Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Markets, Inc.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore WILKINS; GREANEY
Citation424 Mass. 501,677 N.E.2d 159
PartiesArthur S. DEMOULAS v. DEMOULAS SUPER MARKETS, INC., & others. 1
Decision Date13 March 1997

Page 159

677 N.E.2d 159
424 Mass. 501
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Argued Nov. 6, 1996.
Decided March 13, 1997.

Page 164

[424 Mass. 503] Edward J. Barshak, Boston, for Telemachus A. Demoulas & others.

Page 165

Judith Gail Dein, Boston, for Glorianne D. Farnham & another.

Gary C. Crossen, Boston, for Frances D. Kettenback.

Robert C. Gerrard, Boston (Anthony R. Pelusi, Jr., Carol R. Cohen & Thomas S. Fitzpatrick with him) for Arthur S. Demoulas.

Jerome Gotkin, John Paul Sullivan, Peter A. Biagetti & A.W. Phinney, III, Boston, for Demoulas Super Markets, Inc., submitted a brief.

Thomas J. Dougherty, George J. Skelly & James R. Carroll, Boston, for D. Harold Sullivan, submitted a brief.


GREANEY, Justice.

The plaintiff, Arthur S. Demoulas, commenced a shareholder derivative action on behalf of Demoulas Super Markets, Inc. (DSM), and Valley Properties, Inc. (Valley), against the defendants, alleging that the defendants had wrongfully, and in breach of fiduciary duties, usurped corporate opportunities that should have been presented to DSM and Valley. A Superior Court judge sitting without a jury presided over a complex, and at times contentious, trial lasting eighty-four days, at which numerous witnesses testified and over 900 exhibits were introduced. The judge entered a 217-page decision containing findings of fact and rulings of law in which she found the defendants individually and collectively responsible for wrongfully diverting corporate opportunities. The defendants appeal from the amended judgment. DSM has also appealed from a separate judgment of civil contempt entered after a trial by another judge in the Superior Court sitting without a jury. We granted the defendants' application for direct appellate review and heard [424 Mass. 504] both appeals together. We agree with most of the judge's conclusions, but remand the case to the Superior Court for recomputation of the remedy to ensure a just recovery, and for the entry of orders dismissing the defendant D. Harold Sullivan from the case and removing the requirement that he reimburse DSM and Valley for funds received for attorney's fees and costs. We also affirm the civil contempt judgment against DSM, including its award of attorney's fees.


The Demoulas supermarket chain had its origin in a neighborhood food store in Lowell that was opened in 1917 by Arthur and Efrasine Demoulas. In 1954, the couple sold their business to two of their six children, George and Telemachus. Over the next decade, the brothers opened four additional stores in northeastern Massachusetts. In 1964, they formed DSM, and merged into it the separate corporations they had previously established for each of their existing stores. DSM was wholly owned by George, Telemachus, and their spouses: George owned 300 shares; his wife, Evanthea, 200 shares; Telemachus, 300 shares; and Telemachus's wife, Irene, 200 shares. At the time of the merger, the two sides of the Demoulas family owned an equal number of shares in DSM. From 1964 through 1970, DSM grew into a chain of fourteen supermarkets by opening nine additional stores, including two in New Hampshire. 2

George and Evanthea had four children: Fotene (born in 1954), Evan (1955), Diana (1956), and the plaintiff (1958). Telemachus and Irene also had four children: Frances (1950), Glorianne (1952), Arthur T. (1955), and Caren (1959). 3

George died suddenly on June 27, 1971. At his death, Telemachus assumed control of DSM under the terms of a voting trust agreement (VTA) that had been entered into by DSM shareholders in 1965. 4 The VTA designated George and Telemachus as voting

Page 166

cotrustees and placed the shareholders' [424 Mass. 505] voting powers in their hands. On George's death, Telemachus became the sole voting trustee of DSM. There was no provision in the VTA for the selection of a new cotrustee to succeed George. Telemachus also became the executor of George's estate and a trustee of testamentary trusts established on behalf of George's children by his will.

In 1990, the plaintiff brought this shareholder derivative action on behalf of DSM and Valley. The essence of the plaintiff's complaint is that, in the years since George's death, Telemachus and the members of his family have exploited Telemachus's control over DSM and Valley to transfer assets and divert business opportunities away from those corporations, which were jointly owned by George's and Telemachus's sides of the Demoulas family, into other businesses that were solely owned by Telemachus's branch. The defendants in this action include (in addition to DSM and Valley) Telemachus, his wife, his children, DSM's accountant (D. Harold Sullivan), and the companies that received these diverted assets and opportunities (Market Basket, Inc.; Doric Development Corporation, Inc.; and Lee Drug, Inc.). 5

In a separate but related action, George's widow and children charged that Telemachus and his children also used wrongful means to gain a greater share of ownership in DSM itself, at the expense of the members of George's family. 6 In a trial of those claims, a jury found Telemachus (but not his children) liable for fraud, conversion, and breach of fiduciary duties with respect to estate and trust assets. The jury found that Telemachus's considerable transgressions involved the transfer, purchase, and redemption of stock belonging to Evanthea, George's estate, and their children. The result, over time, was to increase the proportion of DSM stock in the hands of Telemachus, his wife, and his children to ninety-two per cent. The same judge presided at both that trial (which we shall refer to as the "stock transfer action") and the shareholder derivative action that is now before us.

[424 Mass. 506] The plaintiff's claims in the shareholder derivative action involve the following types of business activity:

A. Supermarkets. Until 1986, New Hampshire law limited the number of licenses for retail beer and wine sales that could be held by one person or corporation, thereby hindering DSM's planned expansion in that State. To overcome these restrictions, two new corporations were formed, Seabrook Sales, Inc. (1973), and P & P Foods, Inc. (1978), and supermarkets were opened by those companies. Although DSM supplied financing, and DSM personnel managed these supermarkets, the companies were not owned by DSM. Seabrook Sales was owned by George and Telemachus's sister, Ann Burliss, and P & P Foods was owned by one of Telemachus's daughters, Frances. In 1981, Frances exercised an option and acquired Seabrook (which by that time had been renamed Market Basket); the two companies merged and became Market Basket, Inc. In 1986, Frances sold part of her stock to her siblings and her parents. The end result was the creation of a supermarket chain that was entirely owned by members of Telemachus's branch of the family. In the years that followed, more new supermarkets were opened under the Market Basket name, and in 1988, DSM sold seventeen of its own stores to Market Basket. The plaintiff contends that the creation and growth of Market Basket as a separate entity, the placement of its ownership solely in the hands of Telemachus and his family, and the transfer of stores from DSM to Market Basket damaged DSM through the diversion of corporate opportunities and assets, and that the individual defendants violated their fiduciary duties to DSM and benefited from their wrongful acts. The defendants deny that any of these acts was improper or gave rise to liability for

Page 167

benefits received from any alleged violations of their fiduciary duty to DSM.

B. Drug stores. Lee Drug, a chain of drug stores, was established in 1983. According to the defendants, the DSM board of directors had turned down a proposal presented by Telemachus's son, Arthur T., that DSM establish and own the chain and had authorized Arthur T. to pursue the opportunity on his own. The plaintiff contends that, even though the proposal was offered to DSM and rejected by it, this venture nonetheless is an usurped corporate opportunity, because the procedures followed during DSM's consideration [424 Mass. 507] failed to meet the requirements of the corporate opportunity doctrine, and material facts were not disclosed to the DSM board. When it was first established, Lee Drug was owned by a corporation, Doric Distributors, Inc., whose sole shareholders were Telemachus's four children. In 1986, the two companies merged, and Arthur T. became the majority shareholder, with Frances, Caren, Glorianne, and Arthur T.'s wife, Maureen (see note 60, infra ), owning the balance. 7

C. Real estate. Prior to 1980, sites for shopping centers that were to contain Demoulas Super Market stores were acquired and developed by DSM Realty (a wholly owned subsidiary of DSM); by Delta & Delta Realty Trust, established in 1971 and owned by members of both branches of the Demoulas families, with Telemachus as sole trustee; and by Valley Properties, Inc. (Valley), which was incorporated in 1974 with Telemachus's and George's branches owning equal shares. 8 The shareholders entered into a VTA that named Telemachus as sole voting trustee of Valley. Beginning in 1980, additional real estate companies were established that were owned solely by members of Telemachus's family. These entities included Northland Properties, Inc. (incorporated in 1980, merged with Market Basket in December, 1986); Doric Development Corporation, Inc. (incorporated in 1981); and 231 Realty Associates (a partnership established in 1985). The defendants argue that these various companies fulfilled different development functions, and that transactions among them were fair to DSM and Valley. The plaintiff contends the new companies displaced the older ones in developing parcels at a profit,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
479 cases
  • H1 Lincoln, Inc. v. S. Wash. St., LLC, SJC-13088
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • January 24, 2022
    ...entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Mkts., Inc., 424 Mass. 501, 509, 677 N.E.2d 159 (1997), S.C., 428 Mass. 543, 703 N.E.2d 1141 (1998), and S.C., 432 Mass. 43, 732 N.E.2d 875 (2000), quoting Building I......
  • Trieweiler v. Sears, No. S-02-134
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nebraska
    • December 17, 2004
    ...for profits, belonged to the appellants. See C&B Sales & Service, Inc., supra. See, also, Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Markets, Inc., 424 Mass. 501, 677 N.E.2d 159 (1997) (wrongdoer responsible for asserting and proving defense of tax deductions). Absent such evidence, we cannot say the distr......
  • Commonwealth v. Carrasquillo, SJC-13122
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • February 7, 2022
    ...with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed" (quotations omitted). Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Mkts., Inc., 424 Mass. 501, 509, 677 N.E.2d 159 (1997), quoting Building Inspector of Lancaster v. Sanderson, 372 Mass. 157, 160, 360 N.E.2d 1051 (1977). With respect to......
  • Heinrich ex rel. Heinrich v. Sweet, Civ.A. 97-12134-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 1999
    ...fraudulent conduct and is equivalent to fraudulent concealment for purposes of applying § 12. Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Markets, Inc., 424 Mass. 501, 519, 677 N.E.2d 159 (1997). The Massachusetts Plaintiffs need only show that the private defendants failed to disclose the facts which give ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • The Journal of Corporation Law Vol. 48 No. 1, September 2022
    • September 22, 2022
    ...a close corporation owes a duty of loyalty to the corporation and to the other shareholders."); Demoulas v. Demoulas Super Mkts., Inc., 677 N.E.2d 159, 179 (Mass. 1997) (Regarding close corporations, "duties of loyalty extend to shareholders, who owe one another substantially the same duty ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT