A fiduciary is someone with a certain form of discretion, power, or authority over the legal and practical interests of a beneficiary. As a result of this arrangement, the beneficiary is vulnerable to predation by the fiduciary. Fiduciary relationships trigger a suite of duties, at the core of which is the duty of loyalty. In a sense, the fiduciary relationship is oriented around the possibilities of trust and betrayal. One point of fiduciary duties is to prevent betrayal or, failing that, to assure that betrayals are rectified insofar as possible. What constitutes loyalty or betrayal in fiduciary law, however, is not always clear.

Consider Item Software (UK) Ltd. v. Fassihi. Messrs Fassihi and Dehghani were corporate directors of a small software distribution company called Item Software, whose main business was selling software developed by Isograph. Dehghani was the managing director, and Fassihi was the sales marketing director. In November 1998, Dehghani decided to renegotiate the terms on which Item sold Isograph’s products. Fassihi urged Dehghani to drive a hard bargain with Isograph, so Deghani negotiated aggressively. Ultimately, the negotiations between Item and Isograph broke down, and Isograph terminated its contract with Item.

You are approached by a dear friend who says, “I have a terrific business concept—diamond mining in Siberia. Just a pickaxe, divining rod, and some elbow grease. It’s going to be terrific. The problem is, I need a little bit of cash to get it off the ground. Any interest? I can offer you a share of the company.” Although you know little about Siberia or investing, you decide to invest. He sends you a sixty-five-page LLC operating agreement for Sub-Zero Mining, LLC (“it’s mostly boilerplate”), which you review briefly and sign. You send it back to him, along with a check for your investment.

Six months later, having heard nothing from your friend, you run into him, and he is driving a brand-new sports car. You ask him, “How did the mining in Siberia go?”

“It was terrific,” your friend explains. “I have more money than I know what to do with!”

Naturally, you ask for your share.