What Can We Do About a Business Partner Misusing Company Funds?
Various remedies may be available if a fiduciary duty was breached. Common actions for an abuse of a fiduciary duty, among others, include a petition for an accounting, claim of breach of fiduciary duty, theft, conversion, or a fraud charge. In a corporation, an officer owes to the members of the company the duty of care, loyalty, and disclosure, and the members may owe a similar duty to the manager. Each party is expected to always act in the best interest of the company as a whole and avoid any potential conflicts of interest with the company.
It will be a matter of subjective determination for the court to determine whether there was a breach of fiduciary duty, based on all the facts and circumstances involved. Some of the factors that may be considered include, among others, whether the fiduciary personally benefitted at the expense of the corporation, or failed to disclose information to the corporation’s detriment. For example, were funds diverted to personal use? Was there knowledge of financial misdealings or risk factors that weren't disclosed by the fiduciary? In applying the statutory standards for the duty of care owed by a managing member of a corporation, the court will need to determine whether there was gross negligence, reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, or a knowing violation of law. The standards of care are measured against the subjective interpretation of how a "reasonable" person would act in similar circumstances.
The elements of a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty are:
(1) Plaintiff and Defendant share a relationship whereby:
(a) Plaintiff reposes trust and confidence in Defendant, and
(b) Defendant undertakes such trust and assumes a duty to advise, counsel and/or
(2) Defendant breaches its duties to Plaintiff; and
(3) Plaintiff suffers damages.
The elements of a claim for breach of fiduciary duty are not fixed as the claim may arise from virtually any case where one party accepts the trust and assumes the duty to protect a weaker party.
Affirmative defenses to a claim for breach of fiduciary duty can include, but are not limited to:
(1) The passing of the statute of limitations for filing the claim.
(2) Lack of fiduciary relationship (for example, when the parties did not enter a fiduciary relationship, but rather conducted business in an arm’s length transaction there is no duty to protect the other party or disclose facts which the other party could have discovered by its own diligence.)
(3) Lack of standing
(4) Approval (for example, if the alleged actions followed full disclosure to and the consent of the Plaintiff)
(5) Business judgment rule (ex. that the corporate fiduciary's actions were motivated by a bona fide interest in the well being of the corporation where shareholders are the ones owed the fiduciary duty)