Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Getting LLC Definitions Wrong: It's Not Always the Judge's Fault

As I have noted in the past, it is not just judges that make the mistake of calling limited liability companies (LLCs), "limited liability corporations."  Today, I got a notice of a Texas case using the later definition.  Here's the excerpt:

The statute defines a “licensed or registered professional” to mean “a licensed architect, licensed professional engineer, registered professional land surveyor, registered landscape architect, or any firm in which such licensed or registered professional practices, including but not limited to a corporation, professional corporation, limited liability corporation, partnership, limited liability partnership, sole proprietorship, joint venture, or any other business entity.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 150.001(1-a) (emphasis added).

CH2M Hill Engineers, Inc., v. Springer, No. 09-16-00479-CV, 2017 WL 6210837, at *2 (Tex. App. Dec. 7, 2017). 
 
My first thought was, "Doesn't everyone cut and paste statutory language these days?  How could they get that wrong?"  I went to look up the code, and even before the code section had loaded, it dawned on me:  Of course, they cut and pasted it.  It's the code that's wrong.  Sure enough, it is.
 
Another recent example comes from a Westlaw source: Business Transactions Solutions § 60:358. I am going to tread lightly here because my mission is not to be a snarky jerk (I can be one sometimes, but that is not my goal).  The source provides what appears to be a model letter to an LLC client that has some very useful information, but I am going to be critical of a couple parts.  The letter opens: "[T]he following is a summary of our discussion concerning business responsibilities that must be met to maintain your LLC status."  Good start.  And then: "Failure to comply with LLC formalities can result in individual liability to the members if the 'corporate veil is pierced.'" I know this is colloquial talk, but couldn't it just say "if the limited liability veil is pierced?"
 
The draft letter continues:
You can also be liable for the company's debts by implied actions or negligent conduct. If you disregard LLC formalities or commingle your personal interests with the company's assets or interests, you can open the door for an adverse party to “pierce the corporate veil” and render you personally liable for the LLC's debts. To avoid such consequences, you should never refer to your company as “my” business or “our” business. Such a statement could later be used against you as being a material representation that the business was a proprietorship or a partnership rather than a corporation.
There's a lot here with which I disagree. For example, LLCs don't, in my view, have formalities. And an LLC is not a corporation.  The letter also explains that "[m]anagers control the policy of the LLC, (this is similar to a director in a corporation)" and refers to the LLC's "corporate name " and "corporate records." Some of this is accurate colloquially, but don't you hire a lawyer for precision?  I appreciate the idea that lawyers should share a lot of this kind of information with clients, and a lot of this is useful, but this really can be better. The LLC letter should be different than the corporation letter.  

Anyway, this is another example where a lot of my complaints are simply nits, and they probably impact nothing.  But it's not all nits.  Some of this is substance that matters.  So, I keep picking nits. 

 

December 12, 2017 in Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Waterhouse Wilson in DePaul Law Review: Cooperatives: The First Social Enterprise

The DePaul Law Review recently posted the article, Cooperatives: The First Social Enterprise, written by my friend and colleague Elaine Waterhouse Wilson (West Virginia Univ. College of Law). I recommend checking it out. Here is an overview: 

As the cooperative and social enterprise movements merge, it is necessary to examine the legal and tax structures governing the entities to see if they help or hinder growth. If the ultimate decision is to support the growth of cooperatives as social enterprise, then those legal and tax structures that might impede this progress need to be re-examined.

This Article considers some of the issues that may impede the charitable sector in supporting the growth of the cooperative business model as a potential solution to issues of income inequality. To do so, the Article first defines a “cooperative.” Part II examines the definition of a cooperative from three different viewpoints: cooperative as social movement, cooperative as economic arrangement, and cooperative as legal construct. From these definitions, it is possible to identify those elements inherent in the cooperative model that might qualify as a tax-exempt purpose under the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) §501(c)(3). Part III reviews the definition of “charitable” for § 501(c)(3) purposes, specifically in the context of economic development and the support of workers. This Part demonstrates that many of the values inherent in the cooperative model are, in fact, charitable as that term is understood for federal tax purposes.

If a cooperative has charitable elements, however, then it should be possible for the charitable sector to support the cooperative move- ment. Part IV analyzes the possibilities and limitations of direct support by the charitable sector, including mission-related investing by charities and program-related investing by private foundations. In this regard, the cooperative can be viewed in many respects as an ex- isting analog to the new social enterprise forms, such as the benefit corporation or the L3C. Finally, Part V provides recommendations for changing both federal and state law to further support the cooperatibe movement in the charitable sector.

 

December 5, 2017 in CSR, Family Business, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

LLCs Are Still Not Corporations, And At Least One Judge (In Dissent) Knows It

A recent Pennsylvania opinion makes all sorts of mistakes with regard to a single-member limited liability company (LLC), but in dissent, at least some of the key issues are correctly framed. In an unreported opinion, the court considered whether a company (WIT Strategy) that required an individual to form an LLC as a predicate to payment was an employee eligible for unemployment compensation. WIT Strategy v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 2017 WL 5661148, at *1 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017).  The majority explained the test for whether the worker was an employee as follows:

The burden to overcome the ‘strong presumption’ that a worker is an employee rests with the employer. To prevail, an employer must prove: (i) the worker performed his job free from the employer's control and direction, and (ii) the worker, operating as an independent tradesman, professional or businessman, did or could perform the work for others, not just the employer.

Id. at *3. (quoting Quality Care Options v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 57 A.3d 655, 659-60 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012) (citations omitted; emphasis added)).

As to the first prong, the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR) determined, and the court confirmed, that WIT Strategy had retained control over the claimant consistent with the type of control one exerts over an employee.  I might disagree with the assessment, but the test is correct, and the analysis reasonable, if not clearly correct.  Assessment of the second prong, though, is flawed.  

The court quotes the UCBR's conclusions:

The [UCBR] does not find that [C]laimant was operating a trade or business, customarily or otherwise. The only reason [C]laimant formed the LLC was because WIT required it, claiming that it needed to pay [C]laimant through the LLC. WIT also claimed that doing so was a ‘common agency model’ for its kind of agency. The [UCBR] does not credit WIT's testimony. Rather, although [C]laimant did perform two projects for other entities, each for under $600 [.00], there is no evidence that [C]laimant solicited business through her LLC since its inception in 2013 through her termination in 2015. [C]laimant worked for WIT 40 hours per week and did not have employees of the LLC to solicit business for her. Further, although WIT claimed that all its team members were required to have additional clients through their LLCs to share with it, WIT did not prove that [C]laimant had such clients. As [C]laimant did not operate a trade or business, but rather the LLC was formed as a type of shell corporation, the fact that [C]laimant was the single-member owner is not dispositive. [C]laimant was not customarily engaged in a trade, occupation, profession or business.

Id. at *4 (emphasis and modification in original).
 
Enter President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt.  In dissent, Judge Leavitt writes what should be the majority opinion.  First, she notes that "quality control" is not the same thing as control by an employer.  I think her analysis of the control prong is the better one, but again, reasonable minds can assess these facts differently. As the second prong, Judge Leavitt also quote the UCBR, then proceeds to assess it correctly. She explains: 
The legal form by which Claimant provided public relations and communications services to WIT-provided clients and to her own clients is irrelevant. A sole proprietor may establish a single-member LLC for many reasons, the obvious being a desire to limit individual liability. It is not known what the Board meant by a “shell corporation,” and there is no evidence on this point. A limited liability company is not even a corporation. The Pennsylvania Associations Code provides as follows:
One or more persons may act as organizers to form a limited liability company ....
15 Pa. C.S. § 8821. A single-member LLC, such as Jilletante Creative, is a perfectly lawful and valid alternative to a sole proprietorship.
Claimant continued to operate as an LLC even after her separation from WIT. The record includes Claimant's two-page detailed proposal to a potential client on “Jilletante Creative, LLC” letterhead, signed as “Jilletante Creative, LLC; By: Jillian Ivey, sole member.” R.R. 10a-11a. Jilletante Creative is not a sham or “shell” corporation, and characterizing it as such is a red herring in the analysis of whether Claimant worked for WIT clients as an employee of WIT or as an independent contractor.
Id. at *12 (Leavitt, Pres. J, dissenting). Yes!   "It is not known what the Board meant by a 'shell corporation,' and there is no evidence on this point. A limited liability company is not even a corporation." This is exactly right. Further, there is nothing wrong with an LLC serving one client. Whether its because it is a requirements contract (e.g., I will do as much work for you as you require) or simply that the LLC's owner is comfortable with the revenue coming from a single client, having only one client does not make you an employee.  
 
As a side note, as someone who has worked both for a law firm and a public relations agency, it is not at all uncommon for people in each profession to work as independent contractors.  A lawyer can be a solo and work for one client, or that lawyer can be hired an brought into the firm or in-house.  Same with PR professionals.  They may work as employees, but it is not uncommon to work as an independent contractor, in part to maintain the flexibility of work location, hours, and manner in which the work is completed.  
 
In the unemployment compensation context, what constitutes an employee can often be different than what one might deem an employee in the agency context. And that's okay. Sometimes we craft different definitions for different purposes or policy goals.  But disregarding an entity as a "shell" merely because there is only one member is wrong because the law says it is wrong.  If a state wants to outlaw single-member entities, they can (they'd be wrong to do so, but that's a different discussion).  But as long as the law allows it, the courts should respect it.  
 
Furthermore, when a person creates an LLC, they are actively engaging in the process of defining their relationship with others. I can come up with scenarios where maybe the existence of an LLC should be disregarded in the employment analysis, but more often than not the use of an LLC in the relationship should be compelling evidence of the type of relationship the parties have.  
 
Although this opinion still gets it wrong, there is hope. The dissent has set forth a proper path, and I can only hope others will follow. 
 
 

November 28, 2017 in Case Law, Corporations, Employment Law, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hardesty on Law Students as Future Leaders: Using Neutral Facilitation Techniques to Teach Leadership Skills

I have had the pleasure to work with a diverse and impressive group of people on the law faculties upon which I have had the privilege to serve.  One of those people is  David C. Hardesty, Jr., President Emeritus of West Virginia University and Professor of Law at the WVU College of Law. President Hardesty holds degrees from West Virginia University, Oxford University (which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar), and Harvard Law School, but more impressive is the time he spends mentoring students and faculty.  He remains committed to the college, university, and state, and we are fortunate he continues to share his time with us.  

President Hardesty teaches a course on leadership, called Lawyers as Leaders, which would be highly relevant at any law school, but it especially important at a school like ours where we are the only law school in the state.  In addition to serving clients big and small, our students consistently go on to hold public office, advise legislators and regulators, and run large companies in the state.  President Hardesty recently wrote an article for the West Virginia Law Review Online that explains part of how he helps prepares lawyers to be leaders.  The article is Law Students as Future Leaders: Using Neutral Facilitation Techniques to Teach Leadership Skills120 W. Va. L. Rev. Online 1 (2017).  The introduction explains: 

Lawyers lead in America. They always have. They probably always will. This Article suggests the reasons why. It also argues that if lawyers are destined to lead, then law schools should help law students develop an understanding of leadership theory and foster leadership skill development. The Article describes how a course called “Lawyers as Leaders” is taught at the West Virginia University College of Law, employing neutral facilitation techniques, as well as lectures, group discussions, journaling, and simulation activities. It then describes a powerful pedagogical tool that can be used to develop future leaders: “student-centered neutral facilitation.” It explains why neutral student-centered facilitation is an effective method for teaching leadership skills to law students. The Article begins and ends with two “facilitation stories,” highlighting the use of facilitation by experienced lawyers and law students alike. The first story is about the use of facilitation to help clients achieve their goals. The second is about a student in the midst of learning how to facilitate a discussion.

As we continue to evolve how we think about educating lawyers, and what we hope to accomplish, courses that discuss options and expectation in context can play a significant role in preparing our students.  Hardesty explains:  

Research has found that the student-centered discussion process enriches student learning. In particular, the incorporation of the student-centered discussion process into the classroom “has the potential of enhancing the level of student learning about the course content and about the way they and others think about difficult issues.” This finding makes sense given that students tend to remember course content based on their level of involvement it.  Faculty members have reported that content coverage in their courses has not declined in student-centered classrooms; rather, they have found that their students experience a deeper understanding of the course’s fundamental concepts. One explanation for this deeper level of understanding is that students discover for themselves the essential concepts that would normally be presented through course readings or lecture material. In addition, “[f]aculty report that they have seen students who have not been ‘stars’ in previous classes suddenly ‘blossom’” in the student-centered classroom environment. Because students feel safe and comfortable working with their teammates, student-centered discussions can bring out the potential that some students have but may not otherwise reveal in more traditional classroom environments. (footnotes omitted)

As the semester draws to a close, I thought this one was worth a look as you gear up for next semester's courses.  It helped me think about some new ideas, anyway. Happy Thanksgiving! 

 
 
 

November 21, 2017 in Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

No Need to Veil Pierce an LLC When Direct Liability Is Available (and LLCs Are Still Not Corps)

A new Maryland case deals with claims against a limited liability company that the plaintiff claimed was "registered as a limited liability corporation ('LLC')." Farm Fresh Direct Direct By a Cut Above LLC v. Downey, 2017 WL 4865481, at *2 (D. Md., 2017).  The court repeats the mistake, but the complaint is the original source, as it incorrectly identifies the LLC as a "corporation" and not a company.  The court then explains some of the allegations as follows: 
Plaintiff alleges that Sinsky violated 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A) and engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices, in violation of Maryland common law. ECF 1, ¶¶ 17-22, 23-26. At its core, plaintiff's contention is that “Sinsky is the resident agent and incorporator” of Farm Fresh Home (ECF 1, ¶¶ 12-13), and in that capacity she “filed” the articles of organization for Farm Fresh Home, creating a name for the “competing company” that is “intentionally confusing” because of its similarity to Farm Fresh Direct. ECF 1, ¶ 12.
. . . .
*4 Farm Fresh Home is a limited liability company. As a threshold matter, I must determine whether Sinsky is subject to suit in light of Farm Fresh Home's status as a limited liability company.
Id. at *3–4. 
 
That is not quite right. The complaint alleges that Sinsky, by helping to form the LLC, violated the Lanham Act and Maryland common law (the court repeats the complaint's "incorporator" language, but presumably this is meant to refer to the formation of the LLC).  The question, at least initially, should not be whether Sinksy is subject to suit as a member of the LLC.  The question, then, is whether there is a direct claim against Sinsky for creating the competing entity.
 
The court seems to understand this is at least part of the analysis because the opinion discusses veil piercing (in the corporate context, of course) as well as the concept of direct liability.  As to direct liability, the opinion correctly explained: “An LLC member is liable for torts he or she personally commits, inspires, or participates in because he or she personally committed a wrong, not ‘solely’ because he or she is a member of the LLC.” Id. at *5 (quoting Allen v. Dackman, 413 Md. 132, 158, 991 A.2d 1216, 1228 (2010)). The opinion further states that there can be direct liability under the Lanham Act and for unfair trade practices, even when an entity is involved.  This is (at least conceptually) correct.  Despite this, the opinion ultimately misses the mark: 
The question here is not whether plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Its allegations as to Sinsky border on thin. But, for purposes of the Motion, plaintiff adequately alleges sufficient facts and inferences that Sinsky participated in the creation of Farm Fresh Home for the purpose of using a confusingly similar name to compete with Farm Fresh Direct. See A Society Without a Name, 655 F.3d at 346. Therefore, plaintiff is not entitled to the protection of the corporate shield at this juncture.
Id. at *7 (emphasis added). No and no. First, LLCs do not have corporate shields. They have LLC or limited liability shields, but You Can’t Pierce the Corporate Veil of an LLC Because It Doesn't Have One!  Second, there is no need to consider veil piercing at this point. The court has found sufficient claims as to Sinsky's participation to support direct liability. The inquiry should end there. And even if there were value in discussing both direct liability and veil piercing (there is not), the court's own citation to Allen v. Dackman should indicate that this section is not solely related to entity-derived liability.  
 
I don't mean to be too hard on anyone here.  This is not personal -- it simply about identifying and trying to correct errors related to entity status. I know that not all courts or practicing attorneys spend the amount of time I do with entities and their nuances.  And this case involves a pro se party, which can make things even more challenging.
 
I just still maintain that this is something we can correct. Apparently, one blog post at a time. 

November 14, 2017 in Accounting, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Intellectual Property, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Martin: Hiding in the Light: The Misuse of Disclosure to Advance a Business and Human Rights Agenda

My friend and colleague at West Virginia University, Jena Martin, has posted her new paper, Hiding in the Light: The Misuse of Disclosure to Advance a Business and Human Rights Agenda. The paper is forthcoming in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law and can be accessed at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3028826 

It's worth a read. Here's the abstract:

In June 2017, Waitrose, a top UK supermarket, pulled its cans of corned beef off the shelves after an investigation revealed that the meat might have been produced with slave labor. At the time of the recall, Waitrose was in compliance with the UK Modern Slavery Act (MSA), a 2015 law enacted to prevent human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Under the MSA, corporations are required to file annual reports disclosing what action they had taken to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains. The Modern Slavery Act, in turn, was a much-lauded law that is part of the growing trend of States to move the international business and human rights agenda forward. A key component of that agenda involves disseminating the UN’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and implementing the UN Guiding Principles, which have been praised by States around the world as a framing mechanism for issues of corporate accountability for negative human rights impacts in a corporation’s operations and relationships with its suppliers.

The aim of this article is to analyze whether the business and human rights agenda (as embodied by the Three Pillar Framework and UN Guiding Principles) is well served with national laws that focus on disclosure. The article will focus primarily on rules being implemented in the United States at both the subnational and national level, however, it will also discuss approaches being used in European jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and France and the overall trend towards a transparency model for human rights protection from business activities. The increased use of disclosure-based regulation (and the resulting compliance efforts by corporations) seems to come, at least in part, as a result of the efforts by States to address the duties laid out for them in the UN Guiding Principles. As such, it seems appropriate to undertake an analysis regarding whether these laws are in fact effective at implementing the Guiding Principles.

For decades now, disclosure has been held out as the ultimate curative for every corporate woe. The expansion of disclosure initiatives from mere investment-related issues to increasingly social policy issues would indicate that this trend will continue. Yet as this article demonstrates, disclosure to right now is at best a temporary stop gap measure that can lead to limited corporate change on the issue of business and human rights. At worst, disclosure is being used by corporations as a way to obtain a reputational advantage without actually making substantive changes – by simply hiding in the light.

November 8, 2017 in Corporations, Ethics, International Business, International Law, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mistake Number Two in Mueller's Indictment: Manafort's LLCs Are Not Corporations

The distinction between limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations is one that remains important to me. Despite their similarities, they are distinct entities and should be treated as such.

When the indictment for Paul Manafort and Richard Gates was released yesterday, I decided to take a look, in part because I read that the charges included claims that the defendants "laundered money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts."  (Manafort Indictment ¶ 1.)

It did not take long for people to note an initial mistake in the indictment.  The indictment states that Yulia Tymoshenko was the president of the Ukraine prior to Viktor Yanukovych. (Id. ¶ 22.) But, Dan Abrams' Law Newz notes, "Tymoshenko has never been the president of the Ukraine. She ran in the Ukrainian presidential election against Yanukoych in 2010 and came in second. Tymoshenko ran again in 2014 and came in second then, too." Abrams continues: 

The Tymoshenko flub is a massive error of fact, but it doesn’t impinge much–if any–on the narrative contained in the indictment itself. The error doesn’t really bear upon the background facts related to Manafort’s and Gates’ alleged crimes. The error also doesn’t bear whatsoever upon the laws Manafort and Gates are accused of breaking. Rather, it’s an error which bears upon the credibility of the team now seeking to prosecute the men named in the indictment.

Perhaps. It is a high-profile mistake, but it doesn't go to the core of the charges, so I think this may overstate it a bit.  Still, it is hardly ideal, and it's definitely an unforced error.  And unfortunately, there is a second such error.  

Paragraph 12 of the indictment provides a chart of entities that were "owned or controlled" by the defendants. The chart headings provide "Entity Name," "Date Created," and "Incorporation Location." But a number of the entities are not corporations. They are LLCs,  and you do not "incorporate" an LLC.  You form an LLC.  (Also, just to be clear, LLCs are not "partnerships," either. They are LLCs.)

Similar to the Tymoshenko error, the type of entity does not appear to impact the underlying narrative or charges.  For example, entity type does not appear to impact the "conspiracy to launder money" count. And other jurisdictions, such as Cyprus, do tend to merge the corporate concept with the company concepts in a way that might make the chart headings less wrong than it is for U.S. entities.  Nonetheless, it would not have been that hard to go with "Entity Origin" or "Formation Location."  

Okay, so all of this is rather nitpicky, and I get that.  The underlying charges are serious, and I hope and expect that the charges and the surrounding facts (not these mistakes) will be the focus of the legal process as it runs its course. But, it is also proper, I think, to work toward getting the entire document right. Details matter, and at some point could mean the difference between winning and losing, even if that does not appear to be the case this time around.   

October 31, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs, Partnership, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hawaii Courts Take Note: LLCs Are Not Corporations

A recent magistrate judge's recommendation on a motion to strike in Hawaii alerted me to a problem with the Hawaii Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii.  The mistake is not the judge's; it is in the rules.  The recommendation explains: 

[An] LLC must be represented by an attorney. See Local Rule 83.11 (“[b]usiness entities, including but not limited to ... limited liability corporations ... cannot appear before this court pro se and must be represented by an attorney”) . . . .


THE BANK OF NEW YORK MELLON FKA THE BANK OF NEW YORK, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE CERTIFICATE HOLDERS OF THE CWMBS INC., CHL MORTGAGE PASS-THROUGH TRUST 2006-OA5, MORTGAGE PASS THROUGH CERTIFICATES, SERIES 2006-OA5, a Delaware corporation, Plaintiffs, v. LEN C. PERRY JR.; NATHAN JON LEWIS; 3925 KAMEHAMEHA RD PRINCEVILLE, HI 96722, LLC, Defendants., No. CV 17-00297 DKW-RLP, 2017 WL 4768271, at *1 (D. Haw. Oct. 2, 2017), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. THE BANK OF NEW YORK MELLON fka THE BANK OF NEW YORK, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE CERTIFICATE HOLDERS OF CWMBS INC.; CHL MORTGAGE PASS-THROUGH TRUST 2006-OA5, MORTGAGE PASS THROUGH CERTIFICATES, SERIES 2006-OA5, a Delaware corporation, Plaintiff(s), v. LEN C. PERRY, JR.; NATHAN JON LEWIS; 3925 KAMEHAMEHA RD PRINCEVILLE, HI 96722, LLC Defendant(s)., No. CV 17-00297 DKW-RLP, 2017 WL 4767667 (D. Haw. Oct. 20, 2017).  (I know this could be cited more succinctly, but I thought this was pretty great so I went with the whole enchilada.)

The local rules, available here, state, as quoted, 

LR83.11.  Business Entities.

Business entities, including but not limited to corporations, partnerships, limited liability partnerships, limited liability corporations, and community associations, cannot appear before this court pro se and must be represented by an attorney. (emphasis added)

LLCs (limited liability companies) are still not corporations, and too often courts and local rules insist on saying they are. But help is available.  I made my first trip this summer to Hawaii with my family, and it was amazing. So I put this offer out there: if anyone in Hawaii would like some help cleaning up local rules (and other business-entity related laws, rules, and regulations) count me in.  This rule is wrong, but there is a whole lot right about Hawaii. 

October 24, 2017 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Faculty Development Opportunity -- Business Innovation in Chile: A Case Study of the Wine Export Sector

If you're a fan of wine (I am) and international business if of interest (it is), this Faculty Development might be for you.  It overlaps with the AALS Annual Meeting, so it won't work for me this year, but it looks like a good program.  Have a look: 

Temple University’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) presents

Faculty Development in International Business: Santiago, Chile (January 5-11, 2018)

Business Innovation in Chile: A Case Study of the Wine Export Sector

Leave winter behind this January and join us for a summer experience in Chilean wine country. As an innovation-driven economy, the United States prides itself on developing and delivering innovative goods and services domestically and globally through high-tech exports, creative branding, and in-demand services. Among those exports is our growing wine sector, led by Napa Valley but recently expanding into other parts of California, Oregon, Virginia, and other lesser-known wine producing regions of the United States. Despite this expansion, the United States remains behind old world wine producers in Europe. Chile and Australia also outpace the United States in terms of wine exports and have been leading the way in innovative production and marketing techniques.

On this faculty/professional-oriented immersion experience, participants will visit a number of innovative businesses in the wine export sector and related industries in Chile to better understand how innovation in a highly-regulated sector can disrupt the traditional approaches taken by Old World producers in Europe and provide a comparative advantage for modern producers.

Some of the key learning outcomes on this immersion include:

  • An understanding of how innovation is utilized to drive growth in emerging markets;
  • A comparative perspective of an innovative sector active in the home and target market;
  • A better sense of the supply chain for a commodity such as wine and how innovation can accelerate movement along that supply chain and;
  • Tools that can be used to leverage enhancements in innovation for U.S. exporters.

The immersion experience is being led by Fox School of Business Assistant Professor, Dr. Kevin Fandl, a Latin America specialist with deep knowledge of the region. Dr. Fandl’s research emphasizes the relationship between law, policy, and business in global markets. He takes his extensive experience at senior levels of federal government policymaking to the marketplace by examining how laws and regulations drive or inhibit innovation and business opportunity. His knowledge of Chile, as well as the wine industry, add significant academic value to this immersion experience.

Program Fee: $2,700 per person (fee includes: hotel accommodations, corporate visits, cultural activities, some meals, visits to Chilean Vineyards, and in-country transportation)

Deposit:  A $500 non-refundable deposit is due at initial time of registration. Final payment will be due on October 27, 2017. To register: https://noncredit.temple.edu/templeciberfdib

Space is limited. A guest package is also available.

For questions or additional information, please contact Lauren Letko at lauren.letko@temple.edu

October 19, 2017 in Conferences, Food and Drink, International Business, International Law, Joshua P. Fershee, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest Post: Zohar Goshen and Richard Squire’s “Principal Costs: A New Theory for Corporate Law and Governance”

The following is a guest post from Bernard S. Sharfman*:

The foundation of my understanding of corporate governance rests on a small but growing number of essays, articles, and books.  These writings include Henry Manne’s Mergers and the Market for Corporate Control, Michael Dooley’s Two Models of Corporate Governance, Stephen Bainbridge’s Director Primacy: The Means and Ends of Corporate Governance and The Business Judgment Rule as Abstention Doctrine, Kenneth J. Arrow, The Limits of Organization, Frank H. Easterbrook & Daniel R. Fischel, The Economic Structure of Law, Zohar Goshen & Gideon Parchomovsky’s The Essential Role of Securities Regulation, and Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, Frank Partnoy & Randall Thomas’ Hedge Fund Activism, Corporate Governance, and Firm Performance.  Recently, I have added to this esteemed list Zohar Goshen and Richard Squire’s Principal Costs: A New Theory for Corporate Law and Governance.

Goshen and Squire put forth a new theory, the “principal-cost theory,” which posits that a firm’s optimal corporate governance arrangements result from a calculus that seeks to minimize total control costs, not just agency costs (“the economic losses resulting from managers’ natural incentive to advance their personal interests even when those interests conflict with the goal of maximizing their firm’s value”):

The theory states that each firm’s optimal governance structure minimizes total control costs, which are the sum of principal costs and agent costs. Principal costs occur when investors exercise control, and agent costs occur when managers exercise control. Both types of cost can be subdivided into competence costs, which arise from honest mistakes attributable to a lack of expertise, information, or talent, and conflict costs, which arise from the skewed incentives produced by the separation of ownership and control.  When investors exercise control, they make mistakes due to a lack of expertise, information, or talent, thereby generating principal competence costs. To avoid such costs, they delegate control to managers whom they expect will run the firm more competently. But delegation separates ownership from control, leading to agent conflict costs, and also to principal conflict costs to the extent that principals retain the power to hold managers accountable. Finally, managers themselves can make honest mistakes, generating agent competence costs. 

Moreover, it is important to understand that the theory is firm specific:

Principal costs and agent costs are substitutes for each other: Any reallocation of control rights between investors and managers decreases one type of cost but increases the other. The rate of substitution is firm specific, based on factors such as the firm’s business strategy, its industry, and the personal characteristics of its investors and managers. Therefore, each firm has a distinct division of control rights that minimizes total control costs. Because the cost-minimizing division varies by firm, the optimal governance structure does as well. The implication is that law’s proper role is to allow firms to select from a wide range of governance structures, rather than to mandate some structures and ban others. 

The bottom line is that “A firm that seeks to maximize total returns will weigh principal costs against agent costs when deciding how to divide control between managers and investors.”

A minimization of total control costs approach to the identification of optimal governance arrangements allows for the fundamental value of authority in large organizations to be respected and acknowledged, something which is missing in many academic works that only focus on agency costs.  According to Michael Dooley, “Where the residual claimants are not expected to run the firm and especially when they are many in number (thus increasing disparities in information and interests), their function becomes specialized to risk-bearing, thereby creating both the opportunity and necessity for managerial specialists.” According to Rose and Sharfman, “Especially where there are a large number of shareholders, it is much more efficient, in terms of maximizing shareholder value, for the Board and executive management—the corporate actors that possess overwhelming advantages in terms of information, including nonpublic information, and whose skills in the management of the company are honed by specialization in the management of this one company—to make corporate decisions rather than shareholders.”

The calculus of the principal-cost theory also allows for the potential for Bainbridge’s director primacy as a positive theory to be proven correct for any particular firm:  “As a positive theory of corporate governance, the director primacy model strongly emphasizes the role of fiat - i.e., the centralized decisionmaking authority possessed by the board of directors.” In the context of Goshen and Squire’s calculus, Bainbridge is arguing that principal costs will greatly outweigh agency costs when total control costs are minimized.  

Finally, Goshen and Squire’s theory allows for an understanding of why dual-class share structures continue to persist and why they have been successfully implemented at companies such as Alphabet (Google) and Facebook.  Their theory is critical to the argument I make in my most recent paper, A Private Ordering Defense of a Company's Right to Use Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs.  In sum, Goshen and Squire’s theory allows for a more robust understanding of what is meant by optimal corporate governance arrangements, something that an exclusive focus on agency costs does not allow.     

*This post comes to us from Bernard S. Sharfman, who is an associate fellow at the R Street Institute, a member of the Journal of Corporation Law’s editorial advisory board, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland School of Law (Spring 2018), and a former visiting assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law (Spring 2013 and 2014).

October 17, 2017 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Call for Proposals: Organizing, Deploying & Regulating Capital in the U.S.

From our friend and BLPB colleague, Anne Tucker, following is nice workshop opportunity for your consideration: 

Dear Colleagues,

We (Rob Weber & Anne Tucker) are submitting a funding proposal to host a works-in-progress workshop for 4-8 scholars at Georgia State University College of Law, in Atlanta, Georgia in spring 2018 [between April 16th and May 8th].  Workshop participants will submit a 10-15 page treatment and read all participant papers prior to attending the workshop.  If our proposal is accepted, we will have funding to sponsor travel and provide meals for participants. Interested parties should email amtucker@gsu.edu on or before November 15th with a short abstract (no more than 500 words) of your proposed contribution that is responsive to the description below. Please include your name, school, and whether you will require airfare, miles reimbursement and/or hotel. We will notify interested parties in late December regarding the funding of the workshop and acceptance of proposals.  Please direct all inquiries to Rob Weber (mailto:rweber@gsu.edu) or Anne Tucker (amtucker@gsu.edu).

Call for Proposals: Organizing, Deploying & Regulating Capital in the U.S.

Our topic description is intentionally broad reflecting our different areas of focus, and hoping to draw a diverse group of participants.  Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The idea of financial intermediation: regulation of market failures, the continued relevance of the idea of financial intermediation as a framework for thinking about the financial system, and the legitimating role that the intermediation theme-frame plays in the political economy of financial regulation.
  • Examining institutional investors as a vehicle for individual investments, block shareholders in the economy, a source of efficiency or inefficiency, an evolving industry with the rise of index funds and ETFs, and targets of SEC liquidity regulations.
  • The role and regulation of private equity and hedge funds in U.S. capital markets looking at regulatory efforts, shadow banking concerns, influences in M&A trends, and other sector trends.

This workshop targets works-in-progress and is intended to jump-start your thinking and writing for the 2018 summer.  Our goal is to provide comments, direction, and connections early in the writing and research phase rather than polishing completed or nearly completed pieces.  Bring your early ideas and your next phase projects.  We ask for a 10-15 page treatment of your thesis (three weeks before the workshop) and initial ideas to facilitate feedback, collaboration, and direction from participating in the workshop. Interested parties should email amtucker@gsu.edu on or before November 15th with a short abstract (no more than 500 words) of your proposed contribution that is responsive to the description below. Please include your name, school, and whether you will require airfare, miles reimbursement and/or hotel. We will notify interested parties in late December regarding the funding of the workshop and acceptance of proposals.  Please direct all inquiries to Rob Weber (rweber@gsu.edu) or Anne Tucker (amtucker@gsu.edu).

Thank you!

Anne & Rob

October 11, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Call for Papers, Corporate Finance, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, M&A, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

University of New Mexico: Faculty Position in Business Law and/or Intellectual Property

UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO SCHOOL OF LAW

BUSINESS LAW AND/OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

OPEN RANK FACULTY POSITION

The University of New Mexico ("UNM") School of Law invites applications for a faculty position in Business Law and/or Intellectual Property. The faculty position is a full-time tenured or tenure-track position starting in Fall 2018. Entry-level and experienced teachers are encouraged to apply. Courses taught by this faculty member could include general business courses, intellectual property courses, and commercial law courses. Candidates must possess a J.D. or equivalent legal degree. Preferred qualifications include a record of demonstrated excellence or the promise of excellence in teaching and academic scholarship and who demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and student success, as well as working with broadly diverse communities. Academic rank and salary will be based on experience and qualifications. For best consideration, applicants should apply by October 22, 2017. The position will remain open until filled. For complete information, visit the UNMJobs website: https://unmjobs.unm.edu/. The position is listed as Open Rank – Business Law Requisition Number 2761.

The University of New Mexico is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Direct Link to Job: https://unm.csod.com/ats/careersite/jobdetails.aspx?site=1&c=unm&id=2761&m=-1&u=16023

October 11, 2017 in Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Research/Scholarhip, Service, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Revising How to Handle Derivative Claims (or Not)

Yesterday, Professor Bainbridge posted "Is there a case for abolishing derivative litigation? He makes the case as follows: 

A radical solution would be elimination of derivative litigation. For lawyers, the idea of a wrong without a legal remedy is so counter-intuitive that it scarcely can be contemplated. Yet, derivative litigation appears to have little if any beneficial accountability effects. On the other side of the equation, derivative litigation is a high cost constraint and infringement upon the board’s authority. If making corporate law consists mainly of balancing the competing claims of accountability and authority, the balance arguably tips against derivative litigation. Note, moreover, that eliminating derivative litigation does not eliminate director accountability. Directors would remain subject to various forms of market discipline, including the important markets for corporate control and employment, proxy contests, and shareholder litigation where the challenged misconduct gives rise to a direct cause of action.

If eliminating derivative litigation seems too extreme, why not allow firms to opt out of the derivative suit process by charter amendment? Virtually all states now allow corporations to adopt charter provisions limiting director and officer liability. If corporate law consists of a set of default rules the parties generally should be free to amend, as we claim, there seems little reason not to expand the liability limitation statutes to allow corporations to opt out of derivative litigation.

I think he makes a good point.  And included in the market discipline and other measures that Bainbridge notes would remain in place to maintain director accountability, there would be the shareholder response to the market.  That is, if shareholders value derivative litigation as an option ex ante, the entity can choose to include derivative litigation at the outset or to add it later if the directors determine the lack of a derivative suit option is impacting the entity's value.  

Professor Bainbridge's post also reminded me of another option: arbitrating derivative suits.  A friend of mine made just such a proposal several years ago while we were in law school: 

There are a number of factors that make the arbitration of derivative suits desirable. First, the costs of an arbitration proceeding are usually lower than that of a judicial proceeding, due to the reduced discovery costs. By alleviating some of the concern that any D & O insurance coverage will be eaten-up by litigation costs, a corporation should have incentive to defend “frivolous” or “marginal” derivative claims more aggressively. Second, and directly related to litigation costs, attorneys' fees should be cut significantly via the use of arbitration, thus preserving a larger part of any pecuniary award that the corporation is awarded. Third, the reduced incentive of corporations to settle should discourage the initiation of “frivolous” or “marginal” derivative suits.

Andrew J. Sockol, A Natural Evolution: Compulsory Arbitration of Shareholder Derivative Suits in Publicly Traded Corporations, 77 Tul. L. Rev. 1095, 1114 (2003) (footnote omitted). 

Given the usually modest benefit of derivative suits, early settlement of meritorious suits, and the ever-present risk of strike suits, these alternatives are well worth considering.  

October 4, 2017 in ADR, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Courts Determined to Confuse Everyone about LLCs

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi seems to understand that LLCs are different than corporations, but they don't really want to keep them separate. See this passage, to which I have added notes: 

Regarding complete diversity, the citizenship of a limited liability corporation [no, limited liability company]  is determined by the citizenship of all its members. Tewari De-Ox Sys., Inc. v. Mtn. States/Rosen, Ltd. Liab. Corp., 757 F.3d 481, 483 (5th Cir. 2014). The “citizenship of an unincorporated [yes!] association must be traced through each layer of the association, however many there may be.” Deep Marine Tech., Inc. v. Conmaco/Rector, L.P., 515 F.Supp.2d 760, 766 (S.D. Tex. 2007). Further, “§ 1332(c)(1), which deems a corporation [wait, what?] of ‘every State and foreign state’ in which it is incorporated and the ‘State or foreign state’ where it has its principal place of business, applies to alien corporations.” Vantage Drilling Co. v. Hsin-Chi Su, 741 F.3d 535, 537 (5th Cir. 2014). The defendants submitted an upstream analysis of their organizational structure, tracing through each layer of association, to properly allege the citizenship of each member, ultimately establishing that they and Tubwell are citizens of different states.

JOE TUBWELL PLAINTIFF v. SPECIALIZED LOAN SERVICE LLC (SLS), Agents and Successors, Loan No. 1012441108; MORGAN STANLEY MORTGAGE CAPITAL HOLDINGS LLC, Agents and Successors DEFENDANTS, 3:17-CV-15-DMB-RP, 2017 WL 4228760, at *2 n.2 (N.D. Miss. Sept. 22, 2017). 
 
The court seems to have gotten to the right answer (I think), but this is hardly helping clarify anything.  It appears maybe they have left some of the key facts out. This is a time where a diagram might be helpful.  And properly identifying the entity types would definitely be.  

September 26, 2017 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Magical LLC, Part 1

A recent New Republic article states: 

The Community Law Center, a local legal services group, launched an investigation into 1906 Boone and hundreds of other vacant properties around Baltimore. The hunt took more than a year. In many cases, the identity of a property owner was hidden behind a maze of shell companies; an operation called Baltimore Return Fund LLC, for example, had purchased 1906 Boone at a city tax sale for $5,452. Eventually, the investigation revealed a Texas-based web of nearly a dozen LLCs—limited liability corporations, a form of legal tax shelter—that controlled more than 300 properties in Baltimore. Nearly all had been purchased at tax sales, often online, between 2001 and 2010. Most sold for less than $5,000. Many were vacant and in bad shape.

Okay, so we all know LLCs are not limited liability corporations (right?). But the entity form is a "legal tax shelter?"  As a pass-through entity?  What does this word salad mean?  Would this be less of a scourge if some guy owned them instead of the magical LLC?  I don't understand what the entity form has to do with any such concerns at all.  

Suppose they did the research and found out Benefit Corporation, Inc., owned all of them. Would they have breathed a sigh of relief?  

So many questions, so few answers. 

H/T to our astute and helpful reader Gregory J. Corcoran.

September 19, 2017 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Business Law Prof Bloggers ROCK Knoxville!

BLPBConferenceLogo

As I earlier reported, on Saturday, The University of Tennessee College of Law hosted "Business Law: Connecting the Threads", a conference and continuing legal education program featuring most of us here at the BLPB--Josh, me, Ann, Doug, Haskell, Stefan, and Marcia.  These stalwart bloggers, law profs, and scholars survived two hurricanes (Harvey for Doug and Irma for Marcia) and put aside their personal and private lives for a day or two to travel to Knoxville to share their work and their winning personalities with my faculty and bar colleagues and our students.  It was truly wonderful for me to see so many of my favorite people in one place together enjoying and learning from each other.

Interestingly (although maybe not surprisingly), in many of the presentations (and likely the essays and articles that come from them), we cite to each other's work.  I think that's wonderful.  Who would have known that all of this would come from our decision over time to blog together here?  But we have learned a lot more about each other and each other's work by editing this blog together over the past few years.  As a result, the whole conference was pure joy for me.  And the participants from UT Law (faculty, students, and alums) truly enjoyed themselves.  Papers by the presenters and discussants are being published in a forthcoming volume of Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law.

My presentation at the conference focused on the professional responsibility and ethics challenges posed by complexity and rapid change in business law.  I will post on my related article at a later date.  But if you have any thoughts you want to share on the topic, please let me know.  A picture of me delivering my talk, courtesy of Haskell, is included below.  (Thank you, Haskell!)  So, now you at least know the title, in addition to the topic . . . .  :>)  Also pictured are my two discussants, my UT Law faculty colleague George Kuney and UT Law 3L Claire Tuley.

Heminway(BLPBConf2017)

September 17, 2017 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Marcia Narine Weldon, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Call for Contributors/ Chapter Authors: Law and Public Policy Textbook

A reader of the Business Law Prof Blog, Kevin Fandl, from Temple University's Fox School of Business asked that I share this. It looks like a great opportunity, so please get in touch with him if you're interested. 

Call for Contributors/ Chapter Authors: Law and Public Policy Textbook

The field of public policy has exploded in recent years as our regulatory environment becomes more complex and challenging for individuals and businesses to navigate. Law schools, business schools, and schools in related disciplines are developing seminars on the policy environment that discuss issues such as economic policy, social policy, and foreign policy. However, in many cases, the linkages between government policies and the laws and precedent that interpret (or in some cases create) them are not made clear. But as we know, laws and policies do not exist in a vacuum—they must be understood in their contextual environment. Currently, no single text offers a complete picture of the law and policy environment, depriving students across many disciplines of the deeper understanding necessary to operate in today’s business and legal environment.  That is the impetus for this new book.

If you would like to contribute to the drafting of this new textbook either by submitting a chapter or insights for an existing chapter, please get in touch with me promptly. The fields in which authors might contribute include (but are not limited to):

If any of these topics are within your area of expertise and you are interested in contributing, or if you have questions about how you might contribute, please contact me at Kevin.Fandl@Temple.edu. Thank you.

September 12, 2017 in Call for Papers, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

How To Read the News Carefully and Maybe Some Disclosures, Too

Reading closely is a highly valuable skill for both lawyers and law students.  But reading closely is not the only key to getting the most out of reading materials.  Often, knowing what to look for can help us discern what we're really being told. An article at LawFare, How to Read a News Story About an Investigation: Eight Tips on Who Is Saying What, by Benjamin Wittes, does a nice job of providing some tools to help read news stories more carefully, and perhaps accurately, especially when it comes to sources.  Note that this piece applies to reputable reporters, not everyone who has written something about current events.  

One solid takeaway: 

Reporters publish what they know. If a story describes a series of interactions between a witness or a subject of an investigation and the investigators and the story contains information about one side’s thinking but not the other’s, that’s a powerful sign of where the disclosure came from.

Many of the skills here would translate into other settings, too.  For example, Wittes' first rule: The Words Describing a Source Should Be Presumed Accurate.  He says, "Always start with the precise words the journalist is using to describe her sources. An ethical journalist will never write a sentence that is not on its own terms true." This should be true of a SEC filings or other corporate disclosure documents, too, but it does not mean that the words will clearly communicate the same thing to all readers. 

Wittes' Rule No. 2 also applies: Don’t Make Hasty Assumptions About Vague Sourcing.

While the words have to be true, they emphatically do not have to be evocative of some larger truth. While the words have to be true, they emphatically do not have to be evocative of some larger truth. The conventions associated with sourcing stories like these permit a certain degree of misdirection about which the reasonable reader should be savvy. Reporters have a duty to inform the public; they also have a duty to protect their sources. These goals often conflict, and the solution is sometimes to inform the public in a fashion that is technically accurate but is not what a naive reader would expect certain words to mean.

As to this rule, I would not say that "misdirection" is permitted in SEC filings, but this last part seems generally true of many SEC disclosures: they inform the public in a "technically accurate" way but not necessarily in a way that "a naive reader would expect certain words to mean." I know some people will disagree with my cynical view on this, but that's my take.  The closing advice: "Read sourcing sentences both literally and broadly."  Same with disclosures.  

I recommend reading Wittes' piece for its intended purpose and to see what you might take away for application in other settings. It's a solid and thought-provoking overview, whether you agree with my assessment or not. 

September 5, 2017 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

More Corporate LLCs and Phantom Veil Piercing

And so it continues:

In a recent case in the United States District Court, District of Columbia, a court messes up the entity (referring to one of the parties as “Howard Town Center Developer, LLC, is a limited liability corporation (‘LLC’)") and also does a fine job of improperly stating (or really, failing to state) the law for veil piercing. 

I took the initiative to pull the initial complaint and the answer to see if either of the parties were responsible for calling the LLC a corporation. Both sides properly referred to the LLC as a “limited liability company,” so it appears the corporation reference is a court-created issue.

In the case, a property developer brought action to require a university landowner to reinstate a ground lease and development agreement between developer and university, after the university sent notices of termination. The University counterclaimed to recover unpaid rent. The court determined, among other things, that the university was entitled to the damages it sought of $1,475,000 for unpaid rents and to attorney fees related to the developer's breach of a ground lease and development agreement. But the opinion doesn’t stop there.

It is quite clear that the developer LLC does not have the funds to pay the judgment, so the question of whether the LLC’s veil could be pierced was also raised.  The court, I think properly, determined that “a targeted asset or individual must be named before veil-piercing may be considered.” Howard Town Ctr. Developer, LLC v. Howard U., CV 1075 (BAH), 2017 WL 3493081, at *56 (D.D.C. Aug. 14, 2017). The court continued: “The University should not lament, nor the Developer celebrate, that conclusion, however, on the erroneous assumption that the University has waived its right to veil-piercing in this matter.” Id.  

The court then determined that, because of “considerations of justice and equity,” the university could later seek a veil-piercing action if it were unable to satisfy its judgment. “Any such action will be fairly straightforward given the instant decision, including the Court's observations regarding the inadequacy of the Developer's capitalization . . . and the University may then be entitled to the additional discovery it presently seeks.” Id.

 Wow.  That’s some heavy dicta.  First, the court never states what the rule is for veil piercing an LLC, so it is a pretty bold assertion to say veil-piercing will be “straightforward.” Is the sole test adequate capitalization? What does that mean?  And what is that test? Well, the court gives us an explanation in footnote 22:

The Developer's status as an inadequately capitalized shell company is an ongoing demonstration of bad faith. LLCs are a legitimate corporate form, and the societal benefits of such entities are significant. Dickson testified that the use of such entities in transactions like this one is “typical[ ],” explaining that “single-asset entities are established as borrowers” so that “the borrower[ ] contains one asset,” the advantage from a “liability standpoint” being that “on a transaction of this size, the asset couldn't be pulled into bankruptcy.” Trial Tr. Day 7 AM at 49:25–50:7. Yet, even a single-asset entity must be capitalized to the extent necessary to satisfy its obligations to the project it was created to support. See Lawlor v. District of Columbia, 758 A.2d 964, 975 (D.C. 2000) (noting inadequate capitalization as factor in determining whether a given entity's corporate form should be respected). Consequently, abuse of the corporate form to render a company judgment-proof is impermissible and reflects bad faith.

Um, no.  First, the LLC is not a corporate form. And an entity not being able to pay its debts is not, in and of itself, a showing of bad faith.  Otherwise, what’s the point of limited liability? The court seems to think that being judgment proof because of a lack of funds is not allowed. But it is specifically allowed. If there is fraud or deception, that is not allowed. But an inability to pay the bills is not, alone, at all improper.  It is unfortunate, and perhaps awful, but it is not improper. 

Ultimately, it may be that veil piercing could be justified under DC law, but first, we’d need to know what that law is.  And it should be clear that it is LLC-veil-piercing law that is to be applied, and not the “corporate” veil piercing this court has apparently relied upon.  Once again, I will repeat my call for courts to state specifically the law (and the test) they are applying in LLC-veil-piercing cases, explain why the factors of the test are appropriate in the LLC setting, and then apply that test. 

Instead, the court suggests that veil piercing is essentially inevitable, which could have a strong role in forcing a settlement. This language amounts to phantom veil piercing.  The court never stated a veil-piercing test, never ran the test, and yet, there it is: the specter of a pierced limited liability veil. 

The court seemed frustrated with the developer, and that may be well founded.  Maybe the developer committed fraud. Maybe the developer and other representatives made binding promises that should make them all guarantors. The case also suggests that there may be an argument for enterprise liability among some of the entities mentioned.  And those are all issues that should have been considered.  But none of them are veil piercing claims, and if the court is going to go down that road, the court needs to be more precise to ensure justice and equity prevail.  

August 29, 2017 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Business Law: Connecting the Threads" - The First (Annual?) BLPB Conference

I am excited and proud to make the following announcement about a cool (!) upcoming program being held on Saturday, September 16 at UT Law in Knoxville:

The University of Tennessee College of Law will host a conference and CLE program that will focus on trends in business law. Discussions will take place throughout the day featuring panel discussions that center upon business law scholarship, teaching and law practice.

Topics will include business transaction diagramming; risks posed by social enterprise enabling statutes; fiduciary obligations and mutual fund voting; judicial dissolution in LLCs; Tennessee for-profit benefit corporation law and reporting; corporate personality theory in determining the shareholder wealth maximization norm; and professional responsibility issues for business lawyers in the current, evolving business environment.

The presenters for the program panels are . . . well . . . us!  All of the BLPB editors and contributing editors, except Anne Tucker (we'll miss you, Anne!), are coming to Knoxville to share current work with each other and conference attendees.  Each editor will anchor a panel that also will include a faculty and student discussant.  The BLPB blogger papers and the discussants' written commentaries will all be published in a future issue of our business law journal, Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law.  We also have secured one of our former visiting professors as a lunch-time speaker.

UT Law looks forward to hosting this event.  For more information, you can look here.  I expect some of us will post on the conference and the conference papers at a later date.

BLPBConferenceLogo

 

August 28, 2017 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Marcia Narine Weldon, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)