The founders of the company operating the online death notice website RIP.ie claim efforts to sell it are at risk of falling through because of a dispute over a shareholding claim in the business.
Jay Coleman and his sister Dympna Coleman, along with their business which operates RIP.ie, Gradam Communications of Court Road, Newtownbalregan, Co Louth, are being sued in the High Court by businessman Michael Feerick of Earlspark, Loughrea, Co Galway.
Mr Feerick, who is a director of online educational resources website Alison.com, claims he is entitled to a 20 per cent shareholding in the business arising out of an agreement with the Colemans in 2007.
Among the reliefs Mr Feerick seeks are an order authorising the allotment of an additional 20 per cent of shares in Gradam to him and, in the alternative, that the Colmans be prevented from denying he is entitled to that 20 per cent.
The case was admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court on Monday on the application of the defendants and on consent between the parties by Mr Justice David Barniville.
In an affidavit seeking entry of the case to the commercial list, Mr Coleman, on his own behalf and on behalf of his sister who has an address in Switzerland, said the consequences of Mr Feerick’s claim are very significant as there is now a risk that a planned sale of the business will fall through if the dispute is not determined in an expeditious manner.
He said Mr Feerick’s claim is entirely speculative and his proceedings have been taken at a remove of some ten years since his involvement in the business.
He said that last September “out of the blue” Mr Feerick made contact with him alleging his share entitlement and threatening litigation.
His claim relates to an agreement in December 2007, which Mr Coleman says ultimately not performed and terminated in November 2010. He said the defendants have at all times refuted his shareholding claim and Mr Feerick has been aware of that position for more than 10 years, he said.
The Colemans set up RIP.ie in 2005, and it has more than 250,000 visitors each day with more than 50 million pages of content viewed each month.
Mr Coleman said they first came into contact with Mr Feerick in 2007 when he offered them his business plan for a similar site he had developed years earlier. It was felt he could provide valued guidance and he signed an agreement in January 2008 which stated, among other things, he was to be awarded ten per cent of the business.
Mr Coleman said the agreement was not executed and he did not become a shareholder.
He said Mr Feerick did not provide the level of commitment or bring any particular expertise to the business as he had promised. The financial plan he promised also never materialised, he said.
After very little contact with him in 2009 and for much of 2010, he wrote saying it was “time to monetise” and also suggested a possible venture capital investment proposal.
In November 2010, he was told he had not performed his obligations and they had “come to the end of the road”, Mr Coleman said.
He threatened legal proceedings in 2011 if he did not get 20 per cent but nothing further happened, he said. There was very little contact with him after 2012 except for an occasional email which the Colmans did not engage with, he said.
He then made contact again last September seeking 20 per cent and then brought proceedings this year.
The case comes back to court in November.