Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Last September, I authored a post here on the BLPB on judicial opinions and related statutes regarding LLCs as non-signatories to LLC operating agreements (simply termed "LLC agreements" in Delaware and a number of other states). I recently posted a draft of an essay to SSRN that includes commentary on that same issue as part of a preliminary exploration of the law on LLC operating agreements as contracts. (Readers may recall that I mentioned this work in a post last month on the Law and Society Association conference.) I am seeking comments on this draft, which is under editorial review at the SMU Law Review as part of a symposium issue of essays in honor of our departed business law colleague, Alan R. Bromberg, who had been an SMU Dedman School of Law faculty member for many years before his death in March 2014. My SSRN abstract for the essay, entitled "The Ties That Bind: LLC Operating Agreements as Binding Commitments," reads as follows:
This essay, written in honor and memory of Professor Alan R. Bromberg as part of a symposium issue of the Southern Methodist University Law Review, is designed to provide preliminary answers to two questions. First: is a limited liability company (“LLC”) operating agreement (now known under Delaware law and in certain other circles as a limited liability company agreement) a contract? And second: should we care either way? These questions arise out of, among other things, a recent bankruptcy court case, In re Denman, 513 B.R. 720, 725 (Bankr. W.D. Tenn. 2014).
The bottom line? An operating agreement may or may not be a common law contract. But that legal categorization may not matter for purposes of simple legal conclusions regarding the force and effect of operating agreements. A state’s LLC law may provide that LLCs are contracts or are to be treated as contracts in general or for specific purposes and may establish the circumstances in which operating agreements are valid, binding, and enforceable. However, in the absence of an applicable statute, the legal conclusion that an operating agreement is or is not a common law contract may matter in legal contexts that depend on the common law of contracts for their rules. In either case, the bar may want to participate in clarifying the status of operating agreements as binding commitments.
Any and all comments on the essay are welcomed. Comments that decrease the length of the essay are especially appreciated, since I am admittedly over the allotted word limit. (These essays are meant to be very short pieces so that many of us can contribute to honoring Alan.) Of course, there's always time to write another, lengthier piece on this topic later, if there's enough more to be said . . . .
Also, I will note that the Association of American Law Schools Section on Agency, Partnership, LLC's and Unincorporated Associations is planning a program on the role of contract in LLCs at the 2016 annual meeting in January. I have been asked to participate, and the panel promises to have some additional members that will attack the embedded issues from a number of interesting angles. Stay tuned for more on that.