US-Durchgriffshaftung – die Kriterien

Auszug aus der Entscheidung Scarff Brothers v. Bischer Farms UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT vom 15.Juli 2010; Auszusgweise: “ Alter Ego Liability.  Michigan generally “treats a corporation as an entirely separate entity from its shareholders.” Soloman v. W. Hills Dev. Co., 312 N.W.2d 428, 431 (Mich. Ct. App. 1981). Under “notions of equity,” however, courts will disregard the corporate form “when it is invoked to subvert the ends of justice.” Id. “Where a corporation is so organized and so controlled as to make it a mere instrumentality or an agent of another corporation, its separate existence” will be ignored.  Shirley v. Drackett Prods. Co., 182 N.W.2d 726, 728 (Mich. Ct. App. 1971). Also, courts may disregard the corporate form when “[t]he community of interest between corporation and shareholders may be so great that, to meet the purposes of justice, they should be considered as one and the same.” Soloman, 312 N.W.2d at 431. Michigan requires a showing of “fraud, illegality, or injustice,” and 08-1831, Scarff Bros., Inc. v. Bischer Farms, Inc. that injustice “must in some manner relate to a misuse of the corporate form short of fraud or illegality.” Id. at 432. In this circuit, we look to a number of factors to determine whether to disregard the corporate form, including:

“(1) the absence of normal corporate formalities;

(2) commingling of personal and corporate funds;

(3) siphoning of corporate funds by a dominant stockholder; and

(4) the fact that the corporation is merely a facade for the personal operations of the dominant stockholder.”

United States v. Walton, 909 F.2d 915, 928 (6th Cir. 1990) (internal citations omitted). No single factor is dispositive as “each case is sui generis and must be decided in accordance with its own underlying facts.” Id. The district court below cited the Shirley and Walton factors, but did not specify which of the criteria it relied upon in holding the corporation (Janet S. Bischer Farms, Inc., Bischer Tiling, Inc., Bischer Ready-Mix, Inc.), limited liability company (Melvin J. Bischer, LLC, Janet S. Bischer, LLC, Pauline J. Bischer-Geiger, LLC), and individual (Melvin Bischer, Janet Bischer, Bradley Geiger, and Pauline Geiger) defendants liable as alter egos for Bischer Farms, Inc.’s breach of contract. Scarff Bros., 546 F. Supp. 2d at 494, 496. The district court instead relied on the “extensive and ongoing relationship” among the Defendants that demonstrated the “economic reality” that these entities were in fact a “single comprehensive business enterprise.” Id. at 495–96. The district court noted that the individuals did not differentiate themselves from the business entities in their own minds, used corporate funds to pay personal expenses, made frequent intercompany loans not at arms length, and shared employees, equipment, and cash. Id. at 496. Finally, the court held that to find “any single entity, whether drained of resources to sustain another family entity or enriched at the expense of another entity, is solely responsible to Scarff Brothers would not accord” with the economic reality of the enterprise. Id. Instead, “the liability of one entity is the liability of all.” Id. While the district court’s analysis may satisfy the Shirley and Walton tests, the court  did not make a finding of fraud, illegality, or injustice from the use of the corporate form as Soloman requires. Michigan requires such a finding to ensure that “an equal injustice or inequity” does not befall individuals who could otherwise be found liable as alter egos without making improper use of the corporate form. Soloman, 312 N.W.2d at 432.

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