Monday, June 20, 2016

The Last Tour Leg: The Windy City And The Emerald City

Having helped a few Tennessee bar applicants get straight on their knowledge of agency, unincorporated business associations, and personal property law last Friday at my BARBRI lecture (such a nice group present at the taping to keep me company!), it's now time for me to wrap up my June Scholarship and Teaching Tour with a twofer--a week of travel to two of my favorite U.S. cities: Chicago, for the National Business Law Scholars Conference and Seattle for Berle VIII.  At both events, I will present my draft paper (still in process today, unfortunately) on publicly held benefit corporations, Corporate Purpose and Litigation Risk in Publicly Held U.S. Benefit Corporations.  Here's the bird's-eye view from the introduction:

Benefit corporations—corporations organized for the express purpose of realizing both financial wealth for shareholders and articulated social or environmental benefits—have taken the United States by storm. With Maryland passing the first benefit corporation statute in 2010, legislative growth of the form has been rapid. Currently, 31 states have passed benefit corporation statutes.

The proliferation of benefit corporation statutes and B Corp certifications can largely be attributed to the active promotional work of B Lab Company, a nonprofit corporation organized in 2006 under Pennsylvania law that supports social enterprise (“B Lab”). B Lab works with individuals and interest groups to generate attention to social enterprise generally and awareness of and support for the benefit corporation form and B Corp certification (a social enterprise seal of approval, of sorts) specifically. B Lab also supplies model benefit corporation legislation, social enterprise standards that may meet the requirements of benefit corporation statutes in various states, and other services to social enterprises.

Benefit corporation statutes have not, by and large, been the entity law Field of Dreams. Despite the legislative popularity of the benefit corporation form, there have not been as many benefit corporation incorporations as one might expect. In the first four years of benefit corporation authority, for example, Maryland reported the existence of fewer than 40 benefit corporations in total. Tennessee’s benefit corporation statute came into effect in January 2016, and as of May 2, 2016, Secretary of State filings evidence the organization of 26 for-profit benefit corporations. However, a review of these filings suggests that well more than half were erroneously organized as benefit corporations. Colorado, another recent adopter of the benefit corporation, does appear to have a large number of filings (90 in total as of June 12, 2016 based on the list of Colorado benefit corporations on the B Lab website). However, as with Tennessee, a number of these listed corporations appear to be erroneously classified. These anecdotal offerings indicate that published lists of benefit corporations—even those constructed from state filings—over-count the number of benefit corporations significantly.

Research for this article identified no publicly held U.S. benefit corporations. For these purposes (and as referenced throughout this article), the term “publicly held” in reference to a corporation is defined to mean a corporation (a) with a class of equity securities registered under Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“1934 Act”), or (b) otherwise required to file periodic reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission under Section 13 of the 1934 Act. Yet, benefit corporations may be subsidiaries of publicly held corporations (as Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., New Chapter Inc., and Plum, PBC have demonstrated), and corporations certified as B Corps have begun to enter the ranks of publicly held corporations (perhaps Etsy, Inc. being the most well known to date). It likely is only a matter of time before we will see the advent of publicly held U.S. benefit corporations.

With the likely prospect of publicly held U.S. benefit corporations in mind, this article engages in a thought experiment. Specifically, this article views the publicly held U.S. benefit corporation from the perspective of litigation risk. It first situates, in Part I, the U.S. benefit corporation in its structural and governance context as an incorporated business association. Corporate purpose and the attendant managerial authority and fiduciary duties are the key points of reference. Then, in Part II, the article seeks to identify the unique litigation risks associated with publicly held corporations with the structural and governance attributes of a benefit corporation. These include both state and federal causes of action. The reflections in Part III draw conclusions from the synthesis of the observations made in Parts I and II. The closing thoughts in Part III are intended to be of use to policy makers, academic observers, and advisers of corporations, among others.

As Haskell mentioned in an earlier post, he and Anne and I will be together at the Berle VIII event.  What a great way to end my June tour--with my friends and colleagues from the Business Law Prof Blog!  I look forward to it.

June 20, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tragedy, Politics, and Business

By now, I am sure all readers are aware of the horrific, hateful mass shooting that occurred in Orlando earlier this week.

If your social media feeds are anything like mine, it did not take long for politicians, pundits, and friends to politicize this tragedy. The tragedy was quickly used, by people all along the political spectrum, as evidence supporting their views on guns, religion, sexuality, and immigration. There is certainly a time and need for solutions, but there needs to be space to mourn. Orin Kerr (George Washington Law) summarized my thoughts well when he tweeted:

 

What could and should be done immediately after a tragedy? I am not entirely sure, but those who took steps to donate blood and financial resources should be commended.

Some local businesses also attempted to help. For example, it was reported that Chick-fil-A, which is famously closed on Sundays, cooked and gave away food to those waiting in line to donate blood. This is an admittedly small gesture, but at a time when our nation often seems hopelessly divided, I am thankful for the gesture. Chick-fil-A and its conservative Christian COO Dan Cathy were, of course, at the center of controversy regarding views on marriage. I have seen no indications that Dan Cathy has changed his views on marriage, though Chick-fil-A does appear to have made changes in its donations. In any event, I am so glad to see a business looking past differing views and caring for human beings in the aftermath of tragedy.

[Disclosure: While no company is perfect, my family and I are Chick-fil-A fans, and I have friends, including a former roommate, who work for the company.]

June 17, 2016 in Business Associations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

8th Annual Berle Symposium - Benefit Corporations and the Firm Commitment Universe - June 27-28, 2016 - Seattle, WA

Three Business Law Prof Blog editors (myself included) are presenting at the upcoming Berle Symposium on June 27-28 in Seattle.

Colin Mayer (Oxford) is the keynote speaker, and I look forward to hearing him present again. I blogged on his book Firm Commitment after I heard him speak at Vanderbilt a few of years ago. The presenters also include former Chancellor Bill Chandler of the Delaware Court of Chancery. Given that Chancellor Chandler's eBay v. Newmark decision is heavily cited in the benefit corporation debates, it will be quite valuable to have him among the contributors. The author of the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, Bill Clark, will also be presenting; I have been at a number of conferences with Bill Clark and always appreciate his thoughts from the front lines. Finally, the list is packed with professors I know and admire, or have read their work and am looking forward to meeting. 

More information about the conference is available here.

June 16, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Law School, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 6, 2016

From Decatur Street to Hotlanta!

The first part of my June scholarship and teaching tour is now done.  Having just returned from the Law and Society Association conference in New Orleans (about which I will say more in later posts), I now am preparing for my presentation on Friday at "Method in the Madness: The Art and Science of Teaching Transactional Law and Skills," this year's conference hosted by Emory University School of Law's Center for Transactional Law and Practice.  Emory Law convenes these conferences every other year.  The conferences always focus on teaching transactional business law and skills.

Here's the abstract for my presentation:

Drafting Corporate Bylaws: From Alpha to Omega

The archetypal introductory law school course in business associations law characteristically introduces students to corporate bylaws. Typically, course references to corporate bylaws occur in the context of corporate formation and in cases construing corporate bylaws in the context of private ordering, fundamental corporate changes, and the like. Treatment of the subject is necessarily somewhat superficial and episodic. Although students may be exposed to bylaw provisions and even, in some cases, a sample set of corporate bylaws, little time exists in the standard basic Business Associations course to address the optimal drafting process for drafting organic documents (including corporate bylaws).

An advanced business associations offering or a business planning course, however, provides a wonderful opportunity to engage students in this type of activity and give them a deeper appreciation for the governance significance of corporate bylaws. For the past two years, I have taught a module in Representing Enterprises, a transaction simulation course offered to participants in The University of Tennessee College of Law’s Concentration in Business Transactions, that focuses on drafting bylaws for a closely held start-up corporation organized under Tennessee law. The module offers a sequenced approach to the construction of corporate bylaws, starting with an in-depth survey of applicable statutory and decisional law, progressing through the identification of forms and norms, and ending with individual and group drafting exercises. The five class meetings (ten classroom hours in total over a period of two-and-a-half weeks) in the module engage facilitated peer-to-peer teaching and focus on relevant drafting processes (incorporating and reflecting on the students’ approaches to the required course assignments) and resulting outtakes (more precisely, takeaways).

In this presentation, I will share in more detail the content of and pedagogy involved in this course offering. As support, I will supply all participants with the module syllabus and the staged series of assignments that I give to the students to execute on the embodied learning objectives. This presentation should be particularly useful to those offering, planning on offering, or considering offering a business entity planning and drafting opportunity for law students. But it also may be valuable for those teaching introductory doctrinal offerings in business associations law.

If you cannot be at the conference and are interested in the materials supporting or PowerPoint slides for this presentation, please just let me know.  

Also, you may want to note that many (most) presentations at the conference will be memorialized in a forthcoming volume of our student-edited business law journal, Transactions: Tennessee Journal of Business Law.  Transactions has been a partner of Emory Law in its biennial conferences from the start.  The Transactions volumes from the Emory Law conferences typically are quite popular among business law instructors.  I use my copies a fair amount.  So, you may want to get one of these, too.  Just fyi: the book usually comes out in the spring semester following the conference.  Also note that some of the included works are produced from transcripts of the proceedings (very tough to do) and some are papers prepared by the presenters on the topic of their presentation.

Atlanta, here I come!

June 6, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

MALSB - Call for Papers and 2017 Conference

See below for information on the The Midwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business (MALSB) Annual Conference in Chicago, IL and their call for papers. I attended MALSB this year, found it beneficial, and reflected on the conference in this post.

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Midwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business

2017 Annual Conference

March 22 – 24, 2017

The Palmer House Hilton Hotel – Chicago, Illinois

Conference Registration and Call for Papers

The Midwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business (MALSB) Annual Conference is held in conjunction with the MBAA International Conference, long billed as “The Best Conference Value in America.”

The MBAA International Conference draws hundreds of academics from business-related fields such as accounting, business/society/government, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, health administration, information systems, international business, management, and marketing. Although the MALSB will have its own program track on legal studies, attendees will be able to take advantage of the multidisciplinary nature of this international conference and attend sessions held by the other program tracks. 

For more information on the MALSB and its Annual Conference, please see the attached Call for Papers or go to http://www.malsb.org/

June 2, 2016 in Business Associations, Business School, Call for Papers, Conferences, Haskell Murray, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Heminway's June Scholarship and Teaching Tour 2016 - Part I

This year, my research and writing season has started off with a bang.  While grading papers and exams earlier this month, I finished writing one symposium piece and first-round-edited another.  Today, I will put the final touches on PowerPoint slides for a presentation I give the second week in June (submission is required today for those) and start working on slides for the presentation I will give Friday.

All of this sets into motion a summer concert conference, Barbri, and symposium tour that (somewhere along the line) got a bit complicated.  Here are the cities and dates:

New Orleans, LA - June 2-5
Atlanta, GA - June 10-11
Nashville, TN - June 17
Chicago, IL - June 23-24
Seattle, WA - June 27

I know some of my co-bloggers are joining me along the way.  I look forward to seeing them.  Each week, I will keep you posted on current events as best I can while managing the research and writing and presentation preparations.  The topics of my summer research and teaching run the gamut from insider trading (through by-law drafting, agency, unincorporated business associations, personal property, and benefit corporations) to crowdfunding.  A nice round lot.

This coming week, I will be at the Law and Society Association annual conference.  My presentation at this conference relates to an early-stage project on U.S. insider trading cases.  The title and abstract for the project and the currently envisioned initial paper (which I would, of course, already change in a number of ways) are as follows:

Continue reading

May 30, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise, Teaching, White Collar Crime, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Delaware Bill Proposes Appraisal Right Restrictions

A former law student of mine who practices in Delaware just alerted me to this Delaware Online article

The article describes the proposed bill as follows:

House Bill 371 would restrict the number of corporate shareholders who can petition the court for a stock appraisal to only those who own $1 million or more of a company's stock or 1 percent of the outstanding shares, depending on which is less. Currently, any shareholder can ask the court to appraise their shares. Those motions are typically filed when a company is the target of an all-cash acquisition and the shareholder wants to ensure the buyer is paying a fair price for the stock. (emphasis added)

Corporate governance expert Charles Elson is quoted as saying:

. . . he understands the argument on both sides. "Anytime you attempt to restrict the rights of a smaller shareholder, it is going to be controversial whether or not the approach is warranted"

The article cites co-authored work by my Nashville neighbor, Randall Thomas (Vanderbilt Law):

A study published earlier this month by four noted corporate law professors, including Wei Jang of Columbia Business School and Randall S. Thomas of Vanderbilt Law School, found that hedge funds have accounted for nearly 75 percent of the amount awarded in all appraisal actions over the last few years. The study also found that 32 percent of the cases involved stakes below $1 million or 1 percent of a company's stock.

Go read the entire article. 

May 28, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Lawyering, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

King & Spalding Web Seminar on Corporate Political Activity

Today, I received notice of a web seminar on corporate political activity to be hosted by one of my former firms, King & Spalding.

Interested readers can register for the free web seminar here.

More information, from the notice I received, is reproduced below.

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Election 2016: What Every Corporate Counsel Must Know About Corporate Political Activity     

Thursday, May 26, 2016, 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM ET

                In this election year, corporations and their employees will be faced with historic opportunities to engage in the political arena. Deciding whether and how to do so, however, must be made carefully and based on a thorough understanding of the relevant law. In this presentation, King & Spalding experts will address this timely and important area of the law and provide the guidance that corporate counsel need when engaging in the political process.            

May 18, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Save the Date - Washington & Lee Symposium Honoring Two of Business Law's Greatest Scholars

This is just to give everyone a "heads up" on a symposium being held this fall (Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22) to honor Lyman Johnson and David Millon.  The symposium is being sponsored by the Washington & Lee Law Review (which will publish the papers presented), and I am thrilled to be among the invited speakers.  I will have more news on the symposium and my paper for it as the date draws nearer.  But I wanted everyone to know about this event so that folks could plan accordingly if they want to attend.  I understand Lexington, Virginia is lovely in late October . . . .  Actually, it's always been lovely when I have been up there! And the honorees and contributors are a stellar group (present company notwithstanding).  I hope to see some of you there.

May 10, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Josephine Sandler Nelson on Volkswagen

Thought Josephine Sandler Nelson's recent Oxford Business Law Blog post on Volkswagen might be of interest to our readers. It is reposted here with permission.

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Fumigating the Criminal Bug: The Insulation of Volkswagen’s Middle Management

New headlines each day reveal wide-spread misconduct and large-scale cheating at top international companies: Volkswagen’s emissions-defeat devices installed on over eleven million cars trace back to a manager’s PowerPoint from as early as 2006. Mitsubishi admits that it has been cheating on emissions standards for the eK and Dayz model cars for the past 25 years—even after a similar scandal almost wiped out the company 15 years ago. Takata’s $70 million fine for covering up its exploding air bags in Honda, Ford, and other car brands could soon jump to $200 million if a current Department of Justice probe discovers additional infractions. The government has ordered Takata’s recall of the air bags to more than double: one out of every five cars on American roads may be affected. Now Daimler is conducting an internal investigation into potential irregularities in its exhaust compliance.

A recent case study of the 2015-16 Volkswagen (‘VW’) scandal pioneers a new way to look at these scandals by focusing on their common element: the growing insulation and entrenchment of middle management to coordinate such large-scale wrongdoing. “The Criminal Bug: Volkswagen’s Middle Management” describes how VW’s top management put pressure on the rest of the company below it to achieve results without inquiring into the methods that the agents would use to achieve those results. The willing blindness of top executives to the methods of the agents below them is conscious and calculated. Despite disclosure-based regulation’s move to strict-liability prosecutions, the record of prosecutorial failure at trial against top executives in both the U.S. and Germany demonstrates that assertions of plausible deniability succeed in protecting top executives from accountability for the pressure that they put on agents to commit wrongdoing.

Agents inside VW receive the message loud and clear that they are to cheat to achieve results. As even the chairman of the VW board has admitted about the company, “[t]here was a tolerance for breaking the rules”. And, contrary to VW’s assertion, no one believes that merely a “small group of engineers” is responsible for the misconduct. Only middle management at the company had the longevity and seniority to shepherd at least three different emissions-control defeat devices through engine re-designs over ten years, to hide those devices despite heavily documented software, and to coordinate even across corporate forms with an outside supplier of VW’s software and on-board computer.

The reason why illegal activity can be coordinated and grow at the level of middle management over all these years is rooted in the failure of the law to impose individual accountability on agents at this level of the corporation. Additional work by the same author on the way in which patterns of illegal behavior in the 2007-08 financial crisis re-occur in the 2015-16 settlements for manipulations of LIBOR, foreign currency exchange rates, and other parts of the financial markets indicates that middle management is further protected from accountability by regulators’ emphasis on disclosure-based enforcement. In addition, U.S. law has lost the ability to tie together the behavior of individuals within a corporation through conspiracy or other types of prosecutions.

Previous research has shown that the more prominent the firm is, and the higher the expectations for performance, the more likely the firm is to engage in illegal behavior. Now we understand more about the link between the calculated pressure that top executives put on their companies and the protection of middle management that supports the patterns of long-term, large-scale wrongdoing that inflict enormous damage on the public. It is not solely VW that needs to fumigate this criminal bug: the VW case study suggests that we need to re-think the insulation from individual liability for middle management in all types of corporations.

This post originally appeared on the Oxford Business Law Blog, May 5, 2016.

May 9, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Management, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shared Ownership & Corporate Incentives

Last week, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, announced a 10% company stock grant to all company employees.  Chobani joined the ranks of high profile stock grants including Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple and Twitter.  Stock grants, while more common in tech industries, are a part of hybrid corporate law-employment law conversation on shared ownership.  Employee ownership in companies can occur in several different forms such as ERISA-governed benefit plans where the company stock issued or bought as a part of a retirement saving plan. Alternatively, a stock grant may be structured as a bonus plan, a standard compensation, or a vesting employee benefit eligible after threshold years and types of service.  All of these plans fall under the rubric of shared ownership.  In 2015, the National Center for Employee Benefits estimated that over 9000 companies participated in some form of shared ownership.

In a similar vein, actors in the hit (and record-breaking with 16 Tony Nominations) musical Hamilton have entered into a profit-sharing agreement with producers.  The deal is different for these actors, but the sentiment is the same in sharing profits, aligning interests, and promoting employee loyalty.

Shared ownership plans, especially the ERISA-governed ones can have specific tax and financing benefits for companies.  Creating a shared ownership plan, however is often focused on creating certain firm-specific benefits such as recruiting and retaining talent, and improving firm performance by aligning interests between employees and the company.   The recruitment and retention aspect can be especially valuable to start-up firms that struggle to compete with mature firms on salary and reputation. Empirical studies have found improved workplace performance, on average, for firms with shared capitalism plans, with positive effects observed most strongly when combined with policies such as low supervision, decision-making participation, and competitive pay.

I note these stories with particular interest for several reasons. The first is that I am routinely embarrassed by how little play I give employees in my corporation class .  I seem all too happy to ignore this very important piece of the corporate power puzzle, engine for the machine, etc., etc.  Second, I have been looking at shared ownership in the context of a recent research project, so look for more on that topic in a separate post once the project progresses.  Third, my sense is that social enterprise movement will bring with it greater demands for shared ownership as a means to address social factors such as retirement security, employee autonomy and wage inequality. Look for more of these stories in the headlines and an emphasis on it in scholarship.

-Anne Tucker

May 4, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 29, 2016

B Lab and HB2

Earlier this month, B Lab, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that oversees the certification of B corps, announced that it will move its October 2016 retreat from North Carolina because of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 (“HB2”).

In an April 12 e-mail to “Friends of the B Corp Community,” the B Lab team wrote:

Standing for inclusion, the global B Corp community has decided to relocate the 2016 B Corp Champions Retreat and related events from North Carolina in light of the newly-enacted State law HB2 which limits anti-discrimination protections, particularly for members of the LGBT community.

Immediately, B Lab will work with the North Carolina B Corp community and others to get HB2 off the books and make North Carolina more inclusive and business-friendly.

B Lab also linked to this longer statement in that e-mail.

The Model Benefit Corporation Legislation and the laws following the Model require that a third-party standard be used by benefit corporations to measure their social and environmental impact. B Lab’s standard is currently the most popular standard, but it is not required or even mentioned by the benefit corporation statutes. Allowing for various third-party standards helps prevent the benefit corporation law from being overly political. I do wonder, however, if B Lab’s public stand on this issue will make the benefit corporation laws harder to pass in more conservative states, because of B Lab’s large role in cultivating both the certified B corp and benefit corporation communities.

Further, this situation leads to a question I asked in 2012 --- would B Lab exercise their veto power and deny certification to Chick-fil-A, if Chick-fil-A applied for certification and managed the required social score? As I wrote in 2012, I don’t see anything in the benefit corporation laws that would prevent Chick-fil-A from becoming a benefit corporation, but I am less sure if Chick-fil-A would be successful in obtaining certification from B Lab. B Corp certification is separate from the entity formation process, and the certification is under the control of B Lab rather than the government. 

Also, I am not a nonprofit expert, but I wonder whether B Lab is flirting with the lobbying restrictions for 501(c)(3)s, especially when it promises to “work with the North Carolina B Corp community and others to get HB2 off the books.” They also seem to be involved in the attempts to pass benefit corporation laws in states across the country. (Thoughts from nonprofit lawyers or professors welcomed in the comments or by e-mail...I am told that 501(c)(3)s are allowed to do an "insubstantial" amount of lobbying).

In any event, in seems that non-profits, social enterprises, and traditional for-profits are becoming more and more active in social and political debates. And these organizations are often powerful, influential players. 

April 29, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Veil Piercing or Alter Ego Doctrine in a Criminal Suit? No Thanks.

A recent Illinois case uniquely applied the alter ego doctrine in the context of a criminal case.  See People v. Abrams, 47 N.E.3d 295, ¶¶ 57-61, 399 Ill. Dec. 790 (2015) ( slip op. PDF here ).  In my view, not quite right, either.

In the case, the defendant (Abrams) stole $1.87 million from the victim (Lev), which led to a restitution order for that amount and a twelve-year prison sentence for Abrams.  The conviction was for a Class 1 felony, for the the theft of property exceeding $500,000.  Id.¶ 23 (citing 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/16-1(a(2) (West 2012)).  The statute provides, "Theft of property exceeding $500,000 and not exceeding $1,000,000 in value is a Class 1 non-probationable felony." 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/16-1(b)(6.2). 

On appeal, the defendant argued the indictment was wrong in that it stated the money was stolen from Lev, when most of the money actually belonged to Lev's company, The Fred Lev Company (presumably a corporation, but that is not stated expressly).   Abrams claimed: 

the State did not prove he obtained “unauthorized control” of more than $500,000 of Lev’s property. Abrams recognizes the evidence presented at trial established that over $1.8 million was taken. Abrams contests the finding that the entire amount was taken from Lev and not The Fred Lev Company. 

Abrams, 47 N.E.3d 295 ¶ 57.  The court countered: "This is a distinction without a difference. Two separate doctrines of law guide our decision." Id. Although I think the court is probably right on the outcome, one of the rationales is wrongly explained.

The court's first assertion is as follows: 

First, the alter ego doctrine of corporate law was developed for and has been traditionally used by third persons injured due to their reliance on the existence of a distinct corporate entity. In re Rehabilitation of Centaur Insurance Co., 158 Ill. 2d 166, 173 (1994). “The doctrine fastens liability on the individual or entity that uses a corporation merely as an instrumentality to conduct that person’s or entity’s business.” Peetoom v. Swanson, 334 Ill. App. 3d 523, 527 (2002). In the context of “piercing the corporate veil,” an alter ego analysis starts with examining the factors which reveal how the corporation operates and the particular party’s relationship to that operation. A.G. Cullen Construction, Inc. v. Burnham Partners, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 122538, ¶ 43. Generally, did the corporation function simply as a facade for the dominant shareholder? Id. Here, without question, the corporate entity, The Fred Lev Company, served as the alter ego or business conduit of Lev, and Abrams’ own testimony confirmed it. 

Id.¶ 58. This is an overreach, as far as I am concerned, and I don't like the ease with which the court uses veil piercing without a detailed analysis. I believe that veil piercing, if it is to be used, should have some consistency, though I know that's now how it tends to work (i.e., without consistency).  Here, would the court have pierced the veil if this were a creditor bringing suit directly against Lev because his corporation couldn't satisfy a judgment? I think it would be wrong to do so on similar facts, so I think it is careless to apply the alter ego doctrine in this manner here.  

The court continues:

Second, the indictments sufficiently apprised Abrams of the charges against him. See People v. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d 206, 219-20 (2005) (any variance was neither material nor prejudicial to defendant). We do not believe that the defendant was in any way prejudiced by the indictments at issue. 

Id.¶ 59. I totally and completely buy this.  And, in addition, the court noted:

Even more convincing is that in opening statements to the jury, defense counsel told the jury that the checking accounts “were not used solely for [Lev’s and Abrams’] corporate work. They didn’t separate the corporation from their personal lives and personal expenses. *** They were using everything that went into that corporate account and writing checks on it for their own personal private, for their own person use. There was a commingling.” Additionally, defense counsel referred to “Fred Lev and Company” as being both Abrams and Lev. In closing argument, defense counsel argued that the company was “a small-time operation” with “one corporate book” that both Lev and Abrams used as “their own personal piggybank.” 

Id.¶ 60.  In the trial, it was determined that the statutory felony monetary amount threshold was met.  And the defendant admitted that he considered the funds to be Lev's and that he (the defendant) disregarded the entity.  I see no notice problem as to the defendant, and I have no concern that a jury couldn't understand whether the theft occurred in the amount claimed. I can see an argument, perhaps, that the prosecution should still get it right as to whom the money actually belonged, but it seems to me correct to say the crime was properly analyzed and assessed as to the criminal elements, so the claim is harmless error in this instance. Lev would have been the one to assert the claim for the Company, so it is hard to see how Abrams was harmed. 

I will maintain, though, that the veil piercing rationale is unnecessary and overstated. (I might be comfortable if they used the analogy to explain harmless error, but the way it was done is too much for me.)  Furthermore, as to the judgment for restitution to Lev, it is wrong. That money (or some portion of it) belongs to The Fred Lev Company.  Suppose there are creditors out there who have gone unpaid.  Or they are unpaid down the road.  At a minimum, the funds stolen from the company should go back through the company so it could be clear what funds were there and should have been available. Thus, as to the charges, I think the court probably got it right.  But as to respecting the entity (and protecting creditors now, and in the future), this could have been handled better. 

H/T Prof. Gary Rosin

April 19, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Imagine This: First-Semester Second-Year Students in Your Business Associations Class Who Already Have a Sense of Transactional Practice . . .

This is not a pipe dream!  I honestly believe that in the fall of 2017, this will be a reality for me.  (I typically teach Business Associations in the fall semester to a large number of students who understand "cases," not "deals.")

The reason for my good spirits and honest belief in the positive change in my students?  Our new 1L curriculum, which is rolling out this fall.  No doubt, we will find some changes that need to be made as we implement our relatively bold plan.  But I am truly excited that the new first-year curriculum exposes every student to a transactional experience in the first year of law school.  

There are many reasons for implementing this kind of change, of course.  Among other things, this new approach to the first year at UT Law responds to suggestions that we got from our students and represents an effort to better connect the 1L year to our upper division curriculum (on which we have spent a lot of time over the years).  The new 1L transactional offering is part of a larger plan constructed by a College of Law committee, chaired by my colleague (and e-discovery queen) Paula Schaefer, that spent several years looking at our overall curriculum and that of many other schools before fashioning a number of alternative options for the faculty to review.  

The implementation involves a lot of work.  Many colleagues are chipping in to construct new courses and re-fashion existing courses to meet the new curricular requirements.  It takes a village.  I am grateful for all of the work being put in.  I work with a great bunch of folks.

An article in the National Jurist last week describes the new 1L curriculum in general.  Our academic policies, however, add some detail.  I quote from them below, with some reformatting for easier reading in this space.

For students entering in or after Fall 2016, the first-year curriculum is as follows:

First Semester
Civil Procedure I* (3)
Contracts I (3)
Criminal Law (3)
Lawyering & Professionalism (1) Legal Process I (3)
Torts I* (3)

Second Semester
Civil Procedure II (3)
Contracts II (3)
Legal Process II (3)
Property (4)
Torts II (2)
Transactional Lawyering Lab (1)

*First-year students enroll in an experiential section of either Civil Procedure I or Torts I. The experiential sections include three graded, simulation-based assignments. Each simulation places students in the role of lawyer, raises professionalism issues, requires students to perform a lawyering skill, and results in a written and/or oral work product. In addition to a final examination, the course also includes a midterm exam that includes at least one essay question.

We are pretty excited to get this new curricular show on the road.  I look forward to sharing more with you as we see how students react in the short term and long term.  But my UT Law colleagues and I are very hopeful that this new approach to the first year will lay a strong foundation for upper division academic work and for practice.

 

April 18, 2016 in Business Associations, Joan Heminway, Law School, Lawyering, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Krug on Mutual Fund Governance

I'm at the MALSB Conference in Chicago, but saw Anita Krug's recently posted book chapter entitled Toward Better Mutual Fund Governance. Worth reading. Abstract below.

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This chapter evaluates the implications of an emerging model of mutual fund governance for effective oversight and regulation. As in the traditional model, in which a board of directors or trustees serves as the board of multiple discrete funds managed by a single investment adviser, this alternative model similarly contemplates the creation of multiple funds, but it eschews a single investment adviser charged with managing each fund’s assets. Rather, there are numerous advisers, each managing one or a small number of funds within the group. Although the new model may portend an improvement over the traditional model in some respects, questions arise as to whether it introduces concerns of its own and whether those concerns are more or less manageable than those to which the traditional model gives rise. The chapter contends that, although the new model produces risks not associated with the traditional model, there are reasons to believe, at least preliminarily, that it is at least as effective as the traditional model.

April 15, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

So Lucky (And Grateful) in So Many Ways . . . .

There are those I-need-to-pinch-myself moments in life that come along every once in a while.  I was lucky enough to have one last week.  I was invited to attend a conference and comment on two interesting draft papers written by two law faculty colleagues whose work I have long admired and who are lovely people.  And the location was Miami Beach.  Does it get any better than that for a law professor who likes the beach?  I think not.

The event was the annual conference for the Institute for Law and Economic Policy (ILEP).  The conference theme was "Vindicating Virtuous Claims."  The papers will be published in the Duke Law Journal, which co-sponsored the program. 

I will save details on the papers for later (when the papers are finalized).  But I will briefly describe each here.  The first paper on which I commented, written by Rutheford B ("Biff") Campbell (University of Kentucky College of Law), argues for federal preemption of state securities regulation governing the offer and sale of securities, since federal preemption would be more efficient.  The second paper, written by James D. ("Jim") Cox (Duke University School of Law, who was honored at the event and received the most amazing tribute from his Dean, David Levi, at the closing dinner), argues for attaching more value to the normative effects of judicial decisions arising out of indeterminate doctrine (using materiality and the business judgment rule as core examples).  I know that last part is a mouthful, but read it again, and I think you'll get it . . . .

Both papers were intellectually stimulating, and both scholars were quite engaging in their presentations.  The other invited commentators were interesting and thought-provoking.  And the day was filled overall with other interesting academic paper panels and a lively keynote lunch speaker.  Together with the panel discussion on the evolution of Rule 23 and dinner the night before, it was an action-packed, invigorating conference!

 . . . And then there was the time I spent after the conference recollecting myself (and writing student bar recommendation letters).  The weather was cooperative (downright sunny and warm), and the surroundings at the hotel (food, accommodations, etc.) were fabulous.  My Facebook friends got tired of my colorful photos and happy posts, especially since many of those folks were in locales further North and to the East in which it was cold and snowing on Saturday or Sunday.

So, I am taking this opportunity to note and celebrate my good fortune on, and to offer thanks for, being invited to the ILEP conference to comment on the forthcoming scholarly work of two great business law colleagues.  I met some fascinating, pleasant new people among the conference constituents (from the bench, bar, and academy).  And I enjoyed time on a chaise lounge.  [sigh]  But now, it's back to the reality of the final few weeks of the semester.  I wish everyone the best in pushing through.

 

April 12, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Means & Seiner on Navigating the Uber Economy

Benjamin Means and Joseph Seiner, both of University of South Carolina School of Law, have an interesting article out entitled Navigating the Uber Economy. Work is changing quickly, and the employment/independent contractor line is becoming more difficult to draw. The abstract is reproduced below and the article is available here. Last July, Anne Tucker authored a blog post related to this issue, available here

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In litigation against ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, former drivers have alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors and denied employment benefits. The companies have countered that they do not employ drivers and merely license access to a platform that matches those who need rides with nearby available drivers. At stake are the prospects, not only for Uber and Lyft, but for a nascent, multi-billion dollar "on-demand" economy.

Unfortunately, existing laws fail to provide adequate guidance regarding the distinction between independent contractors and employees, especially when applied to the hybrid working arrangements characteristic of a modern economy. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act and analogous state laws, courts consider several factors to assess the "economic reality" of a worker's alleged employment status; yet, there is no objective basis for prioritizing those factors.

This Essay argues that the classification of workers as independent contractors or employees should be shaped by an overarching inquiry: how much flexibility does the individual have in the working relationship? Those who can choose the time, place and manner of the work they perform are more independent than those who must accommodate themselves to a business owner's schedule. Our approach is novel and would provide an objective basis for adjudicating classification disputes, especially those that arise in the context of the on-demand economy. By reducing legal uncertainty, we would ensure both that workers receive appropriate protections under existing law and that businesses are able to innovate without fear of unknown liabilities.

April 1, 2016 in Business Associations, Employment Law, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Will a Change in Executive Compensation Lead to Safer Food? A Chipotle Shareholder Thinks So

I feel badly for Chipotle. When I have taught Business Associations, I have used the chain’s Form 10-K to explain some basic governance and securities law principles. The students can relate to Chipotle and Shake Shack (another example I use) and they therefore remain engaged as we go through the filings. Chipotle has recently been embroiled in a public relations nightmare after a spate of food poisonings occurred last fall and winter, a risk it pointed out in its February 2015 10-K filings. The stock price has fluctuated from $750 a share in October to as low as $400 in January and then back to the mid $500 range. After some disappointing earnings news the stock is now trading at around $471.

Clean Yield Group, concerned that the company will focus only on bringing its stock back to “pre-crisis levels,” filed a shareholder proposal March 17th asking the company to link executive compensation with sustainability efforts. The proposal claims that the CEO was overpaid by $40 million in 2014 and states in part:

A number of studies demonstrate a firm link between superior corporate sustainability performance and financial outperformance relative to peers. Firms with superior sustainability performance were more likely to tie top executive incentives to sustainability metrics.

Leading companies are increasingly taking up this practice. A 2013 study conducted by the Investor Responsibility Research Institute and the Sustainable Investments Institute found that 43.4% of the S&P 500 had linked executive pay to environmental, social and/or ethical issues. These companies traverse industry sectors and include Pepsi, Alcoa, Walmart, Unilever, National Grid, Intel and many others…

Investor groups focusing on sustainable governance such as Ceres, the UN Global Compact, and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (which represents investors with a collective $59 trillion AUM) have endorsed the establishment of linkages between executive compensation and sustainability performance.

Even with the adjustments to executive pay incentives announced this week in reaction to Chipotle’s ongoing food-borne illness crisis, Chipotle shareholders have consistently approved excessively large pay packages to our company’s co-chief executives that dangerously elide accountability for sustainability-related risks. This proposal provides the opportunity to rectify this situation.

If shareholders approve the compensation package on our company’s 2016 proxy ballot, by year-end, Mr. Ells and Mr. Moran will have pocketed nearly $211 million for their services since 2011. Shareholders have not insisted upon direct oversight of sustainability matters as a condition of employment or compensation, and the present crisis illustrates the probable error in that thinking.

This week, the Compensation Committee of the Board announced that it would withhold 2015 bonuses for executive officers. It has also announced that executive officers’ 2016 performance bonuses will be solely tied to bringing CMG stock back, over a three-year period, to its pre-crisis level.

This is a shortsighted approach that skirts the underlying issues that may have contributed to the E. coli and norovirus outbreaks that have left hundreds of people sickened, injured sales, led to ongoing investigations by health authorities and the federal government, damaged our company’s reputation, and will likely lead to expensive litigation. For years, Chipotle has resisted calls by shareholders to implement robust and transparent management and reporting systems to handle a range of environmental, social and governance issues that present both risks to operations as well as opportunities. While no one can know for certain whether a more rigorous management approach to food safety might have averted the current crisis, moving forward, shareholders can insist upon a proactive approach to the management of sustainability issues by altering top executives’ compensation packages to incentivize it.

The last sentence of the paragraph above stuck out to me. The shareholder does not know whether more rigorous sustainability practices would have prevented the food poisonings but believes that compensation changes incentivizing more transparency is vital. I’m not sure that there is a connection between the two, although there is some evidence that requiring more disclosure on environmental, social, and governance factors can lead to companies uncovering operational issues that they may not have noticed before. Corporate people are fond of saying that “what gets measured gets treasured.” Let’s see what Chipotle’s shareholders treasure at the next annual meeting.

March 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Compensation, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Olympics, Rule 40, Law, and Social Media

I usually look forward to the Olympics for months, if not years, before they start.

This year, however, all of the doping news, and buzz around Rule 40 has left me less enthusiastic.

For now, I am going to leave the doping news to one side, and focus on Rule 40.

From July 27 to August 24, 2016, Rule 40, prohibits Non-Olympic Commercial Partners from using the word "Olympics" and (depending on context) "Olympic-related terms," including:

  • 2016
  • Rio/Rio de Janeiro
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze
  • Medal
  • Effort
  • Performance
  • Challenge
  • Summer
  • Games
  • Sponsors
  • Victory
  • Olympian

Now, I understand why the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") and the U.S. Olympic Committee ("USOC") might want these restrictions (given the large sums of money official sponsors pay), and from what I understand from experts in this specific area, the IOC & USOC may have a defensible legal stance.

This, however, seems one of the many areas where (1) the law has not kept up with advances in technology, namely social media, and (2) even if the IOC & USOC are right on the law, they may lose in the court of public opinion. Here, it seems, there is a good bit of difference between a company running a detailed TV-ad noting that it sponsors an Olympian and simply wishing an athlete "Good luck in Rio" on Twitter. Also, even if the law treats social media the same as other forms of advertising, I could see the public (including me) judging the IOC & USOC harshly if it punishes brands and/or their athletes for minor violations. Outside of the most popular Olympic athletes, significant sponsorships are difficult to secure and outlawing short displays of appreciation on social media seems like overreaching. Adding to the problem, I think, is that this rule makes the IOC & USOC look like single bottom line, money-hungry organizations, when most of us would like to associate the Olympics with a broader, higher purpose.      

March 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sharapova, Sponsors, and Morals Clauses

If you follow sports related news, you know that tennis star Maria Sharapova recently tested positive for a banned performance enhancing drug called Meldonium. Details here and here and here.  According to one source, over 60 athletes have tested positive for Meldonium this year; the drug was just recently added the banned substances list. Sharapova claims she was unaware that she was taking a banned substance. 

A number of Sharapova's biggest sponsors have suspended or ended their relationship with her and/or delayed planned events. These sponsors include, Nike, Porsche, and TAG Heuer. Head and Evian appear to be sticking with her. Head chairman Johan Eliasch claimed that Sharapova simply made an "honest mistake."

The companies that have cut ties with Sharapova have likely been able to do so through what is often called a morals clause or a morality clause in the endorsement contract. Some background on morals clauses can be found here and here and here. And here is an interesting contract law question from Eric Goldman that involves morals clauses

March 11, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)