New Case Law – Business Valuation in Divorce

Two articles from BV Wire recently caught my attention. Both deal with business valuation in divorce cases where personal goodwill was an issue. I will post my own analysis soon. Meanwhile, here are excerpts from BV Wire’s blast email, published by BV Resources.

Med practice valuations still plague appraisers—and the courts

A trio of new divorce cases highlights the constant challenge of appraising medical practices, everything from doctors who won’t disclose their finances to those who insist their opinions should determine value. In Garcia v. Garcia (Fla. App., Jan. 20, 2010), the husband’s expert argued for a strict application of the buy-sell agreement, which would have limited his share in a successful hematology practice to a mere $45,000—compared to the wife’s expert, who used a net asset value to appraise it at $900,000. At the very least, the husband argued, the restrictive buy-sell should considerably discount the NAV (but he lost both arguments on appeal).

Or consider Amaraneni v. Amaraneni, (La. App., Feb. 12, 2010), in which the doctor claimed his interest in an urgent care clinic had no value apart from goodwill attributable to his professional qualities. But he failed to provide any financial documentation to the court-appointed expert; at deposition, he was similarly “vague” and un-responsive. His name was on the wall but the clinic wasn’t named after him. A manager supervised all the operations and staff—and the expert apportioned all goodwill to the enterprise, also confirmed on appeal.

Finally, in Dickert v.Dickert, (S.C., Jan. 11, 2010), the trial court valued the husband’s successful dental practice at $360,000, including over $255,000 of “enterprise goodwill.” In an expedited appeal to the S.C. Supreme Court, the husband argued that state law precluded any consideration of goodwill in a professional practice, due to its speculative nature. The wife claimed the current majority rule on enterprise values was the better law, but the court disagreed, finding the goodwill asset “too intangible” to support an accurate valuation.  (All three case digests will appear in the April 2010 Business Valuation Update™.)

Is this recession enough reason to devalue assets in divorce?

In Mistretta v.Mistretta (Fla. App., Feb. 18, 2010), the trial court valued the husband’s restaurant at $854,000, based on a valuation report prepared nearly a year earlier. The husband moved for reconsideration, claiming the recession caused the restaurant to lose value. The trial court agreed, finding that no one could have foreseen the severity of the economic crisis—but the wife successfully appealed. “Economic recessions, like other vagaries in the business cycle, are contingencies appraisers must take into account in valuing a business,” the appellate court held, despite a strong dissent which likened the recession to a global economic “tsunami.” The wife’s expert, Gary Trugman, obviously agrees with the majority. “The truth is, we did consider the economic downturn, because we used dual valuation dates,” he tells the BVWire™. The husband also lost on his expert’s claim that 50% of the restaurant’s value was personal goodwill. “As I said to the judge, ‘Your Honor, when was the last time you went to a restaurant if the food was lousy, the service was terrible, but the owner was a really nice guy?’ I think that got my point across, that there was very little personal goodwill,” Trugman says. “I used Pratt’s Stats data for restaurants to demonstrate what portion of the purchase price was protected by a covenant not to compete, and used that percentage to allocate some personal goodwill—but it was a relatively small figure.”

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