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A shareholder’s contractual right to a dividend and a company’s oppressive conduct in withholding dividend payments: Sumiseki Materials Co Ltd v Wambo Coal Pty Ltd
journal contributionposted on 2014-01-01, 00:00 authored by Jean Du PlessisJean Du Plessis, Alevras, Stephen
Traditionally, a shareholder’s expectation of receiving a dividend has been limited by the discretion the board of directors has to recommend the appropriate amount of payment as a dividend. As a general rule, shareholders will only be entitled to a dividend after the dividend is declared (normally, at the general meeting), or when the actual date arrives for the dividend to be paid. Because courts were traditionally reluctant to interfere with the internal management of companies, the remedies available to shareholders to compel a company to declare a dividend were very limited. As a result, if the directors have decided to withhold dividend payment, courts will only make an order requiring dividends to be paid under very exceptional circumstances. In this article, the authors discuss the case of Sumiseki Materials Co Ltd v Wambo Coal Pty Ltd  NSWSC 235, which is exceptional for the court’s recognition of a shareholder’s contractual right to a dividend. The article analyses the court’s approach, which found that withholding dividend payments was oppressive and unfairly prejudicial conduct of the company. It also discusses the significance of shareh9olders entrenching their rights in a company’s constitution, irrespective of the fact that a company has a statutory right to alter its constitution by way of a special resolution.