Tuesday, September 25, 2018

No Need to Be Judgmental: Last Thoughts on the Business Judgmenty Nike Ad

I was going to move on to other topics after two recent posts about Nike's Kaepernick Ad, but I decided I had a little more to say on the topic.  My prior posts, Nike's Kaepernick Ad Is the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever and Delegation of Board Authority: Nike's Kaepernick Ad Remains the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever explain my view that Nike's decision to run a controversial ad is the essence of the exercise of business judgment.  Some people seem to believe that by merely making a controversial decision, the board should subject to review and required to justify its actions.  I don't agree. I need more.   

First, I came across a case (an unreported Delaware case) that had language that was simply too good for me to pass up in this context:

The plaintiffs have pleaded no facts to undermine the presumption that the outside directors of the board . . . failed to fully inform itself in deciding how best to proceed . . . . Instead, the complaint essentially states that the plaintiffs would have run things differently. The business judgment rule, however, is not rebutted by Monday morning quarterbacking. In the absence of well pleaded allegations of director interest or self-dealing, failure to inform themselves, or lack of good faith, the business decisions of the board are not subject to challenge because in hindsight other choices might have been made instead.

In re Affliated Computer Servs., Inc. Shareholders Litig., No. CIV.A. 2821-VCL, 2009 WL 296078, at *10 (Del. Ch. Feb. 6, 2009) (unreported). 
 
Absolutely, positively, spot on.  (I'll note, again, that Nike's stock is up, not down since the ad. That shouldn't matter as to the inquiry, but it further supports why we have the business judgment rule in the first place.) 
 
Next, the good Professor Bainbridge posted yesterday, I hate to break it to Josh Fershee but "Judgmenty" is not a word. He is, of course, correct. But, I couldn't leave it there. I decided to double down on my use of the admittedly ridiculous "judgmenty."  My claim:
Ever the good sport, the good professor replied: 

So it appears. 

September 25, 2018 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, Management, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Delegation of Board Authority: Nike's Kaepernick Ad Remains the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever

Last week, I made the argument that Nike's Kaepernick Ad Is the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever.  I still think so.  

To build on that post (in part based on good comments I received on that post), I think it is worth exploring that ability and appropriateness of boards delegating certain duties, as this impacts any assessment of the business judgment rule. 

As co-blogger Stefan Padfield correctly noted, directors "become informed of all material information reasonably available." However, does that apply to a particular ad campaign? Hiring of all spokespeople? Only certain ones? How about a particular ad?  Or is it the hiring of a marketing and ad team (internally or externally)? 

Nike has a long list of sponsorship (here) for teams and individuals. I sincerely doubt that all of those were run by the board of directors, though it is possible.  The board may also weigh in from time to time, based on the behavior of the people they sponsor.  Nike famously terminated contracts with Oscar Pistorius and Ray Rice in September 2014. Are these all board decisions? Maybe. Or maybe they have a protocol for dealing with such issues. Regardless, how they deal with this seems plainly within the BJR.  

Now, I also would agree that there comes a time when the board would need to do more with regard to their advertising and sponsorships, if they were on notice of a problem with their sponsored athletes, not unlike a Caremark duty or its predecessor. In discussing the applicability of the business judgment rule, an older, but classic, Delaware case stated, “it appears that directors are entitled to rely on the honesty and integrity of their subordinates until something occurs to put them on suspicion that something is wrong. If such occurs and goes unheeded, [only] then liability of the directors might well follow . . . “ Graham v. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co., 41 Del. Ch. 78, 85, 188 A.2d 125, 130 (1963). 

When I started to write this, I did not know if Nike's board of directors saw this ad before it went out (more on that below). I expect they did (or at least knew about it), but I'm not sure.  Even it if the ad were raised with the board for informational purposes, trusting the judgment and recommendation of your marketing executives seems imminently reasonable to me. It seems to me that how the board chooses to work with their marketing people fall plainly under the business judgment rule (BJR) unless shareholders can rebut the presumption that the BJR applies.  It's not like marketing mistakes are not common. Most years there are recap articles about the works gaffes in marketing for the year. This one from 2017 is a particularly good example, and I don't think any of them would be likely to lead to director liability.  

The scope and power of board delegation of such duties would be a good topic for further research. I certainly concede that there are times when such decisions look more like board decisions that require an appropriate process and perhaps some demonstration of due care.  Maybe that goes to a need to review ads with certain risk factors, but you'd still have to delegate the decision about what needs to come to the board to someone.  And do you need such a process absent notice that your ad folks are taking enormous risks?  Is this a Caremark/Allis-Chalmers issue? Or could negligent hiring be the failure, if the ad folks are insane? 

Support for my assumptions, and for the idea that Nike, at least, views this as a delegation question, arrived in this breaking news from CNBC, which appeared as I was writing this blog post:  

Nike director Beth Comstock said Tuesday that the sports apparel giant's management and CEO Mark Parker informed the board about the controversial Colin Kaepernick ad before it was released.

But Comstock, also a former vice chair of General Electric, said Parker didn't need the board's permission before running a "Just Do It" campaign featuring the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.

"Parker runs the company really well," Comstock said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," while also commenting about the new China tariffs. Parker "certainly doesn't need board approval to figure out where to run an ad," she added.

In the end, we know marketing decisions can harm stock prices, but we also know risky marketing decisions can improve stock prices.  That very fact, I maintain, puts this decision squarely in the BJR zone.  

September 18, 2018 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Management, Marketing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Nike's Kaepernick Ad Is the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever

On Sept. 4, it was reported 

Nike just lost about $3.75 billion in market cap after announcing free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the new face of its “Just Do It” ad campaign. It’s the 30th anniversary of the iconic TV and print spots.

At the time of this writing, the sneaker company’s intra-day market capitalization was $127.82 billion. On Friday, that number had been $131.57 billion.

Market capitalization is the market value of a publicly traded company’s outstanding shares.

Shares of NKE stock dropped about 4 percent on Tuesday morning, as #NikeBoycott has been trending on Twitter. The company’s valuation has since recovered a bit.

In light of the market cap loss, friend and co-blogger Stefan Padfield asked, via Twitter, "How much & what kind of information regarding projected backlash losses did Nike need to review in order to satisfy its duty of care to shareholders here?" My answer: very, very little and very, very limited.  

Now, it is worth noting that here it is Sept. 13, and as I write this, Nike is at or near its 52-week high. As such, the question is less pressing than it may have seemed a week ago.  But even then, I maintain, this is not really even in the realm of a duty of care concern. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. (Also of potential interest, friend and co-blogger Ann Lipton provides a good overview of the varying takes on the ad here

A while back I wrote, This I Believe: On Corporate Purpose and the Business Judgment Rule, which provided my thoughts on how director )ecision making should be viewed (short answer: "I believe in the theory of Director Primacy").  The business judgment rule provides that absent fraud, self-dealing or illegality, directors decisions cannot be reviewed. "Courts do not measure, weigh or quantify directors’ judgments. We do not even decide if they are reasonable in this context. Due care in the decisionmaking context is process due care only. Irrationality is the outer limit of the business judgment rule." Brehm v Eisner, 746 A.2d 244 (Del. 2000)(emphasis added)(footnote omitted).     

Under this lens, regardless of the market cap impact, Nike's advertising falls within the scope of the business judgment rule. Did the board even know this ad was coming out? I don't know.  Probably. But I also think it is clearly proper for the board to delegate duties to CEO to handle day-to-day operations. And it is customary and proper for that CEO to delegate to a marketing VP and/or marketing agency the role of designing and placing advertising. Could the CEO and/or marketing VP get fired for their choices? Sure. Or they could get bonuses. Either way, that would be the call of the directors.  

I can come up with lots of reasons why Nike should not have done that ad, and I can come up with a lot of good reasons why it makes sense.  The biggest reason it makes sense? Nike knows marketing.  They won't get everything right, but they have been taking calculated risks for a long time. In 1992, the Harvard Business Review noted that

in the mid-1980s, Nike lost its footing, and the company was forced to make a subtle but important shift. Instead of putting the product on center stage, it put the consumer in the spotlight and the brand under a microscope—in short, it learned to be marketing oriented. Since then, Nike has resumed its domination of the athletic shoe industry. It commands 29% of the market, and sales for fiscal 1991 topped $3 billion.

Phil Knight, Nike founder, futher explained how Nike looked at using famous athletes:

The trick is to get athletes who not only can win but can stir up emotion. We want someone the public is going to love or hate, not just the leading scorer. Jack Nicklaus was a better golfer than Arnold Palmer, but Palmer was the better endorsement because of his personality.

To create a lasting emotional tie with consumers, we use the athletes repeatedly throughout their careers and present them as whole people. So consumers feel that they know them. It’s not just Charles Barkley saying buy Nike shoes, it’s seeing who Charles Barkley is—and knowing that he’s going to punch you in the nose. We take the time to understand our athletes, and we have to build long-term relationships with them. Those relationships go beyond any financial transactions. John McEnroe and Joan Benoit wear our shoes everyday, but it’s not the contract. We like them and they like us. We win their hearts as well as their feet.

Read in this light, it all makes sense. This is part of Nike's plan, and it always has been. Presumably, they expect that any business they lose because consumers are upset by the ads will be made up and then some by creating a "lasting emotional tie with consumers."  That is, creating what we might call brand loyalty.

Not that is should matter to a court. While these explanations may be correct, they aren't necessary.  The business judgment rule exists to allow companies, via their directors, to take these kinds of risks. It's how you create companies like Nike (and Apple, for that matter). And that's why there should be no question that this ad is beyond the scope of review, not matter how the public responds. If consumers don't like it, they can buy other products. If shareholders don't like it, they can vote the board out.  And that's it.  That's the recourse. It just doesn't get much more "business judgmenty" than who you pick for your ads.  And that's exactly how it should be.  

September 13, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Management, Marketing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Sports Agents, LLCs, and LLPs: You Can't Believe Everything You Read on the Internet

I am teaching Sports Law this semester, which is always fun.  I like to highlight other areas of the law for my students so that they can see that Sports Law is really an amalgamation of other areas: contract law, labor law, antitrust law, and yes, business organizations.  I sometimes cruise the internet for examples to make my point that they really need to have a firm grounding the basics of many areas of law to be a good sports lawyer.  Today, I found a solid example, and not in a good way.  

I found a site providing advice about "How to Start a Sports Agency" at the site https://www.managerskills.org.  This is site is new to me.  Anyway, it starts off okay: 

Ask any successful sports agent: education is the foundation upon which you will build your business. The first step is to earn your bachelor’s degree from an appropriately accredited institution.

. . . .

Once you have obtained your bachelor’s degree, the next step will be to pursue your master’s degree. Alternately, you may choose to pursue a law degree.

While a law degree is not required, the skills you acquire during your studies will be particularly beneficial when it comes to negotiating contracts for your clients. Most major leagues, including the NFL and the NBA, requires their sports agents to possess a master’s degree.

All true. A law degree should also help when it comes to figuring out your entity choice.  The site's advice continues: 

The next step is to choose a professional name for your business and to create a limited liability corporation (LLC). If you have one or more business partners, then you will need to create a limited liability partnership (LLP).

Yikes.  I mean, yikes.  First, an LLC is a limited liability company!

Second,  I believe that after Massachusetts allowed single-member LLCs in 2003, all states allowed the creation of single-member LLCs, so an LLC is an option. An LLP might be an option, and some professional entities for certain lawyers might be an option (or requirement), such as the PLLC or PC.  But the idea that one needs to choose an LLP if there is more than one person participating in the business is flawed. It is correct that to be an LLP, there would need to be more than one person, but this is not transitive.  

Anyway, while not great advice, this gives me some good material for class tomorrow.  I will probably start with, "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet." 

September 4, 2018 in Contracts, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 3, 2018

Connecting the Threads II - Laboring on Labor Day

Like many in the law academy, I find three-day holiday weekends a great time to catch my breath and catch up on work items that need to be addressed.  This Labor Day weekend--including today, Labor Day itself--is no exception to the rule.  I am working today, honoring workers through my own work.  My husband and daughter are doing the same.

This blog post and the announcement it carries are among my more joyful tasks for the day.  I have been remiss in not earlier announcing and promoting our second annual Business Law Prof Blog symposium, which will be held at The University of Tennessee College of Law on September 14.  The symposium again focuses on the work of many of your favorite Business Law Prof Blog editors, with commentary from my UT Law faculty colleagues and students.  This year, topics range from the human rights and other compliance implications of blockchain technology to designing impactful corporate law, with a sprinkling of other entity and securities law related topics.  I am focusing my time in the spotlight (!) on professional challenges in the representation of social enterprise firms.  More information about the symposium is available here.  For those of you who have law licenses in Tennessee, CLE credits are available.

I am looking forward to again hosting some of my favorite law scholars at this symposium.  I am sure some will blog about their presentations here (Marcia already has previewed her talk and summarized all of our presentations, and I plan to later blog about mine), Transactions (our business law journal) will publish the symposium proceedings, and videos will be processed and posted on UT Law's CLE website later in the year.  But if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and hear us all in person!  We would love to see you.

Transactions(BLBP-ConnectingThreadsLogo)

September 3, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Marcia Narine Weldon, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Should Corporate Lawyers and Business Law Professors Be Talking About DAOs?

Did I lose you with the title to this post? Do you have no idea what a DAO is? In its simplest terms, a DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization, whose decisions are made electronically by a written computer code or through the vote of its members. In theory, it eliminates the need for traditional documentation and people for governance. This post won't explain any more about DAOs or the infamous hack of the Slock.it DAO in 2016. I chose this provocative title to inspire you to read an article entitled Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution.

The authors Mark Fenwick, Wulf A. Kaal, and Erik P. M. Vermeulen discuss how technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and blockchain will change how we teach and practice law related to real property, IP, privacy, contracts, and employment law. If you're a practicing lawyer, you have a duty of competence. You need to know what you don't know so that you avoid advising on areas outside of your level of expertise. It may be exciting to advise a company on tax, IP, securities law or other legal issues related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, but you could subject yourself to discipline for doing so without the requisite background. If you teach law, you will have students clamoring for information on innovative technology and how the law applies. Cornell University now offers 28 courses on blockchain, and a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business has 235 people in his class. Other schools are scrambling to find professors qualified to teach on the subject. 

To understand the hype, read the article on the future of legal education. The abstract is below:

The legal profession is one of the most disrupted sectors of the consulting industry today. The rise of Legal Tech, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and, most importantly, blockchain technology is changing the practice of law. The sharing economy and platform companies challenge many of the traditional assumptions, doctrines, and concepts of law and governance, requiring litigators, judges, and regulators to adapt. Lawyers need to be equipped with the necessary skillsets to operate effectively in the new world of disruptive innovation in law. A more creative and innovative approach to educating lawyers for the 21st century is needed.

For more on how blockchain is changing business and corporate governance, come by my talk at the University of Tennessee on September 14th where you will also hear from my co-bloggers. In case you have no interest in my topic, it's worth the drive/flight to hear from the others. The descriptions of the sessions are below:

Session 1: Breach of Fiduciary Duty and the Defense of Reliance on Experts

Many corporate statutes expressly provide that directors in discharging their duties may rely in good faith upon information, opinions, reports, or statements from officers, board committees, employees, or other experts (such as accountants or lawyers). Such statutes often come into play when directors have been charged with breaching their procedural duty of care by making an inadequately informed decision, but they can be applicable in other contexts as well. In effect, the statutes provide a defense to directors charged with breach of fiduciary duty when their allegedly uninformed or wrongful decisions were based on credible information provided by others with appropriate expertise. Professor Douglas Moll will examine these “reliance on experts” statutes and explore a number of questions associated with them.

Session 2: Fact or Fiction: Flawed Approaches to Evaluating Market Behavior in Securities Litigation

Private fraud actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act require courts to make a variety of determinations regarding market functioning and the economic effects of the alleged misconduct. Over the years, courts have developed a variety of doctrines to guide how these inquiries are to be conducted. For example, courts look to a series of specific, pre-defined factors to determine whether a market is “efficient” and thus responsive to new information. Courts also rely on a variety of doctrines to determine whether and for how long publicly-available information has exerted an influence on security prices. Courts’ judgments on these matters dictate whether cases will proceed to summary judgment and trial, whether classes will be certified and the scope of such classes, and the damages that investors are entitled to collect. Professor Ann M. Lipton will discuss how these doctrines operate in such an artificial manner that they no longer shed light on the underlying factual inquiry, namely, the actual effect of the alleged fraud on investors.

Session 3: Lawyering for Social Enterprise

Professor Joan Heminway will focus on salient components of professional responsibility operative in delivering advisory legal services to social enterprises. Social enterprises—businesses that exist to generate financial and social or environmental benefits—have received significant positive public attention in recent years. However, social enterprise and the related concepts of social entrepreneurship and impact investing are neither well defined nor well understood. As a result, entrepreneurs, investors, intermediaries, and agents, as well as their respective advisors, may be operating under different impressions or assumptions about what social enterprise is and have different ideas about how to best build and manage a sustainable social enterprise business. Professor Heminway will discuss how these legal uncertainties have the capacity to generate transaction costs around entity formation and management decision making and the pertinent professional responsibilities implicated in an attorney’s representation of such social enterprises.

Session 4: Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management

Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, Professor Marcia Narine Weldon will discuss how the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management. Companies and stock exchanges are using blockchain for shareholder communications, managing supply chains, internal audit, and cybersecurity. Professor Weldon will focus on eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena. Professor Weldon’s discussion will provide an overview of blockchain technology and how state and nonstate actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency.

Session 5: Crafting State Corporate Law for Research and Review

Professor Benjamin Edwards will discuss how states can implement changes in state corporate law with an eye toward putting in place provisions and measures to make it easier for policymakers to retrospectively review changes to state law to discern whether legislation accomplished its stated goals. State legislatures often enact and amend their business corporation laws without considering how to review and evaluate their effectiveness and impact. This inattention means that state legislatures quickly lose sight of whether the changes actually generate the benefits desired at the time off passage. It also means that state legislatures may not observe stock price reactions or other market reactions to legislation. Our federal system allows states to serve as the laboratories of democracy. The controversy over fee-shifting bylaws and corporate charter provisions offers an opportunity for state legislatures to intelligently design changes in corporate law to achieve multiple state and regulatory objectives. Professor Edwards will discuss how well-crafted legislation would: (i) allow states to compete effectively in the market for corporate charters; and (ii) generate useful information for evaluating whether particular bylaws or charter provisions enhance shareholder wealth.

Session 6: An Overt Disclosure Requirement for Eliminating the Duty of Loyalty

When Delaware law allowed parties to eliminate the duty of loyalty for LLCs, more than a few people were appalled. Concerns about eliminating the duty of loyalty are not surprising given traditional business law fiduciary duty doctrine. However, as business agreements evolved, and became more sophisticated, freedom of contract has become more common, and attractive. How to reconcile this tradition with the emerging trend? Professor Joshua Fershée will discuss why we need to bring a partnership principle to LLCs to help. In partnerships, the default rule is that changes to the partnership agreement or acts outside the ordinary course of business require a unanimous vote. See UPA § 18(h) & RUPA § 401(j). As such, the duty of loyalty should have the same requirement, and perhaps that even the rule should be mandatory, not just default. The duty of loyalty norm is sufficiently ingrained that more active notice (and more explicit consent) is necessary, and eliminating the duty of loyalty is sufficiently unique that it warrants unique treatment if it is to be eliminated.

Session 7: Does Corporate Personhood Matter? A Review of We the Corporations

Professor Stefan Padfield will discuss a book written by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.” The highly-praised book “reveals the secret history of one of America’s most successful yet least-known ‘civil rights movements’ – the centuries-long struggle for equal rights for corporations.” However, the book is not without its controversial assertions, particularly when it comes to its characterizations of some of the key components of corporate personhood and corporate personality theory. This discussion will unpack some of these assertions, hopefully ensuring that advocates who rely on the book will be informed as to alternative approaches to key issues.

 

September 1, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Business, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Real Property, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

California Court Misplays Smackdown: LLCs Are Still Not Corporations

In a recent California appellate opinion disposing of the second appeal of an earlier judgment seems to have the court irritated.  It does appear the appellant was trying to relitigate a decided issue, so perhaps that's right.  But the court makes its own goof.  After referring repeatedly to the "limited liability company" at issue, the court then goes down a familiar, and disappointing, path.  The court explains: 

In any event, the Supreme Court opinion which Foster contends we disregarded, Essex Ins. Co. v. Five Star Dye House, Inc. (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1252, 1259, has no relevance here. Essex decided whether an assignee of a bad faith claim could also recover attorney fees. (Ibid.) This holding has nothing to do with whether a limited liability corporation may assign its appellate rights in an improper attempt to circumvent the rules requiring corporations to be represented by attorneys.

JENNITA FOSTER, Plaintiff & Appellant, v. OLD REPUBLIC DEFAULT MANAGEMENT SERVICES, Defendant & Respondent., No. B280006, 2018 WL 4075910, at *2 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2018) (emphasis added).  
 
It's not clear whether Essex Insurance Company is an LLC or a corporation, though it's a strong bet it is a corporation. (A search of California entities and a quick look at the docket were inconclusive.) Regardless, I know that case does not discuss LLCs and that the instant case definitely deals with a "limited liability company."  It is "unpublished/noncitable," according to Westlaw, so I guess that's good, but it is still out there. 
 
Ultimately, the court's apparent frustration seems warranted, but it is a little ironic (and a bit amusing) that the court misstates the entity type in the smackdown.  

August 29, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Everyone Wants to Make Non-Corporate Things Corporate: It's Sen. Warren's Turn

Senator Elizabeth Warren last week released her Accountable Capitalism Act. My co-blogger Haskell Murray wrote about that here, as have a number of others, including Professor Bainbridge, who has written at least seven posts on his blogCountless others have weighed in, as well.

There are fans of the idea, others who are agnostic, and still other who thinks it’s a terrible idea. I am not taking a position on any of that, because I am too busy working through all the flaws with regard to entity law itself to even think about the overall Act.

As a critic of how most people view entities, my expectations were low. On the plus side, the bill does not say “limited liability corporation” one time.  So that’s a win. Still, there are a number of entity law flaws that make the bill problematic before you even get to what it’s supposed to do.  The problem: the bill uses “corporation” too often where it means “entity” or “business.”

Let’s start with the Section 2. DEFINITIONS.  This section provides:

 (2) LARGE ENTITY.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The term ‘‘large entity’’ means an entity that—

(i) is organized under the laws of a State as a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint stock company, or limited liability company;

(ii) engages in interstate commerce; and

(iii) in a taxable year, according to in- formation provided by the entity to the Internal Revenue Service, has more than $1,000,000,000 in gross receipts.

Okay, so it does list LLCs, correctly, but it does not list partnerships.  This would seem to exclude Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). The Alerian MLP Indexlist about 40 MLPs with at least a $1 billion market cap.  It also leaves our publicly traded partnerships(PTPs). So, that’s a miss, to say the least. 

Section 2 goes on to define a  

(6) UNITED STATES CORPORATION.—The term “United States corporation’’ means a large entity with respect to which the Office has granted a charter under section 3.

The bill also creates an “Office of United States Corporations,” in Section 3, even though the definitions section clear says a “large entity” includes more than just corporations. 

Next is Section 4, which provides the “Requirement for Large Entities to Obtain Charters.”

LARGE ENTITIES.—

(1) IN GENERAL.— An entity that is organized as a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint stock company, or limited liability company in a State shall obtain a charter from the Office . . . .”

So, again, the definition does not include MLPs (or any other partnership forms, or coops for that matter) as large entities.  I am not at all clear why the Act would refer to and define “Large Entities,” then go back to using “corporations.”  Odd. 

Later in section 4, we get the repercussions for the failure to obtain a charter: 

An entity to which paragraph (1) applies and that fails to obtain a charter from the Office as required under that paragraph shall not be treated as a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint-stock company, or limited liability company, as applicable, for the purposes of Federal law during the period beginning on the date on which the entity is required to obtain a charter under that paragraph and ending on the date on which the entity obtains the charter.

Here, the section chooses not to use the large entity definition or the corporation definition and instead repeats the entity list from the definitions section. As a side note, does this section mean that, for “purposes of Federal law,” any statutory “large entity” without a charter is a general partnership or sole proprietorship? I would hope not for the LLC, which isn’t a corporation, anyway.

Finally, in Section 5, the Act provides:

(e) APPLICATION.—

(1) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION REGARDING GENERAL CORPORATE LAW.—Nothing in this section may be construed to affect any provision of law that is applicable to a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint stock company, or limited liability company, as applicable, that is not a United States corporation.

Again, I will note that “general corporate law” should not apply to anything but corporations, anyway. LLCs, in particular. 

The Act further contemplates a standard of conduct for directors and officers.  LLCs do not have to have either, at least not in the way corporations do, nor do MLPs/PTPs, which admittedly do not appear covered, anyway. The Act also contemplates shareholders and shareholder suits, which are not a thing for LLCs/MLPs/PTPs because they don’t have shareholders.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I think it’s a pretty good start. I will concede that some of my critiques could be argued another way.  Obviously, I'd disagree, but maybe some of this is not as egregious as I see it. Still, there are flaws, and if this thing is going to move beyond even the release, I sure hope they take the time to get the entity issues figured out. I’d be happy to help.

August 21, 2018 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs, Management, Partnership, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The SEC Needs to Crack Down on Incorrect Entity Types

According to its website,

The U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a three-part mission:

  • Protect investors
  • Maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets
  • Facilitate capital formation

I think it needs to add: "Ensure proper entity identification." 

Examples abound. Take this recent 10-Q:

On June 27, 2018, the Company formed a joint venture with Downtown Television, Inc., for the purpose of developing, producing and marketing entertainment content relating to deep-sea exploration, historical shipwreck search, artifact recovery, and expounding upon the history of these shipwrecks.  The joint venture is being formed as a new limited liability corporation that will be 50% owned each by EXPL and Downtown, and has been named Megalodon Entertainment, LLC. (“Megalodon”), as is further described in Note B. 

Endurance Exploration Group, Inc., SEC 10-Q, for the quarterly period ended: June 30, 2018 (emphasis added). 

Side note: That 10-Q, I will note, raised some other questionable decisionmaking, as it goes on to report: 

NOTE B – JOINT VENTURE

EXPL Swordfish, LLC

Effective January 9, 2017, the Company, through a newly formed, wholly owned subsidiary, EXPL Swordfish, LLC (“EXPL Swordfish”), entered into a joint-venture agreement (“Agreement”) with Deep Blue Exploration, LLC, d/b/a Marex (“Marex”).  The joint venture between EXPL Swordfish and Marex is referred to as Swordfish Partners.

As near as I can tell, Swordfish Partners is what it says it is, a partnership formed as a joint venture for a unique purpose.  This is fascinating to me.  Why would a company filing quarterly reports with the SEC not choose to take the time to create an LLC for the joint venture? I'm not a maritime expert, though I did participate in Tulane Law School's program with the Aegean Institute of the Law of the Sea and Maritime Law many years ago. I simply cannot come up with a good reason not to create a limited liability entity for the joint venture.  I know there are times when it makes sense (or is not a concern), but this doesn't seem like one of those times. 

I did a quick look for some other entity issues in SEC filings. There are many more, but this is what the Google machine provided in a quick search:

  • From Core Moldings Technologies, Inc. Schedule 13D (Aug. 8, S018): "GGCP Holdings is a Delaware limited liability corporation having its principal business office at 140 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830."   
  • From Financial Engines, Inc. Form 8-K, Jan. 28, 2016: "On February 1, 2016, Financial Engines, Inc. (“Financial Engines”) completed the previously announced acquisition of Kansas City 727 Acquisition LLC, a Delaware limited liability corporation ...."
  • Limited Liability Company Agreement of Artist Arena International, LLC, Exhibit 3.206"This Limited Liability Company Agreement (this “Agreement”) of Artist Arena International, LLC, a New York limited liability company (the “Company”), dated as of January 4, 2011, is adopted and entered into by Artist Arena LLC., a New York limited liability corporation (the “Member” or “AA”), pursuant to and in accordance with the Limited Liability Company Law of the State of New York, Article 2, §§ 201-214, et seq., as amended from time to time (the “Act”)."
  • CloudCommerce, Inc., Form 8-K, October 1, 2015: "Certificate of Merger of Domestic Corporation and Foreign Limited Liability Corporation between Warp 9, Inc., a Delaware corporation, and Indaba Group, LLC, a Colorado limited liability company."

I swear we can do better.  Really.  

August 14, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Missed "sic", A Big Bank, and LLCs Are Still Not Corporations

It's not just judges and lawyers. Big banks, too, are apparently not committed to clear and accurate language when it comes to LLCs (limited liability companies).  A recent antitrust case provides an excerpt from a Barclays Settlement Agreement that states:

Paragraph 2(cc) of the Barclays Settlement Agreement defines “Person” as: “An individual, corporation, limited liability corporation, professional corporation, limited liability partnership, partnership, limited partnership, association, joint stock company, estate, legal representative, trust, unincorporated association, municipality, state, state agency, any entity that is a creature of any state, any government or any political subdivision, authority, office, bureau or agency of any government, and any business or legal entity, and any spouses, heirs, predecessors, successors, representatives, or assignees of the foregoing.” Barclays Settlement Agreement ¶ 2(cc).

In re LIBOR-Based Fin. Instruments Antitrust Litig., No. 11 CIV. 5450, 2018 WL 3677875, at *20 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2018) (emphasis added). 
 
I checked to see if this was the court's error, but I found a link to what appears to be the settlement agreement, and it, too, includes "limited liability corporation" in paragraph (cc)'s definition.  Given that it is an error in the original, the judge, or at least the judge's clerks, missed an opportunity for an appropriately placed "[sic]," which more than a few lawyers in my experience have relished the opportunity to insert. 
 
I did a little poking around and found that some Barclays' divisions know and honor the distinction.  For example, a 2014 settlement agreement between  Federal Housing Finance Agency and "Barclays Bank PLC, Barclays Capital Inc. ('Barclays Capital'), and Securitized Asset Backed Receivables LLC (collectively, the Barclays Corporate Defendants')" (as well as some other defendants) provides (emphasis added): 

(h) “Person” means an individual, corporate entity, partnership, association, joint stock company, limited liability company, estate, trust, government entity (or any political subdivision or agency thereof) and any other type of business or legal entity . . . .

I guess beyond judges and lawyers, I should extend my An LLC Checklist Proposal to bankers, as well.  We can get this right, I swear.  It's just going to take some work. 
 

August 7, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Are Uber "Driver-Partners" a Liability Time Bomb?

I am probably late to the game on this, but I just realized that Uber promotes their drivers as "driver-partners."  It's even in their ads. This seems unwise.  

Uber has a history linked to the question about whether their drivers are employees or independent contractors. But what about the question of whether Uber drivers are partners or independent contractors? That is big, potential liability conundrum.

Now, just because one says they are partners, that does not make it so, at least as to each other. The converse is also true -- saying expressly "this agreement does not form a partnership" does not necessarily mean a court won't find one. See, e.g., Martin v. Peyton, 158 N.E. 77 (NY 1927) ("Statements that no partnership is intended are not conclusive.").  But, as to third parties, at a minimum, affirmative statements that one is a partner, can create liability for those involved.  The Uniform Partnership Act (1914) § 16. Partner by Estoppel, provides:

(1) When a person, by words spoken or written or by conduct, represents himself, or consents to another representing him to any one, as a partner in an existing partnership or with one or more persons not actual partners, he is liable to any such person to whom such representation has been made, who has, on the faith of such representation, given credit to the actual or apparent partnership, and if he has made such representation or consented to its being made in a public manner he is liable to such person, whether the representation has or has not been made or communicated to such person so giving credit by or with the knowledge of the apparent partner making the representation or consenting to its being made.

(a) When a partnership liability results, he is liable as though he were an actual member of the partnership.

(b) When no partnership liability results, he is liable jointly with the other persons, if any, so consenting to the contract or representation as to incur liability, otherwise separately.

Similarly, the Revised Uniform Partnership Act provides: 

SECTION 308. LIABILITY OF PURPORTED PARTNER.

(a) If a person, by words or conduct, purports to be a partner, or consents to being represented by another as a partner, in a partnership or with one or more persons not partners, the purported partner is liable to a person to whom the representation is made, if that person, relying on the representation, enters into a transaction with the actual or purported partnership. If the representation, either by the purported partner or by a person with the purported partner’s consent, is made in a public manner, the purported partner is liable to a person who relies upon the purported partnership even if the purported partner is not aware of being held out as a partner to the claimant. If partnership liability results, the purported partner is liable with respect to that liability as if the purported partner were a partner. If no partnership liability results, the purported partner is liable with respect to that liability jointly and severally with any other person consenting to the representation.

Now, can I come up with plenty of counterarguments and ways to make this liability less likely, and those are compelling arguments, too, in many settings. However, I cannot come up with such a good argument that would make it worth using "Driver-Partner" as my term.  How about "Driver-Teammate" or "Driver-Affiliate" or "Driver-Collaborator" or even "Driver-Member?" For me, the specificity of the term "partner," and the liability that can follow without formal action, would warrant avoiding its use.  But maybe that's just me.  

 

August 1, 2018 in Agency, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Avengers Take Note: Hydra Is an LLC, But Not a Corporation

An Illinois appellate court decision that was just made available on Westlaw provides some revealing insight into Hydra, the longtime source of evil that many recognize from Captain America: The First Avenger

Hydra stated that Hydra's manager is Ahuva Horowitz, defendant's wife, and that she owns 100% of the membership interests of Hydra a limited liability corporation.

Xcel Supply LLC v. Horowitz, 2018 IL App (1st) 162986, ¶ 14, 100 N.E.3d 557, 561, reh'g denied (Mar. 9, 2018) (emphasis added). 

First, let's correct the record: Hydra is listed as an LLC, a limited liability company. It is not a corporation.  

Second, I should also note, after further review, it's not really THAT Hydra. It is apparently not this one:

In a prehuman time, a cabal of cold-blooded alien reptiles arrived on Earth, planning to start a legacy of evil. They planted the seed that would later gave birth to future evil empires. 

So, instead, the instant Hydra is Hydra Properties, LLC, which came into existence in 2009. That makes more sense, but it's a lot less interesting.  

Still, either way, and for either Hydra, if it's Hydra LLC, it's not a corporation.  

July 24, 2018 in Corporations, Film, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Energy and Business Nexus: Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles

I am both a business law professor and an energy law professor, which is sometimes surprising to people. That is, some folks are surprised that have a research focus in two areas that are seemingly very distinct.  In one sense, that's true, at least in the academic realm.  Most energy law scholars tend to have a focus on more close related disciplines, such as environmental law, administrative law, and property law.  And business law scholars tend to trend toward things like commercial law, bankruptcy, tax, and contracts.  

There is substantial overlap, though, in the energy and business law spaces, as I have noted on this blog before. I am even working on some research that looks specifically at the role laws and regulations have on business and economic development.   My work with the WVU Center for Innovation in Gas Research and Utilization builds on this energy and business nexus. 

I am pleased to share a newly published article I wrote with Amy Stein from the University of Florida's Levin College of Law. The piece is called Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles, and it appears in the July issue of Environmental Law Reporter. It is available here. This article is based on our forthcoming book chapter that will appear in Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (Michael B. Gerrard & John C. Dernbach eds.) and published by the Environmental Law Institute.  The book expands on the U.S. work of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, and was prepared in collaboration with that organization. Following is an excerpt that gives a sense of how energy and business law and policy sometimes intersect. 

    A last challenge surrounds the existing business models that revolve around the [internal combustion vehicle (ICV)]. First, a number of states have a strong incentive to maintain a core of ICVs due to their heavy reliance on the gasoline tax to fund highway infrastructure in their respective states. The gasoline tax has been in place since 1956 to help pay for construction of the interstate highway system.  Since that time, Congress has directed the majority of the revenues from this tax to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).  At the federal level, Congress has not increased the tax in more than 20 years, leaving it at 18.4 cents a gallon.  As of July 2015, state taxes on gasoline averaged 26.49 cents a gallon, bringing the total tax on gasoline to about 45 cents per gallon.  All efforts to reduce reliance on gas-dependent vehicles therefore stand in sharp contrast to efforts to maintain a healthy highway fund. The interplay between fuel economy and the dependence on gasoline tax revenues should not be overlooked, as well as the conflicting demands placed on legislators.

    Second, dealers, mechanics, and gas stations have a strong incentive to maintain the dominance of ICVs. Dealers may not be as familiar with [alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs)] and so are less likely to be able to demonstrate specifics about available incentives, nor be able to exude confidence about charging, range, and battery life-span.  More importantly, dealers may also be hesitant to sell AFVs for some of the same reasons that customers may be inclined to purchase them—specifically, the expectation of reduced maintenance costs. These misaligned incentives exist because an essential part of a dealer’s business model relies on post-sale revenues related to the sale of used cars, oil changes, and engine maintenance repairs, avoided costs for AFV owners.  More car dealers may need to explore options that evolve with the technology, including maintaining and repairing fleets of autonomous vehicles.

    In short, although the United States has begun the transition to AFVs, there are a number of obstacles, financial, psychological, and cultural, that stand in the way of a greater shift to AFVs.

Amy L. Stein & Joshua Fershée, Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles, 48 Environmental Law Reporter 10596 (2018) (footnotes omitted). 

July 10, 2018 in Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sharfman on Dual Class Shares and Empty Voting

Bernard Sharfman has posted Dual Class Share Voting versus the “Empty Voting” of Mutual Fund Advisors’ and it is an interesting read.  He argues: 

Dual class shares (shares with unequal voting rights) arise when the board of directors of a company decides to raise capital through the sale of newly issued shares, but wants one or more insiders, who may be giving up economic control through the issuance of the shares, to retain voting control in the company.  Typically, this occurs in an initial public offering (IPO), but it can also occur before.  In an IPO, a company will usually issue a class of common stock to the public that carries one vote per share (ordinary shares), while reserving a separate class, a super-voting class, that provide insiders with at least 10 votes per share.  However, both types of shares will have equal rights to the cash flow of the company.  The issuance of dual class shares may create a wide gap between voting and cash flow rights over time, especially if the insiders periodically sell a significant amount of their ordinary shares.

But this is the critical point.  A dual class share structure cannot exist without the permission of those shareholders who are purchasing the ordinary shares at the price offered.  The bargaining process that leads to the issuance of dual class shares is referred to as “private ordering.”  . . . .

. . . 

By contrast, the empty voting of mutual fund advisors is not a firm specific corporate governance arrangement that results from private ordering.  It is the consequence of the industry practice of centralizing the voting of mutual funds into the hands of their advisor’s corporate governance department.  As a result of this delegation of voting authority, mutual fund advisors have the voting power, but not the economic interest in the shares that they vote. 

I am not evangelical about dual-class shares, but I do appreciate his point on private-ordering, which is similar (as I have noted before) to my take in many circumstances. His distinction between dual-class shares and empty voting for mutual fund advisors is a compelling one, and I recommend checking out the whole post. 

July 3, 2018 in Contracts, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Call for Papers: Respecting the Entity: The LLC Grows Up (AALS 2019)

Call for Papers for

Section on Agency, Partnership, LLCs and Unincorporated Associations on

Respecting the Entity: The LLC Grows Up

at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting

The AALS Section on Agency, Partnership, LLCs and Unincorporated Associations is pleased to announce a Call for Papers from which up to two additional presenters will be selected for the section’s program to be held during the AALS 2019 Annual Meeting in New Orleans on Respecting the Entity: The LLC Grows Up.  The program will explore the evolution of the limited liability company (LLC), including subjects such as the LLCs rise to prominence as a leading entity choice (including public LLCs and PLLCs), the role and impact of series LLCs, and differences in various LLC state law rights and obligations. The program will also consider ethics and professional responsibility and governance raised by the LLC. The Section is particularly seeking papers that discuss the role of the LLC as a unique entity (or why it is not).

The program is tentatively scheduled to feature:

  • Beth Miller, M. Stephen and Alyce A. Beard Professor of Business and Transactional Law, Baylor Law
  • Tom Rutledge, Member, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC, Louisville, KY

Our Section is proud to partner with the following co-sponsoring sections:

  • AALS Section on Business Associations
  • AALS Section on Transactional Law and Skills

Submission Information:

Please submit an abstract or draft of an unpublished paper to Joshua Fershee,Joshua.Fershee@mail.wvu.edu on or before August 1, 2018. Please remove the author’s name and identifying information from the paper that is submitted. Please include the author’s name and contact information in the submission email.

Papers will be selected after review by members of the Executive Committee of the Section. Authors of selected papers will be notified by August 25, 2018. The Call for Paper presenters will be responsible for paying their registration fee, hotel, and travel expenses.

Any inquiries about the Call for Papers should be submitted to: Joshua Fershee, West Virginia University College of Law, Joshua.Fershee@mail.wvu.edu or (304) 293-2868.

June 26, 2018 in Agency, Call for Papers, Conferences, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Respecting Time and Space May Lead to Better Management and Better Outcomes

An interesting new article appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education:  What Happened When the Dean’s Office Stopped Sending Emails After-Hours, by Andrew D. Martin, dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan and a professor of political science and statistics, and Anne Curzan associate dean for humanities and a professor of English. Interesting concept, and an idea worth considering.  Here's what they tried: 

What if we experimented with a policy that set some limits in the dean’s office? Here’s what we came up with:

  • Limit email traffic to working hours. Except for emergencies, work emails are to be sent between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Use the delayed-send function to ensure that emails to and from people working in the dean’s office arrive only within that window.
  • Try to communicate in person. Whenever possible, associate and assistant deans should communicate with one another and with other professional staff employees in person or by telephone during the business day. Our administrative assistants can help us find quick drop-in times.
  • Avoid email forwarding. Refrain from forwarding an email to chairs and directors and asking them to forward it to others. When possible, send it yourself directly to the audience you want to communicate with.
  • Respect working hours. The dean and the associate and assistant deans should not expect — or request — support from professional staff employees outside of the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. window. An exception is for emergencies, and then only from salaried staff members.

The authors say the rules became part of the dean's office's culture, and although it was not enforced, it is largely followed and has led to more efficient and effective work.  

I have to admit, I think it would be hard, and I am notoriously bad for being almost tethered to my email. But I can also see why it would help.  I feel absolutely compelled to reply to inquiries and requests. Sometimes I resist the urge to do so, but even then, my mental space has been taken up by obligations.  It's not ideal. More important, it means that when I am sending emails after hours, I am getting into other people's space when it is not necessary.  Emergencies are one thing, and they happen, but I can definitely do a better job of staying out of people's personal time, and I am going to give it a try. 

June 19, 2018 in Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Management | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Private Ordering and Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs (and Beyond)

Bernie Sharfman's paper, A Private Ordering Defense of a Company's Right to Use Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs, was just published, and I think he has a point. In fact, as I read his argument, I think it is consistent with arguments I have made about the difference between restrictions or unconventional terms or practices that exist at purchase versus such changes that are added after one becomes a member or shareholder.  Here's the abstract: 

The shareholder empowerment movement (movement) has renewed its effort to eliminate, restrict or at the very least discourage the use of dual class share structures in initial public offerings (IPOs). This renewed effort was triggered by the recent Snap Inc. IPO that utilized non-voting stock. Such advocacy, if successful, would not be trivial, as many of our most valuable and dynamic companies, including Alphabet (Google) and Facebook, have gone public by offering shares with unequal voting rights.

Unless there are significant sunset provisions, a dual class share structure allows insiders to maintain voting control over a company even when, over time, there is both an ebbing of superior leadership skills and a significant decline in the insiders’ ownership of the company’s common stock. Yet, investors are willing to take that risk even to the point of investing in dual class shares where the shares have no voting rights and barely any sunset provisions, such as in the recent Snap Inc. IPO. Why they are willing to do so is a result of the wealth maximizing efficiency that results from the private ordering of corporate governance arrangements and the understanding that agency costs are not the only costs of governance that need to be minimized.

In this essay, Zohar Goshen and Richard Squire’s newly proposed “principal-cost theory,” “each firm’s optimal governance structure minimizes the sum of principal costs, produced when investors exercise control, and agent costs, produced when managers exercise control,” is used to argue that the use of dual class shares in IPOs is a value enhancing result of private ordering, making the movement’s renewed advocacy unwarranted.

The recommended citation is Bernard S. Sharfman, A Private Ordering Defense of a Company's Right to Use Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs, 63 Vill. L. Rev. 1 (2018).

I find his argument compelling, as I lean toward allowing contracting parties to enter into agreements as they so choose. I find this especially compelling at start-up or the IPO stage.  I might take a more skeptical view of changes made after start-up. That is, if dual-class shares are voted created after an IPO by the majority insiders, there is a stronger bait-and-switch argument. Even in that case, if the ability to create dual-class shares by majority vote was allowed by the charter/bylaws, it might be reasonable to allow such a change, but I also see a self-dealing argument to do such a thing post-IPO. At the outset, though, if insiders make clear that, to the extent that a dual-class share structure is self-dealing, the offer to potential purchasers is, essentially, "if you want in on this company, these are our terms." I can work with that. 

This is consistent with my view of other types of disclosure. For example, in my post: Embracing Freedom of Contract in the LLC: Linking the Lack of Duty of Loyalty to a Duty of Disclosure, I discussed the ability to waive the duty of loyalty in Delaware LLCs:

At formation . . . those creating an LLC would be allowed to do whatever they want to set their fiduciary duties, up to and including eliminating the consequences for breaches of the duty of loyalty.  This is part of the bargain, and any member who does not agree to the terms need not become a member.  Any member who joins the LLC after formation is then on notice (perhaps even with an affirmative disclosure requirement) that the duty of loyalty has been modified or eliminated.

It was my view, and remains my view, that there some concerns about such changes after one becomes a member that warrant either restrictions or at least some level of clear disclosures of the possibility of such a change after the fact, though even in that case, perhaps self-dealing protections in the form of the obligations of good faith and fair dealing would be sufficient. 

Similarly, in my 2010 post, Philanthropy as a Business Model: Comparing Ford to craigslist, I explained: 

I see the problem for Henry Ford to say, in essence, that his shareholders should be happy with what they get and that workers and others are more his important to him than the shareholders. However, it would have been quite another thing for Ford to say, “I, along with my board, run this company the way I always have: with an eye toward long-term growth and stability. That means we reinvest many of our profits and take a cautious approach to dividends because the health of the company comes first. It is our belief that is in the best interest of Ford and of Ford’s shareholders.”

For Ford, there seemed to be something of a change in the business model (and how the business was operated with regard to dividends) once the Dodge Brothers started thinking about competing. All of a sudden, Ford became concerned about community first. For craigslist, at least with regard to the concept of serving the community, the company changed nothing. And, in fact, it seems apparent that craiglist’s view of community is one reason, if not the reason, it still has its “perch atop the pile.”

Thus, while it is true craigslist never needed to accept eBay’s money, eBay also knew exactly how craigslist was operated when they invested. If they wanted to ensure they could change that, it seems to me they should have made sure they bought a majority share.  

I understand some of the concern about dual-class shares and other mechanisms that facilitate insider control, but as long as the structure of the company is clear when the buyer is making the purchase decision, I'm okay with letting the market decide whether the structure is acceptable.  

June 12, 2018 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

An LLC By Any Other Name, Is Still Not a Corporation

Earlier this week, Keith Paul Bishop observed on his blog, "Professor Joshua Fershee has been fighting the good fight on limited liability company nomenclature, but I fear that he is losing."   I am not willing to concede that I am losing (yet), but I have to concede that I am winning less often than I'd hoped.  

Bishop noted my "helpful checklist" from last week for those writing about LLCs, but he argues, "it may be time to give up the fight and bestow an entirely new name on LLCs that is less likely to be confused with corporations. I am still not ready to give up the fight, but it is an interesting thought, and there are some options.

One path I have proposed before that I think would help: Let Corps Be Corps: Follow-Up on Entity Tax Status.  In that post, I suggested that the IRS should just stop using state-law entity designations, and thus stop having “corporate” tax treatment. I explained:

My proposal is not abolishing corporate tax . . . .  Instead, the proposal is to have entities choose from options that are linked the Internal Revenue Code, and not to a particular entity. Thus, we would have (1) entity taxation, called C Tax, where an entity chooses to pay tax at the entity level, which would be typical C Corp taxation; (2) pass-through taxation, called K Tax, which is what we usually think of as partnership tax; and (3) we get rid of S corps, which can now be LLCs, anyway, which would allow an entity to choose S Tax

Federal requirements to be eligible for the various tax status options would remain, but the entity type itself would cease to be a consideration. And we'd have to change our language to reflect that. 

But maybe LLCs could be something else. A current problem is that "company" is a synonym for "corporation" in common usage. Thus, it is easy to see why a layperson would think a "limited liability company" is the same thing as a "limited liability corporation."  Of course, there are lots of words that have a broad meaning in common parlance, but a narrower meaning in the legal sense, so it is not inherently problematic to expect lawyers to be able to draw such a distinction. (For example, as a 1L, we learn that assault does not include physical contact, but in general usage, there would be the assumption of contact.) 

Still, what else could we use?  To start, if a change were in the works, I think the "c" needs to go. Otherwise, the assumption will remain that the "c" means "corporation."   Here's an initial list: 

  • LLA: Limited Liability Association
  • LLB: Limited Liability Business
  • LLE: Limited Liability Entity
  • LLG: Limited Liability Group
  • LLO: Limited Liability Operation
  • LLV: Limited Liability Vehicle

It would not need to be, necessarily, something that says "limited liability" as long as that is conveyed.  So perhaps:

  • EOA: Entity Assets Only
  • CLB: Capped Liability Business
  • NIL: No Individual Liability
  • LCI: Losses Capped (at) Investment 
  • ILL: Investment Limited Losses
  • WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get
  • AMY or TED:  Just a name. You can assign a name to anything. We could name our entity AMY or TED.  (I considered SUE, but that already has a legal meaning)

I remain committed to trying to educate people so we can keep the current regime and just get it right, but it is good to have options. I welcome alternative ideas or critiques of any of these.  

Long live the LLC! 

June 5, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

An LLC Checklist Proposal

Today I will continue my quest seeking to get courts to appreciate the need to pay attention to detail as to LLCs. Sometimes courts misidentify LLCs as "limited liability corporations" (and not the correct "limited liability companies") because they don't know the difference. Other times it is because they copied the language from the pleadings. And other times it's just typing "corporation" when "company" was intended.  All such errors are understandable but should be fixed.  

Today, we get an unpublished court opinion from last week that clearly has the correct information available, yet the opinion goofs anyway. The opinion states:    

Every Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) in Delaware is required to have a registered agent to receive service of process for the corporation. Service directly upon the owners of the LLC is not legally necessary if the registered agent is properly served. 

JERZY WIRTH Pl., v. AVONDALE IQ., LLC, Def., CV N10J-03776, 2018 WL 2383578, at *2 (Del. Super. May 25, 2018). Corporations and LLCs need registered agents, but here we are dealing with an LLC.  The accompanying footnote gets it right, so this is simply an attention to detail problem.  The footnote reads: 

See 18 Del. C. § 10-105 (a) Service of legal process upon any domestic limited liability company or any series thereof established pursuant to § 18-215(b) of this title shall be made by delivering a copy personally to any manager of the limited liability company in the State of Delaware, or the registered agent of the limited liability company in the State of Delaware... (emphasis added/ See also Thompson v. Colonial Court Apartments, LLC, 2006 WL 3174767 (November 1, 2006, Cooch, RJ. (denying a motion to vacate a default judgment when service was properly made upon the registered agent and the defendant failed to file a responsive pleading).

Id. at *2 n.3. Sigh.  There's some punctuation that could be fixed in the footnote, too, but at least the content there is right, citing correctly to the LLC Act.  Getting the content is the most important issue, to be sure, but I think we can reasonably strive to get both right. 

To that end, here's a modest proposal for courts (and lawyers) writing about LLCs: 

  • Do a global search for "limited liability corporations." Unless you're talking about the early days of corporations, you almost certainly need to change do a global change to "limited liability companies." Start here, because this is almost always wrong. 
  • Consider (strongly) doing a global search for "corp" so you catch all versions of "corporation" and "corporate." If you're talking about an LLC, that should probably be replaced with "company" or "entity" or something similar (e.g., piercing the entity veil"). 
  • Similarly, if you're talking about multiple business forms, do your "corp" search and choose "entity" as your modifier (e.g., "entity governance," not "corporate governance").
  • Double check your entity statutes to make sure you're citing the right one. Too often LLC cases cite to the corporations statute because the case they are citing was about corporations.
  • Lastly, I'll also note to check whether corporate law should be applied at all to LLCs in that circumstance, although that goes to substance, not mechanics. 

 

May 30, 2018 in Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Really, It's Okay to Use a Corporation to Limit Personal Liability

I was browsing through some recent veil piercing cases (because that's how I roll), and I came across this gem: 

[I]t is unclear that merely using a corporation to limit personal liability rises to the level of fraud required to pierce the corporate veil.

Indagro SA v. Nilva, No. 16-3226, 2018 WL 2068660, at *3 (3d Cir. May 3, 2018). Given that limited liability is one of the primary benefits of incorporation, I think it is at least implied that using a corporation to limit personal liability is not fraud at all.  

Moreover, the corporation at issue was a New Jersey corporation, and the state law provides:

(2) Unless otherwise provided in the articles of incorporation, a shareholder of a corporation is not personally liable for the acts of the corporation, except that a shareholder may become personally liable by the reason of his own acts or conduct.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 14A:5-30 (West). This is pretty unequivocal.  I get that fraud may be one of the acts that could give rise to personal liability, but the use of an entity to limit personal liability, when that is a core facet of the entity, is some pretty serious attempted bootstrapping.  

The case gets it right, in the end, but still, I had to point this out. To imply that it could be fraud to use a corporation for the purpose of limiting personal liability, without anything more, is simply incorrect.  

May 22, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (5)