Liquidated Damages in Texas Contracts

When a party to a contract breaches, the fundamental goal of the law is to place the non-breaching party in the same position it would have been had there been no breach.  This does not always mean the non-breaching party gets what he sought under the contract. More often, the non-breaching party is awarded money (damages) for adequate compensation.

Penalty or Damage Provisions?

In some instances, the parties to a contract might wish to insert a provision in the contract which specifies the damages the non-breaching party may be entitled to recover.  These provisions are called liquidated damage provisions.  However, liquidated damage provisions can be found to be unenforceable, when the breaching party seeks to avoid the provision on the ground that it is a penalty.  Typically, a penalty is one which greatly exceeds amount of damages actually sustained by the non-breaching party.  Court will examine whether the actual damages incurred were much less than the liquidated damages imposed, measured at the time of the breach.

A liquidated damage provision is not a penalty when it reasonably estimates the harm that would result from a breach.  But a provision not designed to be a penalty can nevertheless operate as one.  The universal rule that damages for breach of contract are limited to just compensation for the loss or damage actually sustained. Accordingly, courts carefully review liquidated damages provisions to ensure that they adhere to the principle of just compensation.  A damages provision that violates the rule of just compensation, however, and functions as a penalty, is unenforceable. Liquidated damages must not be punitive, neither in design nor operation.

Courts will enforce liquidated damage provisions when:

  1. “the harm caused by the breach is incapable or difficult of estimation,” and;
  1. “the amount of liquidated damages called for is a reasonable forecast of just compensation.”   In applying the first prong, courts examine the circumstances at the time the agreement is made. The party seeking liquidated damages bears the burden of showing that the provision, as drafted, accounts for these two considerations.

A properly designed liquidated damages provision, however, may still operate as a penalty due to unanticipated events arising during the life of a contract. Courts must also examine whether “the actual damages incurred were much less” than the liquidated damages imposed, measured at the time of the breach.  When a contract’s damages estimate proves inaccurate, and a significant difference exists between actual and liquidated damages, a court must not enforce the provision. When an “unbridgeable discrepancy” exists between “liquidated damages provisions as written and the unfortunate reality in application,” the provisions are not enforceable.

Enforcing Liquidated Damage Provisions

To be enforceable the liquidated damage provision, at the time the agreement was made, must meet a two-part test:

  1. The harm that would result from a breach must be difficult to estimate, and;
  2. The liquidated damages provision must reasonably forecast just compensation. Parties to a contract containing a liquidated damage provision are expected to negotiate a reasonable, not perfect, forecast of just compensation in the event of breach.  A forecast that is inordinate when compared with actual damages will not prevail to a challenge when there is proof of a large variance between the actual damages and those sought under the liquidated damage provision.

A recital in the contract proclaiming that a liquidated damage provision is not a penalty will not save a provision that operates as one. Careful thought must be applied in determining a reasonable forecast of damages that would be sustained in the event of a breach.  If damages, at the time of contracting are capable of calculation or can be fairly estimated, the provision cannot meet the first prong of the test.

Please feel welcome to reach out to our Murray-Lobb Attorneys if you have any further concerns or questions regarding a contract breach or liquidated damage provisions.

All Stock Purchase Agreements Must Include Key Provisions

Every stock transfer is important, regardless of its size. Therefore, your corporation must draw up a comprehensive stock purchase agreement to govern all such transactions. If you fail to do so, shares of stock could easily wind up in the hands of company outsiders whose interests are at odds with those of most shareholders.

Corporations usually choose to prevent this type of problem by including a “right of first refusal” in their written agreements so that their shareholders’ interests remain fully protected. As the term implies, the corporation itself (or one of its current shareholders) will always have the right to try and purchase all shares being sold before an outsider can try to buy them. This is just one of the many basic provisions your Houston corporate law attorney will address when drafting a stock purchase agreement for you.

The following information covers some of the other basic provisions that should normally be included to fully protect your most important corporate interests during sales of stock.

Added Legal Protections Offered by Professional Stock Purchase Agreements 

Even when a buyer and seller know each other well, it’s always best to capture all the terms governing their sales transactions in writing. In addition to describing different warranties, your lawyer may suggest that you also cover some of the topics set forth below in your stock purchase agreement.

  • Details about the parties and the specific stock being sold. For example, you’ll need to state the names of the seller and buyer, the number of shares being sold, and the current dollar value of each share of common stock. The date of the transaction should also be noted, along with a statement that the seller is conveying all ownership of the endorsed stock certificates to the buyer. It’s also customary to note that the seller will pay all applicable taxes on the sale;
  • Proper warranties and representations should be included. It’s important to state (1) that the corporation is legally entitled at the time of the sale to transfer ownership of the stock and that the corporation itself is in good standing with all governing agencies; (2) that the seller is currently the valid owner of the stock and has the right to fully convey all rights in the shares to the seller; (3) that all federal, state and local laws and guidelines intended to govern such transactions are being followed; and (4) that all critical facts have been disclosed regarding the transaction;
  • In some cases, you may want to state that the buyer will pay in two installments. When this happens, a percentage of the purchase price is paid upon both parties signing the stock purchase agreement. On a second date set forth in the agreement, the remainder of the purchase price is paid for the shares (when the contract is fully executed). It’s always preferable to have at least one witness sign the agreement in case either party later tries to challenge the entire transaction in court;
  • Clear definitions should be provided in the opening paragraphs of the agreement. These should always include a description of how the corporation currently pays stock dividends to shareholders. A paragraph should also clearly indicate which dispute resolution or mediation groups may be consulted if any problems arise later concerning the sale of the shares;
  • A specific statement as to whether this sale is governed by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). Depending on the type of corporation you’re running, it may be necessary for your attorney to file paperwork regarding the sale with the SEC.

While the list above isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it should provide you with a clear idea of the many critical topics that most stock purchase agreements should cover. It’s always best to have your lawyer go over your corporation’s specific needs with you before drafting this type of document since federal, state and local laws are constantly changing.

Members of our firm are readily available to provide you with professional legal advice concerning all your corporate needs and interests. We look forward to meeting with you soon.

Shareholder Agreements Require Flexible Buy-Sell Provisions

There are many reasons why shareholders in closely-held corporations may need to quickly sell their shares to others. Therefore, it’s important when drafting a shareholder’s agreement to cover every basic aspect of buying and selling shares – in addition to the general administrative matters that must normally be addressed.

Depending on a corporation’s number of major shareholders and business pursuits, a flexible framework helps facilitate every goal. The following list sets forth some of the main terms that shareholder agreements should cover, separate and apart from the buy-sell provisions that will be discussed in greater detail below.

Common Administrative Topics Set Forth in Many Shareholder Agreements

  • Voting rights. Always describe each shareholder’s voting rights and when they can be properly exercised;
  • Qualifications for serving as corporate officers. Basic requirements must be stated so that only fully qualified individuals can serve as corporate officers at any level;
  • Noncompete provisions. All parties involved with a corporation must agree to avoid compromising its trade secrets or later leaving and then trying to compete for its clients for a limited time;
  • Preferred groups to consult with when internal disputes must be resolved. Include the names of specific mediation or dispute resolution services that can be contacted and how the corporation should decide when such outside help is required;
  • Inclusion of anti-dilution provisions to protect stock values;
  • A description of major shareholders’ “tag-along” rights;
  • Registration rights must be explained and how they apply to certain restricted stocks;
  • Stock valuation procedures must be described and closely followed.

Once these and other crucial topics have been covered, you and your Houston corporate law attorney should discuss the best buy-sell provisions suited to your corporate structure.

Basic Buy-Sell Provisions – Events That Often Trigger Their Use

Your shareholder’s agreement should always include a very detailed explanation of how shares should be sold when one of the following events takes place.

  • The death of a shareholder;
  • The termination of an employee shareholder – whether “for cause” or without cause;
  • The disability of a shareholder;
  • A shareholder’s retirement

When trying to draft the best buy-sell procedures to address these situations, it’s often wise to sit down and review your corporation’s main concerns and interests with your lawyer.

Should the Selling of Shares Be Mandatory — or Provide Parties with Greater Choice?

When trying to answer this question, you may want to provide different answers, depending on whether the sales are to the corporation itself, other shareholders – or to third parties.

  1. Should your corporation be given the first right to purchase (or redeem) the stocks? If you and the controlling officers of your corporation wish to include this provision in your shareholder agreement, be sure to first consider the possible capital gains tax issues involved;
  2. Do you want to automatically offer the available shares to other general shareholders if the corporation isn’t interested in redeeming the shares after a set deadline? If so, it’s important to indicate if majority shareholders will have the first opportunity to buy the shares;
  3. Are you willing to allow outside third parties to buy the newly available shares? If so, you must decide in advance the types of criteria that such buyers must meet.

Other Key Issues Involved with Drafting Your Buy-Sell Provisions

  1. Setting the proper price to be paid for the stocks. In general, if the available shares are to be purchased by the corporation or one of its current shareholders, you should have already created a clear formula in your shareholder’s agreement for determining the current, proper valuation of the stock. However, if the shares are to be sold to an outside third party, that outsider’s offer will normally be determined by the current market price for the type of shares involved;
  2. How should the price be paid? Most corporations will benefit from establishing a basic buyout procedure within its shareholder agreement so that these common transactions can be handled according in a very clear, pre-determined manner. Since lump-sum payments are usually not preferred, you will need to decide if you prefer such options as:
  1. A buyer-financed buyout
  2. A seller-financed buyout, or
  3. Some type of financing arrangement involving insurance or a trust

Since a corporation’s success is often determined by the terms and quality of its shareholder’s agreement, please feel free to contact our firm so we can provide you with our general legal advice or help you draft a new agreement. 

All Stock Purchase Agreements Must Include Key Provisions

Every stock transfer is important, regardless of its size. Therefore, your corporation must draw up a comprehensive stock purchase agreement to govern all such transactions. If you fail to do so, shares of stock could easily wind up in the hands of company outsiders whose interests are at odds with those of most shareholders.

Corporations usually choose to prevent this type of problem by including a “right of first refusal” in their written agreements so that their shareholders’ interests remain fully protected. As the term implies, the corporation itself (or one of its current shareholders) will always have the right to try and purchase all shares being sold before an outsider can try to buy them. This is just one of the many basic provisions your Houston corporate law attorney will address when drafting a stock purchase agreement for you.

The following information covers some of the other basic provisions that should normally be included to fully protect your most important corporate interests during sales of stock.

Added Legal Protections Offered by Professional Stock Purchase Agreements 

Even when a buyer and seller know each other well, it’s always best to capture all the terms governing their sales transactions in writing. In addition to describing different warranties, your lawyer may suggest that you also cover some of the topics set forth below in your stock purchase agreement.

  • Details about the parties and the specific stock being sold. For example, you’ll need to state the names of the seller and buyer, the number of shares being sold, and the current dollar value of each share of common stock. The date of the transaction should also be noted, along with a statement that the seller is conveying all ownership of the endorsed stock certificates to the buyer. It’s also customary to note that the seller will pay all applicable taxes on the sale;
  • Proper warranties and representations should be included. It’s important to state (1) that the corporation is legally entitled at the time of the sale to transfer ownership of the stock and that the corporation itself is in good standing with all governing agencies; (2) that the seller is currently the valid owner of the stock and has the right to fully convey all rights in the shares to the seller; (3) that all federal, state and local laws and guidelines intended to govern such transactions are being followed; and (4) that all critical facts have been disclosed regarding the transaction;
  • In some cases, you may want to state that the buyer will pay in two installments. When this happens, a percentage of the purchase price is paid upon both parties signing the stock purchase agreement. On a second date set forth in the agreement, the remainder of the purchase price is paid for the shares (when the contract is fully executed). It’s always preferable to have at least one witness sign the agreement in case either party later tries to challenge the entire transaction in court;
  • Clear definitions should be provided in the opening paragraphs of the agreement. These should always include a description of how the corporation currently pays stock dividends to shareholders. A paragraph should also clearly indicate which dispute resolution or mediation groups may be consulted if any problems arise later concerning the sale of the shares;
  • A specific statement as to whether this sale is governed by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). Depending on the type of corporation you’re running, it may be necessary for your attorney to file paperwork regarding the sale with the SEC.

While the list above isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it should provide you with a clear idea of the many critical topics that most stock purchase agreements should cover. It’s always best to have your lawyer go over your corporation’s specific needs with you before drafting this type of document since federal, state and local laws are constantly changing.

Members of our firm are readily available to provide you with professional legal advice concerning all your corporate needs and interests. We look forward to meeting with you soon.

HB 1974 Provides Useful New Power of Attorney Provisions

The State Bar of Texas often promotes new legislation like HB 1974 that helps people more readily use probate statutes to benefit themselves. This new statute provides changes to durable powers of attorney (POA) that were supported by the Bar’s Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section. They became effective on September 1, 2017.

In broad terms, these new provisions (1) clarify certain legal presumptions involving durable powers of attorney, (2) broaden the types of powers that principals can give to designated agents and (3) define when a party can legally refuse to accept someone’s power of attorney.

Penalties for not accepting powers of attorney are also discussed since these documents must usually be accepted as valid (unless clear exceptions set forth in the new provisions are met.)

Legal Presumptions Supporting Texas POAs

  • When properly notarized and signed by the principal who created the document, a durable power of attorney (POA) naming an agent must be considered valid;
  • A POA drafted in another state must be considered valid (once it’s certain that it fully complies with the laws of the other state);
  • The recipient of a faxed, photocopied or emailed copy of a POA can rely upon it like the original without liability.

New Powers and More Agents Can Now More Easily Be Included in POAs

  • If the principal names co-agents, they can act independently of each other – unless the POA specifically forbids such activity;
  • New rights of survivorship can be created or changed by named agents – if this right is specifically set forth in the POA;
  • The designated POA can delegate certain expressly assigned authority to others;
  • An agent can create, terminate or make various changes to an inter vivos trust;
  • Rights of survivorship and certain beneficiary designations can be changed by an agent if the principal included them in the POA document.

Specific restrictions are also set forth regarding the new parties an agent can name when making certain POA changes – they are designed to prevent the agent from naming anyone who the agent already has a legal duty to support.

Limited Facts or Known Events That Can Justify Rejecting a POA

Although this new legislation clearly states that power of attorney documents should normally be accepted and that penalties can apply if this doesn’t occur – the new statutes do list numerous situations that can justify the rejection of a specific POA. Here are some of the many exceptions that can allow someone to reject a proffered POA.

  • The party being given the POA has reason to believe that an SAR (suspicious activity report) has been filed regarding the agent or principal;
  • The person hesitant to accept the POA is aware that a judicial proceeding has already begun that was initiated to determine the document’s validity;
  • A party has a “good faith” belief that the named agent has a criminal record based on financial crimes;
  • The party handed the POA believes in “good faith” that the principal is currently being abused in some manner by the named agent;
  • The party asked to accept the POA has received conflicting instructions from one or more agents named in that same document.

While this list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it does set forth some of the new provisions justifying a person’s decision to reject a POA document. However, anyone who won’t accept a proffered POA must state this refusal in writing and give the specific reasons for rejecting it.

Since questions may always be raised regarding many powers of attorney, it’s wise to first speak with your Houston probate attorney when trying to decide whether to honor one that’s been tendered to you. Our firm is also prepared to draft any new POA that you may currently need.