As a Chicago law firm that specializes in business litigation, DiTommaso-Lubin pays close attention to shareholder lawsuits filed in Illinois' courts. Our Elmhurst business attorneys discovered a case filed in the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division that answers questions regarding the appropriate statute of limitations to apply in a shareholder action for common law damages. Carpenter v. Exelon Enterprises Co. is a case filed by multiple minority shareholders against the majority shareholder, Exelon, for breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy. Defendant Exelon owned 97% of InfraSource, and Plaintiffs owned a portion of the remaining 3% of the company. Defendant then decided to divest its interest in the company through a series of complex merger transactions. The end result of these transactions was to grant all shareholders in InfraSource would receive a pro rata share of the net proceeds. Using its majority stake in InfraSource, Defendant voted its shares in favor of the merger transactions, which was subsequently executed according to Defendant's plan. After the merger, Plaintiffs filed suit against Exelon alleging breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy that caused the minority shareholders to be inadequately compensated for their shares in InfraSource. Defendant then moved to dismiss the action because Plaintiffs' claims were barred under the three year statute of limitations in the Illinois Securities Law of 1953. The trial court denied Defendant's motion, stated that the applicable statute of limitations was the five year period contained in section 13-205 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. The trial court then stayed the matter and certified the statute of limitations issue for an interlocutory appeal to the Appellate Court. On appeal, the Court examined Defendant's argument that, despite the fact that Plaintiffs did not allege specific statutory violations, Plaintiffs' claims fell within the scope of the Illinois Securities Law and its three year statute of limitations. Plaintiffs argued that, because of the similarities between Illinois and federal securities law, federal case law should be utilized by the Court. Plaintiffs' cited federal cases holding that securities fraud does not include the oppression of minority shareholders nor does it include oppressive corporate reorganizations, and thus the case did not fall within the purview of the Illinois statute. The Court performed a statutory analysis and determined that subsection 13(A) of the Law did not apply to Plaintiffs because their claims did not arise out of Plaintiffs' role as purchasers of securities. The Court went on to explain that Defendant's argument based upon subsection 13(G), which provides a remedy to any party in interest in the unlawful sale of securities, was unpersuasive. Instead, the Court held that subsection 13 of the Illinois Securities Law of 1953 does not "concern retroactive common law damages claims for breach of fiduciary duty brought by sellers of securities in general, or minority shareholders in particular." By so holding, the Court declared that the three year statute of limitations did not apply and remanded the case back to the trial court. Carpenter v. Exelon Enterprises Co. provides potential shareholder litigants with a ruling that gives them an additional two years to bring their claims. Conversely, those facing liability in a common law action surrounding a securities transaction should be aware that such claims are viable for a longer period of time than they may have previously thought.
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