In a recent California appellate decision titled Ito v. Ito, the appellate court considered how to value two brothers’ respective interests in real estate they’d bought and sold. One of the brothers, a programmer, had gone into business with the other, a real estate investor, and then they fell out. The programmer sued the investor to wind things up. Ultimately, the real-estate investor appealed.
The main issues in the lawsuit were how to value each brother’s interest in real estate they’d bought and sold and how to treat their interests in a corporation they’d formed to make arrangements. The programmer testified that when they formed the corporation, he was making more than $300,000 a year as an independent contractor. His brother had no money, and the programmer agreed to do his business through a corporation and give his brother a 50% share of the business to take advantage of the brother’s tax losses. The brother got a salary under an employment contract with the corporation, but according to the programmer, he didn’t do anything for the corporation. In 2002, the brother forfeited his share of the business.
At trial, the court labeled the corporation an illegal scheme by the programmer to avoid paying income taxes and decided the brother had no interest from the beginning. The brothers had jointly bought about 39 properties and continued to own six of them through partnerships and limited liability companies at the time of trial. The investor argued that their interests should be determined by their capital accounts in the property, with the amount of the accounts fluctuating based on their contributions. He argued that the programmer’s capital accounts for the properties were zero because whatever he’d put in, he got back in the form of payments he’d received from the investor.