Tuesday, August 19, 2014
At West Virginia University College of Law, we started classes yesterday, and I taught my first classes of the year: Energy Law in the morning and Business Organizations in the afternoon. As I do with a new year coming, I updated and revised my Business Organizations course for the fall. Last year, I moved over to using Unicorporated Business Entities, of which I am a co-author. I have my own corporations materials that I use to supplement the book so that I cover the full scope of agency, partnerships, LLCs, and corporations. So far, it's worked pretty well. I spent several years with Klein, Ramseyer and Bainbridge's Business Associations, Cases and Materials on Agency, Partnerships, and Corporations (KRB), which is a great casebook, in its own right.
I did not make the change merely (or even mostly) because I am a co-author. I made the change because I like the structure we use in our book. I had been trying to work with KRB in my structure, but this book is designed to teach in with the organization I prefer, which is more topical than entity by entity. I'll note that a little while ago, my co-blogger Steve Bradford asked, "Are We Teaching Business Associations Backwards?" Steve Bainbridge said, "No." He explained,
I've tried that approach twice. Once, when I was very young, using photocopied materials I cut and pasted from casebook drafts the authors kindly allowed me to use. Once by jumping around Klein, Ramseyer, and Bainbridge. Both times it was a disaster. Students found it very confusing (and boy did my evaluations show it!). It actually took more time than the entity by entity approach, because I ended up having to do a lot of review (e.g., "you'll remember from 2 weeks ago when we discussed LLCs most recently that ...."). There actually isn't all that much topic overlap. Among corporations, for example, you've got the business judgment rule, derivative suits, "duty" of good faith, executive compensation, the special rules for close corporations, proxies, and so on, most of which either don't apply to LLCs etc.... or don't deserve duplicative treatment.
I have great respect for Prof. Bainbridge, and his writing has influenced me greatly, but (not surprisingly), I come out more closely aligned with my perception of Larry Ribstein on such issues, and with Jeff Lipshaw, who commented,
I disagree about the lack of topic overlap, and suspect Larry Ribstein is raging about this in BA Heaven right now. . . .
This may reflect differences among student populations, but the traditional corporate law course, focusing primarily on public corporations, is less pertinent in many schools where students are unlikely to be doing that kind of work when they graduate. It's far more likely that they'll need to be able to explain to a client why the appropriate business form is a corporation or an LLC, and what the topical differences between them are.
I completely agree, and I would go another step to say that I find the duplication to be a valuable reinforcement mechanism that is worth (what I have seen as limited) extra time. I am teaching a 4-credit course, though, which gives me time I never had in my prior institution's 3-credit version.
One thing I am doing differently this year is my first assignment, which seeks to build on what I see as a need for students here. That is, I think many of them will need to be able to explain entity differences and help clients select the right option.
I had my students fill out the form for a West Virginia Limited Liability Company (PDF here). I had a few goals. First, I don't like to have students leave any of my classes without handling at least some of the forms or other documents they are likely to encounter in practice. Second, I did it without any instruction this time (I have used similar forms later in the course) because I thought it would help me tee up an introduction to all this issues I want them thinking about with regard to entity choice. (It did.) Finally, I like getting students to see the connection between the form and the statute. We can link though and see why the form requires certain issues, discuss waivable and nonwaivable provisions, and talk about things like entity purpose, freedom of contract, and the limits of limited liability.
If nothing else, the change kept things fresh for me. I welcome any comments and suggestions on any of this, and I wish everyone a great new academic year.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Kinder Morgan, a leading U.S. energy company, has proposed consolidating its Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) under its parent company. If it happens, it would be the second largest energy merger in history (the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1998, estimated to be $110.1 billion in 2014 dollars, is still the top dog).
Motley Fool details the deal this way:
Terms of the deal
The $71 billion deal is composed of $40 billion in Kinder Morgan Inc shares, $4 billion in cash, $27 billion in assumed debt.
Existing shareholders of Kinder Morgan's MLPs will receive the following premiums for their units (based on friday's closing price):
- Kinder Morgan Energy Partners: 12%
- Kinder Morgan Management: 16.5%
- El Paso Pipeline Partners: 15.4%Existing unit holders of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and El Paso Pipeline Partners are allowed to choose to receive payment in both cash and Kinder Morgan Inc shares or all cash.
The most important man in the American Energy Boom wears brown slacks and a checkered shirt and sits in a modest corner office with unexceptional views of downtown Houston and some forgettable art on the wall. You would expect to at least see a big map showing pipelines stretching from coast to coast. Nope. “We don’t have sports tickets, we don’t have corporate jets,” growls Richard Kinder, 68, CEO of Kinder Morgan, America’s third-largest energy firm. “We don’t have stadiums named after us.”
August 12, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Merger & Acquisitions, Partnership, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 23, 2014
This past week, I joined a group of our business law prof colleagues at the National Business Law Scholars Conference out at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Headlined by a keynote presentation on "the audience" for business law scholarship from Frank Partnoy and an author-meets-reader session on Michael Dorff's new book, Indispensable and Other Myths: The True Story of CEO Pay, the conference featured a staggeringly interesting array of panels on everything from standard corporate governance to financial regulation. Kudos to the planning committee.
Steve Bainbridge presented Must Salmon Love Meinhard? Agape and Partnership Fiduciary Duties in an opening concurrent panel. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend it. Admittedly (as I told Steve), I have an especial interest in the Meinhard case and in the expressive function of decisional law. But most of us in the business law professor group teach the case in one course or another, and his paper is relevant to many in that context.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
The NBA’s handling of what the NBA concluded was Donald Sterling’s now-infamous, racist-language-laden phone call with V. Stiviano has generated a lot of commentary (including my own). As one might expect, the incident has led to some oft-repeated assertions that are not quite right. So, in taking a break from my grading, I thought I’d deal with a couple of those issues right now.
To start, if Sterling is forced to sell the Clippers, the NBA and the other team owners are not “taking” anything away from him that he has a right to keep. He is an owner subject to an agreement that, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, allows the league to force Sterling to sell upon a three-fourths vote of other league owners. As such, the league has, and has always had, the power to decide if Sterling would be allowed to own a team. (Why the league owners didn’t act twenty years ago is a legitimate question, but one for another day.)
That Sterling can be forced to sell should not be news to lawyers, at any rate. This case reminds me of Lawlis v. Kightlinger & Gray, 562 N.E.2d 435 (Ind. App. 4th Dist. 1990). The case is taught in many Business Organizations courses. In that case, Lawlis was a partner the Kightlinger & Gray law firm. At some point, his alcoholism became a problem, and eventually he told the partners of his issues. Lawlis and his partners reached an agreement about how to move forward (one with a “no-second chances” provision). Lawlis got things together for a bit, then returned to drinking, and he was given a second chance. Lawlis apparently got sober and eventually insisted the firm should increase his partnership participation. Instead, the firm decided to expel him by a 7-to-1 vote (Lawlis was the sole vote against expulsion). Lawlis sued.
The court was not convinced, and I would hope any court would look the same way at a vote to remove Sterling as an NBA owner. Even if they needed cause, I would opine that the league has it, but the likely don't need it. The Lawlis court explained:
All the parties involved in this litigation were legally competent and consenting adults well educated in the law who initially dealt at arm’s length while negotiating the . . . agreements here involved. At the time the partners negotiated their contract, it is apparent they believed . . . the “guillotine method” of involuntary severance, that is, no notice or hearing, only a severance vote to terminate a partner involuntarily need be taken, would be in the best interests of the partnership. Their intent was to provide a simple, practical, and above all, a speedy method of separating a partner from the firm, if that ever became necessary for any reason. We find no fault with that approach to severance.
Where the remaining partners in a firm deem it necessary to expel a partner under a no cause expulsion clause in a partnership agreement freely negotiated and entered into, the expelling partners act in “good faith” regardless of motivation if that act does not cause a wrongful withholding of money or property legally due the expelled partner at the time he is expelled.
Lawlis,562 N.E.2d at 442-43.
Some have lamented that Sterling will still be a rich man from this, no matter what. That is true, and the NBA has no way to change that. Sterling must be properly compensated if he were forced to sell the team. But that’s the point. In America, Sterling (like anyone else) is permitted (within the bounds of the law) to say racist and misogynist things and be a generally awful person without anyone taking away property. On the other hand, it appears Sterling agreed to buy a team in a league with an agreement that has a guillotine clause that allows the league to force him to sell. So be it.
Here are five other related points worth noting (at least, I think so), even if they are not as business-law focused. Click below for more.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Business law has a broad overlap with tax, accounting, and finance. Just how much belongs in a law school course is often a challenge to determine. We all have different comfort levels and views on the issue, but incorporating some level of financial literacy is essential. Fortunately, a more detailed discussion of what to include and how to include it is forthcoming. Here's the call:
Call For Papers
AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations
Bringing Numbers into Basic and Advanced Business Associations Courses: How and Why to Teach Accounting, Finance, and Tax
2015 AALS Annual Meeting Washington, DC
Business planners and transactional lawyers know just how much the “number-crunching” disciplines overlap with business law. Even when the law does not require unincorporated business associations and closely held corporations to adopt generally accepted accounting principles, lawyers frequently deal with tax implications in choice of entity, the allocation of ownership interests, and the myriad other planning and dispute resolution circumstances in which accounting comes into play. In practice, unincorporated business association law (as contrasted with corporate law) has tended to be the domain of lawyers with tax and accounting orientation. Yet many law professors still struggle with the reality that their students (and sometimes the professors themselves) are not “numerate” enough to make these important connections. While recognizing the importance of numeracy, the basic course cannot in itself be devoted wholly to primers in accounting, tax, and finance.
The Executive Committee will devote the 2015 annual Section meeting in Washington to the critically important, but much-neglected, topic of effectively incorporating accounting, tax, and finance into courses in the law of business associations. In addition to featuring several invited speakers, we seek speakers (and papers) to address this subject. Within the broad topic, we seek papers dealing with any aspect of incorporating accounting, tax, and finance into the pedagogy of basic or advanced business law courses.
Any full-time faculty member of an AALS member school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper in this area is invited to submit a 1 or 2-page proposal by May 1, 2014 (preferably by April 15, 2014). The Executive Committee will review all submissions and select two papers by May 15, 2014. A very polished draft must be submitted by November 1, 2014. The Executive Committee is exploring publication possibilities, but no commitment on that has been made. All submissions and inquiries should be directed to Jeff Lipshaw, Chair.
Jeffrey M. Lipshaw
Suffolk University Law School
Click here for contact info
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
If you practiced as a transactional attorney before law teaching, chances are that you looked at form agreements provided in treatises, saved on your law firm database, handed to you by partners from past deals, or saved in your own template archives. This is no different from what litigators do either—they look for model existing memos, complaints, document requests, etc. that guide the first draft and let you start somewhere past “zero”. The rapidly changing legal environment and unique needs of each client in each deal limits the shelf life of form agreements and saddles them with all sort of potential downsides if they aren’t used thoughtfully, verified by research, or tailored to the specific deal. This disclaimer aside, I am curious about how we teach students about the role of exemplars, and as a starting point, where to find exemplars. Students and junior attorneys, if not given the right tools to find the best models, will use bad model forms. If you don’t believe me, see what you get when you search for “standard asset purchase agreement”.
This raises the question of where should students, attorneys, law professors wanting to incorporate experiential learning exercise modules into their courses look for these resources.
This post will be the first in a series that will highlight these resources. If you have suggestions for a source, please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will compile a list of sources and link a word document in the final post. If there is interest, I will be happy to update the list over time. For now, the first installment of free, publically available resources. Paid sources will be next.
- Harvard Law School Library Transactional Sources and Tips
- North Carolina Central University Transactional Law Resources
- Emory Exchange for Transactional Teaching Materials
- Georgetown Law Library Transactional Form
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Sitkoff explains why “a mandatory fiduciary core is ... reconcilable with an economic theory of fiduciary law.”
Robert H. Sitkoff recently posted “An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This chapter restates the economic theory of fiduciary law, making several fresh contributions. First, it elaborates on earlier work by clarifying the agency problem that is at the core of all fiduciary relationships. In consequence of this common economic structure, there is a common doctrinal structure that cuts across the application of fiduciary principles in different contexts. However, within this common structure, the particulars of fiduciary obligation vary in accordance with the particulars of the agency problem in the fiduciary relationship at issue. This point explains the purported elusiveness of fiduciary doctrine. It also explains why courts apply fiduciary law both categorically, such as to trustees and (legal) agents, as well as ad hoc to relationships involving a position of trust and confidence that gives rise to an agency problem.
Second, this chapter identifies a functional distinction between primary and subsidiary fiduciary rules. In all fiduciary relationships we find general duties of loyalty and care, typically phrased as standards, which proscribe conflicts of interest and prescribe an objective standard of care. But we also find specific subsidiary fiduciary duties, often phrased as rules, that elaborate on the application of loyalty and care to commonly recurring circumstances in the particular form of fiduciary relationship. Together, the general primary duties of loyalty and care and the specific subsidiary rules provide for governance by a mix of rules and standards that offers the benefits of both while mitigating their respective weaknesses.
Finally, this chapter revisits the puzzle of why fiduciary law includes mandatory rules that cannot be waived in a relationship deemed fiduciary. Committed economic contractarians, such as Easterbrook and Fischel, have had difficulty in explaining why the parties to a fiduciary relationship do not have complete freedom of contract. The answer is that the mandatory core of fiduciary law serves a cautionary and protective function within the fiduciary relationship as well as an external categorization function that clarifies rights for third parties. The existence of a mandatory fiduciary core is thus reconcilable with an economic theory of fiduciary law.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
This paper is a look back, but it seems appropriate for today. Happy holidays, all! Who Owns the Christmas Trees? - The Disposition of Property Used by a Partnership, by Daniel S. Kleinberger. Abstract:
Two partners form an enterprise. One (the K partner) supplies the assets used by the enterprise. The other partner (the L partner) supplies only labor. When the enterprise ends, the partners disagree about how to divide the property used in the partnership business. The K partner wants his or her property returned. The L partner wants his or her share of the business assets. If some of the property has appreciated while in partnership use, the dispute will be especially complicated. How do the partners divide the value of the property as originally brought into the business? Who benefits from the previously unrealized appreciation?
This Article explores the property allocation issues that arise when the members of a K and L partnership lack a dispositive agreement. In such circumstances the default rules should provide clear guidance, and the Uniform Partnership Act (U.P.A.) seeks to do so. Unfortunately, many of the decided cases misapply or distort the U.P.A. As a body, the decided cases point in three different and mutually exclusive directions. Individually, they often ignore basic principles of partnership law.
This Article takes those basic principles as its lodestar and seeks to determine how the law of partnership should analyze a K and L dispute over property disposition. Part II sets the context for the analysis, introducing partnership law as the applicable law. Part III explains the four basic partnership law concepts necessary to a proper analysis of the Christmas tree paradigm. Part IV describes the three different and mutually exclusive ways that courts have applied partnership concepts to evaluate the courts' incompatible approaches.
The analysis presented in Part IV suggests outcomes that some readers may find unfair. Part V confronts the problem of unfairness and tries to determine why courts find K and L property disputes so troublesome. Part V begins by highlighting some of the unbalanced results produced by strict application of partnership law principles. Part V then explores the rationale behind those principles and suggests that courts sometimes disregard the letter of the law in order to serve that underlying, and largely hidden, rationale. Part V next identifies the philosophical and practical problems that arise when courts disregard the clear letter of the law in favor of hidden rationales and instead twist a generally applicable statute in order to avoid reaching a particular unpalatable result. Part V concludes by offering an approach to the Christmas tree problem that substantially alleviates the unfairness problem while remaining faithful to the law. Part VI exemplifies the suggested approach, using concepts developed in previous Parts to resolve correctly the actual Christmas tree case.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
As someone who has focused his research, scholarship, and teaching on business law and energy law, it's long been my argument that energy is the key to long-term prosperity and quality of life. Access to energy is critical, as are sustainable practices to ensure access to energy goes along with, and is not in lieu of, access to clean air and clean water. See, e.g., my article: North Dakota Expertise: A Chance to Lead in Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Hydraulic Fracturing.
As I often do, this morning I visited the Harvard Business Law Review Online to see what topical issues were taking center stage. A quick look reveals that three of the eight articles under the U.S. Business Law heading were energy related. The articles are worth a look. Here's a quick link to each:
The Regulatory Challenge Of Distributed Generation, by David B. Raskin
Investing in U.S. Pipeline Infrastructure: Could the Proposed Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act Spur New Investment?, by Linda E. Carlisle, Daniel A. Hagan & Jane E. Rueger
Why Are Foreign Investments in Domestic Energy Projects Now Under CFIUS Scrutiny?, by Stephen Heifetz & Michael Gershberg
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
A recent study, Who Owns West Virginia? (full report pdf), gives a glimpse into the land ownership in the state. The report finds that much of the state’s private land is "owned by large, mainly absentee corporations, [but] the list of top owners – once dominated by energy, land holding and paper companies – now includes major timber management concerns."
As reported by Ken Ward Jr. in the Charleston Gazette, the report finds that "[n]one of the state's top 10 private landowners is headquartered in West Virginia." Although it is accurate that the top ten owners are not indivdual owners, I will note that not all of the top ten owners are "corporations." There is at least one master limited partnership and one limited liability company (LLC). That may not mean much in the sense of absentee ownership, but it is a doctrinal distinction I maintain is still important.
It's not shocking that these entity owners would be out of state, especially because that was true back in 1974, too, when the last study was done. There are relatively few large entities chartered or headquartered in West Virginia, and it appears that many of the state chartered companies that were around in 1974 have since been acquired by larger, out-of-state entities. Absentee ownership is hardly a new, or even modern, phenomenon in the state. The report notes: "By 1810, as much as 93 percent of land in present day West Virginia was held by absentee owners, more than any other state in the region and likely any other state in the Union." Much of the ownership is still based in the region, though, as many of the large companies holding West Virginia land are based in Virginia.
Although the purchase of West Virginia’s land by timber management companies is perhaps the most interesting finding by investigators for this report, researchers also found:
The top 25 private owners own 17.6 percent of the state’s approximately 13 million private acres.
In six counties, the top ten landowners own at least 50 percent of private land. Of the six, five are located in the southern coalfields – Wyoming, McDowell, Logan, Mingo and Boone. Wyoming County has the highest concentration of ownership of any county.
Not one of the state’s top ten private landowners is headquartered in West Virginia.
Many of the counties – including Harrison, Barbour, Mineral, Lincoln, and Putnam – that had high concentrations of absentee corporate ownership (over 50%) in Miller’s 1974 study did not in this analysis.
Only three corporations that were among the state’s top ten landowners in 1974 remained on that list in 2011. If the sale of MeadWestvaco properties to Plum Creek Timber is completed, only two of the 1974 top owners will still be on the list.
Nationally timberland management concerns control about half of the nation’s timberlands that had been managed by industrial timber companies until the 1980s.
Finally, another potentially important finding is different level of entity ownership by region as related to the minerals beneath the land -- coal and natural gas. The study found:
There are also large geographical disparities in the share of large private landowners in the state. All but one of the counties where the top ten landowners owned at least 50 percent of the private land is in the southern coalfield coalfields - Wyoming, McDowell, Logan, Mingo and Boone. In the Marcellus gas field counties of the northeast and north-central part of the state, the private land ownership is less concentrated and tends to be owned more by individuals than large out-of-state corporations.
The study looked only at surface ownership, and not mineral rights ownership, so it's hard to tell if this gives an accurate look at the level of entity ownership in the Marcellus Shale. Moreover, mineral estates may be owned by private individuals who have leased their rights to entities, so it may be that even more of the state's property rights are effectively controlled by entities. The report indicates more study would be useful here, and I concur.
The takeaway: This report has the potential to be a good starting point for considering how to move the state forward in trying times. As the study notes: "[S]tudying patterns of land ownership in West Virginia through the lens of the 2011 tax data can help us understand our history, make wise policies in the present and better map the future of the state."
I think that's right. To me, a big cavaet is to ensure that the report be used to react to what is and to plan for what could be, rather then getting bogged down in what was or could have been. If people spend their time lamenting that outside corporations own land in the state, they will be missing the opportunity to do something positive for the future, like figuring out what can be done to promote sustainable development in the state by working with the current landowners. I hope the focus is primarily on the latter. There have already been enough missed opportunities.
Friday, November 8, 2013
The Economist has an interesting piece on how “[a] mutation in the way companies are financed and managed will change the distribution of the wealth they create.” You can read the entire article here. A brief excerpt follows.
The new popularity of the [Master Limited Partnership] is part of a larger shift in the way businesses structure themselves that is changing how American capitalism works…. Collectively, distorporations such as the MLPs have a valuation on American markets in excess of $1 trillion. They represent 9% of the number of listed companies and in 2012 they paid out 10% of the dividends; but they took in 28% of the equity raised…. [The] beneficiaries, though, are a select class. Quirks in various investment and tax laws block or limit investing in pass-through structures by ordinary mutual funds, including the benchmark broad index funds, and by many institutions. The result is confusion and the exclusion of a large swathe of Americans from owning the companies hungriest for the capital the markets can provide, and thus from getting the best returns on offer….
Another booming pass-through structure is that of the “business development company” (BDC). These firms raise public equity and debt much like a leveraged fund.… What they all share is an ability to do bank-like business—lending to companies which need money—without bank-like regulatory compliance costs….
Andrew Morriss, of the University of Alabama law school, sees the shift as an entrepreneurial response to a century’s worth of governmental distortions made through taxation and regulation. At the heart of those actions were the ideas set down in “The Modern Corporation and Private Property”, a landmark 1932 study by Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means. As Berle, a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s “brain trust”, would later write, the shift of “two-thirds of the industrial wealth of the country from individual ownership to ownership by the large, publicly financed corporations vitally changes the lives of property owners, the lives of workers and …almost necessarily involves a new form of economic organisation of society.” … Several minor retreats notwithstanding, the government’s role in the publicly listed company has expanded relentlessly ever since.
November 8, 2013 in Business Associations, Books, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, LLCs, Partnership, Securities Regulation, Stefan J. Padfield, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, November 1, 2013
Grant M. Hayden & Matthew T. Bodie have posted “Larry from the Left: An Appreciation” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This essay approaches the scholarship of the late Professor Larry Ribstein from a progressive vantage point. It argues that Ribstein's revolutionary work upended the "nexus of contracts" theory in corporate law and provided a potential alternative to the regulatory state for those who believe in worker empowerment and anti-cronyism. Progressive corporate law scholars should look to Ribstein's scholarship not as a hurdle to overcome, but as a resource to be tapped for insights about constructing a more egalitarian and dynamic economy.