Concept Of “Disguised,” Or “De Facto” Dividends Discussed In Recent Maryland Case.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Written by: Guy Jeffress

Edward MEKHAYA v. EASTLAND FOOD CORPORATION, et al., 2022 WL 17843057

Appellate Court of Maryland (formerly the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland)

In a first for Maryland, the Appellate Court of Maryland, relying on persuasive authority from other jurisdictions, paved the way for the recognition of claims of shareholder oppression based upon the payment of “de facto” or “disguised” dividends. In 2000, Appellant, Edward Mekhaya, was hired by Eastland Food Corporation (the “Corporation”) and eventually rose to the position of Vice President of Operations. In 2008, Mekhaya received ownership interest in the Corporation in the form of 28% of its stock. In addition to holding the officer position, Mekhaya was a director of the corporation. In September 2017, a new president was elected by the board of directors over the objections of Mekhaya. In October 2018 Mekhaya was not re-elected to the board of directors, and a few days later his employment with the Corporation was terminated. He remained a 28% shareholder of the Corporation. In his lawsuit, filed in 2021, Mekhaya alleged shareholder oppression, i.e., that Corporation management, instead of declaring a dividend, awarded themselves large bonuses which were in fact “disguised” dividends, which had the effect of rendering Mekhaya’s block of shares worthless. At the trial level, the court granted summary judgment to the Corporation, finding that Mekhaya failed to state a claim for shareholder oppression. The appellate court relying in part on the concept of “de facto” or “disguised” dividends reversed the trial court noting that the question, rather, “is whether Mekhaya’s complaint, on its face, alleged facts sufficient to establish that his expectations as a shareholder were reasonable (when viewed through an objective lends) and that Appellees defeated substantially one or more of those expectations.”

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