Several readers have asked the same question about the new(ish) Netflix series Iron Fist: how exactly could Danny legally recover a 51% interest in Rand Enterprises? This is a good question. Unfortunately the series doesn’t give us quite enough information to answer it definitively, but I think there are a couple of reasonable theories. Spoilers follow!
I. Regular Inheritance: The Straightforward but Legally Dubious Way
One possibility is that when the Rand family died in the plane crash, Wendell Rand’s interest passed to Harold Meachum, possibly by the terms of Wendell’s will, possibly by the Rand Enterprises operating agreement. When Harold ‘died’, his children (Joy and Ward) inherited that combined interest, giving them essentially complete control over the company. Thus, Danny’s lawsuit would essentially be an effort to claw back the shares that would otherwise have passed to him, presuming that Wendell’s will (or the New York intestate succession laws) would have made Danny an heir.
This all seems straightforward enough factually, but the problem is that 15 years have passed, and New York has a six year statute of limitations for probate claims. NY CPLR § 213. Here’s where it starts to get tricky.
Danny was a minor (10 years old) when his parents died. In theory this means that the statute of limitations was tolled (i.e. paused) until he either came of age or a personal representative could be appointed, whichever comes first. NY CPLR § 208. In the first of many stretches, one could argue that a personal representative can’t be appointed for a supposedly dead person, and so the statute would be tolled until Danny turned 18. But that only gets us 8 years out of 15. At a minimum we need another 2 years after Danny turned 18. Can we get there?
Maybe. The clock starts running from the time facts are discovered or from the time when facts can be discovered with reasonable diligence. NY CPLR § 203(g). Danny could argue that—as an extremely socially isolated child—he could not discover the fact that his inheritance had been withheld from him (even with reasonable diligence) until some time later, probably after he left K’un-Lun to return to New York. I don’t know exactly how long it took Danny to get back to New York, but it seems to be implied that although it took him a while, it likely wasn’t more than a few years. Eight years as an infant plus a few more years isolated in K’un-Lun might be enough to place Danny within the 6 year statute of limitations.
That said, the law puts a high value on settled expectations, and Danny would be fighting an uphill battle.
II. A Trust: The More Complicated but Legally Plausible Way
But all is not lost. As we learn from Jeri Hogarth, one of Wendell’s attorneys, the family has a trust that—presumably among other things—pays for the upkeep of the family memorial. It is possible that, rather than passing to Harold, Wendell’s shares passed to the Rand family trust. Indeed it’s possible they were held by that trust the entire time, depending on how exactly Harold set things up.
In any event, it would be typical for Danny to be a beneficiary of that trust, with his exact level of benefit and control dependent on whether his parents were still alive and whether he had reached a certain age (possibly majority, possibly older). In the absence of a more typical beneficiary, the trust may have been directed to invest conservatively and distribute its income to various charitable causes. There may also be some direction as to how its influence over Rand Enterprises should be exercised, if at all. This is speculative, but not an unusual setup.
In this case, Danny’s suit would be to claim benefit from the trust, and Rand Enterprises would be acting as an intervenor in the case, arguing that it had an interest in the outcome, since it didn’t want majority control to transfer to an imposter or an incompetent. In this case the court would be less concerned about settled expectations because all of the assets would remain with the trust, which would simply be changing its beneficiary to Danny.
That setup is all well and good, but what about the statute of limitations? Why could Danny bring this action but probably not a probate claim? There are two arguments.
First, specific to certain claims against trusts and other fiduciary agents, the clock starts “when the person having the right to make the demand discovered the facts upon which the right depends”. NY CPLR § 206. That’s a much narrower rule than the general discovery rule. In this case Danny’s profound ignorance of the situation right up until he walked into the Rand offices seems to work to his benefit.
Second, continuous or repeated wrongs renew the statute of limitations. In this case, the fiduciary is continuing to repeat the wrong of denying Danny the benefit of the trust, and so he can make a claim even though the first wrong may have occurred more than six years ago.1050 Tenants Corp. v. Lapidus, 289 A.D.2d 145 (1st Dep’t 2001).
There are plenty of other legal issues in Iron Fist (e.g. Jeri’s questionable contingency fee arrangement with Danny; Jeri’s complete failure to explain any of the documents Danny was given to sign after the settlement with Rand; the fact that Danny commits numerous serious crimes from the moment he arrives in the US), but this major plot point is at least semi-justifiable.