Monday, April 18, 2022
Partner Freeze-Outs are Fascinating!
On Friday, I have the honor and pleasure of presenting a continuing legal education session for the Tennessee Bar Association with Dean Matt Lyon from the LMU Duncan School of Law. Our topic? Partner freeze-outs--situations in which a co-venturer in a business recognized as a partnership is excluded from the business by their fellow co-venturers. This exclusion often occurs through or involves the formation of a limited liability entity, typically a corporation or limited liability company, to conduct the operations of the business going forward. That new business entity does not include one of the initial co-venturers. We have titled our session "No Partner Left Behind:Organizing a Limited Liability Entity for a Pre-existing Business Venture."
I truly enjoy the judicial opinions in this area. You probably know some of them. Holmes v. Lerner may be one of the better known cases in this space. But there are others. Some of the claims in these cases, like the claims in Holmes v. Lerner, stem from co-venturers involved in a de facto partnership--a venture recognized under statutory law as a partnership for which there is no express written acknowledgment of partnership. Entrepreneurs beware!
The partnership freeze-out genre of judicial opinions is related to the old chestnut Meinhard v. Salmon, a partnership opportunity case relating to the exclusion of a "coadventurer" from a subsequent leasehold for the property that had been the subject of the co-venturers original joint venture. These judicial opinions also can be connected to the more recent, interesting, and aberrant Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. v. Enter. Prod. Partners, L.P., in which the court finds that “[a]n agreement not to be partners unless certain conditions are met will ordinarily be conclusive on the issue of partnership formation as between the parties,” foreclosing an argument made by one of the parties to the agreement that a partnership was nonetheless formed by conduct under the statutory definition.
It turns out that Matt and I are not the only folks intrigued by these cases. Twenty-three years ago, Frank Gevurtz wrote a nifty article on partner freeze-outs: Franklin A. Gevurtz, Preventing Partnership Freeze-Outs, 40 MERCER L. REV. 535 (1989). Ultimately, Frank focuses in on planning and drafting ideas as a means of avoiding litigation in this area. Like Frank, Matt and I offer lawyering points emanating from what we learned in reviewing judicial opinions of this kind. Of course, these law practice points require that co-venturers be aware of the creation of a partnership in the first place. These cases certainly make for animated discussions in entrepreneurship and other small business settings and are especially great fodder for discussion in a business associations law course.
I very much look forward to the event and the topic. A deep topic but often overlooked.
Posted by: Tom N. | Apr 20, 2022 11:25:07 PM