Monday, September 29, 2014
In recent blog posts, two of my favorite bloggers, Keith Paul Bishop and Steve Bainbridge, have highlighted for our attention Delaware and California statutes providing (differently in each case) that an LLC and, at least in Delaware, its managers and members, are bound by the LLC's operating agreement even if they do not sign that agreement. Bishop notes in his post that the California "RULLCA creates an odd situation in which LLCs are bound by contracts that they did not execute and to which they seemingly are not parties." In his post Bainbridge cites to the Bishop post and another post by Francis Pileggi. Certainly, they all have a point. For students of contract law, the conclusion that a non-party is bound by a contract does not seem to be an obvious result . . . .
The flap in the blogosphere has its genesis in a recent Delaware Chancery Court decision, Seaport Village Ltd. v. Seaport Village Operating Company, LLC, et al. C.A. No. 8841-VCL. The limited liability company defendant in that case raised as its only defense that it was not a party to the limited liability company agreement and therefore was not bound. Unsurprisingly in light of applicable Delaware law, Chancellor Laster found the defense wanting as a matter of law.
This issue has more history than my brother bloggers point out, some of which is included in the brief Seaport Village opinion. I probably don't have all the details, but set forth below is some additional background information that may be useful in thinking about the binding nature of LLC operating agreements. Others may care to fill in any missing information by leaving comments to this post.
The Delaware Supreme Court has held that fairness review in duty of loyalty cases has two elements: fair dealing and fair price. Weinberger v. UOP, Inc., 457 A.2d 701 (1983). Fair dealing focuses on process: questions such as “when the transaction was timed, how it was initiated, structured, negotiated, disclosed to the directors, and how the approvals of the directors and the stockholders were obtained.” 457 A.2d at 711. Fair price focuses on the consideration paid or received in the transaction.
Weinberger says that the two elements of fairness must be considered together, that “the test for fairness is not a bifurcated one between fair dealing and fair price.” Id. But, of course, damages will be measured against a fair price. If that’s the case, I ask my students, does fair dealing really make any difference as long as the price is fair?
A Delaware Court of Chancery opinion, In Re Nine Systems Corporation Shareholders Litigation, (Del. Ch. Sept. 4, 2014), recently dealt with that issue. Vice Chancellor Noble concluded that the procedure followed by the company was unfair, so the element of fair dealing was not met. He decided that the price was fair but, considering the two elements together, decided that the burden of proving fairness had not been met.
Because of his finding that the price was fair, the Vice Chancellor rejected the plaintiffs’ claim for damages. However, he concluded that the court could require the defendants to pay certain of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and costs.
I now have an answer for my students. Even if the price is fair, fair dealing can still make a difference. Of course, I’m not sure anyone other than the plaintiffs’ attorneys will be terribly happy with the result.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Joseph Yockey (Iowa) has posted a new paper on social enterprise. I have not read this one yet, but enjoyed his first article on the subject and have added this second one to my long "want to read" list. The abstract is below.
Social enterprises generate revenue to solve social, humanitarian, and ecological problems. Their products are not a means to the end of profits, but rather profits are a means to the end of their production. This dynamic presents many of the same corporate governance issues facing other for-profit firms, including legal compliance. I contend, however, that traditional strategies for corporate compliance are incongruent to the social enterprise’s unique normative framework. Specifically, traditional compliance theory, with its prioritization of shareholder interests, stands at odds with the social enterprise’s mission-driven purpose. Attention to this distinction is essential for developing effective compliance and enforcement policies in the future. Indeed, arguably the greatest feature of the social enterprise is its potential to harness organizational characteristics that inspire the values and culture most closely linked with ethical behavior — without resort to more costly or intrusive measures.
The below is from an e-mail I received earlier this week about an impact investment legal symposium on October 2, 2014 from 8:30 a.m. to noon (eastern):
Bingham, in conjunction with the International Transactions Clinic of the University of Michigan Law School, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) Legal Working Group and Impact Investing Legal Working Group, is proud to present a legal symposium on Building a Legal Community of Practice to Add Still More Value to Impact Investments.
The symposium will be held at Bingham McCutchen LLP's New York offices at 339 Park Avenue or you can attend virtually by registering here.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Professor Dionysia Katelouzou of Kings College, London has written an interesting empirical article on hedge fund activisim. The abstract is below:
In recent years, activist hedge funds have spread from the United States to other countries in Europe and Asia, but not as a duplicate of the American practice. Rather, there is a considerable diversity in the incidence and the nature of activist hedge fund campaigns around the world. What remains unclear, however, is what dictates how commonplace and multifaceted hedge fund activism will be in a particular country.
The Article addresses this issue by pioneering a new approach to understanding the underpinnings and the role of hedge fund activism, in which an activist hedge fund first selects a target company that presents high-value opportunities for engagement (entry stage), accumulates a nontrivial stake (trading stage), then determines and employs its activist strategy (disciplining stage), and finally exits (exit stage). The Article then identifies legal parameters for each activist stage and empirically examines why the incidence, objectives and strategies of activist hedge fund campaigns differ across countries. The analysis is based on 432 activist hedge fund campaigns during the period of 2000-2010 across 25 countries.
The findings suggest that the extent to which legal parameters matter depends on the stage that hedge fund activism has reached. Mandatory disclosure and rights bestowed on shareholders by corporate law are found to dictate how commonplace hedge fund activism will be in a particular country (entry stage). Moreover, the examination of the activist ownership stakes reveals that ownership disclosure rules have important ramifications for the trading stage of an activist campaign. At the disciplining stage, however, there is little support that the activist objectives and the employed strategies are a reflection of the shareholder protection regime of the country in which the target company is located.
September 25, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Merger & Acquisitions, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
March of the Benefit Corporation: So Why Bother? Isn’t the Business Judgment Rule Alive and Well? (Part III)
(Note: This is a cross-posted multiple part series from WVU Law Prof. Josh Fershee from the Business Law Prof Blog and Prof. Elaine Waterhouse Wilson from the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, who combined forces to evaluate benefit corporations from both the nonprofit and the for-profit sides. The previous installments can be found here and here (NLPB) and here and here (BLPB).)
In prior posts we talked about what a benefit corporation is and is not. In this post, we’ll cover whether the benefit corporation is really necessary at all.
Under the Delaware General Corporation Code § 101(b), “[a] corporation may be incorporated or organized under this chapter to conduct or promote any lawful business or purposes . . . .” Certainly there is nothing there that indicates a company must maximize profits or take risks or “monetize” anything. (Delaware law warrants inclusion in any discussion of corporate law because the state's law is so influential, even where it is not binding.)
Back in 2010, Josh Fershee wrote a post questioning the need for such legislation shortly after Maryland passed the first benefit corporation legislation:
I am not sure what think about this benefit corporation legislation. I can understand how expressly stating such public benefits goals might have value and provide both guidance and cover for a board of directors. However, I am skeptical it was necessary.
Not to overstate its binding effects today, but we learned from Dodge v. Ford that if you have a traditional corporation, formed under a traditional certificate of incorporation and bylaws, you are restricted in your ability to “share the wealth” with the general public for purposes of “philanthropic and altruistic” goals. But that doesn't mean current law doesn't permit such actions in any situation, does it?
The idea that a corporation could choose to adopt any of a wide range of corporate philosophies is supported by multiple concepts, such as director primacy in carrying out shareholder wealth maximization, the business judgment rule, and the mandate that directors be the ones to lead the entity. Is it not reasonable for a group of directors to determine that the best way to create a long-term and profitable business is to build customer loyalty to the company via reasonable prices, high wages to employees, generous giving to charity, and thoughtful environmental stewardship? Suppose that directors even stated in their certificate that the board of directors, in carrying out their duties, must consider the corporate purpose as part of exercising their business judgment.
Please click below to read more.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Teaching the definition of a "security" to business associations students who: 1) want to be litigators; 2) are afraid of math, finance, and accounting; 3) don't know anything about business; 4) only take the class because it's required; and 5) aren't allowed to distract themselves with electronics in class is no small feat.
Thankfully, as we were discussing the definition and exemptions, we also touched on IPOs. Many of the students knew nothing about IPOs but were already Alibaba customers and going through some of the registration statement made them understand the many reasons companies want to avoid going public. Of course, now that we went through some of the risk factors, my students who seemed gung ho about the IPO after watching some videos about the hype were a little less excited about it (good thing because they probably couldn't buy anyway).
Now if I can only figure out how to jazz up the corporate finance chapter next week.
September 18, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)
Sunday, September 14, 2014
This coming Tuesday, I am scheduled to provide a brief overview of the corporate law/theory aspects of Hobby Lobby as part of the University of Akron’s Supreme Court Roundup. What follows are the seven key quotes from the opinion that I plan to focus on (time permitting) in order to highlight what I see as the key relevant issues raised by the opinion. Comments are appreciated.
Issue 1: Did corporate theory play a role in Hobby Lobby?
While I believe the majority made a pitch for applying a pragmatic, anti-theoretical approach (“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of … people.” Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2768 (2014)), the following quote strikes me as conveying an underlying aggregate view of corporations:
In holding that Conestoga, as a “secular, for-profit corporation,” lacks RFRA protection, the Third Circuit wrote as follows: “General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” 724 F.3d, at 385 (emphasis added). All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, “separate and apart from” the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.
134 S. Ct. at 2768.
September 14, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Religion, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, September 12, 2014
In 2007, J. W. Verret (George Mason) and then Chief Justice Myron Steele authored an article entitled Delaware's Guidance: Ensuring Equity for the Modern Witenagemot, which discussed "some of the extrajudicial activities in which members of the Delaware judiciary engage to minimize the systemic indeterminacy resulting from the resolution of economic disputes by a court of equity."
One of these extrajudicial activities is authoring or co-authoring law review articles. In this post, I am not going to weigh in on whether Delaware judges should be authoring law review articles, but rather, I simply note that there are two recent law review articles and one recent book chapter by Delaware judges that warrant our attention.
John Maynard Keynes is said to have observed, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" In Delaware's Choice, Professor Subramanian argues that the facts underlying the constitutionality of Section 203 have changed. Assuming his facts are correct, and the Professor says that no one has challenged his account to date, then they have implications for more than Section 203. They potentially extend to Delaware's jurisprudence regarding a board's ability to maintain a stockholder rights plan, which becomes a preclusive defense if a bidder cannot wage a proxy contest for control of the target board with a realistic possibility of success. Professor Subramanian's facts may call for rethinking not only the constitutionality of Section 203, but also the extent of a board's ability to maintain a rights plan.
One important aspect of Citizens United has been overlooked: the tension between the conservative majority’s view of for-profit corporations, and the theory of for-profit corporations embraced by conservative thinkers. This article explores the tension between these conservative schools of thought and shows that Citizens United may unwittingly strengthen the arguments of conservative corporate theory’s principal rival.
Citizens United posits that stockholders of for-profit corporations can constrain corporate political spending and that corporations can legitimately engage in political spending. Conservative corporate theory is premised on the contrary assumptions that stockholders are poorly-positioned to monitor corporate managers for even their fidelity to a profit maximization principle, and that corporate managers have no legitimate ability to reconcile stockholders’ diverse political views. Because stockholders invest in for-profit corporations for financial gain, and not to express political or moral values, conservative corporate theory argues that corporate managers should focus solely on stockholder wealth maximization and non-stockholder constituencies and society should rely upon government regulation to protect against corporate overreaching. Conservative corporate theory’s recognition that corporations lack legitimacy in this area has been strengthened by market developments that Citizens United slighted: that most humans invest in the equity markets through mutual funds under section 401(k) plans, cannot exit these investments as a practical matter, and lack any rational ability to influence how corporations spend in the political process.
Because Citizens United unleashes corporate wealth to influence who gets elected to regulate corporate conduct and because conservative corporate theory holds that such spending may only be motivated by a desire to increase corporate profits, the result is that corporations are likely to engage in political spending solely to elect or defeat candidates who favor industry-friendly regulatory policies, even though human investors have far broader concerns, including a desire to be protected from externalities generated by corporate profit-seeking. Citizens United thus undercuts conservative corporate theory’s reliance upon regulation as an answer to corporate externality risk, and strengthens the argument of its rival theory that corporate managers must consider the best interests of employees, consumers, communities, the environment, and society — and not just stockholders — when making business decisions.
One frequently cited distinction between alternative entities — such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships — and their corporate counterparts is the greater contractual freedom accorded alternative entities. Consistent with this vision, discussions of alternative entities tend to conjure up images of arms-length bargaining similar to what occurs between sophisticated parties negotiating a commercial agreement, such as a joint venture, with the parties successfully tailoring the contract to the unique features of their relationship.
As judges who collectively have over 20 years of experience deciding disputes involving alternative entities, we use this chapter to surface some questions regarding the extent to which this common understanding of alternative entities is sound. Based on the cases we have decided and our reading of many other cases decided by our judicial colleagues, we do not discern evidence of arms-length bargaining between sponsors and investors in the governing instruments of alternative entities. Furthermore, it seems that when investors try to evaluate contract terms, the expansive contractual freedom authorized by the alternative entity statutes hampers rather than helps. A lack of standardization prevails in the alternative entity arena, imposing material transaction costs on investors with corresponding effects for the cost of capital borne by sponsors, without generating offsetting benefits. Because contractual drafting is a difficult task, it is also not clear that even alternative entity managers are always well served by situational deviations from predictable defaults.
In light of these problems, it seems to us that a sensible set of standard fiduciary defaults might benefit all constituents of alternative entities. In this chapter, we propose a framework that would not threaten the two key benefits that motivated the rise of LPs and LLCs as alternatives to corporations: (i) the elimination of double taxation at the entity level and (ii) the ability to contract out of the corporate opportunity doctrine. For managers, this framework would provide more predictable rules of governance and a more reliable roadmap to fulfilling their duties in conflict-of-interest situations. The result arguably would be both fairer and more efficient than the current patchwork yielded by the unilateral drafting efforts of entity sponsors.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Two recent professor postings that may be of interest to our readers:
Campbell University School of Law (Raleigh, NC) has posted a law professor opening (commercial law).
University of Wyoming College of Law (Laramie, WY) has posted a law professor opening (business law).
Monday, September 8, 2014
Last week, I posted my observations (musings?) relating to a colloquy that I had with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam at an event sponsored by the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center on The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus. At almost the same time, and not at all related to my attendance at that event, I picked up a reprint of a recent article, CEOs and Presidents, authored by Tom Lin at Temple. Tom and I often work in overlapping fields. In particular, both of us have shown interest, from different perspectives, in substantially similar issues relating to corporate executives.
I commend Tom's article to you. It provides a lucid and engaging comparison of CEOs and Presidents (as the title suggests). (His analysis is, of course, significantly more rich and nuanced than the reflections I shared in my earlier post.) But Tom's piece doesn't stop there. It goes on to critique the desirability of the "President as CEO" model based on the harms posed to both corporations and democracies and also highlights some important lessons we can learn from his study.
I do want to challenge Tom on one provocative statement that he makes in the article, however. After critically commenting on the dangers of (among other things) government reliance on private industry and values in the accomplishment of its objectives, he observes that "[g]overnment and corporations are not actual or conceptual substitutes for one another, but are complements of one another." He lists examples and avows that both government and private industry are optimized when they collaborate.
Friday, September 5, 2014
Last Monday, at Vanderbilt Law School, I attended a presentation by Jesse Fried (Harvard Law) on his new article, The Uneasy Case for Favoring Long-Term Shareholders (Yale Law Journal, forthcoming).
The paper’s abstract describes the thought-provoking thesis:
This paper challenges a persistent and pervasive view in corporate law and corporate governance: that a firm’s managers should favor long-term shareholders over short-term shareholders, and maximize long-term shareholders’ returns rather than the short-term stock price. Underlying this view is a strongly-held intuition that taking steps to increase long-term shareholder returns will generate a larger economic pie over time. But this intuition, I show, is flawed. Long-term shareholders, like short-term shareholders, can benefit from managers destroying value — even when the firm’s only residual claimants are its shareholders. Indeed, managers serving long-term shareholders may well destroy more value than managers serving short-term shareholders. Favoring the interests of long-term shareholders could thus reduce, rather than increase, the value generated by a firm over time.
I provide more information about the paper and offer a few thoughts after the break.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Behemoth proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services has released its 2015 Policy Survey. I have listed some of the questions below:
Which of the following statements best reflects your organization's view about the relationship between goalsetting and award values?
Is there a threshold at which you consider that the magnitude of a CEO’scompensation should warrant concern even if the company’s absolute and relative performance have been positive, for example, outperforming the peer group?
With respect to evaluating the say on pay advisory vote, how does your organization view disclosed positive changes to the pay program that will be implemented in the succeeding year(s) when a company demonstrates pay for performance misalignment or other concerns based on the year in review?
If you chose either the first or second answer in the question above, should shareholders expect disclosure of specific details of such future positive changes (e.g., metrics, performance goals, award values, effective dates) in order for the changes to be considered as a potential mitigator for pay for performance or other concerns for the year in review?
Where a board adopts without shareholder approval a material bylaw amendment that diminishes shareholders' rights, what approach should be used when evaluating board accountability?
Should directors be held accountable if shareholder unfriendly provisions were adopted prior to the company’s IPO?
In general, how does your organization consider gender diversity when evaluating boards?
As a general matter, what weight (relative out of 100%) would you view as appropriate for each of the categories indicated below (notwithstanding that some factors, such as repricing without shareholder approval, may be 100% unacceptable)?
How significant are the following factors when evaluating the board's role in risk oversight in your voting decision on directors (very significant, somewhat significant, not significant)?
In making informed voting decisions on the ratification of the outside auditor and the reelection of members of audit committees, how important (very important/somewhat important/not important) would the following disclosures be to you?
In your view, when is it appropriate for a company to utilize quantitative E&S (environmental and social) performance goals?
As someone who studies and consults on corporate governance issues, I look forward to seeing the results of this survey. However, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Market Competitiveness, which has argued that ISS and other proxy advisory firms have conflicts of interest and lack transparency, has issued a response to ISS because:
The CCMC is concerned that the development of the Survey lacks a foundation based on empirical facts and creates a one-size-fits-all system that failure to take into account the different unique needs of companies and their investors. We believe that these flaws with the Survey can adversely affect advisory recommendations negatively impacting the decision making process for the clients of proxy advisory firms. The CCMC is also troubled that certain issues presented in the Survey, such as Pay for Performance, will be the subject of Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) rulemakings in the near future. While we have provided commentary to those portions of the Survey, we believe that their inclusion in the survey is premature pending the completion of those rulemakings….It is both surprising and very troublesome that the Survey does not contain a single reference to the paramount concern of investors and portfolio managers—public company efforts to maintain and enhance shareholder value—and seeks to elicit only abstract philosophies and opinions, completely eschewing any pretense of an interest in obtaining hard facts and empirically-significant data. This confirmation—that ISS’ policies and recommendations are based solely on a miniscule sampling of philosophical preferences, rather than empirical data—is itself a matter that requires, but does not yet receive, appropriate disclosure and disclaimers on ISS research reports.
The CCMC’s letter details concerns with each of ISS’ questions. Both the complete survey and the CCMC response are worth a read.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
(Note: This is a cross-posted multiple part series from WVU Law Prof. Josh Fershee from the Business Law Prof Blog and Prof. Elaine Waterhouse Wilson from the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, who combined forces to evaluate benefit corporations from both the nonprofit and the for-profit sides. The previous installment can be found here (NLPB) and here (BLPB).)
What It Is: So now that we’ve told you (in Part I) what the benefit corporation isn’t, we should probably tell you what it is. The West Virginia statute is based on Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, which (according to B Lab’s website) was drafted originally by Bill Clark from Drinker, Biddle, & Reath LLP. The statute, a copy of which can be found, not surprisingly, at B Lab’s website, “has evolved based on comments from corporate attorneys in the states in which the legislation has been passed or introduced.” B Lab specifically states that part of its mission is to pass legislation, such as benefit corporation statutes.
As stated by the drafter’s “White Paper, The Need and Rationale for the Benefit Corporation: Why It is the Legal Form that Best Addresses the Needs of Social Entrepreneurs, Investors, and, Ultimately, the Public” (PDF here), the benefit corporation was designed to be “a new type of corporate legal entity.” Despite this claim, it’s likely that the entity should be looked at as a modified version of traditional corporation rather than at a new entity.
To read the rest of the post, please click below.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
At the New York Times Dealbook, Andrew Ross Sorkin notes that public pension funds have been lately silent on the issue of corporate inversions. (See co-blogger Anne Tucker on inversions here and here.) Sorkin writes, "Public pension funds may be so meek on the issue of inversions because they are conflicted."
Maybe I am reading too much into his choice of words, but "meek" implies more to me than "moderate" or "mild" and instead conveys a value judgment that fund managers have an obligation to speak out. I am not pretty sure that's not true.
I definitely don't like companies heading offshore for mild gains, and I don't think I would support such a choice, but as a director, I'd sure analyze the option before deciding. Fund managers, too, have obligations to look out for their stakeholders, and unless I had a clear charge on this front or thought the inverting company was clearly wrong, I'd probably stay quiet, too.
Although the meek may inherit the earth, at least at this point, I might substitute "meek" with "cautious" or even "prudent." But that's just me.
Monday, September 1, 2014
Larry Cunningham has a further post on his forthcoming book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values, over at Concurring Opinions. The post includes an excerpt from Chapter 8 of the book, Autonomy, and links to the full text of the chapter, available on SSRN for free (!) download. Larry's and my earlier posts on the book here on the BLPB can be found here, here, here, and here.
Here's a slice of the excerpt included in the Concurring Opinions post:
. . . Berkshire corporate policy strikes a balance between autonomy and authority. Buffett issues written instructions every two years that reflect the balance. The missive states the mandates Berkshire places on subsidiary CEOs: (1) guard Berkshire’s reputation; (2) report bad news early; (3) confer about post-retirement benefit changes and large capital expenditures (including acquisitions, which are encouraged); (4) adopt a fifty-year time horizon; (5) refer any opportunities for a Berkshire acquisition to Omaha; and (6) submit written successor recommendations. Otherwise, Berkshire stresses that managers were chosen because of their excellence and are urged to act on that excellence.
Cool stuff . . . .
On Friday, Bill Haslam, the Governor of the State of Tennessee, spoke at a session sponsored by the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center on The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus. He is our former city mayor and a hometown favorite for many. I always enjoy his talks.
His talk on Friday focused on how Tennessee is attracting businesses and jobs and how education--including higher education--plays a role. But before he honed in on that topic, he asked an intriguing, albeit basic, question that operates on theoretical, political, and practical planes. That question: How is government similar to and different from private enterprise? He wanted audience participation. I waited to see how everyone would react. He got lots of good answers that cut across economics, management, finance, and governance.
Provocatively (at least for me), he characterized his gubernatorial role as akin to the role of a chief executive officer in a corporation. He has served as a corporate manager (president of his family's firm and the CEO of a division of another firm), and his vision of the state gubernatorial role is clearly framed by that experience. He actually called the legislature his "board of directors" in his role as governor.
Well, after that analogy, I just had to contribute to the discussion with a comment. I endorsed the governor's view of his position, but I also noted that the executive, as the head of a separate branch of a government of three branches, has power independent of the power afforded to the legislature. That is when things got interesting, at least for me.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Thanks for your informative post, Anne. I started drafting this post as a comment to yours, and then I realized it was its own post. [sigh]
It seems to me that the U.S. Department of HHS and any commentators must grapple with what has been a difficult, fact-based question in determining how to define “closely held” to effectuate the Supreme Court’s intent in as expressed in the Hobby Lobby opinion. That question? What "control" means in this context.
The Court said in the Hobby Lobby opinion: “The companies in the cases before us are closely held corporations, each owned and controlled by members of a single family, and no one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs.” More specifically, the Court notes that the Hahns (owners of shares in Conestoga) “control its board of directors and hold all of its voting shares” and notes that Hobby Lobby and Mardel “remain closely held, and David, Barbara, and their children retain exclusive control of both companies.” [Emphasis has been added by me in each quote.]
The definition of “control” primarily has been a question of fact in business law, making the task of defining it here somewhat difficult. Some questions and considerations to grapple with are set forth below the fold. I am sure that others can come up with more. I am posting these as a way of getting the collective juices flowing.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
West Virginia is the latest jurisdiction to adopt benefit corporations – the text of our legislation can be found here. As with all benefit corporation legislation, the thrust of West Virginia’s statute is to provide a different standard of conduct for the directors of an otherwise for-profit corporation that holds itself out as being formed, at least in part, for a public benefit. (Current and pending state legislation for benefit corporations can be found here.)
As WVU Law has two members of the ProfBlog family in its ranks (Prof. Josh Fershee (on the Business Law Prof Blog) and Prof. Elaine Waterhouse Wilson (on the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog)), we combined forces to evaluate benefit corporations from both the nonprofit and the for-profit sides. For those of you on the Business Prof blog, some of the information to come on the Business Judgment Rule may be old hat; similarly, the tax discussion for those on the Nonprofit Blog will probably not be earth-shaking. Hopefully, this series will address something you didn’t know from the other side of the discussion!
Part I: The Benefit Corporation: What It’s Not: Before going into the details of West Virginia’s legislation (which is similar to statutes in other jurisdictions), however, a little background and clarification is in order for those new to the social enterprise world. A benefit corporation is different than a B Corporation (or B Corp). B Lab, which states that it is a “501(c)(3) nonprofit” on its website, essentially evaluates business entities in order to brand them as “Certified B Corps.”
It wants to be the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for social enterprise organizations. In order to be a Certified B Corp, organizations must pass performance and legal requirements that demonstrate that it meets certain standards regarding “social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Thus, a business organized as a benefit corporation could seek certification by B Lab as a B Corp, but a business is not automatically a B Corp because it’s a state-sanctioned benefit corporation – nor is it necessary to be a benefit corporation to be certified by B Labs.
In fact, it’s not even necessary to be a corporation to be one of the 1000+ Certified B Corps by B Lab. As Haskell Murray has explained,
I have told a number of folks at B Lab that "certified B corporation" is an inappropriate name, given that they certify limited liability companies, among other entity types, but they do not seem bothered by that technicality. I am guessing my fellow blogger Professor Josh Fershee would share my concern. [He was right.]
A benefit corporation is similar to, although different from, the low-profit limited liability company (or L3C), which West Virginia has not yet adopted. (An interesting side note: North Carolina abolished its 2010 L3C law as of January 1, 2014.) The primary difference, of course, is that a benefit corporation is a corporation and an L3C is a limited liability company. As both the benefit corporation and the L3C are generally not going to be tax-exempt for federal income tax purposes, the state law distinction makes a pretty big difference to the IRS. The benefit corporation is presumably going to be taxed as a C Corporation, unless it qualifies and makes the election to be an S Corp (and there’s nothing in the legislation that leads us to believe that it couldn’t qualify as an S Corp as a matter of law). By contrast, the L3C, by default will be taxed as a partnership, although again we see nothing that would prevent it from checking the box to be treated as a C Corp (and even then making an S election). The choice of entity determination presumably would be made, in part, based upon the planning needs of the individual equity holders and the potential for venture capital or an IPO in the future (both very for-profit type considerations, by the way). The benefit corporation and the L3C also approach the issue of social enterprise in a very different way, which raises serious operational issues – but more on that later.
Finally, let’s be clear – a benefit corporation is not a nonprofit corporation. A benefit corporation is organized at least, in some part, to profit to its owners. The “nondistribution constraint” famously identified by Prof. Henry Hansmann (The Role of Nonprofit Enterprise, 89 Yale Law Journal 5 (1980), p. 835, 838 – JSTOR link here) as the hallmark of a nonprofit entity does not apply to the benefit corporation. Rather, the shareholders of a benefit corporation intend to get something out of the entity other than warm and fuzzy do-gooder feelings – and that something usually involves cash.
In the next installments:
Part II – The Benefit Corporation: What It Is.
Part III – So Why Bother? Isn’t the Business Judgment Rule Alive and Well?
Part IV – So Why Bother, Redux? Maybe It’s a Tax Thing?
Part V - Random Thoughts and Conclusions
EWW & JPF
Friday, August 22, 2014
I love a good debate and appreciate the opportunity (provided by Professor Bainbridge’s thoughtful post yesterday) to engage a bit more deeply on the thesis of Wednesday’s post suggesting an approach for how to incorporate Citizens United and Hobby Lobby into the survey BA/Corporations course.
By way of recap and ruthless summary, Stephen Bainbridge wants nothing to do with these issues (or other constitutional law questions) in his course because of the:
- Existing emphasis of public law over private law and resulting imbalance in law school curriculum;
- False impression that constitutional law is the holy grail of law teaching and practice;
- These cases present a hornet’s nest of controversial and divisive topics; and
- Coverage constraints. The menu options of what we can (should) teach is already more ambitious than time allows.
And to no surprise to anyone, anywhere: Stephen Bainbridge is right on the money with all of these points.
As a survey course and one that almost every student in my law school (Georgia State) takes, I feel a responsibility to provide context for the subject matter that we teach and to do my best to “hook” students who didn’t come to my class with an interest in corporate law.
First, hear me now when I say that corporate law matters. It matters to the business owners who form and operate a firm. It matters to the individuals and other businesses who interact with the firm as a supplier or customer or creditor or employee. These first two points are significantly incorporated into the traditional BA syllabus. Corporate law also matters to general members of society because corporations wield tremendous power in elections, in lobbying (regulatory capture anyone?), in shaping retirement savings, in religious and reproductive rights debates and setting other cultural norms around issues like corruption, sustainability, living wage, etc. Multi-national corporations with ubiquitous brand recognition aren’t the only powerful actors. The Hobby Lobby ruling tells us that those creatures governed largely by private law—the closely held corporation—also play a major role. To teach corporate law in a vacuum that ignores this broader context is to teach nuclear physics without discussing the atom bomb and its consequences (if I can use hyperbole). Should the broader context be the focus of the class? Absolutely not. Can it be woven into context setting discussions or used as a way to elicit student participation? In my class at least.
Second, not every student in BA enrolled out of pure self-interest; not everyone has a business background. I consider my course to be a great equalizer in law school: we take the health sciences majors, the B-schoolers, the political science and the anthropology kids and at the end of the semester everyone can explain basic financial concepts, the different menu options of firms, proxy fights, and even poison pills. We do this best when we can engage all of the students, which sometimes means helping students see why it might matter to them and how the subject connects with the things that they care about. For some that will be the clever ways you can use private agreements to shape outcomes and hedge against risk, for others it will be seeing why corporate law matters even if you don’t care about corporations (see paragraph above).
My last point is that being an effective classroom teacher generally requires a sense of self-awareness about your comfort zone, your strengths, and your weaknesses (among other things). I have lots of colleagues, at GSU and other institutions (many of them BLPB editors), whom I admire, but if I tried to teach class the way that they did, I would fall short of the mark. We teach to our own strengths and infuse classes with a sense of our own personality and passion. I don’t think I have convinced anyone not previously inclined to incorporate these materials; and I wonder if Stephen has caused any course corrections with his thoughts. We may have just reinforced the positions that you already held. Either way, happy teaching to all readers who have started or are preparing to start the new semester and the new school year.