Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why Do So Many People Assume States Can Disregard Series LLCs?

The Uniform Law Commission is in the process of considering the Limited Liability Company Protected Series Act (f/k/a Series of Unincorporated Business Entities Act), and the final reading is schedule to take place in July 2017.  (Draft is here.) I have been discussing the challenges of Series LLCs with a variety of folks, and it strikes me that a consistent theme about the Series LLC is a concern about asset protection between each LLC in there Series. That is, there is concern that some courts may disregard the separateness of each LLC in the Series and treat the entire Series as a single entity.  I share this concern, but it strikes me that it is a rather outlandish concern that a court would do so without some significant level of fraud or other injustice to warrant whatever the state version of veil piercing would mandate. 

One source goes so far as to state: 

Case law has not been developed on Series LLCs yet, and there is much fear in the professional world that the assets may not be as protected as when the entity is formed. What is clear is that the “corporate formalities” must be carefully followed, such that:

  1. Separate books and records should be maintained for each series;

  2. Creditors need to be made specifically aware of the separate existence of each series; and

  3. The assets of each must be unambiguously identified as belonging to that series.

I don't consider these corporate formalities as at all, given that we're talking about an LLC, but it's true that any Series LLC would be well served to follow the entity formalities we'd expect of any entity seeking to protect limited liability.  Perhaps because the Series LLC as an entity is new, there is a need for heightened vigilance, but I am of the mind these kinds of measures are proper for all entities, if one wants to reduce the likelihood of veil piercing, enterprise liability, or other agency/guarantor concerns.  

Another source warns of the risks of the Series LLC:

The biggest problem with series LLCs is that many states (including California) don’t have series legislation and may choose to ignore the laws of the state where the series was created. That’s because you’re subject to their rules when doing business in their state. The example of the attitude of the California Franchise Tax Board applies to fees, but liability protection is also an issue. Since series LLCs are so new they’ve never been tested by courts, even in the states that permit them. That means there’s no guarantee that limited liability protection will be extended to each series until every state rules on the subject. It’s hard to see how a court would choose to grant this kind of protection inside one entity, and only time will tell if courts will do this. But do you want this type of uncertainty when you are trying to protect your assets?

Again, perhaps valid, but the idea that a state would simply ignore a properly created entity formed in another state is an outrageous proposition, in my mind.  If a state sees fit to define an entity, and such an entity is properly formed, that should be sufficient to follow the entity rules.  That might be different if a state were to write a law that specifically disallows certain kinds of entity structures. (I'd likely have a problem with that, too, but on the merits of such a law.)  And some laws clearly change the analysis, like bankruptcy. But to simply disregard another state's entity structure if the business is properly operating? That's not right.  

Anyway, I agree with those who are cautious about the relative limited liability protections of the Series LLC, especially outside of the eight(?) states that have such laws (Delaware, Nevada, Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Utah). But I do find it disturbing that so many people are comfortable with the idea that courts would (and perhaps should) be so inherently skeptical of a structure chosen by a state legislature that the court would disregard the concept completely.  I am all for requiring entities to be clear which entity is to bound (and I think those doing business with those entities should seek guarantees, co-signers, or other assurances where they want them).  Courts allowing plaintiffs to expand limited liability beyond a Series entity to include other entities, based only on the use of the Series structure, is different. Like haphazard veil piercing, such decisions run the risk of incentivizing careless or ambiguous drafting and give creditors a chance to pursue a windfall in the form of an un-negotiated guarantee. 

As I often remind my students, to argue against the concept of limited liability is a very different thing than arguing that the current law allows one to disregard an entity in a particular circumstance. One asks, "What should be?,"  while the other asks, "What is?"  And to dislike the idea of a Series LLC is very different than suggesting a Series LLC law is invalid.  There, the former says what the law should be,"  while the latter says that what is, is not.  

 

April 11, 2017 in Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Business Law on Valentine's Day

I hope this Valentine's Day is a good one for you, dear readers.  Mine started with a random (minor) dog bite on my morning run, followed by some time with some very nice health care professionals and quite a few less pleasant needles. 

A friend alerted me to the law-related Twitter hashtag #AppellateValentines. Some of them are quite funny.  See, e.g.,

There is also a #BusinessValentines hashtag, which is less creative, but has its moments.  Of course, there was no #BusinessLawValentines, but there should be and there is now. I went first. Join in, if you're so inclined.  

And, of course, I could not resist:

February 14, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oops: Oregon District Court Rule For LLCs that are Defined as Corporations

Here we go again. Oregon Federal District Court has a new rule on the books: 

In diversity actions, any party that is a limited liability corporation (L.L.C.), a limited liability partnership (L.L.P.), or a partnership must, in the disclosure statement required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 7.1, list those states from which the owners/members/partners of the L.L.C., L.L.P., or partnership are citizens. If any owner/member/partner of the L.L.C., L.L.P., or partnership is another L.L.C., L.L.P., or partnership, then the disclosure statement must also list those states from which the owners/members/partners of the L.L.C., L.L.P., or partnership are citizens.
U.S. Dist. Ct. Rules D. Or., Civ LR 7.1-1 (emphasis added). This rules is designed to assist with earlier disclosure to assist in determining diversity jurisdiction and other related issues. As the Practice Tip explains, 
The certification requirements of LR 7.1-1 are broader than those established in Fed. R. Civ. P. 7.1. The Ninth Circuit has held that, “[L]ike a partnership, an LLC is a citizen of every state of which its owners/members/partners are citizens.” Johnson v. Columbia Properties Anchorage, LP, 437 F.3d 894, 899 (9th Cir. 2006). Early state citizenship disclosure will help address jurisdictional issues. Therefore, the disclosure must identify each and every state for which any owner/member/partner is a citizen. The disclosure does not need to include names of any owner/member/partner, nor does it need to indicate the number of owners/members/partners from any particular state.
The problem, of course, is the the rule defines and LLC as a limited liability corporation, while the Ninth Circuit case cited in the Practice Tip was referring to limited liability companies, which are different entities than corporations. The language from Johnson v. Columbia Properties is correct, but the Oregon District Court rule does not include traditional LLCs. It includes corporations, as per the rule's definition of LLC.  Corporations, of course, have shareholders, not members or partners, and for diversity jurisdiction purposes, "a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business." 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (2016).  Shareholders are not part of the equation. Cf. Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 88 (2010). 

For federal law purposes, it appears that the rule has excluded LLCs, despite the intent (and likely specific purpose) of the rule. Interestingly, Oregon law, has extended "unless context requires otherwise" the concept of LLCs to apply to partnership and corporate law. Oregon law provides: 
Unless the context otherwise requires, throughout Oregon Revised Statutes:
(1) Wherever the term “person” is defined to include both a corporation and a partnership, the term “person” shall also include a limited liability company. 
(2) Wherever a section of Oregon Revised Statutes applies to both “partners” and “directors,” the section shall also apply:
(a) In a limited liability company with one or more managers, to the managers of the limited liability company.
(b) In a limited liability company without managers, to the members of the limited liability company.
 (3) Wherever a section of Oregon Revised Statutes applies to both “partners” and “shareholders,” the section shall also apply to members of a limited liability company.
 
Beyond potentially leaving limited liability companies out of the disclosure requirement, the rule could have another effect. The way the rule reads, although it does not change the underlying jurisdictional law, it could be read to change disclosure requirements. Though not the only possible reading, one could certainly read "owner" to include shareholders, which would require a corporation to disclose the states of citizenship of all shareholders.  
 
This is pretty obviously an error in drafting, as the court almost certainly intended to define LLCs as "limited liability companies." See Or. Rev. Stat. § 63.002 (2015).  And the court almost certainly did not intend to compel disclosure of all shareholders' states of citizenship.  Nonetheless, courts generally read statutes for what they say, not for what they meant to say.  This might just get a little interesting.   

January 17, 2017 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Americold & Diversity Jurisdiction

Last spring, in the wake of Justice Scalia's passing, I blogged about Justice Scalia's final business law case: Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Ltd. The oral argument signaled that the Court's preference for a formalistic, bright line test that asked whether the entity involved was an unincorporated entity, in which case the citizenship of its members controlled the question of diversity, or whether it was formed as an corporation, in which a different test would apply.  The Supreme Court issued its unanimous (8-0) opinion in March, 2016 holding that the citizenship of an unincorporated entity depends on the citizenship of all of its members. Because Americold was organized as a real estate investment trust under Maryland law, its shareholders are its members and determine (in this case, preclude) diversity jurisdiction.   

S.I. Strong, the Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at the University of Missouri, has a forthcoming article, Congress and Commercial Trusts: Dealing with Diversity Jurisdiction Post-Americold, forthcoming in Florida Law Review.  The article addresses the corporate constitutional jurisprudential questions of how can and should the Supreme Court treat business entities.  What is the appropriate role of substance and form in business law?  Her article offers a decisive reply:

Commercial trusts are one of the United States’ most important types of business organizations, holding trillions of dollars of assets and operating nationally and internationally as a “mirror image” of the corporation. However, commercial trusts remain underappreciated and undertheorized in comparison to corporations, often as a result of the mistaken perception that commercial trusts are analogous to traditional intergenerational trusts or that corporations reflect the primary or paradigmatic form of business association.

The treatment of commercial trusts reached its nadir in early 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. that the citizenship of a commercial trust should be equated with that of its shareholder-beneficiaries for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the sheer number of shareholder-beneficiaries in most commercial trusts (often amounting to hundreds if not thousands of individuals) typically precludes the parties’ ability to establish complete diversity and thus eliminates the possibility of federal jurisdiction over most commercial trust disputes. As a result, virtually all commercial trust disputes will now be heard in state court, despite their complexity, their impact on matters of national public policy and their effect on the domestic and global economies.

Americold will also result in differential treatment of commercial trusts and corporations for purposes of federal jurisdiction, even though courts and commentators have long recognized the functional equivalence of the two types of business associations. Furthermore, as this research shows, there is no theoretical justification for this type of unequal treatment.

This Article therefore suggests, as a normative proposition, that Congress override Americold and provide commercial trusts with access to federal courts in a manner similar to that enjoyed by corporations. This recommendation is the result of a rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of both the jurisprudential and practical problems created by Americold as a matter of trust law, procedural law and the law of incorporated and unincorporated business associations. The Article identifies two possible Congressional responses to Americold, one involving reliance on minimal diversity, as in cases falling under 28 U.S.C. §§1332(d) and 1369, and the other involving a statutory definition of the citizenship of commercial trusts similar to that used for corporations under 28 U.S.C. §1332(c). In so doing, this Article hopes to place commercial trusts and corporations on an equal footing and avoid the numerous negative externalities generated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Americold.

A special thanks to Professor Strong who read the blog's coverage of Americold and shared her scholarship with me.

-Anne Tucker

September 14, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Litigation, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Private Ordering in the Uncorporation: Modified and Eliminated Fiduciary Duties Are Often the Same Thing

What does it mean to opt out of fiduciary duties?  In follow-up to my co-blogger Joan Heminway's post, Limited Partnership Law: Should Tennessee Follow Delaware's Lead On Fiduciary Duty Private Ordering?, I will go a step further and say all states should follow Delaware's lead on private ordering for non-publicly traded unincorporated business associations. 

Here's why:  At formation, I think all duties between promoters of an unincorporated business association (i.e., not a corporation) are always, to some degree, defined at formation. This is different than the majority of other agency relationships where the expectations of the relationship are more ingrained and less negotiated (think employee-employer relationship).  

As such, I'd make fiduciary duties a fundamental right by statute that can be dropped (expressly) by those forming the entity.  I'd put an additional limit on the ability to drop fiduciary duties: the duties can only be dropped after formation if expressly stated in formation documents (or agreed unanimously later). That is, if you didn't opt out at formation, tell all those who could potentially join the entity how you can change fiduciary duties later. This helps limit some (though not all) freeze-out options, and I think it would encourage investors to check the entity documents closely (as they should).

At formation, the concerns we might have of, for example, an employee without fiduciary duties, are not the same as they are for co-venturers. Those starting an entity have long negotiated what is a breach of the duty of loyalty, for example.  In contrast, I think fiduciary duties in most employer-employee (and similar) relationships reflect the majoritarian default and they facilitate the relationship existing at all. For LLCs and partnership entities, I think that's less clear. Entity formation is relatively rare compared to how often we enter other agency relationships, and they almost always involve significant negotiation (if not planning).  And if they don't, the rules we expect traditionally should be the default. But where the parties talk about it, and they usually do, allowing a more robust sense of freedom of contract has value.  

Even in Delaware, where one can negotiate out of fiduciary duties, there remains the duty of good faith and fair dealing. I think of that as meaning that the parties still have a right to the essence of the contract.  That is, the contract has to mean something.  It has to have had a purpose and potential value at formation, and no party can eliminate that.  But, the parties only have a right to what was bargained for.  As such, what we might traditionally consider a breach of the duty of loyalty could also breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing, but a traditional breach of the duty of loyalty might not be sufficient to find liability where there is expressly no duty of loyalty. Instead, the act must so contradict the purpose of the contract that it rises to the level of a breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing. 

Part of the reason I support this option is that I think case law has already validated it, but in such an inartful manner that it confuses existing doctrine. See, e.g.McConnell v. Hunt Sports Enterprises132 Ohio App. 3d 657, 725 N.E.2d 1193 (Ct. App. 1999) (“An LLC, like a partnership, involves a fiduciary relationship. Normally, the presence of such a relationship would preclude direct competition between members of the company. However, here we have an operating agreement that by its very terms allows members to compete with the business of the company.”).

In closing, I will note that I am all for express provisions that require investors to pay attention at the outset. I don't believe in helping cheaters hide the ball. I just think law that encourages investors and others joining new ventures to pay attention is useful and will provide long-term value to entities.  I don't think that eliminated fiduciary duties at formation raise any more of a risk than we already have with limited or modified fiduciary duties at formation. With the more limited protections described above, freedom of contract should reign. 

September 6, 2016 in Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs, Negotiation, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fiduciary Duty Waiver in Delaware Alternative Entities

Just in case you haven't gotten the message yet:  Delaware law means fiduciary duty freedom of contract for alternative entities.  In May 2016, the Delaware Chancery Court upheld a waiver of fiduciary duties in a master limited partnership.  In Employees Retirement System of the City of St. Louis v. TC Pipelines GP, Inc., Vice Chancellor Glasscock upheld challenges to an interested transaction (sale of a pipeline asset to an affiliated entity) that was reviewed, according to the partnership agreement, by a special committee and found to be fair and reasonable.  The waiver has been described as "ironclad" to give you a sense of how straight forward this decision was. No close call here.  

Vice Chancellor Glasscock's letter opinion starts:

Delaware alternative entity law is explicitly contractual;1 it allows parties to eschew a corporate-style suite of fiduciary duties and rights, and instead to provide for modified versions of such duties and rights—or none at all—by contract. This custom approach can be value enhancing, but only if the parties are held to their bargain. Where equity holders in such entities have provided for such a custom menu of rights and duties by unambiguous contract language, that language must control judicial review of entity transactions, subject only to the cautious application of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Such is the case in the instant matter, which involves a master limited partnership (“MLP”) created with interested transactions involving the general partner as part of its business model.....

The Defendants point out that the [transaction] was approved by a special committee (the “Conflicts Committee”), which approval, in accordance with the partnership agreement, creates a conclusive presumption that the transaction is fair and reasonable to the Partnership. I find that the Conflicts Committee’s approval, in these circumstances, precludes judicial scrutiny of the substance of the transaction and grant the Defendants’ Motion.

Importantly, the contractual safe harbor for interested transactions established a process which, if followed, created a fair and reasonable transaction outside of judicial scrutiny and without recourse by the other partners.  The court found that the partnership agreement precluded a good faith analysis of the Conflicts Committee's review and limited the court's review purely to matters of process.

The relevant portions of the Special Approval provision, importantly, are silent as to good faith.....According to the contractual language, the Special Approval of a duly constituted and fully informed Conflicts Committee is conclusive evidence that such transaction is fair and reasonable, and such approval is, therefore, preclusive of further judicial review. The Plaintiff does not allege that the Conflicts Committee was not duly constituted—that is, directors who are neither security holders nor employees or officers of the General Partner or its affiliates. Nor does the Plaintiff allege that the Conflicts Committee was not fully informed. Thus, the approval here is conclusive that the [transaction] is “fair and reasonable” to TCP. According to the explicit language of the LPA, when a conflicted transaction is deemed “fair and reasonable” by the terms of the agreement, such conflicted transaction is incapable of breaching the LPA.

Get the message? LOUD and CLEAR!

The opinion contains more analysis and excerpts of the relevant portions of partnership agreement.  Look for an excerpt on this case in my ChartaCourse (electronic platform) Business Organizations casebook

-Anne Tucker

July 27, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Delaware, Litigation, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Let Corps Be Corps: Follow-Up on Entity Tax Status

This is just me musing a bit, but in following up my post on how LLCs can choose to “be corporations” for federal tax purposes, meaning they get C corp tax treatment, I was thinking that maybe the IRS could just stop using state-law designations at all.  That is, stop having “corporate” tax treatment at all. 

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

This post deals with the tax code, which means I am in over my head, and because this is tax related, it means the solution is a lot more complicated than this proposal.  But now that the code provisions are not really linked to the state law entity, I think we should try refer to state entities as state entities, and federal tax status with regard to federal tax status.  Under such a code, it would be a little easier for people to understand the concept behind state entity status, and it would make more sense to people that a “C Corp” does mean “publicly traded corporation” (a far-too common misunderstanding).  Thus, we could have C Tax corporations, S Tax LLCs, K Tax LLCs, for example.  We'd know tax status and state-entity status quite simply and we'd separate the concepts. 

A guy can dream, right?

July 13, 2016 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

LLC Member Crimes Not Crimes of the LLC (and LLCs Are Not Corporate Entities)

Last week, a federal court determined that an insurance disclosure that asked about an "applicant's" criminal history did not apply to an LLC member's individual criminal past.  In Jeb Stuart Auction Servs., LLC v. W. Am. Ins. Co., No. 4:14-CV-00047, 2016 WL 3365495, at *1 (W.D. Va. June 16, 2016), the court explained: 

“Question Eight” on the [insurance] application asked, “DURING THE LAST FIVE YEARS (TEN IN RI), HAS ANY APPLICANT BEEN INDICTED FOR OR CONVICTED OF ANY DEGREE OF THE CRIME OF FRAUD, BRIBERY, ARSON OR ANY OTHER ARSON-RELATED CRIME IN CONNECTION WITH THIS OR ANY OTHER PROPERTY?” Hiatt, on behalf of Jeb Stuart (who [sic] was the sole [LLC] applicant for the insurance policy), answered, “No.” Hiatt signed the application and left.

As you might imagine, Hiatt had been convicted of "hiring individuals to wreck cars so that he could receive the proceeds from the applicable insurance policies," and, yep, about a month later, the building burned down.  Id. at *2.

The insurance company cancelled the policy because it claimed Hiatt had lied on the application, and Hiatt sued for the improper cancellation of the policy because he did not lie (he prevailed) and for attorneys fees claiming “the insurer, not acting in good faith, has either denied coverage or failed or refused to make payment to the insured under the policy.” Id. at *3.  Judge Kiser determined that not attorneys' fees were warranted: 

Neither party was able to rely on a case on point regarding the issue of whether questions on an LLC's insurance application asking about criminal history applied to the members of the LLC, to the corporate entity, or to both. Although I believe the answer to that question is clear, I am not aware of any other court being called upon to answer it. Therefore, although it was unsuccessful in asserting its defense to Jeb Stuart's claim, West American's position did present a novel legal question. As such, the final Norman factor weighs in favor of a finding of good faith.
Id. at *5.  I'll buy that, though I think it's a stretch. Would the court have thought this was a close call if an employee signed Amazon or IBM instead of Jeb Stuart? I doubt it.  Maybe the court meant that a small business or single-member LLC makes it a closer call?  Should it?  I don't think so. Suppose Jeb Stuart was the claimant, but the property was under water, so all of the recovery was supposed to go to a bank.  Would this tactic be appropriate then?  I would think not, and it would seem "less close," I suspect. Hopefully, this case answering the question will put this to rest, but I don't love it.  Still, I concede it is a plausible interpretation, but wrong, when put in context. 
 
The Judge explains his thinking, stating that "[p]rimarily, as West American argued, the question of whether an LLC has a prior criminal history is, admittedly, confusing." Id. at *4.  As I just noted, I don't think that's remotely true if it's a large entity.  We care about who gets the payment, not who signs, I think. That is, the question is designed to track incentives, not applicants.  Maybe -- maybe -- this is a harder case if the question were about the "beneficiary" or "real party in interest" and not the "applicant." 
 
The Judge notes, "Criminal laws typically target and punish individuals, and the types of crimes addressed by Question Eight overwhelmingly ensnare individuals, not corporate entities." Id.  I'll buy that.  He continues: "Therefore, although the question, by its terms, applied to the applicant (the LLC), a reasonable person reading Question Eight might interpret it to apply to the individuals that make up the LLC." Id.  Perhaps, but not always. Again, now I worry about the size of the entity.  And who the applicant is.  
 
Judge Kiser finished: "Undoubtedly, that is what West American envisioned when it drafted the application, and Question Eight in particular. This factor weighs in favor of West American."  But we construe ambiguity against the drafter for a reason, right?  Is it clear that's what they meant?  I don't know that it is, especially because this appears to be their standard form, not something applying to just this application. 
 
What's clearly wrong is the discussion of Jeb Stuart as "a single-member limited liability corporation ('LLC')." Id. at *1.  (It's a limited liability company.) As are the statements above (did you think I missed them?) calling LLCs "corporate" entities  at Id. **4-5.  
 
On the facts here, this seems like a reasonable outcome, but I don't like the path this is headed down.  That is, this case suggests that it might be reasonable for a sophisticated entity to argue that because "some people" think something.   Even if they knew (or should have known) better.  Even worse, by conflating LLCs and corporations, this case helps reinforce inaccuracies in what "some people" think.

June 21, 2016 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 13, 2016

From The Big Peach to Music City

This past week, I completed the second leg of my June Scholarship and Teaching Tour.  My time at "Method in the Madness: The Art and Science of Teaching Transactional Law and Skills" at Emory University School of Law last week was two days well spent.  I had a great time talking to attendees about my bylaw drafting module for our transaction simulation course, Representing Enterprises, and listening to others talk about their transactional law and skills teaching.  Great stuff.

This week's portion of my academic tour begins with a teaching whistle-stop at the Nashville School of Law on Friday, continues with attendance (with my husband) at a former student's wedding in Nashville on Saturday evening, and ends (my husband and I hope) with Sunday brunch out with our son (and his girlfriend if she is available).  Specifically, on Friday, I teach BARBRI for four hours in a live lecture.  The topics?  Well, I drew a short straw on that.  I teach agency, unincorporated business associations (including a bit about both extant limited liability statutes in Tennessee), and personal property--all in four hours.  Ugh.  Although I am paid for the lecture and my expenses are covered, I would not have taken (and would not continue to take) this gig if I didn't believe that I could be of some help to students.  These topics--especially agency and partnership law, but also personal property--often are tested on the bar exam.  So, on I press.

I also am completing work this week on the draft article that I will present in Chicago and Seattle on the last two stops of my tour.  I will say more about that article in next week's post.  In the mean time, let me know if you have any suggestions (or good jokes) on the law of agency, partnerships, LLCs, or personal property (e.g., tenancies, gifts, bailments, adverse possession, replevin) for my lecture on Friday . . . .  It's so hard to make these speed-lectures somewhat engaging for the students.  [sigh]

June 13, 2016 in Agency, Conferences, Corporations, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Partnership, Personal Property, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dear California: LLCs are Not Corporations. Or Are They?

California is the back on my short list for the state's inability to successfully differentiate between corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs).  Last week, an "unpublished/noncitable" decision that was published on Westlaw provided a good example.

The opinion states: 

A corporation—including a limited liability corporation—may be served by effecting service on its agent for service of process. (Code Civ. Proc., § 416.10, subd. (a); see also Corp.Code, § 17701.16, subd. (a) [allowing service on limited liability corporations under Code Civ. Proc., § 413.10 et seq.].)7
*12 One of the ways a limited liability corporation can be served is by substituted service. (1 Weil & Brown, Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group 2015) ¶ 4:172, p. 4–26.) This requires that a copy of the summons and complaint be left at the office of the person to be served (or, in some cases, at the mailing address of the person to be served), in the presence of a person who is apparently in charge, “and by thereafter mailing a copy of the summons and complaint by first-class mail, postage prepaid to the person to be served at the place where a copy of the summons and complaint were left.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 415.20, subd. (a).)
City of Fontana v. Bani, LLC, No. E062018, 2016 WL 2864971, at *11-12 (Cal. Ct. App. May 12, 2016).

No, no, no.  First, even in California, an LLC is a "limited liability company." It says so right in the act. Cal. Corp. Code § 17701.01 (West) ("This title may be cited as the California Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act.").

And, yet, I have to admit, if you note the cite to the LLC act, California lawmakers have made this less clear than in other states. Yes, that's right. In California, the LLC Act is part of the California Corporations Code.  Cal. Corp. Code §§ 17701.16 - 17713.13 (West).  For that matter, so are partnerships, under Title 2.  Sigh.   

Would it be so terrible if the Corporations Code were called what it is: the Business Entities Code? As currently structured, LLCs and partnerships are arguably types of corporations under California law, as the above cases suggests. One could argue the headings don't change the meaning or intent of the laws. See Cal. Corp. Code § 6 (West) ("Title, division, part, chapter, article, and section headings contained herein do not in any manner affect the scope, meaning, or intent of the provisions of this code.").  The problem with that is that the code text says otherwise: "This act shall be known as the Corporations Code." Cal. Corp. Code § 1 (West).  

To reinforce that notion, the Code Commission notes from the 2014 main volume explain: 

This code was listed in the appendices of Code Commission reports showing code classification as the “Corporations, Partnerships, and Associations Code.” The 14 syllables of that title appear to make it impractical, but no shorter phrase indicative of the full subject-scope has been found. Therefore, resort has been had to the rhetorical device of synecdoche, and the entire code designated by the name of longest part.

I admit I had to look up synecdoche to be sure I was on the right track, but the term supports, I think, my point that California is treating LLCs and partnerships as corporations (or some subset thereof).  See, for example, this explanation

Synecdoche is a literary device in which a part of something represents the whole or it may use a whole to represent a part.

Synecdoche may also use larger groups to refer to smaller groups or vice versa. It may also call a thing by the name of the material it is made of or it may refer to a thing in a container or packing by the name of that container or packing.

Still, even if it were accurate to says LLCs and partnerships are "types" of corporations under the California code, one thing is still clear: an LLC is a limited liability company, which is, at a minimum, a specific type of "limited liability corporation." 

I suppose I can see how "14 syllables" might be deemed "impractical," but not at the cost of imprecision.  The "Business Entities" -- or even just "Entities" or "Associations" -- Code would seem like a better, more accurate, option.  

Oh well.  At least the court cited the part of the California code for service of an LLC.  That much, they got right.  

May 18, 2016 in Corporate Personality, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Save the Date - Washington & Lee Symposium Honoring Two of Business Law's Greatest Scholars

This is just to give everyone a "heads up" on a symposium being held this fall (Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22) to honor Lyman Johnson and David Millon.  The symposium is being sponsored by the Washington & Lee Law Review (which will publish the papers presented), and I am thrilled to be among the invited speakers.  I will have more news on the symposium and my paper for it as the date draws nearer.  But I wanted everyone to know about this event so that folks could plan accordingly if they want to attend.  I understand Lexington, Virginia is lovely in late October . . . .  Actually, it's always been lovely when I have been up there! And the honorees and contributors are a stellar group (present company notwithstanding).  I hope to see some of you there.

May 10, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

AALS Call for Papers: LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism

At the 2017 AALS annual meeting, January 3-7 in San Francisco, the AALS Sections on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations & Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will hold a joint session on LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism.

In December 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, pledged their personal fortune—then valued at $45 billion—to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a philanthropic effort aimed at “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” But instead of organizing CZI using a traditional charitable structure, the couple organized CZI as a for-profit Delaware LLC. CZI is perhaps the most notable example, but not the only example, of Silicon Valley billionaires exploiting the LLC form to advance philanthropic efforts. But are LLCs and other for-profit business structures compatible with philanthropy? What are the tax, governance, and other policy implications of this new tool of philanthrocapitalism? What happens when LLCs, rather than traditional charitable forms, are used for “philanthropic” purposes?


From the heart of Silicon Valley, the AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations and Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will host a joint program tackling these timely issues. In addition to featuring invited speakers, we seek speakers (and papers) selected from this call.
Any full-time faculty of an AALS member or fee-paid 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 June 1, 2016. The Executive Committees of the Sections will review all submissions and select two papers by July 1, 2016. If selected, a very polished draft must be submitted by November 30, 2016. All submissions and inquiries should be directed to the Chairs of the Sections at the email addresses below:

Mohsen Manesh
Associate Professor
University of Oregon School of Law
mohsen@uoregon.edu

Garry W. Jenkins
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law
Moritz College of Law,State University
jenkins.434@osu.edu 

May 10, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Call for Papers, Nonprofits, Partnership, Private Equity, Social Enterprise, Unincorporated Entities, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Entities Should Ask Before Exercising Citizens United and Hobby Lobby Rights

A recent Vanity Fair article discussing Citizens United is making the rounds. (I saw it on Facebook!)  The article notes:  

It had already been established, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), that anyone has a First Amendment right to spend his or her own money advancing his or her own cause, including a candidacy for political office. Citizens United extended this right to legally created “persons” such as corporations and unions.

I have been giving some more thought to whole “personhood” discussion of late, and my thoughts have taken me back to both Hobby Lobby and Citizens United. What follows is a long blog post that pulls together my thoughts on these two cases in an admittedly not well developed way.  But it's a start (though I really should be grading).  

Continue reading

May 3, 2016 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs, Religion, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Top Five LLC Mistakes of March

March has provided a slate of mistakes as to entity form, focusing (as it almost always does) on limited liability companies (LLCs) and various outlets calling such entities "corporations."  These are not in any particular order, but lists are neat. Enjoy! 

(1 ) Politifact Checks Trump Facts, Forgets to Check Entity Law Facts

In an article on Politifact.com, Donald Trump incorrectly says Virginia winery is the largest on East Coast, which determines that Trump's claims about the size of a winery that his son runs to be false and notes some statements are incorrect. Ironically, the article also claims: 

A legal disclaimer on the winery website says the GOP presidential candidate doesn’t own the winery. The venture is a limited liability corporation, and its owners are not a matter of public record.

Wrong. The winery site says, "Trump Winery is a registered trade name of Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC, which is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their affiliates."  An LLC is still not a corporation. 

(2) Big Bang Theory: Big Brains Don't Know Entity Law

I don't watch the Big Bang Theory, but my colleague at Valparaiso University, Professor Rebecca J. Huss, is a reader of this blog who also cares about precise language with regard to LLCs alerted me to this one.  The story line of the March 10 show (the show can be found here) related to a the creation of a partnership agreement for some of the characters. One thing that is realistic is that the folks think it's a good idea to form an entity and draft contract language without a lawyer.  One character says he has some concerns about the partnership, and another replies with this "joke": "Are you suggesting a limited liability corporation, because I did not LLC that coming." (The offending segment is roughly 14 minutes into the show.) (This was also covered at Kentucky Business Entity Law Blog, here, which noted, "Ughhhh.   LLC ≠ limited liability corporation.  Rather, LLC = limited liability company.") 

(3) Ghost LLCs Masquerading as Corporations

The Washington Post last week ran a story, How ‘ghost corporations’ are funding the 2016 election. The article discusses how entities can be used to shield those backing political candidates. The article states: 

Advocates for stronger campaign-finance enforcement fear there will be even more pop-up limited liability corporations (LLCs) funneling money into independent groups, making it difficult to discern the identities of wealthy players seeking to influence this year’s presidential and congressional contests.

. . . .

Many corporate givers this cycle are well-established hedge funds, energy companies and real estate firms. But a significant share of the money is coming from newly formed LLCs with cryptic names that offer few clues about their backers.

That LLC definition is wrong, and LLC giving is not "corporate" giving. Perhaps political funding via opaque entities is a problem, but we should try to get our entities right.  There may be problems (and solutions) unique to one entity form or another, so this could be more than semantic.  

 

(4) Pass-Through Tax Law Isn't Really About Corporations (mostly)

The Topeka Capital-Journal Editorial Board wrote on March 20: LLC loophole needs plugging: Even some small business owners think the tax exemption should be eliminated.  The editorial is related to a 2012 Kansas law, HB 2117, which eliminated taxes on pass-though entities like LLCs, S corps, partnerships, farms, and sole proprietorships. (So, I admit, S corps are corporation, but they are essentially partnerships for federal tax purposes.)  Even though I agree with some their concerns, the board makes a couple mistakes here when they assert that the bill "was simply an unconditional gift from the state for anyone who has created an entity called a limited liability corporation (LLC)."

First, it assumes that just LLCs get the benefit, which is not true. All pass-though entities benefit.  Second, of course, the "limited liability corporation" is a corporation, not an LLC, and the corporation (other than one chosen to be an S corp) does not get the benefit of the law.  

(5) Court Gets Entity Right, Regulations Not Quite

I'm not one to leave the courts out of this.  Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr., of the United States District Court, Northern Illinois has an incredible resume.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa and a Rhodes Scholar, his credentials are impressive.  In a recent decision, though, his opinion refers to a defendant LLC correctly, but then goes on to say that Treasury Regulations are silent on treatment of "limited liability corporations." Alas, that's not accurate.  Here's the passage: 

It is undisputed that, as of the date of Anderson Bros.' withdrawal from the fund, Anderson Bros. (an Illinois corporation) was 100% owned by Anderson. Anderson therefore had a “controlling interest” in Anderson Bros. 29 U.S.C. § 1.414(c)-2(b)(2)(A). At the same time, Defendant (an Illinois limited liability company) was also solely owned by Anderson. Section 1.414(c)-2 of the Treasury Regulations does not address specifically the treatment of limited liability corporations, and the Board does not address this issue in its brief. According to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), “an LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes * * *, unless it files Form 8832 and affirmatively elects to be treated as a corporation.” IRS, Single Member Limited Liability Companies, https://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Single-Member-Limited-Liability-Companies (last visited Mar. 16, 2016).

Bd. of Trustees of the Auto. Mechanics' Local No. 701 Union & Inustry Pension Fund v. 6516 Ogden Ave., LLC, No. 14-CV-3531, 2016 WL 1043422, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 16, 2016) (emphasis added).

 

March 22, 2016 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Not Have Freedom of Strategic Contracting in LLC Formation?

In my Energy Business: Law & Strategy course, I use Larry A. DiMatteo's article, Strategic Contracting: Contract Law as a Source of Competitive Advantage, 47 Am. Bus. L.J. 727 (2010).  I have been using the article in the class since 2012 (this is the third time I have taught it), and I think it does a great job of providing a theoretical backdrop for practical application.  I teach the article in combination with a one-sided proposed Memorandum of Understanding to help students think about the contracting process and and the long-term implications of what might seem like a small-scale negotiation. I highly recommend the piece.  

In reading the article this time around, though, I was struck by how differently the piece treats limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations and the way concerns about opportunistic behavior are raised in the context of the latter.   In one portion of the article, DiMatteo notes: 

Corporate strategy that fails to take account of the strategic use of law is likely to waste opportunities for competitive advantages. A corporate legal strategy can be used to gain competitive advantages both internally and externally.

I wholeheartedly agree, and this is part of the reason I teach my course.  Although I don't think this is true of just "corporate" strategy, because the same applies to other entities, such as educational institutions, environmental organizations, LLCs, and even governments.  Regular readers will not be surprised that I would choose to start the sentence "entity strategy" instead of "corporate strategy, " but his point is still well taken.  

Later in the piece, Prof. DiMatteo takes the following position with regard to LLCs: 

The freedom of contract paradigm that underlies LLCs allows for broad flexibility in strategically drafting the operating agreement. I will make a distinction here between proper and improper strategic drafting, because a distinction based on legality is insufficient. That is, improper terms may be perfectly legal under some states’ LLC statutes. The argument here is that the freedom of contract construct can lead to contractual abuse, albeit a legally sanctioned abuse. For example, a combination of clauses could be inserted into the operating agreement that strips nonmanager members of all power and protections, such as removal of fiduciary duties relating to the managing member, an indemnification clause to protect the managing member from liability for malfeasance, and a clause providing that the nonmember managers have no right to withdraw or to seek dissolution. These types of provisions may be legal under some statutory schemes, but strict enforcement of these clauses by the managing member would be abusive.

I fail to see why strategic use of law in this context is more problematic than the strategic use of law in other contexts. I do understand and validate concerns about on-going expectations of fiduciary protections related to entities, and that is why, as I have suggested previously, that the lack of fiduciary duties and post-formation changes to fiduciary duties (especially loyalty) should include disclosure and perhaps other structural protections.  (I am less concerned about those forming the entity agreeing to limit or eliminate fiduciary duties because they are agreeing to the option at formation when they can object or walk away.) Still, I don't see any reason that freedom of contract in LLCs is fundamentally different from freedom of contract in any other setting, at least as along as you account for a potential knowledge gap about fiduciary duties. In contrast, I liked how Larry Ribstein framed the question of possible promoter liability for LLCs in New York, where he argued that one could make a complaint that "alleged a misrepresentation which would be actionable without implying a fiduciary duty."

I do agree with Prof. DiMatteo when he says, "In the end, contracts can be a strategic tool in obtaining a competitive advantage, or they can be a tool to support collaboration by minimizing the opportunities for advantage taking." Freedom of contract in LLC formation embraces both of these concepts, too.  I just think that those forming the entity should be the ones to determine which path they will take.  

March 15, 2016 in Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016 American Bar Association LLC Institute

At the request of Tom Rutledge, chair of the American Bar Association Section of Business Law's Committee on LLCs, Partnerships and Unincorporated Entities (that sure is a mouthful!),  I am passing on the following:

 

While the dates are still being resolved, this October, 2016, the Committee of LLCs, Partnerships and Unincorporated Entities will again be sponsoring a two-day LLC Institute in Arlington, Virginia. This program brings together more than 100 high-level practitioners and academics to review a variety of issues involving the law of unincorporated business organizations. In recent years presentations have been made by Joan Heminway, Carter Bishop, Dan Kleinberger, Colin Marks, Michelle Harner and Benjamin Means. I think each will vouch for the quality of the program.

We are actively soliciting proposals for panels. If you are working on something, or if there is something you would like to discuss before an audience that I can guarantee will be “hot”, please let me know.

Thanks.


Tom Rutledge
Thomas.rutledge@skofirm.com

 

Indeed, I can vouch for the program, at which I have presented twice.  There typically is an opportunity presented to write a short piece for Business Law Today, if you are interested.  My contribution from the 2015 LLC Institute (a real page-turner--not) can be found here.

January 26, 2016 in Conferences, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Is Contract King in LLCs? (And What Does Being "King" Mean, Anyway?)

Tomorrow afternoon (as Anne promoted earlier today), I will participate in the annual Association of American Law Schools ("AALS") panel discussion for the Section on Agency, Partnerships, LLCs and Unincorporated Associations.  The panel discussion this year is entitled "Contract is King, But Can It Govern Its Realm?" and focuses on the contractarian aspects of LLC law.  Here's the panel description from the AALS annual meeting program:

This program will explore the role of contract in unincorporated associations, with particular emphasis on the LLC and limited partnership forms. In most jurisdictions, the sparse prescriptions in the default rules imply that the parties will draft an operating agreement that reflects the material points of their bargain. For example, Delaware emphasizes that its policy for LLCs and LPs is to give “maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract.” Modern contract theory, however, raises significant questions about the extent to which any documentation of a transaction can be “complete,” even if sophisticated parties negotiate at arm’s length and attempt to fully reduce their expectations to writing. If complete contracts are indeed an ideal rather than the reality, can legislatures impose default rules (fiduciary or otherwise) to fill the gaps without undermining the benefits of private ordering? To what extent should judges look outside the operating agreement to determine the parties’ intent? Our format will be a lively moderated discussion, and we will invite significantly more audience participation from the outset than attendees may have come to expect from AALS section meetings.

As you may recall (and as Anne reminded us in her earlier post on the AALS conference sessions), we hosted a weblog micro-symposium on issues relating to this topic in anticipation of this annual meeting program back in November, for which the concluding post is here, and my contributions are here and here.

I expect that we will explore through the conference panel (which, as the program description indicates, will engage the audience for much of the time) the nature and status of LLC agreements as contracts and the coexistence of contract with fiduciary duties and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  I hope that we can cover points of theory, policy, doctrine, and practice.  I will be adding some non-Delaware flavor in some areas of the discussion and encouraging folks to contemplate whether LLC operating agreements are contracts or merely treated like contracts for certain LLC law purposes.  Please come join in on the fun if you are attending the conference this year!  I may have more to say after the discussion has concluded . . . .

January 6, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

2016 AALS Section Meetings

The AALS Annual meeting starts today in New York.  The full program is available here, and listed below are two Section meeting announcements of particular interest to business law scholars:

Thursday, January 7th from 1:30 pm – 3:15 pm the SECTION ON AGENCY, PARTNERSHIP, LLC’S AND UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATIONS, COSPONSORED BY TRANSACTIONAL LAW AND SKILLS will meet in the Murray Hill East, Second Floor, New York Hilton Midtown for a program titled:

"Contract is King, But Can It Govern Its Realm?"  

The program will be moderated by Benjamin Means, University of South Carolina School of Law.  Discussants include:

  • Joan M. Heminway, University of Tennessee College of Law
  • Lyman P.Q. Johnson, Washington and Lee University School of Law
  • Mark J. Loewenstein, University of Colorado School of Law
  • Mohsen Manesh, University of Oregon School of Law
  • Sandra K. Miller, Professor, Widener University School of Business Administration, Chester, PA

BLPB hosted an online micro-symposium in advance of the Contract is King meeting.  The wrap up from this robust discussion is available here.

Friday January 8th, from 1:30 pm – 3:15 pm join the SECTION ON BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS AND LAW
AND ECONOMICS JOINT PROGRAM at the Sutton South, Second Floor, New York Hilton Midtown for a program titled:

 "The Corporate Law and Economics Revolution Years Later: The Impact of Economics and Finance Scholarship on Modern Corporate Law".  

The program will be moderated by Usha R. Rodrigues, University of Georgia School of Law, and feature the following speakers:

  • Frank Easterbrook, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Chicago, IL
  • H. Kent Greenfield, Boston College Law School
  • Roberta Romano, Yale Law School
  • Tamara C. Belinfanti, New York Law School
  • Kathryn Judge, Columbia University School of Law
  • K. Sabeel Rahman, Brooklyn Law School

At the conclusion of the program, the officers of the Section on Business Associations would like to honor 13 faculty members
for their mentorship work throughout the year. 

I hope to see many of you in New York soon!

-Anne Tucker

January 6, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Financial Markets, Joan Heminway, Law and Economics, Law School, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

U.S. Courts Called LLCs Corporations About Once a Day in 2015

Some day, I may tire of calling out courts (and others) that refer to limited liability companies (LLCs) as "limited liability corporations, but today is not that day. Looking back on 2015, I thought I'd take a quick look to see who the worst offenders were, starting with the state courts.  I figured I'd start with Delaware.

As a state that is proud of its status as a leader as a key forum of choice for corporations, and Delaware has done well for uncorporations, as well, it seemed logical.  The book Why Corporations Choose Delawarewritten by Lewis S. Black, Jr., and printed and distributed by the Delaware Department of State,  Division of Corporation, explains:

Delaware continues to be the favored state of incorporation for U.S. businesses. Delaware has been preeminent as the place for businesses to incorporate since the early 1900s, and its incorporation business, supplemented by the growth in numbers of such “alternative entities” as limited liability companies, limited partnerships and statutory trusts, continues to grow smartly.

And Delaware does have a generally well-informed and skilled judiciary.  Still, even Delaware is not above calling an LLC a "limited liability corporation." Better than many jurisdictions, Westlaw reports that the state had just three cases in 2015 making that error, and no such mistakes were noted after March 2015.  Not ideal, but not bad. 

Here are some other states I reviewed for 2015 (again, using Westlaw): 

  • Michigan: 0
  • Pennsylvania: 3
  • Ohio: 4
  • Florida: 5
  • Nevada: 6
  • California: 7
  • New York: 7
  • Texas: 8

Overall, state courts called LLCs "corporations" 105 times in 2015.  Federal courts did the same 280 times in 2015.  As such, it works out to just over once a day that some U.S. court is making this mistake.  

Big picture, given the number of cases courts see each year, it may seem that these are small numbers. Not really.  A search of federal courts for the term "limited liability company" turns up 2949 cases from 2015, which suggests that around 10% of cases (9.49%) referring to LLCs in some substantive manner made a reference to a "limited liability corporation." NOTE:  If one searches for "LLC," the number of cases exceeds 10,000 for 2015, but I decided that a court taking the time to spell out "limited liability company" suggested that the entity choice had a heightened relevance to the case.

At the state level, the numbers are a little better.  State courts referred to "limited liability companies" 1691 times in 2015. With 105 cases calling an LLC a corporation, that works out to just over 6% of the time.  Not great, but a substantial improvement.  

I admit this is not a scientific review of the data and I am making some assumptions, but the sheers number do, I think, support the notion that all our courts can do better on this issue. And give state courts credit -- although federal courts are often viewed the more prestigious courts, state courts are holding their own on this issue.  Perhaps state courts are a little more careful because entities are generally (though not always) creatures of state law.

This is not, I am sure, just the courts.  I suspect a lot of these errors come from attorneys who call LLCs corporations, then the court just take their lead.  Still not okay, but I can imagine that some courts just follow the lead of those arguing the cases before them on such issues.  

So, for 2016, I issue a challenge to all U.S. courts and the lawyers who practice in them: let's cut these numbers in half!  (I'd like them to go to zero, but one needs to be somewhat realistic, right?)  

January 5, 2016 in Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, Law Firms, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

International Edition: Can it be an LLC if there are Shareholders?

As I continue my mission to solidify the limited liability company (LLC) as its own entity, and not a corporation or corporate derivative, I have come to realize that U.S.-based distinctions are usually easier than international ones. One challenge we have is that we often try to find direct entity analogies from country to country, when none may exist.  

Case in point: Over at Lexology.com lat week, an article titled Is litigation funding in peril? appeared.  The article states, "In its ruling (KKO 2015:17), the Finnish Supreme Court found that under certain criteria it is possible to hold the shareholders of a limited liability company liable for the company's liabilities." So, if this were a U.S. LLC, we'd know there are no "shareholders" of an LLC.  We have members (or should).  But, I am no expert in Finnish law, but it is different than U.S. law.  According to Wikipedia (that all-knowing source), Osakeyhtiö, abbreviated Oy, means "stock company," thought others sources says it means "limited company" or limited stock company." Nonetheless, the shareholder characterization appears acceptable for a Finnish (but not a U.S.) entity.    

Finnish entities do not break down the same way as U.S. entities (this is not surprising).  Thus, in Finland, there are limited partnerships, limited companies, and public limited companies.  My suspicion is that the Osakeyhtiö is actually more like a corporation, as "the management is provided by the management board," but general parlance is that it is an LLC because of how it translates.  

The Lexology article discusses limited liability companies, but then repeatedly discusses piercing the "corporate" veil and the "corporate structure" of the entities in questions. To draw a direct analogy to U.S. entities, and to try to hold my overseas colleagues to U.S. language, would be unfair. It may be that in a non-U.S. jurisdiction, "limited liability companies" in such an instance means the more general "limited liability entities," and is not intended as a term of art for the LLC. However, there is language that can be employed globally to help make entity distinctions more clear, particularly when talking about general concepts for a more general audience.  Avoiding terms of art where specificity is not intended would be helpful.  

For example, if we talk about a "limited liability veil," we can use that to apply to all limited liability entities.  This is particularly apt when discussing situations where multiple entities are in play, and perhaps we're discussing veil piercing of a partner corporation and its subsidiary LLC.   

Similarly, we can talk about "entity structure," instead of "corporate structure," to ensure we're not assigning specific rules and obligations to the wrong entity type.  

Cross-border entity issues are inherently complex, and understanding how foreign courts will view various business arrangements is always a challenge.  Foreign courts often have to grapple with foreign entities, and must decide how to reconcile the entity choice with domestic law.  I appreciate the challenge, and recognize that there are rarely easy answers. I do think, though, that avoiding specific entity language when more general language will suffice, it's a good idea, because we can avoid inadvertently attaching domestic rules to a foreign entity. 

We use analogies as anchors to help us understand concepts.  That can be good, and it can be helpful. But we must be careful not to overdo it.  Despite some similarities, LLCs are distinct from corporations and LLPs. And the Oy is different than the GmbH or the S.A. or the NV.  Comparisons are inevitable, and often helpful.  But, if we get more specific than we need to, before we need to, we run the risk of framing the question incorrectly and prematurely.  

December 15, 2015 in Corporations, International Business, International Law, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)