In Roels v. Valkenaar, a shareholder filed a shareholder derivative suit against former and current officers and directors of the company based on multiple claims of breach of fiduciary duty. No. 03-19-00502-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 6684 (Tex. App.—Austin August 20, 2020, no pet. history). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the trial court denied it. The defendants appealed, and the court of appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part.

The plaintiffs’ first claim dealt with certain interested-direction transactions that were loans from the company. The court dismissed these claims because the evidence showed that regarding one transaction that there was director consent to the loan and regarding the other loans that there was not sufficient evidence of damages. The court stated:

Self-dealing (i.e., an “interested transaction”) may constitute breach of an officer’s or director’s fiduciary duty to the corporation. However, we need not determine whether the shareholders met their prima facie burden as to the element of breach because we conclude that they have not met the burden as to the element of damages. To prove the damage-to-plaintiff or benefit-to defendant element of a claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on self-dealing, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the fiduciary obtained a benefit for itself either at the expense of its principal or without equally sharing the benefit with the principal. While the shareholders have alleged in conclusory fashion that the loans contained “non-market terms” and have “disproportionately benefitted” Roels and Barshop, they have not identified any specific harm to the Company or benefit to the defendants as a direct result of the loans.

Id.

The court affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss regarding the plaintiff’s misappropriation of company resources claim as against one defendant. That defendant was an officer that inappropriately used company assets to do due diligence on a transaction:

[W]e conclude that based on the above evidence it may be reasonably inferred that Roels pursued the acquisition with the intent that he benefit from the Company’s expenditure of funds on due diligence, as he initially entered into the letter of intent on behalf of MBlock, brought the unsolicited proposal to the Company and advanced it (including restructuring the deal in MBlock’s favor), voted against the proposal on behalf of the Company, and then closed on the deal on behalf of MBlock.

Id.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ dereliction of duty claim due to the business judgment rule. The court stated:

In Texas, the business judgment rule generally protects company officers and directors for alleged breaches of duties that are based on actions that are negligent, unwise, inexpedient, or imprudent if the actions were “within the exercise of their discretion and judgment in the development or prosecution of the enterprise in which their interests are involved.” In contrast, “an officer or director’s breach of duty that would authorize court interference ‘is that which is characterized by ultra vires, fraudulent, and injurious practices, abuse of power, and oppression on the part of the company or its controlling agency clearly subversive of the rights of the minority, or of a shareholder, and which, without such interference, would leave the latter remediless.’” Essentially, the business judgment rule, as pronounced long ago by the supreme court in Cates and reaffirmed more recently in Sneed, operates at this stage of a lawsuit as a requirement that a plaintiff plead more than “mere mismanagement,” neglect, abuse of discretion, or unwise and inexpedient acts to state a cause of action… Because the shareholders have not identified clear and specific evidence of conduct by Pabst that does not fall within the business judgment rule, we conclude that the trial court should have granted his motion to dismiss as to the shareholders’ “dereliction of duties” claims.

Id.

Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary…

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary field in Texas. Read More

David’s financial institution experience includes (but is not limited to): breach of contract, foreclosure litigation, lender liability, receivership and injunction remedies upon default, non-recourse and other real estate lending, class action, RICO actions, usury, various tort causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and preference and other related claims raised by receivers.

David also has experience in estate and trust disputes including will contests, mental competency issues, undue influence, trust modification/clarification, breach of fiduciary duty and related claims, and accountings. David’s recent trial experience includes:

  • Representing a bank in federal class action suit where trust beneficiaries challenged whether the bank was the authorized trustee of over 220 trusts;
  • Representing a bank in state court regarding claims that it mismanaged oil and gas assets;
  • Representing a bank who filed suit in probate court to modify three trusts to remove a charitable beneficiary that had substantially changed operations;
  • Represented an individual executor of an estate against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty and an accounting; and
  • Represented an individual trustee against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty, mental competence of the settlor, and undue influence.

David is one of twenty attorneys in the state (of the 84,000 licensed) that has the triple Board Certification in Civil Trial Law, Civil Appellate and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Additionally, David is a member of the Civil Trial Law Commission of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This commission writes and grades the exam for new applicants for civil trial law certification.

David maintains an active appellate practice, which includes:

  • Appeals from final judgments after pre-trial orders such as summary judgments or after jury trials;
  • Interlocutory appeals dealing with temporary injunctions, arbitration, special appearances, sealing the record, and receiverships;
  • Original proceedings such as seeking and defending against mandamus relief; and
  • Seeking emergency relief staying trial court’s orders pending appeal or mandamus.

For example, David was the lead appellate lawyer in the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, LP, 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009). The Court issued a ground-breaking opinion in favor of David’s client regarding the standards that a trial court should follow in ordering the production of computers in discovery.

David previously taught Appellate Advocacy at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law located in Fort Worth. David is licensed and has practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court; the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Federal Circuits; the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas; the Texas Supreme Court and various Texas intermediate appellate courts. David also served as an adjunct professor at Baylor University Law School, where he taught products liability and portions of health law. He has authored many legal articles and spoken at numerous legal education courses on both trial and appellate issues. His articles have been cited as authority by the Texas Supreme Court (twice) and the Texas Courts of Appeals located in Waco, Texarkana, Beaumont, Tyler and Houston (Fourteenth District), and a federal district court in Pennsylvania. David’s articles also have been cited by McDonald and Carlson in their Texas Civil Practice treatise, William v. Dorsaneo in the Texas Litigation Guide, and various authors in the Baylor Law ReviewSt. Mary’s Law JournalSouth Texas Law Review and Tennessee Law Review.

Representative Experience

  • Civil Litigation and Appellate Law