Joint Venture Status Denied By Court

Construction companies, especially those engaged in large public works or private development projects, sometimes form joint ventures to pool their resources and perform work on jobs that  might be beyond their individual financial capabilities or technical expertise. Typically, the joint venture is formed for an individual project. As a result, the formation of the joint venture is often  not addressed with the same degree of formality and care as when a corporate entity is formed on a more permanent basis. Recently, in Slabakis v. Schik, 164 A.D.3d 454, 84 N.Y.S.3d 45 (1 st Dep’t 2018), the First Department addressed the requirements of forming a joint venture in the context of a dispute as to whether a proper joint venture had been formed.

The plaintiff in Slabakis alleged there was an oral joint venture agreement, and sued the defendant, its purported joint venture partner, for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and related  wrongs. Defendant moved to dismiss, alleging that the complaint did not adequately allege the existence of a joint venture agreement. The trial level court denied the motion, holding that there was an issue of fact as to the viability of the complaint.

On appeal, the First Department reversed and dismissed the complaint, holding that the pleading was defective in two material respects. First, the Slabakis complaint failed to contain a mutual  promise that profits and losses would be shared to some degree. Instead, it indicated that all of the losses would be solely borne by the defendant. This was “fatal” to plaintiff’s claim that a joint  venture was created.

Second, the complaint alleged that management and control of the entity was vested completely with the defendant. However, because another essential element of a joint venture is shared  management and control, this was also a material defect in plaintiff’s complaint. Accordingly, because allegations asserting two key elements of a joint venture were missing from the complaint, it was dismissed.

The Slabakis case underscores that even for temporary agreements such as joint venture agreements, care must be taken to ensure the legal requirements are properly and adequately stated. If  they are not, an arrangement seemingly agreed to by the parties might not survive scrutiny in a court of law.