Tuesday, March 13, 2018

LLCs Are Not Corporations. Be Vigilant. Respect the Entity.

A recent Georgia case highlights a whole host of things that frustrate me with litigation related to limited liability companies (LLCs).  This one features an LLC making incorrect arguments and a court sanctioning that silliness. For example

Baja Properties argues that it is exempted from the rule set out in OCGA § 43-41-17 (b) by a provision in OCGA § 43-41-17 (h). Subsection (h) states, in part:
Nothing in this chapter shall preclude any person from constructing a building or structure on real property owned by such person which is intended upon completion for use or occupancy solely by that person and his or her family, firm, or corporation and its employees, and not for use by the general public and not offered for sale or lease. In so doing, such person may act as his or her own contractor personally providing direct supervision and management of all work not performed by licensed contractors.
Baja Properties, LLC v. Mattera, No. A17A1875, 2018 WL 1247432, at *2 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 9, 2018) (emphasis added).  Baja Properties is, naturally, an LLC, not a corporation.  
The Goldens, who are the members of the Baja LLC, go on to: 
contend that the trial court erred by denying their motion for summary judgment as to negligence claims asserted against them personally. They assert that corporate law insulates them from liability and that, while a member of an limited liability corporation [sic] may be liable for torts in which he individually participated, Ugo Mattera has pointed to no evidence that the Goldens specifically directed a particular negligent act or participated or cooperated therein. We agree with the Goldens that they were entitled to summary judgment on Ugo Mattera's negligence claim.
An officer of a corporation who takes part in the commission of a tort by the corporation is personally liable therefor, and an officer of a corporation who takes no part in the commission of a tort committed by the corporation is not personally liable unless he specifically directed the particular act to be done or participated or cooperated therein.
Jennings v. Smith, 226 Ga. App. 765, 766 (1), 487 S.E.2d 362 (1997) (citation omitted). Thus, if Baja Properties was negligent in constructing the house, an officer of the corporation could be held personally liable for the negligent construction if he specifically directed the manner in which the house was constructed or participated or cooperated in its negligent construction. See Cherry v. Ward, 204 Ga. App. 833, 834 (1) (a), 420 S.E.2d 763 (1992).
There is NO corporation involved in the dispute! 
It may be that Georgia law applies provides that "corporation" includes all entity types and that "officers" includes any person with some level of entity control.  I don't know.  And I don't need to look it up.  But the lawyers in the case and the court should because without explaining that is the case, the opinion is applying law that is not clearly relevant.  
It's time for courts to get this right, and it is time for lawyers to start noticing their mistakes and those of opposing counsel. Every time you reference an entity, look to see if you have it right.  When you see "corporation" make sure there is a corporation involved.  When you see LLC think "company," and make sure the term are consistent.  It requires vigilance,  but we can do this.  We just have to want to.  Let's do this! 

March 13, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Prof. Jena Martin's New Human Rights Paper: Applying Bystander Intervention Training to Corporate Conduct

Friend and colleague Jena Martin has posted her new paper, Easing "the Burden of the Brutalized": Applying Bystander Intervention Training to Corporate Conduct.  And when I say new, I mean new.  It went on SSRN within the last hour.  

Prof. Martin is an expert in business and human rights, and her new paper offers a new framework for corporations that are seeking to reduce or eliminate human rights violations.  Her paper is designed to help corporation beyond due diligence and reporting to allow them to "engage with either the oppressor or the oppressed in a way that directly minimizes human rights abuses."  It is a timely piece with some interesting and innovative suggestions.  I look forward to seeing where the final version ends up. 


The last few years have borne witness to a shift regarding how to address issues of oppression and social injustice. Across many different advocacy points - from police brutality to sexual violence - there seems to be a consensus that simply engaging the oppressor or the victim is not enough to affect real social change. The consensus itself is not new: it has been at the heart of many social justice movements over the years. However, what is new is the explicit evocation of the bystander within this framework. Too often, in conversations on conflicts generally (and negative human rights impact specifically), bystanders have been relegated to the sidelines, with no defined, specific role to play and no discussion within the larger narrative. Now, however, -- through the use of bystander intervention training -- these actors are taking on a more prominent role.

In previous articles, I have stated that the rhetoric and posture that transnational corporations (TNCs) maintain vis-à-vis human rights impacts is that of a bystander. Frequently, when human rights abuses occur, TNCs find themselves in the position of having to acknowledge their presence in the area of the underlying conflict, while profusely maintaining that none of their actions caused the harm against the community. Building off this prior work, this article seeks to answer the following question: are there lessons that can be learned from bystander intervention training in other contexts, that can be used for the benefits of TNCs within the field of business and human rights? I conclude that what is lacking in the current discourse on corporate policies regarding addressing negative human rights impacts is an articulation regarding when, and under what circumstances, it is appropriate for corporations to intervene in negative human rights disputes. This goes beyond the current proposals for human rights due diligence frameworks in that, rather than merely undergoing an assessment and then reporting this information out (as is required by most current legal frameworks that address business and human rights reporting) this would help corporations – informed by a bystander intervention framework – to engage with either the oppressor or the oppressed in a way that directly minimizes human rights abuses.

March 6, 2018 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

State Laws Committed to Confusing Business Entities, Courts Happy to Help

Another unforced error on the LLC front, again with a limited liability company being called a corporation.   

This time, it is a recent Texas appellate court case where the court states: “In its pleadings, AMV contends that it is presently a limited liability corporation known as ArcelorMittal Vinton LLC.”  Wallace v. ArcelorMittal Vinton, Inc., 536 S.W.3d 19, 21 n.1 (Tex. App. 2016), review denied (Mar. 31, 2017).  As is so often the case, that is not accurate. 

In its brief, the entity AMV simply stated, that it was a Defendant-Appellee as named in the suit, ArcelorMittal Vinton, Inc., was “n/k/a [now known as] ArcelorMittal Vinton LLC.” Carla WALLACE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCELORMITTAL VINTON, INC., Defendant-Appellee., 2015 WL 7687420 (Tex.App.-El Paso), 1.  AMV’s counsel never said it was a corporation.  The court did that on its own.

Sigh.  Even in Texas, LLCs are not corporations. I swear!  I looked at the statute.

And yet, a close look at the statute shows why this gets confusing for some people.  The Texas statute provides specific cross-references to certain business provisions (emphasis added):


(a)  Subject to Section 101.114, Sections 21.223, 21.224, 21.225, and 21.226 apply to a limited liability company and the company's members, owners, assignees, affiliates, and subscribers.

(b)  For purposes of the application of Subsection (a):

(1)  a reference to "shares" includes "membership interests";

(2)  a reference to "holder," "owner," or "shareholder" includes a "member" and an "assignee";

(3)  a reference to "corporation" or "corporate" includes a "limited liability company";

(4)  a reference to "directors" includes "managers" of a manager-managed limited liability company and "members" of a member-managed limited liability company;

(5)  a reference to "bylaws" includes "company agreement"; and

(6)  the reference to "Sections 21.157-21.162" in Section 21.223(a)(1) refers to the provisions of Subchapter D of this chapter.

Added by Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 25 (S.B. 323), Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2011.

As Ham Porter would say, "You're killing me, Smalls." 

February 27, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Law Teaching & Learning: Conference Announcements and Call for Proposal

Law Teaching for Adjunct Faculty and New Professors Conference

Law Teaching for Adjunct Faculty and New Professors is a one-day conference for new and experienced adjunct faculty, new full-time professors, and others who are interested in developing and supporting those colleagues. The conference will take place on Saturday, April 28, 2018, at Texas A&M University School of Law, Fort Worth, Texas, and is co-sponsored by the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning and Texas A&M University School of Law.

Sessions will include:

  • Course Design and Learning Outcomes – Michael Hunter Schwartz

  • Assessment – Sandra Simpson

  • Active Learning – Sophie Sparrow

  • Team-based Learning – Lindsey Gustafson

  • Technology and Teaching – Anastasia Boles

Details are here



Institute for Law Teaching and Learning—Summer 2018 Conference Exploring the Use of Technology in the Law School Classroom June 18-20
Gonzaga University School of Law
Spokane, Washington

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning invites proposals for conference workshops addressing the many ways that law teachers are utilizing technology in their classrooms across the curriculum. With the rising demands for teachers who are educated on active learning techniques and with technology changing so rapidly, this topic has taken on increased urgency in recent years. The Institute is interested in proposals that deal with all types of technology, and the technology demonstrated should be focused on helping students learn actively in areas such as legal theory and knowledge, practice skills, and guided reflection, etc. Accordingly, we welcome proposals for workshops on incorporating technology in the classrooms of doctrinal, clinical, externship, writing, seminar, hybrid, and interdisciplinary courses.

The Institute invites proposals for 60-minute workshops consistent with a broad interpretation of the conference theme. The workshops can address the use of technology in first-year courses, upper-level courses, required courses, electives, or academic support roles. Each workshop should include materials that participants can use during the workshop and when they return to their campuses. Presenters should model effective teaching methods by actively engaging the workshop participants. The Institute Co-Directors are glad to work with anyone who would like advice on designing their presentations to be interactive.

Second, our summer conference will be at Gonzaga Law, June 18-20 and will focus on the use of technology in the classroom.  We're currently accepting proposals for that conference (and the deadline has been extended to March 2).  More info here.  

February 20, 2018 in Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

These Reasons Social Benefit Entities Hurt Business and Philanthropy Will Blow Your Mind

I suspect click-bait headline tactics don't work for business law topics, but I guess now we will see. This post is really just to announce that I have a new paper out in Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law related to our First Annual (I hope) Business Law Prof Blog Conference co-blogger Joan Heminway discussed here. The paper, The End of Responsible Growth and Governance?: The Risks Posed by Social Enterprise Enabling Statutes and the Demise of Director Primacy, is now available here.

To be clear, my argument is not that I don't like social enterprise. My argument is that as well-intentioned as social enterprise entity types are, they are not likely to facilitate social enterprise, and they may actually get in the way of social-enterprise goals.  I have been blogging about this specifically since at least 2014 (and more generally before that), and last year I made this very argument on a much smaller scale.  Anyway, I hope you'll forgive the self-promotion and give the paper a look.  Here's the abstract: 

Social benefit entities, such as benefit corporations and low-profit limited liability companies (or L3Cs) were designed to support and encourage socially responsible business. Unfortunately, instead of helping, the emergence of social enterprise enabling statutes and the demise of director primacy run the risk of derailing large-scale socially responsible business decisions. This could have the parallel impacts of limiting business leader creativity and risk taking. In addition to reducing socially responsible business activities, this could also serve to limit economic growth. Now that many states have alternative social enterprise entity structures, there is an increased risk that traditional entities will be viewed (by both courts and directors) as pure profit vehicles, eliminating directors’ ability to make choices with the public benefit in mind, even where the public benefit is also good for business (at least in the long term). Narrowing directors’ decision making in this way limits the options for innovation, building goodwill, and maintaining an engaged workforce, all to the detriment of employees, society, and, yes, shareholders.

The potential harm from social benefit entities and eroding director primacy is not inevitable, and the challenges are not insurmountable. This essay is designed to highlight and explain these risks with the hope that identifying and explaining the risks will help courts avoid them. This essay first discusses the role and purpose of limited liability entities and explains the foundational concept of director primacy and the risks associated with eroding that norm. Next, the essay describes the emergence of social benefit entities and describes how the mere existence of such entities can serve to further erode director primacy and limit business leader discretion, leading to lost social benefit and reduced profit making. Finally, the essay makes a recommendation about how courts can help avoid these harms.

February 13, 2018 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Lawyering, Legislation, LLCs, Management, Research/Scholarhip, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

LLCs Still Not Corporations, But What Are Managers?

A brand new Arizona case continues the trend of incorrectly discussing limited liability companies (LLCs) as limited liability corporations, but it does allow for an interesting look at how entities are sometimes treated (or not) in laws and regulations. Here’s the opening paragraph of the case:

Noah Sensibar appeals from the superior court's ruling affirming the Tucson City Court's finding that he had violated the Tucson City Code (TCC). He argues that the municipal ordinance in question is facially invalid because it conflicts with a state statute shielding members or agents of a limited liability corporation from personal liability. 

City of Tucson v. Noah Sensibar, No. 2 CA-CV 2017-0087, 2018 WL 703319 (Ariz. Ct. App. Feb. 5, 2018).

About three years ago, the City of Tucson alleged that Sensibar, as “the managing member and statutory agent of Blue Jay Real Estate LLC, an Arizona corporation, was responsible for building code violations.” Id. (emphasis added). Notwithstanding the incorrect characterization of the entity type, it looks like the court at least reasonable (though not clearly correct) to hold Sensibar individually liable.  Here’s why:

The Tuscon City Code states that “Any owner or responsible party who commits, causes, permits, facilitates or aids or abets any violation of any provision of this chapter . . . is responsible for a civil infraction and is subject to a civil sanction of not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00) nor more than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500.00).” Tucson Code Sec. 16-48(2) (Violations and penalties).

The Code Definitions in Sec. 16-3 provide the following:

Owner means, as applied to a building, structure, or land, any part owner, joint owner, tenant in common, joint tenant or tenant by the entirety of the whole or a part of such building, structure or land.

. . . .

Person means any natural person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, company or organization of any kind, but not the federal government, state, county, city or political subdivision of the state.

. . .  .

Responsible party means an occupant, lessor, lessee, manager, licensee, or person having control over a structure or parcel of land; and in any case where the demolition of a structure is proposed as a means of abatement, any lienholder whose lien is recorded in the official records of the Pima County Recorder's Office.

As such, the Code seems to contemplate holding both entities and individuals liable. Still, Sensibar had an argument. The use of the term “manager” here causes some potential confusion because one can be a manager of an LLC, while the LLC might serve as the manager of the property. Thus, it could be that only the LLC should be liable.  Another plausible reading, though, is that “manager” meant the natural person doing the managing as is common in property situations.  Manager, like occupant, lessee, and lessor, is not defined in the Code, so it would seem the intended source of the definitions should be from a property perspective, not an entity perspective.

Similarly, the Code could mean a natural “person having control over a structure” can be liable.  If that’s the case, and the court seems to have gone down this road, the argument would be that Sensibar was being held liable directly for his role as manager or person in control of the property and not vicariously for violations of the LLC.  Given that occupants, lessors, and lessees, among others, can be held liable, it does appear that the Code could have intended to impose liability directly on multiple parties, including both individuals and entities. This would be sensible, in many contexts, though it would also be sensible to say explicitly, especially given that the term “person” clearly includes entities. 

A simple improvement might be to update the definition of “responsible party,” as follows:

Responsible party means an, whether as an individual or entity, any occupant, lessor, lessee, manager, licensee, or person having control over a structure or parcel of land and in any case where the demolition of a structure is proposed as a means of abatement, any lienholder whose lien is recorded in the official records of the Pima County Recorder's Office.

That would, at least, be consistent with the decision. Because if the court is holding Sensibar liable for merely being the manager of the LLC, and not as the manager of the property, the case is wrongly decided.  Too bad the notice of appeal was not timely filed – maybe we could have found out. 

UPDATE: Based on a good comment from Tom N., I did a little more research. As of an LLC filing in 2009, Noah Sensibar owned at least a 20% interest. (It may be 50% because there were two listed members, but it was at least 20%.) As such, this suggests that the LLC does not have funding to cover the fines or that express indemnification is lacking and the other member(s) won't agree to cover the costs from LLC funds. 

I will also note that a 2016 decision denying Sensibar's appeal stated, "The court also heard evidence that Sensibar, the managing partner of the LLC, was 'the person in charge' of the property."  City of Tucson v. Sensibar, No. 2 CA-CV 2016-0051, 2016 WL 5899737, at *1 (Ariz. Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2016). Seriously? He's an LLC manager.  That's all.  LLCs are not corporations OR partnerships. THEY ARE LLCS! 

February 6, 2018 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Management | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Rethinking Legislation (Again) After Some Time with the New Tax Bill

After spending a little time with the new tax bill, I couldn't help but think, "there must be a better way."  That reminded me of an article from a little while back in the West Virginia Law Review, titled, Legislation's Culture, by Richard K. Neumann, of Hofstra University - School of Law (PDF). Here’s the abstract:

American statutes can seem like labyrinthine mazes when compared to some countries’ legislation. French codes are admired for their intellectual elegance and clarity. Novelists and poets (Stendhal, Valéry) have considered the Code civil to be literature. Swedish legislation might be based on empirical research into problems the legislation is intended to remedy, and the drafting style, though modern today, is descended from an oral tradition of poetic narrative.

Comparing these legislative cultures with our own reveals that the main problem with American legislation is not too many words. It is too many ideas — a high ratio of concepts per legislative goal. When American, French, and Swedish legislatures address similar problems, the French and Swedes draft using far fewer concepts than Americans do. In both countries, simple solutions are preferred over convoluted ones. The drafters of the Code civil thought the highest intellectual and legislative accomplishment to be simplicity. The Swedes got to approximately the same place through a cultural value that law be understandable to the public. Where the American legislative process can seem chaotic, there has been some respect for Cartesian rationality in France and for empirical evidence in Sweden.

Even if American statutes were to be translated into ordinary English, they would still be labyrinths because our legislatures insist on addressing every conceivable detail that legislators can imagine. The result is excessively conceptualized legislation, imposing large numbers of duties. Statutory concepts cost money. They create issues, which must be decided by publicly funded courts and agencies with additional costs to the parties involved. Every unnecessary statutory concept wastes social and economic resources. And to the extent law seems incomprehensible to the public, it loses moral authority.

Having studied law in Louisiana, I admit to a certain soft spot for the civil code, even if my fondness is rooted firmly in this country. (In fact, about one year ago, we lost a giant in the civil law, Athanassios Nicholas "Thanassi" Yiannopoulos.  See, for example, his work, A.N. Yiannopoulos, Requiem for a Civil Code: A Commemorative Essay, 78 TUL. L. REV. 379 (2003), available via Hein Online here.) 

I digress. Back to my point, I think this statement from Neumman is spot on: "[T]o the extent law seems incomprehensible to the public, it loses moral authority." Absolute truth.  And the same applies to regulations.  



January 31, 2018 in Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Value of Careful Language in Assessing Businesses: A New Paper from Shu-Yi Oei

As regular readers know, I am particular about language and meaning, especially in the business-entity space related to limited liability companies (LLCs).  I think because of that, I was drawn to a new paper from Shu-Yi Oei (Boston College), The Trouble with Gig Talk: Choice of Narrative and the Worker Classification Fights, 81 Law & Contemp. Probs. ___ (2018).  The abstract: 

The term “sharing economy” is flawed, but are the alternatives any better? This Essay evaluates the uses of competing narratives to describe the business model employed by firms like Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, and GrubHub. It argues that while the term “sharing economy” may be a misnomer, terms such as “gig economy,” “1099 economy,” “peer-to- peer economy” or “platform economy” are just as problematic, possibly even more so. These latter terms are more effective in exploiting existing legal rules and ambiguities to generate desired regulatory outcomes, in particular the classification of workers as independent contractors. This is because they are plausible, speak to important regulatory grey areas, and find support in existing laws and ambiguities. They can therefore be deployed to tilt outcomes in directions desired by firms in this sector.

This Essay’s analysis suggests that narratives that are at least somewhat supportable under existing law may be potent in underappreciated ways. In contrast, clearly erroneous claims may sometimes turn out to be hyperbolic yet harmless. Thus, in evaluating the role of narrative in affecting regulatory outcomes, it is not only the obviously wrong framings that should concern us but also the less obviously wrong ones.

There are several interesting points in the piece, and find this part of the conclusion especially compelling: 

I cannot prove that the deployment of gig characterization is the only reason certain legal treatments and outcomes (such as independent contractor classification for workers) seem to be sticking, at least for the moment. My narrower point is that while gig and related characterizations appear innocuous and accurate relative to the sharing characterization, this set of descriptors may actually be doing more work in terms of advancing a desired regulatory outcome. The reasons they are able to do more work are that (1) gig characterization speaks to an important and material legal ambiguity, (2) the gig characterization is plausibly accurate, even if deeply contested, and (3) the proponents of gig characterization have been able to use procedural and other tools to shore up gig characterization and defeat its competitors. These observations may be generalized beyond the gig context: While the temptation is to focus on narratives and characterizations that are clearly wrong, this Essay suggests that we should also pay attention to more subtle narratives that are less clearly wrong, because such narratives may be doing more work by virtue of being “almost right.”

This last point is one that resonates with me on the LLC front, where people insist on comparing or analogizing LLCs to corporations.  There are times when such a comparison or analogy is "almost right," and it is in these circumstances that the perils of careless language can cause the most trouble because the same comparison or analogy can get made later when doing so is clearly wrong. 

January 23, 2018 in Employment Law, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Look Back on LLCs: Ribstein Had It Right

I have had reason to look back on some foundational scholarship in LLCs recently, and one article really stood out for me. Larry Ribstein's The Deregulation of Limited Liability and the Death of Partnership. It's another snow day with kids, so I haven't had a lot of time to delve into the thoughts this raised for me, so I'll let Larry's words speak for themselves.  Keep in mind this is from 1992:  

The popularity of the partnership form of business1 indicates that an organizational form in which some owners can be held personally liable for the firm's debts is efficient for many firms. This could be because, for many firms, individual liability reduces the firm's credit costs more than it increases owners' risk-bearing, monitoring, or other costs. This Article, however, suggests an alternative explanation: the partnership form is attractive for many firms on the margin only because of the regulatory costs of limited liability, including double corporate taxation and limitations on organizational form.

Recent developments provide a valuable opportunity to test this explanation. Many lawyers and legislators have become interested in a new limited liability business form, the "limited liability company" (LLC), that lets firms adopt limited liability without many of the tax and other costs that once attended limited liability. If this Article's regulatory explanation of partnership is correct, the partnership form of business will greatly diminish in importance. After a transitional period, partnership will survive, if at all, as a residual form for firms that have no customized agreement.

January 16, 2018 in Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Back to Reality and (Mostly) Staying the Course on Shareholder Proposals

The new semester is upon us, and AALS (as it tends to) ran right into the new semester.  Joan Heminway provided a nice overview of some of her activities, including her recognition as an outstanding mentor by the Section on Business Associations, and it was a pleasure to see her recognized for her tireless and consistent efforts to make all of us better.  Congratulations, Joan, and thank you! 

I, too, had a busy conference, with most of it condensed to Friday and Saturday. (As a side note, it was pretty great to run along the water in 55-65 degree weather. As much as I love New York and appreciate San Francisco and DC, I'd be quite content with AALS moving between San Diego and New Orleans.)  I spoke on a panel with my co-bloggers, as Joan noted, about shareholder proposals, and I spoke on a panel about the green economy and sustainability, which was also fun.  It's nice when I am able to spend some time with a focus on my two main areas of research. 

As to our panel on shareholder proposals, I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts.  First, as I have explained in the past, I am not anti-activist investor, even though I often think their proposals are wrong headed. I think shareholder (and hedge fund) activist can add value, even when they are wrong, as long as directors continue to exercise their judgment and lead the firm appropriately.   

Second, although I tend to have a bias for staying the course and leaving many laws and regulations alone, I am open to some changes for shareholder proposals. The value of the current system (especially one that has been in place for some time) is that everyone knows the rules, which means there is some level of efficiency for all the players.  

That said, the threshold for shareholder proposals has been in places since the 1950s.  The Financial Choice Act looks to move the proxy threshold from $2,000 and one-year holdings to a 1%/three-year hurdle.  That is a pretty big move. Updating the $2,000 threshold from 1960 would mean raising the threshold to around $16,000, so a move to what can be millions may be too much.  But $16,000 (basically updating for inflation), would make some sense to me, too.  Anyway, just a few simple thoughts to start the year. Hope your classes are starting well.  

January 9, 2018 in Corporations, Financial Markets, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 8, 2018

AALS 2018 Wrap-Up


Last week, I had the privilege of attending and participating in the 2018 annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (#aals2018).  I saw many of you there.  It was a full four days for me.  The conference concluded on Saturday with the program captured in the photo above--four of us BLPB co-bloggers (Stefan, me, Josh, and Ann) jawing about shareholder proposals--as among ourselves and with our engaged audience members (who provided excellent questions and insights).  Thanks to Stefan for organizing the session and inspiring our work with his article, The Inclusive Capitalism Shareholder Proposal.  I learned a lot in preparing for and participating in this part of the program.

Earlier that day, BLPB co-blogger Anne Tucker and I co-moderated (really, Anne did the lion's share of the work) a discussion group entitled "A New Era for Business Regulation?" on current and future regulatory and de-regulatory initiatives.  In some part, this session stemmed from posts that Anne and I wrote for the BLPB here, here, and here.  I earlier posted a call for participation in this session.  The conversation was wide-ranging and fascinating.  I took notes for two essays I am writing this year.  A photo is included below.  Regrettably, it does not capture everyone.  But you get the idea . . . .

In between, I had the honor of introducing Tamar Frankel, this year's recipient of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Section for Women in Legal Education luncheon.  Unfortunately, the Boston storm activity conspired to keep Tamar at home.  But she did deliver remarks by video.  A photo (props to Hari Osofsky for getting this shot--I hope she doesn't mind me using it here) of Tamar's video remarks is included below.


Tamar has been a great mentor to me and so many others.  She plans to continue writing after her retirement at the end of the semester.  I plan to post more on her at a later time.

On Friday, I was recognized by the Section on Business Associations for my mentoring activities.  On Thursday, I had the opportunity to comment (with Jeff Schwartz) on Summer Kim's draft paper on South Korean private equity fund regulation.  And on Wednesday, I started the conference with a discussion group entitled "What is Fraud Anyway?," co-moderated by John Anderson and David Kwok.  My short paper for that discussion group focused on the importance of remembering the requirement of manipulative or deceptive conduct if/as we continue to regulate securities fraud in major part under Section 10(b) of, and Rule 10b-5 under, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.

That summary does not, of course, include the sessions at which I was merely in the audience.  Many of the business law sessions were on Friday and Saturday.  They were all quite good.  But I already am likely overstaying my welcome for the day.  Stay tuned here for any BLPB-reated sessions for next year's conference.  And in between, there's Law and Society, National Business Law Scholars, and SEALS, all of which will have robust business law programs.

Good luck in starting the new semester.  Some of you, I know, are already back in the classroom.  I will be Wednesday morning.  I know it will be a busy 14 weeks of teaching!

January 8, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Anne Tucker, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Feeling Like Charlie Brown at Christmas: More LLCs as a Corporations

No one will  be shocked that my last post of the year is about a court referring to a limited liability company (LLC) as a "limited liability corporation."  It's wrong to do so, and it's my thing to point out when it happens.  This case is especially striking (and perhaps upsetting) because of the context of the reference.  In this 2015 case that just showed up on Westlaw (or at least, in my alerts), "Plaintiff argues that because Defendants are all limited liability corporations they must identify and prove the citizenship of their various members and that they have failed to do so." Skywark v. Healthbridge Mgmt., LLC, No. 15-00058-BJR, 2015 WL 13621058, at *1 (W.D. Pa. July 22, 2015).  They mean LLCs, not corporations.  Okay, so far this is a pretty typical mistake.  But wait! 

In this case, the defendants did not allege the citizenship of the members of the defendants' LLCs in their initial Notice of Removal, so the plaintiffs claimed that a filed  amendment was more than “technically defective.” In claiming the amendment was "minor, the defendants rely cited  O'Boyle v. Braverman, No. 08-553, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62180 (D.N.J. Aug. 12, 2008), which found that when a party mistakenly alleged the citizenship of an LLC as a corporation, the party could still amend the allegations to properly allege the citizenship of its LLC members. 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62180, at *7. O'Boyle, like the present court on Skywark found the proposed amendment to be technical in nature. 
On the one hand, this is probably correct in terms of justice seeking. On the other hand, if a court were to find that such a mistake was more than minor, perhaps lawyers would get this right in the first place, which they should do.
In assessing the situation, the court states: 
Plaintiff is correct that the citizenship of a limited liability corporation is determined by the citizenship of its members. Zambelli Fireworks Mfg. Co. v. Wood, 592 F.3d 412, 420 (3d Cir. 2010). Defendants have sought to fix any errors that may affect diversity jurisdiction by filing a declaration that identifies the members of their limited liability corporations and allegations of their citizenship. Plaintiff raises several arguments in response to Defendants' declaration and alleges that it is insufficient to prove diversity of citizenship.
Skywark v. Healthbridge Mgmt., LLC, No. 15-00058-BJR, 2015 WL 13621058, at *3 (W.D. Pa. July 22, 2015) (emphasis added). 
To quote Charlie Brown, AAUGH! 
Didn't the court just establish that the entire issue was the distinction between corporations and LLCs?  Sigh. The mistakes are frustrating, but to add to that such a clear lack of internal consistency when the issue has been identified is darn right irritating.  
As I often do, I feel I must acknowledge that we're all human and we make mistakes.  Goodness knows I have made (and continue to make) more than my fair share.  I don't mean to say anyone is a bad person for making such mistakes.  But I sure would appreciate it if they were a lot less common, too.  

If you celebrated, I hope you had a great Christmas. We sure did. Wishing you and yours peace, warmth, and love in this holiday season.  

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Washington Marijuana Law Has Entity Type Quirks (And LLCs Are Still Not Corporations)

A recent case in Washington state introduced me to some interesting facets of Washington's recreational marijuana law.  The case came to my attention because it is part of my daily search for cases (incorrectly) referring to limited liability companies (LLCs) as "limited liability corporations."  The case opens: 

In 2012, Washington voters approved Initiative Measure 502. LAWS OF 2013, ch. 3, codified as part of chapter 69.50 RCW. Initiative 502 legalizes the possession and sale of marijuana and creates a system for the distribution and sale of recreational marijuana. Under RCW 69.50.325(3)(a), a retail marijuana license shall be issued only in the name of the applicant. No retail marijuana license shall be issued to a limited liability corporation unless all members are qualified to obtain a license. RCW 69.50.331(1)(b)(iii). The true party of interest of a limited liability company is “[a]ll members and their spouses.”1 Under RCW 69.50.331(1)(a), the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) considers prior criminal conduct of the applicant.2

LIBBY HAINES-MARCHEL & ROCK ISLAND CHRONICS, LLC, Dba CHRONICS, Appellants, v. WASHINGTON STATE LIQUOR & CANNABIS BOARD, an Agency of the State of Washington, Respondent., No. 75669-9-I, 2017 WL 6427358, at *1 (Wash. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2017) (emphasis added).  
The reference to a limited liability corporation appears simply to be a misstatement, as the statute properly references limited liability companies as distinct from corporations. The legal regime does, though, have some interesting requirements from an entity law perspective. First, the law provides:
(b) No license of any kind may be issued to:
. . . .
(iii) A partnership, employee cooperative, association, nonprofit corporation, or corporation unless formed under the laws of this state, and unless all of the members thereof are qualified to obtain a license as provided in this section;
Wash. Rev. Code § 69.50.331 (b)(iii) (West). It makes some sense to restrict the business to in-state entities given the licensing restrictions that state has, although it is not clear to me that the state could not engage in the same level of oversight if an entity were, say, a California corporation or a West Virginia LLC. 
The state's licensing requirements, as stated in Washington Administrative Code 314-55-035 ("What persons or entities have to qualify for a marijuana license?") provide: "A marijuana license must be issued in the name(s) of the true party(ies) of interest." The code then lists what it means to be a  “true party of interest” for a variety of entities. 
True party of interest: Persons to be qualified
Sole proprietorship: Sole proprietor and spouse.
General partnership: All partners and spouses.
Limited partnership, limited liability partnership, or limited liability limited partnership: All general partners and their spouses and all limited partners and spouses.
Limited liability company: All members and their spouses and all managers and their spouses.
Privately held corporation: All corporate officers (or persons with equivalent title) and their spouses and all stockholders and their spouses.
Publicly held corporation: All corporate officers (or persons with equivalent title) and their spouses and all stockholders and their spouses.
Multilevel ownership structures: All persons and entities that make up the ownership structure (and their spouses).
Wash. Admin. Code 314-55-035. 

This is a pretty comprehensive list, but I note that the corporation requirements are missing some noticeable parties: directors. The code states, for both privately and publicly held corporations, that all "corporate officers (or persons with equivalent title)" and their spouses and all stockholders and their spouses must be qualified. Directors are not "equivalent" in title to officers. Officers, under Washington law, are described as follows:
(1) A corporation has the officers described in its bylaws or appointed by the board of directors in accordance with the bylaws.
(2) A duly appointed officer may appoint one or more officers or assistant officers if authorized by the bylaws or the board of directors.
(3) The bylaws or the board of directors shall delegate to one of the officers responsibility for preparing minutes of the directors' and shareholders' meetings and for authenticating records of the corporation.
(4) The same individual may simultaneously hold more than one office in a corporation.
Wash. Rev. Code § 23B.08.400. Directors have a different role. The statute provides:

Requirement for and duties of board of directors.

(1) Each corporation must have a board of directors, except that a corporation may dispense with or limit the authority of its board of directors by describing in its articles of incorporation, or in a shareholders' agreement authorized by RCW 23B.07.320, who will perform some or all of the duties of the board of directors.
(2) Subject to any limitation set forth in this title, the articles of incorporation, or a shareholders' agreement authorized by RCW 23B.07.320:
(a) All corporate powers shall be exercised by or under the authority of the corporation's board of directors; and
(b) The business and affairs of the corporation shall be managed under the direction of its board of directors, which shall have exclusive authority as to substantive decisions concerning management of the corporation's business.
Wash. Rev. Code § RCW 23B.08.010.
The Code, then, seems to provide that directors are, as a group, exempt from the spousal connection. The code separately provides:
(4) Persons who exercise control of business - The WSLCB will conduct an investigation of any person or entity who exercises any control over the applicant's business operations. This may include both a financial investigation and/or a criminal history background. 
Wash. Admin. Code 314-55-035.  This provision would clearly include directors, but also clearly excludes spouses. That distinction is fine, I suppose, but it is not at all clear to me why one would want to treat directors differently than LLC managers (and their spouses).  To the extent there is concern about spousal influence--to the level that the state would want to require qualification of spouses of shareholders in a publicly held entity--leaving this gap open for all corporate directors seems to be a rather big miss (or a deliberate exception).  Either way, it's an interesting quirk of an interesting new statute.   

December 19, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Family Business, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, Licensing, LLCs, Management, Nonprofits, Partnership, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)