s termination. Because the claims in Carter were lodged after that third anniversary, the Fort Worth Court held they were barred not only for the corporation, but also if asserted by someone purporting to sue derivatively. “Because [claimant] derivatively stands in the shoes of” the dissolved corporation, the Court said, “he cannot bring a … claim that [the corporation] could not bring.”

Perhaps we will see one or both of these cases at the next level.