Personal Liability of Officers for Corporate Guarantees

Last January, the 1st District Court of Appeals issued a noteworthy opinion reinforcing the personal liability for loan guarantees made by corporate officers while acting within their capacities as officers of the company.  The court’s ruling in 84 Lumber Co. v. Powers, No.-01009-00986-CV, 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 590 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] Jan. 26, 2012, no pet.), will likely force many corporate officers, including those in larger corporations, to now rethink placing their own necks on the line for those companies to which they owe fiduciary responsibilities.

David Powers, acting within his capacity as president of his company David Powers Homes, Inc., signed a statement that he “UNCONDITIONALLY AND IRREVOCABLY PERSONALLY GUARANTEE[D] [THE] CREDIT ACCOUNT….”  Mr. Powers took the position that he no longer possessed any personal liability for the loan because he signed the guarantee as a corporate officer and he no longer held that position.

In rejecting Mr. Powers’ stance that his personal liability was precluded by the statute of frauds (which requires the guaranty to be in writing and signed by the person to be charged), the court held that liability remained on Mr. Powers, individually, and not merely with the office of president of his company.  As the court noted, generally speaking a guarantor of a debt is an individual who willingly stands for the debt of another.  The court reasoned that had it ruled in favor of Mr. Powers, it would essentially render a guarantor agreement meaningless because personal liability would thereby reside in the same person—i.e., the company would then become both the account debtor and the guarantor of the corporate debt.

Ultimately, the court determined that Mr. Powers remained liable for his “unambiguous” guarantee of personal liability for the company’s debt, largely due to the fact that Mr. Powers was the owner of the company.  The court did, however, leave open the question regarding liability under situations involving more ambiguous contractual terms or where the corporate officer-guarantor owned minimal or no shares in his or her company.

Authored by Scott A. Meyer and John Sokatch.

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