Tuesday, May 14, 2019

An Oops In My New Paper: Survey of West Virginia Oil and Gas Law

So, this post is about shameless self-promotion and a cautionary tale.  A while back I was asked to write the West Virginia section of Texas A &M Journal of Property Law's Oil and Gas Survey.  It's a short overview of recent developments, and one of the many perils of the law review process is how long such things take to get to print.  

Even worse than a slow timeline, a miscommunication meant that my final round of edits did not make it into the piece, and there are a couple of errors. The editors were appropriately apologetic, and I know it all happened in good faith.  I take some ownership, too, in that I was not at all demanding about knowing the schedule for the next round of edits or the overall timeline.

Ultimately, despite the (nonsubstantive) errors, I hope the piece will be helpful to some folks. There are some interesting oil and gas cases happening in West Virginia (and around the country), and how they turn out could have a significant impact on the oil and gas business.  

Here's the abstract to my article, which you can find here

This Article summarizes and discusses important recent developments in West Virginia’s oil and gas law, including legislative action and case law. This Article is divided into three Sections. First, West Virginia’s evolution in its approach to fractional mineral owner disputes in the Marcellus Shale. After multiple efforts to pass a forced pooling bill, the state settled instead on a cotenancy solution. Second, West Virginia addressed flat-rate royalties, following two court cases, a legislative response, and a subsequent court challenge to the legislation. Finally, this Article discusses three developments in lease interpretation: (1) what will be deemed “reasonably necessary” for oil and gas development in West Virginia; (2) if implied pooling rights are included in West Virginia leases that are silent on the matter; and (3) whether non-executory and non-participating royalty owners have rights to approve pooling.

May 14, 2019 in Current Affairs, Family Business, Joshua P. Fershee, Law Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

It Is Best to Be Precise When Asking Others to Be Precise (LLC edition)

A recent report and recommendation from a U.S. magistrate recommends that the referring court find that a plaintiff did not provide the facts needed to support taking diversity jurisdiction.  The magistrate is correct, but the recommendation is a little ironic in that it seems to be chiding the plaintiff for a lack of precision, and well, this: 

Here, Peeples' amended complaint contains the bare assertions that the address for Xlibris Publishing is in Bloomington, Indiana, while his address is in Mobile, Alabama. The bare allegation respecting the Defendant is insufficient as it does not identify whether Xlibris is a corporation or, instead, an unincorporated entity such as a limited liability corporation. Moreover, if Xlibris is a corporation, the complaint does not delineate its state(s) of incorporation and the state where it has its principal place of business. See Flintlock Constr. Servs., LLC v. Well-Come Holdings, LLC, 710 F.3d 1221, 1224 (11th Cir. 2013) (“A corporation is considered a citizen of every state in which it has been incorporated and where it has its principal place of business.”). And, if an unincorporated entity such as a limited liability corporation,3 the amended complaint does not allege every state in which each of its members are citizens. See, e.g., Lewis v. Seneff, supra, at *3 (Without the information concerning the citizenship of each limited liability company's membership, Plaintiffs have not shown that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.”).

3 It appears to the undersigned that Xlibris Publishing is a limitedliability corporation. See www.xlibris.com (last visited, April 4, 2019, at 3:30 p.m.) (Xlibris website shows that it is an LLC).

MARIO ANDJUAN PEEPLES, Pl., v. XLIBRIS PUBLISHING, Def.., CA 19-0070-JB-C, 2019 WL 1983817, at *5 (S.D. Ala. Apr. 8, 2019), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. Peeples v. Xlibris Publg., CV 19-0070-JB-C, 2019 WL 1983055 (S.D. Ala. May 3, 2019).
 
In two spots in the above excerpt, the recommendation refers to a "limited liability corporation" when it clearly means "limited liability company" (the latter being used in other sentences in the excerpt).  
 
As I said, the analysis seems correct, despite the incorrect language. Mistakes happen, but still, it shouldn't be that hard to get it right (and the incorrect term showed up twice!).  As evidence, I haven't seen "limited liability corporation" in more than two years on one of my Business Organizations exams, and I haven't seen it yet this year, either.
 
This mission continues.  
 

May 7, 2019 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Department of Health and Human Services Is Trying to Make Me Sick

Okay, not really. But my daily Westlaw search for "limited liability corporation" recently started delivering contract award announcements from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) related to contract awards. DHHS reconds many "business types" for their records, such as "Minority Owned Business" and "For Profit Organization. And now, apparently, "limited liability coroporation" is one of them.  ARRRRRGHH! LLCs are "limited liability companies" and are not corporations.  An internet search shows that there are at least 78 of these DHHS designations out there (and I'll wager there are more).  

Following is an excerpt of one such announcement.  You'll note that, according to the announcement, Seba Professional Services LLC is both a "Partnership or Limited Liability Partnership" and a "Limited Liability Corporation."  Sigh.  Really, they're making my stomach hurt: 

Department of Health and Human Services awarded contract of IGF::CT::IGF PATIENT MESSENGER AND TRANSPORT SERVICES to SEBA PROFESSIONAL SERVICES LLC

Washington: This contract was awarded to seba professional services llc with a potential award amount of $6,117,056. Of this amount, 100% ($6,117,056) has been obligated.
 
Awarding Agency:
Department of Health and Human Services
 
. . . .
 
Recipient:
SEBA PROFESSIONAL SERVICES LLC
. . . .
 
Business Types
Woman Owned Business
Women Owned Small Business
Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business
Minority Owned Business
Black American Owned Business
Partnership or Limited Liability Partnership
Limited Liability Corporation
For Profit Organization
DoT Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
Self-Certified Small Disadvantaged Business
8a Program Participant
 
 

May 2, 2019 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Can A Board's Knowing Violation of the Law Also Be Entirely Fair? How About Moral?

Prof. Justin Pace, Haworth College of Business,  Western Michigan University recently sent me his paper, Rogue Corporations: Unlawful Corporate Conduct and Fiduciary Duty. In it, he discusses Delaware's "per se doctrine where the board directs the corporation to violate the law. A knowing violation of positive law is bad faith, which falls under the duty of loyalty. The business judgment rule will not apply and exculpation will not be available under Section 102(b)(7). The shareholders may not even need to show harm." 

In the paper, he considers this concept from a moral and ethical perspective, which are interesting in their own right, though I remain more interested in the doctrine itself.  The paper is worth a look.  A few comments of my own, after the abstract:

Abstract

On February 28, 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it would no longer sell long guns to 18- to 20-year-olds. On March 8, 2018, Dick’s was sued for violating the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in public accommodations. Dick’s and Walmart were also sued for violating Oregon’s ban on age discrimination. In addition to corporate liability under various state civil rights acts, directors of Dick’s and Walmart face the threat of suit for breaching their fiduciary duties—suits that may be much harder to defend than the more usual breach of fiduciary duty suit.

Delaware corporation law appears to have an underappreciated per se doctrine where the board directs the corporation to violate the law. A knowing violation of positive law is bad faith, which falls under the duty of loyalty. The business judgment rule will not apply and exculpation will not be available under Section 102(b)(7). The shareholders may not even need to show harm.

This paper examines the relevant legal doctrine but also takes a step back to consider what the rule should be from an ethical and a moral standpoint. To do so, rather than apply traditional corporate governance arguments, this paper considers broader moral theories. In addition to the utilitarian calculus that is so ubiquitous in corporate governance scholarship via the law and economics movement, this paper considers the liberalism of both John Rawls and Robert Nozick. But liberalism may seem less persuasive given the rise of illiberalism politically on both the American right and left. Given that, this paper also considers two non-liberal models: one a populist modification of Charles Taylor’s democratic communitarianism and the other Catholic Social Thought.

Unsurprisingly, the proper rule depends on which moral theory is applied. If that theory is liberalism (of either form covered), then a per se approach is troubling. Harm to the corporation must be shown, and either the Delaware legislature or the corporate players, depending on the form of liberalism, must acquiesce to a per se rule. Counterintuitively, it is the per se rule that runs counter to basic democratic norms. It gives the power to litigate in response to harm not to the party harmed but to a third party. Given the divergent results from applying different moral theories, and given the democratic difficulty, the Delaware legislature should clarify the standard. It will likely find that a harsh, per se standard is unjustified.

First, I have always thought that some people read DGCL § 102(b)(7) too literally (or at least broadly).  The statute reads:

(b) In addition to the matters required to be set forth in the certificate of incorporation by subsection (a) of this section, the certificate of incorporation may also contain any or all of the following matters: 

. . . .

(7) A provision eliminating or limiting the personal liability of a director to the corporation or its stockholders for monetary damages for breach of fiduciary duty as a director, provided that such provision shall not eliminate or limit the liability of a director:  (i) For any breach of the director's duty of loyalty to the corporation or its stockholders;  (ii) for acts or omissions not in good faith or which involve intentional misconduct or a knowing violation of law;  (iii) under § 174 of this title;  or (iv) for any transaction from which the director derived an improper personal benefit.  No such provision shall eliminate or limit the liability of a director for any act or omission occurring prior to the date when such provision becomes effective.  All references in this paragraph to a director shall also be deemed to refer to such other person or persons, if any, who, pursuant to a provision of the certificate of incorporation in accordance with § 141(a)of this title, exercise or perform any of the powers or duties otherwise conferred or imposed upon the board of directors by this title.

I have never been one to believe that directors face potential liability for any type of "knowing violation of law."  Anyone who has seen a UPS or FedEx truck in New York City knows that the drivers knowingly park illegally and risk tickets (which they often get) for doing the job. It is a cost of doing business, and I find it hard to believe any court would hold directors liable for such a thing, though directors certainly know (or should) of the practice. That would make for one of the most absurd Caremark-like cases ever, in my view.

Prof. Pace argues in his paper:

A per se standard might prove lucrative. It opens up liability for losses normally insulated by business judgment rule. If Nike loses market share because it made Colin Kaepernick the face of a large marketing campaign, shareholders cannot successfully sue because that decision is protected by the business judgment rule. But if Dick’s Sporting Goods loses market share because it stops selling long guns to 18- to 20-year-olds, shareholders presumably can sue and recover based on that market share, even though civil liability for violating state bars on age discrimination may be negligible.

Perhaps, but I would still think that most courts would likely work around this. First, I think a court could easily calculate damages as the modest civil liability incurred, not the lost market share.  Second, in Dick's Sporting Goods situation, as I observed elsewhere, "it is worth noting that Dick's sales dropped, but profits rose after the decision because the company cut costs by replacing some guns with higher-margin items." If there is no harm, is there a foul? Or maybe better said, it is possible that there is no director liability unless one can show actual harm. 

I will concede that DGCL § 102(b)(7) likely eliminates business judgment rule protection for directors where one can show a knowing violation of the law. However, getting past the business judgment rule does not automatically lead to liability.  It simply allows the court to review the board's decision, but the plaintiff still must show harm. And I am not at all sure one can show harm in the Dick's gun sales circumstance. It is, in my view, entirely fair. I also gather that I am may be in the minority on this one.  But a good conversation, either way.  

April 23, 2019 in Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Petition to Create AALS Section Community Economic Development

My friend and colleague, Priya Baskaran, asked me to post the following, which I am happy to do: 

Over the past year, a critical mass of law school faculty and staff have expressed interest in establishing an AALS Section on Community Economic Development (CED). The proposed section will provide a dynamic, collaborative environment to enhance the scholarship, activism, and direct legal work of CED-focused faculty and professional staff. Notably, the section will help bridge existing gaps between various actors in the CED universe by increasing opportunities for networking and enabling greater synergy and collaboration between scholars and experts in various substantive subjects and disciplines related to CED. Interested faculty and professional staff are invited to read the full petition.

I think this is a great idea, and I will be signing the petition (here).  I have been working with an interdisciplinary group on my campus, WVU Center for Innovation in Gas Research and Utilization (CIGRU). We are a multidisciplinary group of researchers who are experts in science, engineering, environmental, policy, law, and finance. The CIGRU conducts research and services relevant to gas, oil, and chemicals. Our experimental research includes broad areas covering catalysis, reaction engineering, material science, power generation, and gas turbine. The CIGRU undertakes U.S. government- and industry-funded research projects developing clean and renewable energy technologies. Our services include air emission control, regulatory and policy, law and finance relevant to shale gas.

I have been leading CIGRU's Economic and Community Development Group for the past few years.  About 18 months ago, CIGRU earned a five-year seed grant awarded by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, under its Research Challenge Grant program. The WVU gas utilization team includes eight CIGRU researchers, working in partnership with Marshall University, the WVU Energy Institute, the WVU Bureau for Business and Economic Research, the West Virginia Chemical Alliance Zone, Morgantown’s National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research and Innovation Center. So, this idea resonates with me. I think this is a great idea, and it has my support. If you agree, I hope you'll sign on, too.  

For anyone interested, CIRGUs grant announcement and a description of the program are available after the jump. 

Continue reading

April 16, 2019 in Conferences, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Service | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Court Says No Successor Liability Attaches When There Was No Entity

A 2017 opinion related to successor liability just posted to Westlaw.  The case is an EEOC claim "against the Hospital of St. Raphael School of Nurse Anesthesia (“HSR School”) and Anesthesia Associates of New Haven (“AANH”), alleging gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . ." The plaintiff was seeking to join Yale New Haven Hospital (“YNHH”). MARGARITE CONSOLMAGNO v. HOSPITAL OF ST. RAPHAEL SCHOOL OF NURSE ANESTHESIA and ANESTHESIA ASSOCIATES OF NEW HAVEN, P.C., 3:11CV109 (DJS), 2017 WL 10966446, at *1 (D. Conn. Mar. 27, 2017). 

 
 
Apparently, the HSR School trained nurse anesthetists was owned and run by AANH a Connecticut “professional corporation.”  The plaintiff was in the HSR School for about six months before she was dismissed, she claimed, because of " gender discrimination and retaliation for reporting a staff member’s inappropriate sexual conduct." Id. The plaintiff sought to join YNHH because that entity took over running an anesthesia school that had been, in some form, the HSR school.  
 
The successor liability part is rather interesting, though largely devoid of facts from the transaction.  The court ultimately concludes that even though YNHH resumed a similar school, it was not a successor entity and could not be joined.  
 
A challenging part about the case is that entities are described, but often not clearly and with conflicting entity-type language.  For example, although AANH was a "professional corporation," the court explained that " [t]he AANH anesthesiologists, who were also partners in AANH, were responsible for deciding how the HSR School would operate." Id. at *2. One of the doctors was also referred to as an "ownership partner in AANH." Id. at *3. I suspect that anesthesiologists, like lawyers, traditionally created firms that were partnerships, so the principals often call themselves "partners," regardless of their actual entity type. Still, it would be nice for courts to clarify the actual roles of those involved.  
 
Furthermore, in describing the HSR School, the court states, 
 
There is no evidence that the HSR School had an existence that was independent of AANH. In fact, the HSR School was going to cease operating due to the fact that AANH was going to cease operating. The HSR School was not a limited liability corporation (“LLC”), private corporation (“P.C.”), or other legal entity registered with the Connecticut Secretary of State. (Tr. 141-142). There is no evidence that the HSR School had its own assets, bank account, or tax identification number. There is no evidence that the HSR School itself (as opposed to AANH) ever paid anyone for rendering services to the HSR School. There is no evidence that anyone other than AANH had operated the HSR School. Consequently, the Court finds that the predecessor in interest, for the purpose of assessing successor liability, is AANH.
Id. at *6. Ultimately, it appears the court has determined this was some version of an asset purchase  (even though neither party provided a copy of the asset purchase agreement), so the liability stayed with AANH.  This appears to be correct, but it's hard to know without that document.
 
And it is hard to know what the obligations are when additional relevant possible parties are.  The court further determined that the potential successor entities, "YNHH and Yale University are two separate corporate entities with separate governance structures."  Except there is no statement as to what types of entities they are, where they were formed, or anything else other than a reference to testimony from a witness who said YNHH was a separate entity from Yale University.  It would seem to me that some of the related documentation would be valuable, but the court has spoken.  
 
And fair enough. But I have to correct this: "The HSR School was not a limited liability corporation company (“LLC”), private professional corporation (“P.C.”), or other legal entity."  

April 9, 2019 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs, M&A, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Still Howling at the Moon: Not All Businesses Are Corporations!

A new case from the Southern District of Texas recently appeared, and it is yet another case in which the entity type descriptions are, well, flawed. The case opens: 

Before the Court is the defendant’s, Arnold Development Group, LLC (the “defendant”) motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and (3) (Dkt. No. 5), the plaintiff’s, Conesco Industries, LTD.; d/b/a DOKA USA, LTD. (the “plaintiff”) response to the defendant’s motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 18) and the defendant’s reply in support of its motion (Dkt. No. 20).
 . . . .
The plaintiff is a New Jersey limited partnership doing business in Texas and throughout the United States. The defendant is a Missouri limited liability corporation.
CONESCO INDUSTRIES, LTD. d/b/a DOKA USA, LTD., Pl., v. ARNOLD DEVELOPMENT GROUP, LLC, Def.., 4:18-CV-02851, 2019 WL 1430112, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 29, 2019) (emphasis added). 
 
Everybody who reads this blog knew that was coming because I am writing about the case. Arnold Development Group, LLC, is not a limited liability corporation. It is a limited liability company.
 
So, fine, this kind of error is not remarkable, given my numerous posts on the subject. But the opinion, in the discussion section, follows with this gem: 
In the case before the Court, the defendant is a Missouri corporation and the plaintiff is a New Jersey corporation
Id. at *2. Nuh-uh.  The opinion had already established that we're dealing with a Missouri LLC and New Jersey limited partnership. Neither entity is a corporation.  
 
Fortunately, entity status here does not seem to have any clear impact on the personal jurisdiction analysis (this about specific jurisdiction), but still. The case was dismissed without prejudice, which means at least some of this language could come to bear in future versions of the litigation.  Here's hoping that the parties, and the next reviewing court (should there be one), are a little more careful with describing the entity types.  

April 2, 2019 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nike, Avenatti, and the Business Judgment Rule

 
This Michael Avenatti extortion case is fascinating to me. I am not really sure why, other than it seems so absurd.  You may recall Avenatti as the lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against President Trump. He is a big personality and known for being outlandish at times.  
 
According to federal prosecutors, Avenatti tried to extort Nike for millions of dollars because he claimed to have evidence that Nike employees were illegally paying people to help recruit college basketball players.  Apparently, Avenatti believed he would be able to get Nike to pay him millions of dollars in exchange for the evidence. Instead, he ended up with the FBI. 
 
The New York Time reports:
According to people with knowledge of the cases, once Nike heard Mr. Avenatti’s claims, it acted to inform federal officials of the allegation that the company’s employees were paying players. The nature of the discussion with Mr. Avenatti raised the possibility that extortion was taking place.
That is, as soon as Nike was on notice of a potential problem right to the authorities.  How very Allis-Chalmers of them.  I am a fan of that old business judgment rule case, which state “it appears that directors are entitled to rely on the honesty and integrity of their subordinates until something occurs to put them on suspicion that something is wrong. If such occurs and goes unheeded, [only] then liability of the directors might well follow . . . “ Graham v. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co., 41 Del. Ch. 78, 85, 188 A.2d 125, 130 (1963).  So, as soon as Nike was on notice of wrongdoing, they disclosed it to officials.  
 
Nike took action to deal with the problem quickly, rather than acting like Caremark did years ago, when "there was an unconsidered failure of the board to act in circumstances in which due attention would, arguably, have prevented the loss [from fines resulting from bad employee behavior]." By taking action, Nike likely insulates the company (or at least mitigates the harm) it could face from alleged wrongdoing. Rather than engaging in a cover up (and potentially paying to hide the problem), the company acted proactively by disclosing the actions.  
 
Was this Avenatti's first attempt at such a thing?  It seems unlikely one would start with a company like Nike, but maybe the potential payoff seemed worth it. On the other hand, maybe such tactics have worked in other circumstances with smaller companies, so it seemed like a good idea. 
 
Regardless, it seems like Nike handled this wisely. The company recognized the issue before it, and fairly quickly realized that any of the alleged bad behavior was already done.  When such things happen, it is disappointing, to be sure, but it can't be undone.  The only question then is, "how are you going to respond."  For my money, going to the authorities was the right call, even though Nike had to know some bad press was going to follow.  
 
Now, I recognize it is possible that Nike knew about the behavior and reported nothing until Avenatti showed up. It would be interesting to find out, and if so, the analysis of whether they should have reported earlier would be an interesting one.  For example, would the company have faced more or less scrutiny had they reported on their own?  Or did they inoculate themselves to some degree by waiting and having the alleged Nike behavior overshadowed by Avenatti's alleged acts? Tough questions that require the exercise of business judgment. Thank goodness there is a rule about that.  

March 28, 2019 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Clue, LLC Edition: This Time, the Judge (or the Judge's Clerk) Did It

Get this, from a March 15 ruling and order on a motion for summary judgment: 

Greenwich Hotel Limited Partnership [GHLP] is a limited partnership organized under the laws of Connecticut, and is the owner of the Hyatt Regency Greenwich hotel. Answer to First Amended Complaint, dated Dec. 16, 2016 (“Am. Ans.”), ECF NO. 62, at 8. Hyatt Equities, L.L.C. (“Hyatt Equities”) is a limited liability corporation incorporated in Delaware, and is the general partner of Greenwich Hotel Limited Partnership. Id. at 9. The Hyatt Corporation (“Hyatt Corp.”) is a limited liability corporation incorporated in Delaware, and is the agent of Greenwich Hotel Limited Partnership. Id. at 9.

Benavidez v. Greenwich Hotel LP, 3:16-CV-191 (VAB), 2019 WL 1230357, at *1 (D. Conn. Mar. 15, 2019). 
 
Once more, for the people in back: LLCs are "limited liability companies," not "limited liability corporations."As such, LLCs are not "incorporated." LLCs are formed or organized. In addition, corporations are entities that provide shareholders limited liability, but they are generally not referred to as "limited liability corporations" because they might be confused with a separate and distinct entity type, the LLC.  
 
Whenever I read a case with this kind of language, I wonder how it happened.  Sometimes, like today, I go to the docket (thanks, Bloomberg Law) to see if the source of the wrongdoing (evil doing) was the party/lawyer or the judge/judge's clerk.  This time, it's pretty clear the lawyer got it right.  The case made it easy, as the ruling cited to the Answer to First Amended Complaint, which I pulled.  Here's how the lawyer's answer framed these "facts": 

"Upon information and belief, defendant Hyatt Equities is a limited liability company organized under the laws of the State of Delaware, and is the general partner of GHLP.

. . . .

Upon information and belief, defendant Hyatt Corporation is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware and is the agent of GHLP."

Benavidez v. Greenwich Hotel LP, 3:16-CV-191, Answer to First Amended Complaint, dated Dec. 16, 2016 (“Am. Ans.”), ECF NO. 62, at 9. This is all properly stated, but somehow it didn't translate to the ruling and order.  

Kudos to the filing attorneys on getting it right. I wonder if this is something that can be corrected? One would hope.  Okay, at least I hope so. 

March 20, 2019 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

LLCs Are Not Corporations, Spring Break Edition

It is Spring Break at WVU, so I am using this time to finish some paper edits and catch up on my email. Last week, I got an email about a recent case from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It is a headache-inducing opinion that continues the trend of careless language related to limited liability companies (LLCs). 

The opinion is a civil procedure case (at this point) regarding whether service of process was effective for two defendants, one a corporation and the other an LLC.  The parties at issue, (collectively, “Defendants”) are: (1) Ditech Financial, LLC f/k/a Green Tree Servicing, LLC (“Ditech Financial”) and (2) Ditech Holding Corporation f/k/a Walter Investment Management Corp.’s (“Ditech Holding”). The court notes that it is unclear whether there is diversity jurisdiction, because

“the documents submitted by Defendants with their motion to dismiss suggest that there may be diversity of citizenship in this case. See [12-1, at 2 (stating Ditech Holding is a Maryland corporation with a principal office in Pennsylvania) ]; [12-1, at 2 (stating Ditech Financial is a Delaware limited liability corporation with a principal office in Pennsylvania) ].”

Clayborn v. Walter Investment Management Corp., No. 18-CV-3452, 2019 WL 1044331, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 5, 2019) (emphasis added).  

Why do courts insist on telling us the state of LLC formation and principal place of business, when that is irrelevant as to jurisdiction for an LLC?  Hmm. I supposed that fact that courts keeping calling LLCs “corporations” might have something to do with it.  The court does seem to know the rule for LLCs is different than the one for corporations, noting that “Plaintiff has not pled or provided the Court with any information regarding the citizenship of each member of Ditech Financial LLC. “ Id.

Despite this apparent knowledge, the court goes on to say:

Under Illinois law, “a private corporation may be served by (1) leaving a copy of the process with its registered agent or any officer or agent of the corporation found anywhere in the State; or (2) in any other manner now or hereafter permitted by law.” 75 ILCS 5/2-204. At least one court to consider the issue has concluded that Illinois state law does not allow service of a summons on a corporation via certified mail. Ward v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, 2013 WL 5676478, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 18, 2013); see also 24 Illinois Jurisprudence: Civil Procedure § 2:20; 13 Ill. Law and Prac. Corporations § 381. Plaintiff has not cited, nor has the Court located, any support for the proposition that a summons and complaint sent by certified mail constitutes one of the “other manner[s] now or hereafter permitted by law” to effectuate service. Consequently, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not properly served Ditech Holding under Illinois law, and therefore cannot have served Ditech Financial.2 [see below]

Id. Now the case gets more confusing.  Note that last line above: the court implies that proper service of the corporate parent may have been sufficient to serve the LLC, too. Footnote 2 of the opinion properly clarifies this, though the court then provides another baffling tidbit.

Footnote 2 provides:

Even if Plaintiff had properly served Ditech Holding, it would not have properly effectuated service upon Ditech Financial. Ditech Financial appears to be a limited liability company.[1]; [12]. Under Illinois law, service on a limited liability company is governed by section 1–50 of the Limited Liability Company Act. 805 ILCS 180/1–50John Isfan Construction, Inc. v. Longwood Towers, LLC, 2 N.E.3d 510, 517–18 (Ill. App. Ct. 2016). Under section 1–50 of the Limited Liability Company Act, a plaintiff may only serve process upon a limited liability company by serving “the registered agent appointed by the limited liability company or upon the Secretary of State.” Pickens v. Aahmes Temple #132, LLC, 104 N.E.3d 507, 514 (Ill. App. Ct. 2018) (quoting 805 ILCS 180/1–50(a)). To properly serve Ditech Financial, Plaintiff would have had to deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to Ditech Financial’s registered agent in Illinois: CT Corporation System. [12, at 5.]

The court had already stated the Ditech Financial was an LLC, though it had called it a “limited liability corporation.” Is the court unclear about the entity type?  If entity type is in question, it would seem worthy of note in the body of the opinion. The court properly cites to the LLC Act, but it inconclusive as to whether Ditech Financial is, in fact, an LLC.    

To make matters worse, the court repeats, in footnote 3, its earlier mistake as to  what an LLC really is:

Service on a limited liability corporation, such as Ditech Financial, must be effectuated in the same manner as service on a corporation such as Ditech Holding. See, e.g., Grieb v. JNP Foods, Inc., 2016 WL 8716262, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2016) (evaluating the effectiveness of service of process on a limited liability company under Pa. R. Civ. P. 424).

The court ultimately dismisses the claim without prejudice, which seems proper.  But the rest of this? Sigh. If you need me, I’ll be the one in back banging his head on the table. image from media.giphy.com

March 12, 2019 in Agency, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Quick Take on Polsky's Explaining Choice-of-Entity Decisions by Silicon Valley Start-Ups

Gregg D. Polsky, University of  Georgia Law, recently posted his paper, Explaining Choice-of-Entity Decisions by Silicon Valley Start-Ups. It is an interesting read and worth a look. H/T Tax Prof Blog.  Following the abstract, I have a few initial thoughts:

Perhaps the most fundamental role of a business lawyer is to recommend the optimal entity choice for nascent business enterprises. Nevertheless, even in 2018, the choice-of-entity analysis remains highly muddled. Most business lawyers across the United States consistently recommend flow-through entities, such as limited liability companies and S corporations, to their clients. In contrast, a discrete group of highly sophisticated business lawyers, those who advise start-ups in Silicon Valley and other hotbeds of start-up activity, prefer C corporations.

Prior commentary has described and tried to explain this paradox without finding an adequate explanation. These commentators have noted a host of superficially plausible explanations, all of which they ultimately conclude are not wholly persuasive. The puzzle therefore remains.

This Article attempts to finally solve the puzzle by examining two factors that have been either vastly underappreciated or completely ignored in the existing literature. First, while previous commentators have briefly noted that flow-through structures are more complex and administratively burdensome, they did not fully appreciate the source, nature, and extent of these problems. In the unique start-up context, the complications of flow-through structures are exponentially more problematic, to the point where widespread adoption of flow-through entities is completely impractical. Second, the literature has not appreciated the effect of perplexing, yet pervasive, tax asset valuation problems in the public company context. The conventional wisdom is that tax assets are ignored or severely undervalued in public company stock valuations. In theory, the most significant benefit of flow-through status for start-ups is that it can result in the creation of valuable tax assets upon exit. However, the conventional wisdom makes this moot when the exit is through an initial public offering or sale to a public company, which are the desired types of exits for start-ups. The result is that the most significant benefit of using a flow- through is eliminated because of the tax asset pricing problem. Accordingly, while the costs of flow-through structures are far higher than have been appreciated, the benefits of these structures are much smaller than they appear.

Before commenting, let me be clear: I am not an expert in tax or in start-up entities, so my take on this falls much more from the perspective of what Polsky calls "main street businesses." I am merely an interested reader, and this is my first take on his interesting paper. 

To start, Polsky distinguishes "tax partnerships" from "C Corporations."  I know this is the conventional wisdom, but I still dislike the entity dissonance this creates.  Polsky explains: 

Tax partnerships generally include all state law entities other than corporations. Thus, general and limited partnerships, LLCs, LLPs, and LLLPs are all partnerships for tax purposes. C corporations include state law corporations and other business entities that affirmatively elect corporate status. Typically, a new business will often need to choose between being a state-law LLC taxed as a partnership or a state-law corporation taxed as a C corporation. The state law consequences of each are nearly identical, but the tax distinctions are vast.

 As I have written previously, I'd much rather see the state-level entity decoupled from the tax code, such that 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

As Dinky Bosetti once said, "It's good to want things." 

Anyway, as one who focuses on entity choice from (mostly) the non-tax side, I dispute the idea that "[t]he state law consequences of each [entity] are nearly identical, but the tax distinctions are vast."  From governance to fiduciary duties to creditor relationships to basic operations, I think there are significant differences (and potential consequences) to entity choice beyond tax implications. 

 I will also quibble with Polsky's statement that "public companies are taxed as C corporations."  He is right, of course, that the default rule is that "a publicly traded partnership shall be treated as a corporation." I.R.C. § 7704(a). But, in addition to Business Organizations, I teach Energy Law, where we encounter Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), which are publicly traded pass-through entities. See id. § 7704(c)-(d).

Polsky notes that "while an initial choice of entity decision can in theory be changed, it is generally too costly from a tax perspective to convert from a corporation to a partnership after a start-up begins to show promise."  This is why those of us not advising VC start-ups generally would choose the LLC, if it's a close call. If the entity needs to be taxed a C corp, we can convert.  If it is better served as an LLC, and the entity has appreciated in value, converting from a C corp to an LLC is costly.  Nonetheless, Polsky explains for companies planning to go public or be sold to a public entity, the LLC will convert before sale so that the LLC and  C Corp end up in roughly the same place:  

The differences are (1) the LLC’s pre-IPO losses flowed through to its owners while the corporation’s losses were trapped, but as discussed above this benefit is much smaller than it appears due to the presence of tax-indifferent ownership and the passive activity rules, (2) the LLC resulted in additional administrative, transactional, and compliance complexity (including the utilization of a blocker corporation in the ownership structure), and (3) the LLC required a restructuring on the eve of the IPO. All things considered, it is not surprising that corporate classification was the preferred approach for start-ups.

This is an interesting insight. My understanding is that the ability pass-through pre-IPO losses were significant to at least a notable portion of investors. Polsky's paper suggests this is not as significant as it seems, as many of the benefits are eroded for a variety of reasons in these start ups.  In addition, he notes a variety of LLC complexities for the start-up world that are not as prevalent for main street businesses. As a general matter, for traditional businesses, the corporate form comes with more mandatory obligations and rules that make the LLC the less-intensive choice.  Not so, it appears, for VC start-ups.  

 I need to spend some more time with it, and maybe I'll have some more thoughts after I do.  If you're interested in this sort of thing, I recommend taking a look.

March 5, 2019 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Can You Exclude Experts In Criminal Cases Because They Are "Partners" in the Same LLC?

Westlaw recently posted an interesting Massachusetts case at the intersection of criminal law and business law.  Massachusetts (the Commonwealth) sought to commit a defendant as a sexually dangerous person. Commonwealth v. Baxter, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 587, 116 N.E.3d 54, 56 (2018). The defendant was (at the time) an inmate because of a probation violation related to offenses of rape of a child and other crimes.  The Commonwealth retained Mark Schaefer, Ph.D., for an expert opinion, and Dr. Schaefer concluded that the defendant was, under state law, a sexually dangerous person. The hearing judge found probable cause to think the defendant was a sexually dangerous person and had him temporarily committed for examination by two qualified examiners, as required by law. Dr. Joss determined that the defendant was sexually dangerous, and Dr. Rouse Weir determined he was not.

Here's where the business law part comes in: 

After the reports of the qualified examiners were submitted to the court, the defendant moved to exclude Dr. Joss from providing evidence at trial, or in the alternative, to appoint a new qualified examiner to evaluate the defendant. As grounds therefor, the defendant alleged that Dr. Joss and Dr. Schaefer were both among six “member/partners in Psychological Consulting Services (‘PCS’), a limited liability corporation [LLC] based in Salem, Massachusetts.” He argued that the members of the LLC have a fiduciary duty of loyalty to the company and are necessarily “dedicated to [its] financial and professional success.” Because Dr. Schaefer and Dr. Joss were “intertwined both professionally and financially,” through their partnership in PCS, the defendant claimed that their relationship “create[d] a conflict of interest and raise[d] a genuine issue of Dr. Joss's impartiality in his role as a [qualified examiner].” The defendant offered no affidavit in support of his motion, and did not request an evidentiary hearing.

Commonwealth v. Baxter, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 587, 116 N.E.3d 54, 56 (2018) (emphasis added).  A substitute expert was substituted for Dr. Joss, and that expert determined that defendant was not sexually dangerous, and the Commonwealth appealed. 
 
In addition to the obvious error of calling an LLC a corporation (this is an error was in defendants allegations) and LLC members "partners", there is more here.  
 
The court noted that the expert reported was not admitted in the lower court "based on 'the appearance of an inappropriate and avoidable conflict,'” stating further the lower court judge even stated expressly, "This isn't about actual bias."  The court then states that "where a party seeks to disqualify an attorney for a conflict of interest, the mere appearance of impropriety without attendant ethical violations is insufficient to support an order of disqualification." The defendant was arguing that the "partnership" (meaning membership in the LLC) worked to incentivize Dr. Joss to have the same conclusion as Dr. Schaefer so there would be no "public perception" that Dr. Schaefer was “proven wrong.” Id.
 
The court then explains that this is not a situation where the "reliability or validity" of the expert's methods or experience were in question. As such, "In the absence of evidence suggesting that the reliability of the witness's testimony is in doubt or that the witness is under an actual conflict of interest, the remedy for the defendant's concerns is in forceful cross-examination and argument, not in exclusion." Id. at 59. 

This is interesting to me.  It seems to me this is not like traditional attorney conflicts, where we want to impute knowledge of one attorney to another in the same firm because the knowledge of the first attorney could harm the client of the second.  This case is more analogous to getting a second opinion from a doctor in the same practice (or maybe network). It's possible that the second doctor could be influenced by the first, but it's not clearly the case. 
 
That said, I think there is something to the idea that members of a firm might have a bias in favor of the other members of the firm. But I appreciate the court's point that it needs to be more than a mere association of the doctors.  The fiduciary duty claim here fails, in my view, without more because there is no showing that the firm benefits from a particular outcome. That is, in any given case, multiple qualified experts can come to different conclusions (as this case makes clear) and that's plainly acceptable.  
 
Separately, this case also underscores how close a call such things are. Various experts came to different conclusions, and to some degree, at least in this case, the luck of the draw (of experts) is outcome determinative for both the Commonwealth and the defendant. I am sure there are cases where that's less true, in favor of either side, but I suspect it's close a lot of the time.  
 
Ultimately, this seems like the court got the rule right for future cases, though I am also not entirely clear why the order of discharge cannot stand. That is, it seems to me that just because the lower court ordered another expert review, there is no showing that the replacement expert was somehow not qualified or proper in their report. At least to the extent the standard was unclear, I might have been inclined to let the prior decision stand because I'd apply the same standard of review to all the experts in the case before excluding their work.  Perhaps the reviewing court was concerned that the lower court was expert shopping or something similar, but that's not clear.  Regardless, it's usually interesting when entity law works its way into criminal law. 


 

February 26, 2019 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

New Paper: Business Entities as Skeleton Keys

Christopher G. Bradley at University of Kentucky College of Law has posted his paper, Business Entities as Skeleton Keys.  The paper was also selected for the 2019 AALS Section on Agency, Partnership, LLCs and Unincorporated Associations program, Respecting the Entity: The LLC Grows Up.  

Chris notes the use of business entities to accomplish goals not attainable previously and the use of entities "to accomplish customized transactions and evade legal restrictions that would otherwise prevent them."  His observations and insights are good ones, and his paper is definitely worth the read.  I can't help but think that some of this is occurring more because of an increasing comfort with entities and a willingness to engage in creative transactions. We're seeing in beyond the use of entities, too, with the rise of derivatives over the last 20 or so years, not to mention cryptocurrencies.  Anyway,  it's a good paper and I recommend it. 

Here's the abstract:

This Article identifies the increasingly important phenomenon of what I term “skeleton key business entities” and discusses the ramifications of their rise. Modern business entities, such as LLCs, are increasingly created and deployed to accomplish customized transactions and evade legal restrictions that would otherwise prevent them. Rather than acting as traditional businesses, such entities are tools, or “skeleton keys,” used to open “locked doors” presented by existing bodies of law, including contract, property, bankruptcy, copyright, tax, national security, and even election law.

The Article centers on the example of the “Artist’s Contract,” a fascinating 1971 project, in which artists sought to retain rights in artworks they sold—to obtain a percentage of future appreciation in value, to exhibit the work upon request, and so on. As prior scholarship has noted, the transaction contemplated by the Artist’s Contract could not have been accomplished in regular contract form due to rules concerning privity, servitudes on chattels, and the first sale doctrine, among other things. But this no longer remains true. The emergence of modern business entity law provides the tools—i.e., skeleton key business entities—to “solve” all of these legal problems and allow for bespoke transactions such as those desired by the artists.

The rise of skeleton key business entities may unsettle numerous other bodies of law. They may bring efficiencies but may undermine important policies. After providing a range of examples, I suggest that scholars—including those outside the business and commercial law realm—should turn renewed attention to the remarkable capacities of these flexible, inexpensive, and surprisingly potent transactional tools. We should consider if it makes sense to force parties pursuing newly enabled forms of commerce to bear the costs of filtering transactions through business entities; or alternatively, which traditional doctrines should bind modern entities just as they bind parties outside of those forms.

February 19, 2019 in Contracts, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Conference Announcement -- Artificial Intelligence: Thinking About Law, Law Practice, and Legal Education

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE:

Thinking About Law, Law Practice, and Legal Education

Hosted by the Duquesne University School of Law

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Friday & Saturday, April 26-27, 2019

Developments in artificial intelligence are changing virtually all aspects of our world, ranging from autonomous vehicles to robotic surgery, and from smartphones to smart speakers.  Lawyers, legal educators, and policymakers are already experiencing the effects of computers that aid and, in some cases, replace the often-tedious work done by lawyers and other members of society.  Law school graduates will need to understand how intelligent systems can enhance and streamline the work that they do, and how their careers may be changed in the future.  Furthermore, artificial intelligence technology will likely call for greater government oversight, result in new laws, and trigger litigation. 

This two-day conference will feature presentations by educators, practitioners, policymakers, and computer scientists that will demonstrate how the development of artificial intelligence is affecting society, the law, the legal profession, and legal education.   The Duquesne Law Review will dedicate space in its Winter 2019 symposium issue to publishing papers from this conference. 

Presenters & Agenda, Day One (Law and Law Practice):

  • Dean Alderucci (Carnegie Mellon Univ.): Customized Artificial Intelligence Techniques for the Patent Field
  • Kevin Ashley (Univ. of Pittsburgh): Connecting Case Texts and Computational Models of Legal Reasoning
  • Kristen Baginski (Lexis): Lexis Advance and the Use of AI and Analytics: A Brief Overview of Recent and Upcoming AI and Analytic Enhancements to the Lexis Advance Platform
  • Kishor Dere (Indian Society of International Law): Role of Artificial Intelligence in Predicting the Speed and Results of Judicial Decision-Making
  • Tabrez Y. Ebrahim (California Western Univ.): Autonomous Vehicles Ethics & Law: An Artificial Intelligence Trolley Problem
  • Brian S. Haney (Martian Technologies): The Optimal Agent: The Future of Autonomous Vehicles & Liability Theory
  • Patrick Juola (Duquesne Univ.): Specificity and Sensitivity in Discovery: What Artificial Intelligence Can Offer
  • Ganes Kesari (Gramener, Inc.): Smart Contract Risk Identification with AI
  • Timothy Lau, Esq. (Federal Judicial Center): Educating Federal Judges on AI
  • Oliver Round, Esq., Seema Phekoo, Esq., & Kyle Johnson (BNY Mellon), & Scott Curtis (Deloitte LLP): Practical Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Corporate Legal Departments
  • Emile Loza de Siles, Esq. (Technology & Cybersecurity Law Group): Algorithmic Justice: A New Proposal Toward the Identification and Reduction of Discriminatory Bias in Artificial Intelligence Systems
  • Igor Vuletić (Josip Juraj Strossmayer Univ.): Criminal Law Facing Challenges of Autonomous Technology: Who Is Liable for a Traffic Accident Caused by an Autonomous Vehicle?

Presenters & Agenda, Day Two (Legal Education):

  • Dionne E. Anthon, Prof. Anna P. Hemingway, & Prof. Amanda Sholtis (Widener Law Commonwealth): Practice-Ready Millennials: Technology Training for Efficient and Effective Communication
  • Jamie J. Baker (Texas Tech Univ.): Legal Research and The Duty of Technology Competence: Regulating Algorithms in Law
  • Randy J. Diamond (Univ. of Missouri): Technology Skills for Lawyers
  • Kristi Gedid (Mylan), Virginia L. Zaccari (Duquesne Univ.), & Kevin Miller (LegalSifter): How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming the Legal Sector
  • Emily Janoski-Haehlen & Librarian Sarah Starnes (Univ. of Akron): From AI to IoT: Using Legal Innovations to Teach Legal Technology Competency Across the Curriculum
  • Kate Norton (Duquesne Univ.): Artificial Intelligence as a Path to Closing the Justice Gap
  • Julie Oseid (Univ. of St. Thomas), Prof. Melissa Love Koenig (Marquette Univ.), & Amy Vorenberg (Univ. of New Hampshire): OK Google, Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Human Lawyering?
  • Teresa Godwin Phelps (American Univ.) & Richard B. Phelps (Broadcast Media):“Alexa, Write a Memo”: The Promise and Challenges of AI and Legal Writing
  • James B. Schreiber & Prof. Ashley London (Duquesne Univ.): Considerations Surrounding the Data Science World We Are In
  • Drew Simshaw (Georgetown Univ.): Teaching Legal Research and Writing in an Era of Artificial Intelligence

Conference Registration Fees: 

  • Presenters and Duquesne faculty – Free
  • Other registrants with a full-time academic or government agency affiliation - $50 per day
  • All others, including attorneys seeking CLE credits -- $90 per day (yielding three hours of CLE credit each day)

Duquesne will provide free on-site parking to conference attendees. A continental breakfast, snacks, and lunch will be provided each day, and a conference-closing reception will take place in the Bridget and Alfred Peláez Legal Writing Center, the home of Duquesne’s Legal Research and Writing Program.

Pittsburgh is an easy drive or short flight from many cities.  Duquesne has arranged for blocks of discounted rooms at two hotels near to campus, within walking distance of the law school and downtown Pittsburgh. Attendees can enjoy Pittsburgh area attractions, including our architectural treasures, museums, art collections, shopping, and world-class professional sports teams.

 

For more information, and to complete the online registration for the conference and hotels, please visit https://www.law.duq.edu/news/artificial-intelligence-conference-april-26-27th-2019. Hotel registration will close soon, so please make your reservations now.

February 19, 2019 in Conferences, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Vague Operating Agreement or Not, LLCs are Not Limited Partnerships or Corporations

Sometimes, LLC cases are a mess. It is often hard to tell whether the court is misstating something, whether the LLCs (and their counsel) are just sloppy, or both.  My money, most of the time is on "both." 

Consider this recent Louisiana opinion (my comments inserted): 

The defendant, Riverside Drive Partners, LLC (“Riverside”) appeals the district court judgment denying its motion for a new trial related to its order of January 8, 2018, dismissing all pending claims against three parties in this multiparty litigation: (1) CCNO McDonough 16, LLC (“CCNO”); (2) R4 MCNO Acquisition LLC (“R4”); and (3) Joseph A. Stebbins, II. After review of the record in light of the applicable law and arguments of the parties, the district court judgment is affirmed. . . .

This litigation arises out of a dispute among partners in a real estate development related to the conversion of an existing historic building into an affordable housing complex. Pursuant to the Operating Agreement signed on September 30, 2013, McDonough 16, LLC, was formed to acquire, rehabilitate, and ultimately lease and operate a multi-family apartment project consisting of the historic building and a new construction building. In turn, McDonough 16, LLC had two members, also limited liability entities: (1) the “Managing Member,” CCNO [an LLC] and (2), the “Investor Member,” R4, a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in New York. [Who cares? Jurisdiction of the LLC is based on the citizenship of the LLC member(s).] Likewise, CCNO had two limited liability partnerships as members: (1) CCNO Partners 2, LLC, [thus not an LLP, but and LLC] which was formed by two members who were residents of and domiciled in Orleans Parish: Mr. Stebbins and Michael Mattax; and (2) the appellant, Riverside, a Florida limited liability company [also not an LLP] with its principal place of business in Florida whose sole member, Jack Hammer, is a resident of and domiciled in Georgia. Iberia Bank was lender for the project.

CCNO McDonough 16, LLC v. R4 MCNO Acquisition, LLC, 2018-0490 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/14/18), 259 So. 3d 1077, 1078 (comments and emphasis added)

The issue was whether Riverside, LLC, as a member of CCNO, was needed to agree for CCNO to enter a settlement agreement. The court noted,

Section 3. 13 of the CCNO Operating Agreement provides:
Overall Management Vested in Members and Managers. Except as expressly provided otherwise in this Operating Agreement or otherwise agreed in writing at a meeting, management of the Company is vested in the Members in proportion to their initial Capital Contributions, and every Member is hereby made a Manager. All powers of the Company are exercised by or under the authority of the Managers and Members and the business and affairs of the Company are managed under the direction of the Members and Managers. The Managers may engage in other activities of any nature. (Emphasis added).
CCNO McDonough 16, LLC v. R4 MCNO Acquisition, LLC, 2018-0490 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/14/18), 259 So. 3d 1077, 1079.  One thing not clear from the case is the CCNO is a Louisiana LLC, which I was able to find out via a Louisiana commercial entity search. Louisiana LLC law, by default, provides that members manage the business unless the operating agreement says otherwise.  The operating agreement appears to confirm the members as managers. My read of this provision would be that this provision makes management subject to a vote. That is, I read "management of the Company is vested in the Members in proportion to their initial Capital Contributions" to mean management is decided by a vote in proportion to capital contributions.  It is not intended to mean, I don't think, that actual management is divided by voting rights (e.g., that Member A with 60% voting interest makes 60% of the decisions and Member B with 40% makes 40% of the decisions). If management is by vote, it would appear that CCNO, with at least 60% of the voting interest, could proceed to settlelment without Riverside, LLC. 
 
However, the opinion goes on to explain:
In addition, the CCNO Operating Agreement defines “Majority in Interest” as “any referenced group of Managers, Members or persons who are both, a combination who, in aggregate, own more than fifty percent (50%) of the Membership Interests owned by all of such referenced group of Managers and Members.” Notably, Section 2.05 of the CCNO Operating Agreement specifically provides that any amendment to the agreement requires the approval of the beneficiary of any mortgage lien, i.e., Iberia Bank.
Riverside does not dispute that it owns less than fifty per cent of the CCNO shares or that CCNO Partners 2, of which Mr. Stebbins is a member, owns proportionally more of the membership interest in CCNO. Rather, Riverside asserts that this does not matter because, although the CCNO Operating Agreement clearly established CCNO Partners 2 owned 66.67% of CCNO (and, concomitantly, that Riverside only 33.33%), a subsequent amendment altered the proportion of ownership to 60% (CCNO Partners 2) and 40% (Riverside) and redefined “Majority in Interest” to mean “more than 60%,” thereby making any settlement agreement reached without the appellant's consent invalid.
CCNO McDonough 16, LLC v. R4 MCNO Acquisition, LLC, 2018-0490 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/14/18), 259 So. 3d 1077, 1079–80.
 
Though this lacks some context, it appears that the court is saying that in defining "Majority in Interest," the operating agreement was telling us what vote was needed to "manage" the LLC.  That might make sense, in that initially the agreement gave CCNO the power to manage because it had more than 50% of the voting interest. Then, apparently, there was an amendment to make a majority vote 60%+1, if properly executed, would have required Riverside's consent to settle. However, the operating agreement also required the mortgage lien beneficiary to approve any amendment, which was not apparently done.  
 
This all seems like it is likely the right outcome, but it sure is hard to piece together. Perhaps all LLC cases should require the court to attach the operating agreement to the opinion. After all, LLC decisions are largely driven by the operating agreement, so it would be helpful for all of us trying to learn from the case to have the full context.  

Two closing thoughts:

  1. Jack Hammer as an LLC member of a construction-focused entity sounds like one of my exam characters. Awesome. 
  2. Westlaw's synopsis states: "Managing member of limited liability corporation (LLC) brought action against investor member to enjoin removal as manager."  No. An LLC is a limited liability company, not a corporation. (Regular readers had to see that coming.)
  3. LLCs are not limited partnerships, either, even if they are structured similarly or even use the term "partner."  An LLC is a separate and unique entity.  Really. 

February 12, 2019 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, LLCs, Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Entity Lesson: Be Explicit When Changing Default Voting Rules

Tom Rutledge at Kentucky Business Entity Law Blog writes

As a general proposition, LLC operating agreements may change the default rules provided for in the LLC Act.  A recent decision from Pennsylvania found that a general provision as to decision making by majority vote did not alter the statutory default of unanimous approval to amend the operating agreement.  Saltzer v. Rolka, No. 702 MDA 2017, 2018 WL 5603050 (Pa. Super. Ct. Oct. 30, 2018).
 
     . . . .
     
Under the Pennsylvania LLC Act, the default rule for amendment of the operating agreement is unanimous approval of the members.  15 Pa.C.S.A § 8942(b).  That rule may be altered in a written operating agreement. Id. The LLC’s operating agreement provided that it could be amended by the members at a regular or special meeting, but in that section did not address the threshold for the required vote.  Another section of the agreement provided “Except as otherwise provided in the [LLCA], or this Agreement, whenever any action is to be taken by vote of the members, it shall be authorized upon receiving the affirmative vote of a majority of the votes cast by all Members entitle to vote upon.” 2018 WL 5603050, *4.  The court found that this provision was of itself insufficient to alter the statutory default as to amending the operating agreement.  Unfortunately the decision did not detail why it was insufficient or what more it would have needed to be sufficient.

This outcome is consistent with some similar limited partnership cases. Courts tend to look for clear and unambiguous statements of intent when operating agreements and partnership agreements change default rules of voting when it comes to fundamental rights that go to the purpose of the entity, like adding new investors (partners/members), dissolution, etc. For example, in In Re Nantucket Island Associates Ltd., 810 A.2d 351 (Del. Ch. 2002), the court considered whether a General Partner in a limited partnership "had the unilateral authority to: i) issue a new class of preferred units having superior claims to capital and income distributions and ii) amend the partnership agreement to subordinate the contractual distribution rights of the existing limited partners to those new claims."  Although"  the general partner had the freedom to draft a clear and explicit grant of authority to itself to amend the partnership agreement in these circumstances," Vice Chancellor Strine determined that the general partner failed to do so:

This case therefore stands as yet another example of how important it is to draft limited partnership agreements carefully. Although our law permits a limited partnership agreement to invest far-ranging authority in a general partner, it also requires a clear and unambiguous articulation of that authority so that investors are given fair warning of the deal they are making by buying units. When a general partner drafts an agreement that is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, the one most favorable to the public investors will be given effect.

The lesson: when you want to take broad and far-reaching powers, especially those with a default rule requiring unanimity, be very, very clear.  

February 6, 2019 in Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

WV Proposal to Eliminate LLC Veil Piercing: Reasonable Concept, Needs A Lot of Work

Back in 2011, I wrote, in a Harvard Business Law Review Online article, that the default rule in analyzing all LLC questions should be one taken from CML V, LLC v. Bax, 6 A.3d 238 (Del. Ch. Nov. 3, 2010): “[T]here is nothing absurd about different legal principles applying to corporations and LLCs.” I still believe that. I further argued:

Where legislatures have decided that distinctly corporate concepts should apply to LLCs—such as allowing piercing the veil or derivative lawsuits—those wishes (obviously) should be honored by the courts. And where state LLC laws are silent, the court should carefully consider the legislative context and history, as well as the policy implications of the possible answers to the questions presented. Courts should put forth cogent reasons for their decisions, rather than blindly applying corporate law principles in what are seemingly analogous situations between LLCs and corporations. [footnotes omitted]

In 2014, I discussed a case West Virginia case in a post here at Business Law Prof Blog, More LLC Veil Piercing Forced into State Statutes. In that post, I was critical of a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision reading veil piercing into the state's LLC statute.  My main issue with that case, Kubican v. The Tavern, LLC, 232 W.Va. 268, 752 S.E. 2d 299 (2013), was that" Virginia’s veil-piercing test stated more clearly than other states . . .  that corporate formalities are the main issue for the unity of interest test" for veil piercing an LLC. This is problematic because, of course, LLCs don't have many formalities, and none of them are "corporate" (because LLCs are not corporations). 

To be fair, the opinion wisely directed that, for LLC veil piercing, courts  “disregard of formalities requirement.” But the overlay of corporate formalities and corporate traditions remain in the numerous other factors courts are to consider, and thus analysis of the factors are likely to occur with through a decidedly corporate filter.  That's not reasonable or fair for LLCs. 

The West Virginia legislature is looking to remedy this, and overrule the Supreme Court of Appeals, has proposed Senate Bill 258

ARTICLE 3. RELATIONS OF MEMBERS AND MANAGERS TO PERSONS DEALING WITH LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY.

§31B-3-303. Liability of members and managers.

(a) Except as otherwise provided in §31B-3-303(c) of this code, the debts, obligations, and liabilities of a limited liability company, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, are solely the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the company. A member or manager is not personally liable for a debt, obligation, or liability of the company solely by reason of being or acting as a member or manager. It is the intent and policy of the Legislature that for any claim against a limited liability company arising after the effective date of the reenactment of this section during the regular session of the Legislature, 2019, common law corporate “veil piercing” claims may not be used to impose personal liability on a member or manager of a limited liability company, and that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision in Joseph Kubican v. The Tavern, LLC, 232 W.Va. 268, 752 S.E. 2d 299 (2013) be nullified.

(b) The failure of a limited liability company to observe the usual company formalities or requirements relating to the exercise of its company powers or management of its business is not a ground for imposing personal liability on the members or managers for liabilities of the company.

(c) All or specified members of a limited liability company are liable in their capacity as members for all or specified debts, obligations, or liabilities of the company if:

(1) A provision to that effect is contained in the articles of organization; and

(2) A member so liable has consented in writing to the adoption of the provision or to be bound by the provision.

As noted above, I have supported legislative action to allow or disallow LLC veil piercing. Where LLC veil piercing is to be allowed, I have advocated for a clearly stated LLC-specific test. And were veil piercing to be eliminated, I have advocated for legislation making that clear, too.  This proposal has this last option right. 

That said, I have a couple significant objections to the proposed statute, as written.  First, and most significant, the statute could be read to eliminate the possibility of personal liability for any company debt for any member of an LLC.  The proposed legislation seeks to modify the following: "A member or manager is not personally liable for a debt, obligation, or liability of the company solely by reason of being or acting as a member or manager."  By dropping "solely," this proposal appears to limit other potential sources of liability (that are not veil piercing), which are traditionally considered liability related to the actions or a member.  By analogy, the Model Business Corporation Act provides, "(b)  A shareholder of a corporation is not personally liable for any liabilities of the corporation (including liabilities arising from acts of the corporation) except (i) to the extent provided in a provision of the articles of incorporation permitted by section 2.02(b)(2)(v), and (ii) that a shareholder may become personally liable by reason of the shareholder’s own acts or conduct." § 6.22 Liability of Shareholders (emphasis added).  

Where an individual LLC member acts in a way that should lead to liability (promises to pay individually, seek to deceive, etc.), the possibility for direct liability to the member is proper and is generally recognized by even the most ardent advocates of abolishing veil piercing. For example, the most prominent scholar on this front, Prof. Bainbridge, in his article, Abolishing LLC Veil Piercing, "advocates a regime of direct liability: Did the defendant-members do anything for which they are appropriately held personally liable?" I concur.  

[Author's note: the proposed statute was amended today adding "solely" back into the statute.  That amendment occured after I wrote this, but before it posted, so someone else was on it.]

Next, 

It is the intent and policy of the Legislature that for any claim against a limited liability company arising after the effective date of the reenactment of this section during the regular session of the Legislature, 2019, common law corporate “veil piercing” claims may not be used to impose personal liability on a member or manager of a limited liability company, and that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision in Joseph Kubican v. The Tavern, LLC, 232 W.Va. 268, 752 S.E. 2d 299 (2013) be nullified.

This is problematic because it applies to all prior negotiated relationships, meaning that contracts would have been negotiated with veil piercing available. This may, in some way, impacted how people negotiated guarantees in contracts.  In a prior post, I criticized the Wyoming high court for making  LLC veil piercing easy and suggesting that laws should not encourage parties to seek guarantees: 

The court cites potential abuse of LLC laws if they were to adopt such a rule that motivates companies to ask for guarantees. instead adopting a rule that could incentivize companies like Western actively avoid ask ingfor guarantees. Why? Because if you ask for a guarantee and are refused, it could be used against you later.  But if you don’t ask, you may get to piece the veil and seek a windfall recovery by getting a post hoc guarantee that was not available via negotiation. 

This West Virginia proposed legislation would likely lead more parties to seek guarantees, which I see as a good thing.  But this is a significant change to the legal landscape, and it seems to me the whole thing should be prospective.  Thus, new interactions, new contracts or renewals, etc., should be under the new law, but that there should be at least some look-back period.  One could argue that a "claim against a limited liability company arising after the effective date" related to a 2014 contract is a claim that "arose" before the effective date because a "claim" is different from a "lawsuit." For me, I would probably amend it to say something like, for events leading to a lawsuit against a limited liability company arising after the effective date . . . .." This would have the added benefit of preserving claims for events preceding the effective date that were not filed or discovered but are still within the statute of limitations.  This seems more equitable to me.  

Anyway, I am intrigued by the concept of eliminating LLC veil piercing, but I think this needs more thought. 

[Author's note 2: The amended language mentioned above added substantial changes to part (c), which I am inserting below.]

An additional amendment now adjusts part (c) t0 read (my comments inserted in  bold):

(c) All or specified members of a limited liability company are liable in their capacity as members for all or specified debts, obligations or liabilities of the company if:

(1) A provision to that effect is contained in the articles of organization; and

 

(2) A member so liable has consented in writing to the adoption of the provision or to be bound by the provision.

(1) A provision to that effect is contained in the articles of organization, and a member so liable has consented in writing to the adoption of the provision or to be bound by the provision; [This is currently item 12 of the West Virginia Secretary of State Articles of Organization of Limited Liability form.] 

(2) The member against whom liability is asserted has personally guaranteed the liability or obligation of the limited liability company in writing; [Good to make this clear, I suppose, though that is a personal obligation that attaches to the indidvudal. This is less necessary with "solely" added back to part (a).]

(3) As to a tax liability of the limited liability company, the law of the state or of the United States imposes liability upon the member; or [Also a personal obligation that attaches to the indidvudal.]

(4) The member commits actual fraud which causes injury to an individual or entity. [True before this law was proposed as a personal obligation that attaches to the indidvudal. The potential problem with this list of items 1-4 is that it may serve to limit or eliminate other forms of personal liablity that existed under prior law.  Hopefully, the "solely" langauge keeps all direct liability intact, but sometimes when a list like this is created, it is also read to mean it is the exclusive list of direct liability available.]

(d) Enterprise liability. — In circumstances where the members of a limited liability company are, in whole or in part, corporations, limited  liability companies, or other entities which are not human beings, then  if a jury shall determine that the liability of a limited liability company sounding in tort arose as part of the activities of a joint enterprise, those entities which are part of the joint enterprise with the limited liability company may be liable for the liability  of the limited liability company which arose as part of the business operations of the joint enterprise, not as a piercing of the veil, but instead under the doctrine of joint enterprise liability. [This is an attempt at preserving the concept of enterprise liability as introduced in Walkovsky v. Carlson. I rather like the idea, but I think this language could be more clear.  I hope to have time to draft proposed changes soon.]

(e) Member as tortfeasor. — Nothing in this section shall immunize or shield a member of a limited liability company, solely because he or she is a member of a limited liability company, from liability for his or her own tortious conduct that proximately causes injury to another party while the member is acting on behalf of the limited liability company.  In such circumstance, the liability of a member is not through veil piercing, but rather primary, as against any tortfeasor. [I like this and think it is critical to make clear. It does run the risk of including things I don't think it always should, such as providing indivdual liablity for a company's business tort claims, such as a toritious interference with contract.] 

(f) Clawback authority. — If a member is proved to have committed any of the following acts, then a creditor of the limited liability company whose judgment the limited liability company cannot satisfy may seek clawback from the member under this subsection: Provided, That the limited liability company’s judgment creditor may proceed in the shoes of the limited liability company [like a derivative suit?] to clawback funds from the member in order to reimburse the limited liability company for either the amount of the judgment against the limited liability company or the amount transferred from the limited liability company to the member in bad faith, whichever is less. [This may work for a business that is on going, but lacks funds for a particular creditor. However, where the LLC is in the zone of insolvency, it could be used to prioritize one creditor over another, possibly improperly.  That is, it appears this intends for the clawback funds to go to the creditor.  Once the funds come back to the LLC, though, it seems to me those funds should still need to be disbursed properly in consideration of all creditors with outstanding claims.]  

 The wrongful acts which will justify clawback (but not veil piercing) are:

(1) Conflicted exchange;

(2) Insolvency distribution; or

(3) Siphoning of funds. 

            (g) Definitions. — As used in this section:

“Conflicted exchange” means a transfer of money or other property from a limited liability company to a member of the limited liability company (or to any other organization in which the member has a material financial interest) in exchange for services, goods, or other tangible or intangible property of less than reasonable equivalent value.

“Insolvency distribution” means a transfer of money or other property from a limited liability company to a member of that limited liability company (or to any other organization in which the member has a material financial interest), in respect of the member’s ownership interest, that renders the limited liability company insolvent.

“Insolvent” means, with respect to a limited liability company, that the limited liability company is unable to pay its debts in the ordinary course of business. Claims that are unusual in nature or amount, including tort claims in claims for consequential damages, are not to be considered claims in the ordinary course of business for the purposes of this section.

“Siphoning of funds” means whether the manager or majority member has siphoned funds from the limited liability company in violation of the articles of organization, the operating agreement, or this article. [I would have hoped that all avenues to recover for improper distributions would remain. I am okay with listing them, as long as none are excluded by creation of the list.]

 That's all for now. This is a pretty big proposal, and it won't surprise me if it passes. If they are committed to it, I sure hope they take the time to get it right. 

January 29, 2019 in Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Back to Basics: The Reciprocal Nature of Agency and Partnership Relationships

In Business Organizations, I am in the early part of teaching agency and partnership. In my last class, we discussed Cargill, which is a fairly typical case to open agency discussions.  I like Cargill, and I think it is a helpful teaching tool, but I think one needs to go beyond the case and facts to give a full picture of agency. 

Of note, the case deals only with "actual agency" -- for whatever reason, the plaintiffs did not argue "apparent agency" or estoppel in the alternative.  A. Gay Jenson Farms Co. v. Cargill, Inc., 309 N.W.2d 285, 290 n.6 (Minn. 1981) (“At trial, plaintiffs sought to establish actual agency by Cargill's course of dealing between 1973 and 1977 rather than 'apparent' agency or agency by estoppel, so that the only issue in this case is one of actual agency. ”). I think this explains a lot about how the case turns out.  That is, the court recognized that to find for the farmer, there had to be an actual agency relationship.  

I don't love this outcome because one of the hallmarks of an agency relationship is its reciprocal nature. That is, once we find an agency relationship, the principal is bound to the third party and the third party is bound to the principal. In contrast, in a case of estoppel, the principal may be bound (estopped from claiming there is not an agency relationship), but that finding only runs one way. The principal still cannot bind the third party.  

This is a problem for me in Cargill. That is, I don't see a scenario where a court would bind the farmers to Cargill on similar facts. (I know I am not the first to make this observation, but it seemed worth exploring a bit.) As such, I don't think it can rightly be deemed an agency relationship.  

Assume the facts from the case to show agency, but suppose instead Cargill was suing the farmers because the grain prices had increased dramatically and that the farmers had a contract with Warren (the purported agent) to deliver grain at $5/bushel.  However, spot prices were now $15/bushel.  Warren had not paid the farmers for a prior shipment and did not have the ability to pay now. If the contract is with Warren, the farmers should be able to now sell that grain in the market and take the extra $10/bushel for themselves.  However, if Cargill were really the principal on that contract, Cargill would have a right to buy it at $5/bushel.  I just don't see a court making such a ruling on these facts.  

For what it's worth, I do think there is an estoppel argument here, and I think the Cargill court had ample facts to support finding Cargill a guarantor through other actions (promises to pay, name on checks, etc.), some of which might support an apparent authority argument, too. But because I don't see this relationship as an agency relationship as a two-way street, I don't think it can be an "actual agency" relationship. 

Incidentally, I see this reciprocal nature test as proper for partnerships, too.  That is, unless a court, on similar facts, would be willing to find a partnership where it works to the detriment of the plaintiffs, one cannot find a partnership.  Think, for example, of another classic case, Martin v. Peyton, 246 N.Y. 213 (N.Y. 1927).  There, creditors of the financial firm KNK sued KNK, as well as Peyton, Perkins, and Freeman (PPF) who had loaned KNK money. The claim was that PPF was not a mere lender, but had instead become partners of KNK because of the amount of control and profit sharing included in the loan arrangement.  If PPF were deemed partners of KNK, of course, PPF would be liable to the KNK creditors.  Here, the court determines that no partnership exists.  

While a reasonably close call,  I think this is right.  I don't think, based on a similar set of facts, that a court would find for PPF if the dispute were such that finding a partnership between PPF and KNK would reduce the amount KNK would pay its investors. If it can't run both ways, the partnership cannot exist.  I appreciate that in some cases, there simply is not a good analog to test the reciprocal nature of the relationship.  But where it's possible, I think this is a good test to determine whether there really is an agency or partnership relationship or if, instead, what we really have is a sympathetic plaintiff.   

 

January 22, 2019 in Agency, Business Associations, Joshua P. Fershee, Partnership, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sixth Circuit, Why Can't You Be More Like Your Sister, Eleventh Circuit? #LLCs

I am wading back into a jurisdiction case because when it to LLCs (limited liability companies), I need to. A new case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit showed up on Westlaw.  Here's how the analysis section begins:

Jurisdiction in this case is found under the diversity statute 28 U.S.C. § 1332. John Kendle is a citizen of Ohio; defendant WHIG Enterprises, LLC is a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Mississippi; defendant Rx Pro Mississippi is a Mississippi corporation with its principal place of business in Mississippi; defendant Mitchell Chad Barrett is a citizen of Mississippi; defendant Jason Rutland is a citizen of Mississippi. R. 114 (Second Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 3, 5) (Page ID #981–82). Kendle is seeking damages in excess of $75,000. Id. at ¶¶ 50, 54, 58, 64, 71 (Page ID #992–95). The district court issued an order under Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that granted final judgment in favor of Mitchell Chad Barrett, and so appellate jurisdiction is proper. R. 170 (Rule 54(b) Order) (Page ID #3021).

Kendle v. Whig Enterprises, LLC, No. 18-3574, 2019 WL 148420, at *3 (6th Cir. Jan. 9, 2019).

No. No. No. An LLC is not a corporation, for starters.  And for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, "a limited liability company is a citizen of any state of which a member of the company is a citizen." Rolling Greens MHP, L.P. v. Comcast SCH Holdings L.L.C., 374 F.3d 1020, 1022 (11th Cir. 2004).  As such the where the LLC is formed doesn't matter and the LLC's principal place of business doesn't matter. All that matters is the citizenship of each LLC member.  

In this case, I can tell from the opinion that Kendle and Rutland are "co-owners" of WHIG Enterprises. The opinion suggests there may be other owners (i.e., members).  The opinion refers to the plaintiff suing "WHIG Enterprises, LLC, two of its co-owners, and another affiliated entity." Kendle v. Whig Enterprises, LLC, No. 18-3574, 2019 WL 148420, at *1. The opinion later refers to Rutland as "another WHIG co-owner."  If we want to know whether diversity jurisdiction is proper, though, we'll need to know ALL of WHIG's members.  

Now, it may well be that there is diversity among the parties, but we don't know, and neither, apparently, does the court. That may not be an issue in this case, but if people start modeling their bases for jurisdiction on the Kendle excerpt above, things could get ugly. The Eleventh Circuit, as noted above. A more recent case further reminds us to check diversity for all members in an LLC.  Thermoset Corporation v. Building Materials Corp. of America et al, 2017 WL 816224 (11th Cir., March 2, 2017).

I figured that I should give a shout out to folks getting right, given all my criticism of those getting it wrong.  Come, Sixth Circuit, let's get it together. 

January 15, 2019 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I Don't Care What the IRS Says, There Are No Federal Entities

Not for my purposes, anyway. Back in 2016, I made the argument that the IRS should "stop using state-law designations": 

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. 

We discussed this issue on Saturday at the 2019 AALS Section on Agency, Partnership, LLCs & Unincorporated Associations Program on LLCs. As I taught my first Business Organizations class of the semester, I talked about this and it occurred to me that maybe the better way to think about this is to simply acknowledge that there are no federal entities.  

State law is the origin of all entity types (barring, perhaps, a few minor exceptions), and references to "C Corps" and "S Corps" are not really on target. I concede that the IRS does so, which is a challenge, but it's really unnecessary under today's tax code. That is, with check-the-box options, most entity types can choose whatever tax treatment they wish.  An LLC can choose to be taxed under subchapter S, for example, though it has to meet certain requirements (e.g., can only have one class of "stock"), but the LLC can file Form 2553 an make an S election.  

As such, as I have argued before, I think we should work to keep entity type and tax treatment separate.  Thus, for example, we can have an S-taxed LLC (an LLC that made the S election)  and a K-taxed LLC (an LLC that made a K election for pass-through taxation).  The tax treatment does not "convert" the LLC to a corporation -- or S corp. It simply provides for certain tax treatment.  I really think we'd see some doctrinal improvements if we could get more people to use language that makes clear tax treatment and entity type are separate issues, at least in today's word.   

Entities are creatures of state law. How the federal or state government tax such entities does not change that reality.  It's time we start using more precise language to make that clear.  

January 8, 2019 in Corporate Personality, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)