Director disputes

Related disputes

Director disputes

Disputes involving directors of a company

A director dispute is a disagreement between directors, or between shareholders and directors, of a company. Director disputes are unfortunately common and can arise for a variety of reasons, including:

  • personality clashes;
  • breach of duties;
  • company strategy and management;
  • withholding of dividends;
  • disparities between profits and dividends;
  • fraud;
  • failure to provide financial, accounting and statutory information;
  • exclusion from meetings and management;
  • breach of shareholder agreements; and
  • ethical concerns.

A director dispute can impair a company’s operations, as well as harm its reputation, so any dispute involving directors should be resolved quickly and effectively — and that’s where Gibbs Wright Litigation Lawyers can help.

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Definitions

What is a director?

A director is the person responsible for managing the company. Larger companies have multiple directors working as a collective, referred to as the board of directors.

A director must always act in the best interests of the company. At times this can include considering the interests of other parties, such as individual members, creditors, employees and wholly owned subsidiaries.

Director's duties

Responsibilities of a director

The Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (the Act) imposes four main duties on a director:

  1. To exercise care and diligence. The standard is that expected of a reasonable person in the director’s position.
  2. To act in good faith and for a proper purpose. This involves avoiding conflicts of interest, and disclosing and managing conflicts of interest if they arise.
  3. Not to improperly use their position. A director must not use their position to advantage themselves or others, or to cause detriment to the company.
  4. Not to improperly use information. A director must not use information they learn in their role to gain an advantage for themselves or others, or to cause detriment to the company.

Other significant duties and responsibilities include:

  • ensuring the company does not trade while insolvent;
  • ensuring the company takes reasonable steps to comply with laws for financial record-keeping and reporting;
  • disclosing any personal interest in company affairs;
  • supplying information to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC); and
  • continually disclosing information to the market which is not generally available.

There are also director responsibilities listed in legislation that governs areas such as trade practices, workplace health and safety, taxation, financial services, and the environment.

Looking to resolve a director dispute?

At Gibbs Wright Litigation Lawyers, we offer an initial no-cost, obligation-free consultation to help you understand your options. We’re here to fight for you.

Breach of fiduciary duties

Consequences of breaching director duties

If a director breaches a duty or fails to meet an obligation, they can be subject to criminal and civil sanctions.

They can be taken to court by a range of parties including the company itself, shareholders, regulators and creditors.

There can be severe penalties if a director fails to comply with the Act. For example, a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment applies if a director:

  • is reckless or dishonest, and fails to exercise their powers and discharge their duties in good faith or for a proper purpose;
  • uses their position, or information gained in their position, dishonestly:
    • to gain an advantage directly or indirectly for themselves or others; or
    • to cause detriment to the company.

ASIC and the courts can disqualify a director for failure to comply with the Act, and shareholders or creditors can take civil action. A director can be held personally liable for any company losses that result from their breach of duty.

A breach of duty can also damage reputations and cause serious financial repercussions, including greater scrutiny by investors and regulators.

If you have been accused of breaching your duties as a director, you should seek legal advice immediately to protect your rights and limit your personal liability. Call Gibbs Wright today for a free and confidential initial consultation.

Resolving a director dispute

How director disputes can be resolved

Whether you’re a director, shareholder or third party involved in a dispute with a director, there are several ways to resolve it.

The parties should firstly attempt to resolve the dispute within the company. A meeting could be called to lay out all the issues and desired outcomes. Gibbs Wright can help parties work through their grievances and reach a compromise or resolution.

A shareholders’ agreement can contain procedures for dealing with a director dispute. It can include, for example, penalties for breaches of directors’ duties. Penalties can include that a director resign for certain breaches, such as creating a rival business, or engaging in criminal conduct such as fraud or theft from the company.

A director can consider resigning from the role if the dispute cannot be resolved easily. If the director is also a shareholder, they could also sell their share. Alternatively, the director could consider buying out other shareholders and remaining in the company.

When a dispute between directors and shareholders is intractable and causing significant damage to the company, it may be necessary to place the company into voluntary administration. The decision will be based on the financial strength of the company and shareholder attitude.

If all other resolution attempts have failed, court may be an option. They type of court action will depend on the nature of the dispute and the remedies sought.

If you are involved in a director dispute, acting quickly can help lessen the impact the dispute can have on you and the company. Seek legal advice from the experienced team at Gibbs Wright.

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How Gibbs Wright can help you

Whether you’re a director of a company involved in a business dispute, or a shareholder involved in a dispute with a company director, Gibbs Wright have the experience and knowledge to help you.

Our aim is to work closely with you to understand your rights and find the most cost effective and successful course of action. We can provide legal advice, negotiation, mediation, and representation for your disputes.

Whether your dispute is one that can be resolved with a simple letter, or if a trial proceeds, Gibbs Wright will fight hard for your rights.

We are civil & commercial litigation lawyers

Why choose Gibbs Wright

There are hundreds of law firms in Queensland, but only a handful of them focus solely on litigation, and fewer still have the necessary skill and understanding to deliver commercially viable results for your matter.

At Gibbs Wright, we exclusively practice in litigation and dispute resolution, and as a client of ours, we want you to feel confident that you will receive unparalleled service and dedication for your dispute.

Our firm represents both plaintiffs and defendants across Queensland, in a wide range of litigation and dispute matters, and no case is too small, too large or too complex for our lawyers to take up the fight.

Whether you are an individual or one of Australia’s largest companies, your case deserves the same level of attention and dedication – and that is what we strive to provide to each and every client.

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Director dispute questions

Frequently asked questions

An “alternate director” is appointed when a director knows they will be absent for one or more board meetings due to, for example, illness, holiday or jury duty.

This substitute director has the same powers, duties and responsibilities as a director and can be appointed for a set period or until the director is able to return to duties. The Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) governs the appointment of alternate directors and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission enforces those laws.

Legislation imposes duties on a director. The main duties are:

  • To exercise care and diligence;
  • To act in good faith and for a proper purpose;
  • Not to improperly use their position; and
  • Not to improperly use information.

Other duties include to keep accurate records, to report regularly, and not to trade while insolvent.

If a director does not fulfil a duty, this is termed a breach.

A director can be removed if they have committed a serious breach of their duties, or for other reasons such as poor performance or personal conflicts.

If a company has a constitution or shareholders’ agreement, these documents will set out the procedure for removing a director.

If there are no such documents, the process outlined in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) applies.

A fiduciary duty is one that requires a person (the fiduciary) to act in the best interests of another person who has placed their trust and confidence in them. A director’s fiduciary duties include:

  • To exercise care and diligence;
  • To act in good faith and for a proper purpose;
  • Not to improperly use their position; and
  • Not to improperly use information.

Other duties include to keep accurate records, to report regularly, and not to trade while insolvent.

In addition to the fiduciary duties owed to the company, in some circumstances directors can also owe fiduciary duties directly to shareholders.

A “shadow director” is a person who has not been officially appointed as a director but on whose instructions or wishes board members are used to acting. A shadow director can face the same penalties as an officially appointed director.

A “de facto director” is a person who has not been officially appointed a director but who acts as one. It can also refer to a person who has been officially appointed as a director but uses another title or job description in practice.

A director can be held personally liable for company losses that result from their breach of duty.

An example is when a company incurs debts while being unable to pay its debts as and when they fall due. In other words, the company is operating while insolvent. If a director allows a company to trade while insolvent, they may be acting illegally and may be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

A director can also be personally liable if they cause the company to suffer loss. In this situation, they may be acting illegally and may be subject to criminal and civil penalties, such as the payment of compensation.

A director can also be personally liable for losses incurred because of a breach of other legislation, in areas such as taxation, and workplace health and safety.

A director’s duties may continue even after the company has stopped trading and been deregistered.

Yes. A director can choose to hold shares in a company but generally there is no requirement. However, a company’s constitution can dictate that a director must hold a specific number of shares, either before appointment or within a certain period after appointment.

It is common in smaller companies for a director to also be a shareholder. A small company may have one director who is also the sole shareholder.

A shareholders’ agreement is a contract between the shareholders and the company that sets out rules for the structure, ownership, management and direction of the company.

It may contain information such as:

  • Dispute resolution procedures and penalties for breaching duties;
  • How shareholders can acquire or dispose of shares;
  • How the company is to be funded;
  • The frequency of meetings; and
  • The process for selling or winding up the company.

This type of agreement clarifies the responsibilities and obligations that affect the shareholders in the company. It also signals to potential investors that the company is well managed and accountable.

Our people

Meet our litigation team

Yusuf Furgan
Senior litigation solicitor

Meet Yusuf

Yusuf combines his formidable legal research and problem-solving skills together to resolve employment and commercial disputes.

Rebekka Hallberg
Senior litigation solicitor

Meet Rebekka

Rebekka is dedicated, driven, and an out-of-the-box type thinker, who assists our clients in a wide variety of litigation and IP matters.

Melany Dowse
Special counsel

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Melany represents a range of clients from individuals and small businesses to body corporates and insolvency practitioners.

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What our clients say

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