The equitable theory of veil piercing, intended to serve as a rectifying mechanism against certain fraud, dishonesty or wrongdoing, is of particular import in the case where the corporate entity has no assets to pay a judgment but the principals do have assets to pay the legal damages awarded by a court. This was recently used by Burberry is its effort to stop a counterfeiter and recover $2.5 million in damages.. Burberry Limited and Burberry USA v. RTC Fashion Inc., d/b/a Designers Imports t/a Fashion58.Com and Asher Horowitz (Index No. 110615/14) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2014).
Burberry, believing that an affiliate of the judgment debtor intended to frustrate Burberry’s efforts to collect the $2.5 million judgment against Designers Imports and to ensure that Horowitz maintained continuity in the marketplace, commenced an action in the New York State Supreme Court against both the affiliate RTC Fashion and principal Horowitz. In the state court action, Burberry sought to pierce Designers Imports’ corporate veil in order to hold Horowitz personally liable for the judgment entered in the federal action. Under New York state law, and it is well established in New York that piercing the corporate veil generally “requires a showing that the individual defendants (1) exercised complete dominion and control over the corporation, and (2) used such dominion and control to commit a fraud or wrong against the plaintiff which resulted in injury.” Courts in New York have considered the following factors in determining whether the two-part showing has been met and the corporate veil may be pierced: (i) failure to adhere to corporate formalities; (ii) inadequate capitalization; (iii) commingling of assets; and (iv) use of corporate funds for personal use.
The following facts were important to piercing the corporate veil (there were other facts considered by the court): The principal was the sole shareholder, officer and director of both companies; (2) the corporate entity had no by-laws, no stock transfer ledger, no minutes of its shareholders meetings, and no minutes of its board of directors meetings; (3) the principal’s only meetings were with his accountant on a yearly basis for the purpose of preparing his tax returns; (4) the principal comingled funds by paying personal expenses with company money for his personal use.
The take-away is that is important to properly keep corporate books and records. Don’t forget to do your annual meeting minutes and properly document other major corporate transactions. Failure to do so may result in personal liability and not receiving the protections of the corporate entity.