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Court rules for widow in Holiday World suit

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The widow and children of the late William Koch Jr. can keep their shares in the southern Indiana theme park, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, after a ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that William’s brother, Dan Koch, and Koch Development Corp. offered too little money for the shares.

In Koch Development Corporation and Daniel L. Koch v. Lori A. Koch, as personal representative of the Estate of William A. Koch, Jr., deceased, 82A04-1212-PL-612, the COA affirmed the Vanderburgh Circuit Court’s judgment against Dan and KDC. The lower court held that Lori Koch was the owner of 49,611.6 shares of KDC stock and because Dan and KDC materially breached the shareholders’ agreement, she did not have to sell the shares to KDC and Dan.

Writing for the court, Judge Paul Mathias acknowledged the pain the family fight has caused.

“While we regret seeing a family divide itself over an internal business dispute, our role is to determine whether the trial court’s findings were supported by sufficient evidence and whether these findings support the trial court’s judgment,” Mathias wrote. “Here, the evidence favorable to the trial court’s decision supports the trial court’s conclusion that Dan and KDC materially breached the terms of the Agreement and that this material breach excused the Estate of its obligation to perform under the Agreement.”

The dispute erupted after Will Koch died unexpectedly in June 2010 and Dan Koch, who had been an attorney in Florida, became the president of KDC, the owner and operator of the amusement park.

Under terms of the Share Purchase and Security Agreement executed in 2002, Will, Dan and their sister, Natalie, dictated that upon the death of any shareholder, KDC would purchase all the shares of common stock owned by the decedent.

In December 2010, KDC and Dan offered to purchase Will’s shares from the estate for $26.9 million, based on the value of $541.93 per share. The estate rejected the offer claiming the shares were worth $653.07 each, putting the total purchase price at $32.1 million.

Before the COA, Dan argued that despite the minutes from a July 2009 shareholders’ meeting that valued the stock at $653.07 per share, the shareholders did not agree to that price. He claimed the trial court erred by excluding testimony from Natalie and himself that would have supported his contention.

The appellate court found the trial court properly rejected the testimony since Natalie “was a sufficiently interested party with interests adverse to those of the Estate.” In particular, she had acknowledged that she was worried if Dan lost control of KDC, he might not be able to repay her the more than $10 million he still owed for shares he previously had purchased from her.

Both the trial court and COA highlighted that neither Dan nor KDC made any effort to correct their initial offer within the 180-day limit imposed by the agreement. Dan asserted the time provision in the agreement was “boilerplate” language.

Again, the COA rejected Dan’s argument. It held that because the shares’ value could fluctuate significantly, the decedent’s shares should be purchased in a short period of time.

In upholding the trial court’s finding that Dan and KDC materially breached the terms of the agreement, the judges dismissed, in particular, Dan’s assertions that he would suffer forfeiture if the estate was allowed to keep Will’s shares and that he did not have enough time to fix the situation.

The COA noted that the agreement does not give Dan the right to run the family business, only the opportunity to purchase the shares of the decedent. As to Dan’s claim he needed more time, the court pointed out that instead of making any effort to adhere to the terms of the agreement, Dan and KDC “stubbornly stood by their initial, low-ball offers.”

Finally, the judges concluded there is ample evidence that Dan and KDC did not act in good faith. Specifically, it found that Dan planned to increase his salary to somewhere between $875,000 to $1.16 million in an effort to decrease the dividends that would have benefitted Lori and her children, and that he took loans and bonuses totaling $875,000 from KDC in order to pay the money he owed Natalie.

The COA concluded these material breaches of the agreement did excuse the estate from its obligation to sell Will’s shares to Dan and KDC.

Dan claimed that despite his and KDC’s material breaches and bad faith, the estate should still be required to sell its shares. However, the appellate court held that Dan’s position is in direct contradiction to well-established Indiana law, as discussed in Wilson v. Lincoln Fed. Sav. Bank, 790 N.E.2d at 1048 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), that a party in a material breach of a contract cannot seek to enforce the contract against the non-breaching party.•

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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