Delaware, Charging Orders and SMLLCs

May 10th, 2013

House Bill No. 126, introduced in the Delaware legislature on May 9, 2013, would make two amendments to the Delaware LLC Act that would affect the rights of creditors. First, Section 6 of the Bill would Section 18-703(d) of the Delaware LLC Act to read as follows:

(d) The entry of a charging order is the exclusive remedy by which a judgment creditor of a member or a member’s assignee may satisfy a judgment out of the judgment debtor’s limited liability company interest and attachment, garnishment, foreclosure or other legal or equitable remedies are not available to the judgment creditor, whether the limited liability company has 1 member or more than 1 member.

House Bill No. 126, 147th Leg., § 6 (Del. May 9, 2012)(underlining in original, italics added). Second, Section 7 of the Bill would amend § 18-1101 of the Delaware LLC Act by inserting a new sub-paragraph (j), to read :

(j) The provisions of this chapter shall apply whether a limited liability company has 1 member or more than 1 member.

Id. at § 7 (underlining in original).

The first part of the amendment to § 18-703(d) elaborates on what “exclusive remedy” means. Among other things, it seems intened to avoid the result in cases such as would avoid the result, in cases such as Hotel 71 Mezz. Lender LLC v. Falor, 2010 NY Slip Op 01348, 14 NY3d at 307, 926 N.E.2d 1202 (2010) (slip Op.) and Olmstead v. Federal Trade Commission, 44 So. 3d 76 (Fla. 2010)(slip Op.), in which courts held that general creditors remedies, such as attachment (Falor) and levy and execution (Olmstead), can be used to reach interests in LLCs.

The second part of the amendment to §18-703(d), and new 18-1101(j) is aimed at the result, in cases such as Olmstead, and In re Albright, 291 B.R. 538 (Bankr. D. Colo. 2003), that allow a transferee of the interest of the sole member in a single-member LLC (SMLLC) to succeed to both the economic and the management rights of the member. With the SMLLC amendments, Delaware joins the race-to-the-bottom for the state most-friendly to the use of SMLLCs for asset p;rotection.

Gary Rosin

Delaware Default Fiduciary Fix

May 10th, 2013

In its per curiam opinion in Gatz Properties, LLC v. Auriga Capital Corporation, 59 A.3d 1223 (Del. 2012)(en banc) (slip opinion), the Delaware Supreme Court called on the Delaware legislature to settle the questions of whether, when the LLC agreement is silent, those involved with LLCs owe fiduciary duties. See Gary Rosin, Gatz Properties, LLC. v. Auriga Capital Corp. (Del. 2012): Strine Affirmed on other Grounds and Chastised (Nov. 8, 2012).

Proposed legislation has been working its way through the Delaware State Bar Association. On May 9, 2012, the result, House Bill No. 126, was introduced in current Delaware legislative session. Section 8 of the bill provides:

Section 8. Amend § 18-1104, Title 6 of the Delaware Code by making insertions as shown by underlining as follows:

In any case not provided for in this chapter, the rules of law and equity, including the rules of law and equity relating to fiduciary duties and the law merchant, shall govern.

As noted by Doug Batey, Uncertainty Over Delaware LLC Fiduciary Duties To Be Clarified (April 16, 2013), the bill implicitly endorses the reasoning of Chancellor Stine in Auriga Capital Corp. v. Gatz Properties, LLC, 40 A.3d 839 (Del. Ch. 2012) (slip op.) that fiduciary duties are rooted in equity.

As a side note, in his opinion in Feeley v. NHAOCG, LLC, C.A. No. 7304-VCL (Nov. 28, 2012)(slip op.), Vice Chancellor Laster noted that , in Gatz Properties, LLC, the Delaware Supreme Court had left open the question of default fiduciary duties, and had Chancellor for even discussing the question. Laster then treated Strine’s opinion as if it were a law review article, slip op, at 16-17, and adopted Strine’s reasoning. Feeley , slip op. at 14-22. Laster’s opinion also has a nice discussion of the introductory phrase to Del. Sec. 18-1101(c), which allows contracting out of fiduciary duties:

To the extent that, at law or in equity, a member or manager or other person has duties (including fiduciary duties),

As explained by the Vice Chancellor, whether a member, or some other person, owes fiduciary duties is context specific. For example, in a manager-managed LLC, a non-controlling member does not owe fiduciary duties. Likewise, a person who is not a manager or a member might assume fiduciary duties by becoming and office or agent of the LLC. Feeley, slip op. at 18-21.

Gary Rosin

 

 

Manesh on Dictum & Default Duties

March 12th, 2013

 

Mohsen Manesh (Oreg.) has a working paper with the alliterative title Damning Dictum: The Default Duty Debate in Delaware” (February 21, 2013)(SSRN). The paper reacts to the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion in Gatz Properties, LLC. v. Auriga Capital Corp., C.A. 4390 (Del. Nov. 7, 2012)(per curiam), aff’g on other grounds, Auriga Capital Corp. v. Gatz Properties, LLC, 40 A.3d 839 (Del. Ch. 2012) (slip opinion). As discussed in Gatz Properties, LLC. v. Auriga Capital Corp. (Del. 2012): Strine Affirmed on other Grounds and Chastised, in his opinion below, Chancellor Strine had outlined the basis for applying default fiduciary duties to persons managing Delaware LLCs, and the Delaware Supreme Court rebuked him for doing so.

Prof. Manesh criticizes the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion in Gatz Properties, LLC on several grounds. Two of the most important are:

  • The Court needlessly unsettled expectations that default fiduciary duties apply, except where modified or eliminated by agreement.
  • Not only have both the Delaware Chancery and Supreme courts long used dicta to guide the development of the law, that practice is central to the pre-eminence of those courts, and of Delaware generally, in the law of business organizations.

Gary Rosin

Call for Papers: AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships, LLCs & Unincorporated Associoations

March 12th, 2013

CALL FOR PAPERS

AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships, LLCs,
and Unincorporated Associations

Effective Methods for Teaching LLCs and
Unincorporated Business Arrangements

2014 AALS Annual Meeting

New York, NY

LLCs now are the most popular form of business organization for new businesses, far surpassing the corporation in use. Yet, many law professors still struggle for good, proven ideas and methods for providing adequate breadth and depth in their treatment of this subject, particularly as we all seek to cover agency, partnership, and corporate law concepts as well. Too often, LLCs, although deserving of significant attention, are squeezed in only after other business arrangements are treated more fully.

The Executive Committee will devote the 2014 annual Section meeting in New York to the critically important, but much-neglected, topic of effectively teaching LLCs. Our section meeting will address many facets of better teaching the LLC, especially in a basic survey course but also in an advanced course. In addition to featuring several invited speakers, we seek one or two speakers (and papers) to address this subject. Within that broad topic, we seek papers dealing with any aspect of teaching in the unincorporated associations field, whether particular techniques, measuring outcomes, how best to treat certain substantive areas, achieving balance of coverage, and so on.

Any full-time faculty member of an AALS member school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper in this area is invited to submit a 1 or 2-page proposal by May 1, 2013 and, preferably, by April 15, 2013. The Executive Committee will review all submissions and select two papers by May 15, 2013. A very polished draft must be submitted by November 1, 2013. There is a possibility that the selected papers will be published in the Washington and Lee Law Review, but no commitment on that has yet been made. All submissions and inquiries should be directed to Lyman Johnson, Chair.

Lyman Johnson
Robert O. Bentley Professor of Law
Washington and Lee University School of Law
johnsonlp@wlu.edu
540-460-1484

Ethics and Ellipsis. Ly v. Jimmy Carter Commons, LLC (Ga. 2010)

February 7th, 2013

Probably, every lawyer has used an ellipsis to show that a portion of the text was left out of a quotation. But what are the ethics of elision and inclusion?

Consider, if you will, the opinion in Ly v. Jimmy Carter Commons, LLC, 286 Ga. 831, 691 S.E.2d 852 (2010). A manager of an LLC (Byun) purported to borrow money on behalf of the LLC in connection with a real estate development. As part of the closing documents, the manager gave the lender a purported “Unanimous Consent of the Manager and Members” that authorized the manager to borrow the money, sign the promissory note, and the mortgage on the LLC’s land to secure payment of the note. As it turned out, one of the signatures was forged. When the LLC defaulted on the note, the LLC sued the lender to enjoin foreclosure, and to void the note and mortgage, on the grounds that the manager lacked the authority to borrow the money, or to sign the note and the mortgage. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the LLC. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a question of fact.

What is interesting about the opinion is not the result; rather it is the reasoning of the opinion, and the way the opinion used the Georgia LLC statute.

* * * … there is still a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Appellants had knowledge that the unanimous consent documents were ineffective and did not give Byun the authority to act alone on behalf of Jimmy Carter Commons.

[T]he act of any manager [of a limited liability company] … binds the limited liability company, unless the manager so acting has, in fact, no authority to act for the limited liability company in the particular matter, and the person with whom he or she is dealing has knowledge of the fact that the manager has no such authority. (Emphasis supplied.)

OCGA § 14-11-301(b)(2). Thus, “[n]o act of a manager … in contravention of a restriction on authority shall bind the limited liability company to persons having knowledge of the restriction.” OCGA § 14-11-301(d).

Consequently, even if Byun acted beyond his authority as a manager of Jimmy Carter Commons, the limited liability company may still be bound by his actions if Appellants did not know that he lacked such authority. In its summary judgment order, the trial court did not cite, and Jimmy Carter Commons has not identified, undisputed evidence showing that Appellants knew that Choi’s signatures on the consent documents were forged. * * *

691 S.E.2d at 853.

Here is the complete text of Section 14-11-301:

§ 14-11-301. Powers, duties, and authority of members and managers

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, every member is an agent of the limited liability company for the purpose of its business and affairs, and the act of any member, including, but not limited to, the execution in the name of the limited liability company of any instrument for apparently carrying on in the usual way the business and affairs of the limited liability company of which he or she is a member, binds the limited liability company, unless the member so acting has, in fact, no authority to act for the limited liability company in the particular matter, and the person with whom he or she is dealing has knowledge of the fact that the member has no such authority.

(b) If the articles of organization provide that management of the limited liability company is vested in a manager or managers:

(1) No member, acting solely in the capacity as a member, is an agent of the limited liability company; and

(2) Every manager is an agent of the limited liability company for the purpose of its business and affairs, and the act of any manager, including, but not limited to, the execution in the name of the limited liability company of any instrument for apparently carrying on in the usual way the business and affairs of the limited liability company of which he or she is a manager, binds the limited liability company, unless the manager so acting has, in fact, no authority to act for the limited liability company in the particular matter, and the person with whom he or she is dealing has knowledge of the fact that the manager has no such authority.

(c) An act of a manager or a member that is not apparently for the carrying on in the usual way the business or affairs of the limited liability company does not bind the limited liability company unless authorized in accordance with a written operating agreement at the time of the transaction or at any other time.

(d) No act of a manager or member in contravention of a restriction on authority shall bind the limited liability company to persons having knowledge of the restriction.

(emphasis added).

Any partnership lawyer will recognize subsections (a), (b)(2), and (d) as taken from section 9 of the Uniform Partnership Act, and adapted for member-managed and manager-managed LLCs. Any partnership lawyer will also recognize the centrality of the language omitted by the court, especially the portion in bold italics. As written, Section 14-11-301 conditions a manager’s power to bind the LLC by an unauthorized act to acts “apparently carrying on the the usual way the business and affairs of the LLC.” As subsection (c) makes clear, unauthorized acts that are not apparently carrying on in the usual way the business and affairs of the LLC do not bind the LLC. The result of the misquotation–the ellipsis–is a radical expansion of the apparent authority of LLC’s manager: not just usual acts, but any act, without regard to its nature.

This seems to me to be a particularly pernicious use of the ellipsis; one that changes the character of the quotation. Even non-lawyers recognize that intentionally omitting important information is unethical. Thanks to Seinfeld, we even have an expression that describes an elision made in bad faith: “yada, yada.

The question here is whether the justices on the Court knew that a key part of the statute had been dropped out. One might attribute the misquotation to the not-uncommon phenomenon of unfamiliarity with agency principles, and unincorporated business entity law, or, instead, to an overcrowded docket. Still, it is hard to imagine that none of the justices read Section 14-11-301 closely, or that, on close reading, none noticed its limits on apparent authority.

That said, the result–overturning the summary judgment–is probably correct. Whether borrowing money is apparently carrying on in the usual way the LLC’s business is a question of fact that turns on the nature of the LLC’s business. Jimmy Carter Commons, LLC seems to have been a real estate development 0company. Such companies are more likely to be customary frequent borrowers than, say, a company selling advertising slots on a border radio station. See, Burns v. Gonzalez, 439 S.W.2d 128 (Tex Civ. App. 1969).

But, as I suggested in my earlier post, Conflating Tests for Agents and Servants, there is no such thing as a “harmless” misstatement of the law by a court. Given that the misstatement here is by the Georgia Supreme Court, only a later opinion of that court can put Georgia law back on the right course.

Gary Rosin

Conflating Tests for Agents and Servants: Greater Houston Radiation Oncology, P.A. v. Sadler Clinic Association, P.A. (Tex. App. 2012)

January 28th, 2013

Courts are prone to use “agent” when they mean “servant.” Many opinions involving the application of respondeat superior use “agent,” instead of “servant.” That is a mistake, in that principals are generally not liable for the incidental torts of agents; rather masters are liable for the torts of servants committed in the scope of employment. Such opinions then define “agent” using the test for whether someone is a servant: does the putative master (often also improperly called the principal) have the right to control the conduct of the person or the details of the work?

At this point you might wonder what the problem is: regardless of nomenclature, the court applied the right test for potential respondeat superior liability. Even before the advent of databases of opinions that let you search cases for words, there were Words and Phrases, West head-notes, and the rote application of sentences taken from opinions.

The danger in such opinions is that a later court might use the wrong test for control in a case where the issue is whether a person was an agent. That was one of the issues confronted by the court in Greater Houston Radiation Oncology, P.A. v. Sadler Clinic Association, P.A., 384 S.W.3d 875 (Tex. App. 2012) (slip opinion). Greater Houston Radiation Oncology, P.A. (and its affiliates) agreed to the operate, maintain, and provide professional services for, a radiation oncology center on behalf of Sadler Clinic. The relationship between the two soon deteriorated in claims and counter-claims.

One of the claims was that Greater Houston Radiation Oncology (or one of its affiliates) had breached the fiduciary duties that it owed Sadler Clinic. The court held that no fiduciary duties were owed Sadler Clinic, because none of the Greater Houston Radiation Oncology companies was its agent:

To prove an agency relationship between parties, the party asserting the agency must prove the principal has the right to assign the agent’s task and the right to control the means and details by which the agent will accomplish its assigned task.

Slip Op., at 39 (emphasis added). The two cases relied on by the court, Hanna v. Vastar Res., Inc., 84 S.W.3d 372 (Tex.App. 2002) and O’Bryant v. Century 21 S. Cent. States, Inc., 899 S.W.2d 270 (Tex.App. 1995), were both respondeat superior cases in which the court had incorrectly used “agent,” rather than “servant.”

Greater Houston Radiation Oncology, P.A. v. Sadler Clinic Association, P.A. is similar to Green v. H & R Block, Inc., 355 Md. 488, 735 A.2d 1039 (1999). in Green, taxpayers who had used H & R Block tax preparation services, and who also taken out “Refund Anticipation Loans” arranged by H & R Block, sued H & R Block for breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court dismissed the taxpayers’ claims, on the ground that H & R Block was not their agent. The trial court reasoned that, among other things, the taxpayers did not control the details of H & R Block’s work. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court had improperly applied the test for the master-servant relationship, saying:

H & R Block misconstrues the level of control necessary for establishing a principal-agent relationship. The control a principal must exercise over an agent in order to evidence an agency relationship is not so comprehensive. A principal need not exercise physical control over the actions of its agent in order for an agency relationship to exist; rather, the agent must be subject to the principal’s control over the result or ultimate objectives of the agency relationship.

* * *

The level of control a principal must exercise over the agent becomes more clear when it is contrasted with the control exercised by the master in a master-servant relationship. * * *

* * *

[T]he level of control a principal exercises over an agent is less than the level of control a master has over a servant. Indeed, the level of control a master exercises over a servant is a key factor distinguishing the master-servant subset of the set of principal-agent relationships. In other words, all masters are principals and all servants are agents, but only when the level of control is sufficiently high does a principal become a master and an agent a servant. See Restatement (Second) of Agency § 2 cmt. a (1958) (“A master is a species of principal, and a servant is a species of agent.”). Thus, principals who are not masters exercise a much lesser degree of control over their agents than masters do over their servants.

In sum, the control a principal exercises over its agent is not defined rigidly to mean control over the minutia of the agent’s actions, such as the agent’s physical conduct, as is required for a master-servant relationship. The level of control may be very attenuated with respect to the details. However, the principal must have ultimate responsibility to control the end result of his or her agent’s actions; such control may be exercised by prescribing the agents’ obligations or duties before or after the agent acts, or both.

735 A.2d at 1050-52.

The same result should follow in Greater Houston Radiation Oncology, P.A. v. Sadler Clinic Association, P.A.: setting the task of the Greater Houston Radiation Oncology group of companies is enough control to satisfy the test for agency.

The history of the case shows that a petition for review was filed with the Texas Supreme Court. So, as they say in the NFL, pending further review…. The difference is that the case probably falls under that Court’s discretionary jurisdiction. And, as the history of the single business enterprise doctrine shows, the mere fact that bad law is circulating among the lower courts is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for the Supreme Court to intervene.

Of course, the Texas Supreme Court itself has sometimes been too casual in its use of “agent” and “servant.” See, Arvizu v. Estate of Puckett, 364 S.W.3d 273, 276-77 (Tex. 2012) (per curiam) (citing with approval opinions using “principal, “agent” and the right to control the details of the work in the context of respondeat superior cases).

Gary Rosin

AALS Section on Agency & Unincorporated Associations: Annual Meeting Program Announcement

December 6th, 2012

This from Prof. Douglas Moll, Chair of the Section:

As we head into exams and the holidays, I wanted to take a moment to remind you of our program on “The Scholarship of Professor Larry Ribstein” at the AALS Annual Meeting in January.  The program is on Sunday, January 6, from 2:00 – 3:45 pm.

We have an excellent lineup of speakers that we hope will attract your attendance.  Our panel consists of two invited speakers — Ann Ribstein (University of Illinois College of Law, and Larry’s wife) and Roberta Romano (Yale Law School).  We also have three presenters selected from our Call for Papers – Kelli Alces (FSU College of Law), Matt Bodie (St. Louis University School of Law), and Bill Callison (Partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP).  Finally, we have three commentators on the papers – Lyman Johnson (Washington & Lee University School of Law), Dan Kleinberger (William Mitchell College of Law), and Jeff Lipshaw (Suffolk University Law School).

Believe it or not, as a relatively new section, attendance at our program is very important.  The AALS actually counts bodies and cares about the count.  Thus, if you can make it on Sunday, we would very much like to see you.

Gatz Properties, LLC. v. Auriga Capital Corp. (Del. 2012): Strine Affirmed on other Grounds and Chastised

November 8th, 2012

Yesterday, the Delaware Supreme Court handed down its opinion in  Gatz Properties, LLC v. Auriga Capital Corp., C.A. No. 4390 (Del. Nov. 7, 2012). As expected form oral argument,  the Court affirmed Chancelllor Strine’s holding of earlier this year, but on other grounds.

In Auriga Capital Corp. v. Gatz Properties, LLC, 40 A.3d  839 (Del. Ch. Ct. 2012) (slip opinion), Chancellor Strine held that a controlling owner of the manager of an LLC violated its duty of loyalty in connection with a  self-interested merger of the LLC. Chancellor Strine reasoned that, unless clearly eliminated by agreement, the managing and controlling persons of a Delaware LLC owe traditional “default fiduciary duties.”

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed on the grounds that the LLC Agreement directly imposed a contractual duty of loyalty, and thus, entire fairness review.  Slip Op, at 12-20. The Court reserved the question of default fiduciary duties, but noted that

whether the LLC statute does—or does not— impose default fiduciary duties is one about which reasonable minds could differ. Indeed, reasonable minds arguably could conclude that the statute—which begins with the phrase, “[t]o the extent that, at law or in equity, a member or manager or other person has duties (including fiduciary duties)”—is consciously ambiguous. That possibility suggests that the “organs of the Bar” (to use the trial court’s phrase) may be well advised to consider urging the General Assembly to resolve any statutory ambiguity on this issue.

Slip. Op., at 626-27.  The Court then criticized Chancellor Strine for addressing an issue that, in the view of the Court, was not properly before him:

We remind Delaware judges that the obligation to write judicial opinions on the issues presented is not a license to use those opinions as a platform from which to propagate their individual world views on issues not presented. A judge’s duty is to resolve the issues that the parties present in a clear and concise manner. To the extent Delaware judges wish to stray beyond those issues and, without making any definitive pronouncements, ruminate on what the proper direction of Delaware law should be, there are appropriate platforms, such as law review articles, the classroom, continuing legal education presentations, and keynote speeches.

Slip. Op., at 27 (emphasis added).

Gary Rosin

Larry Ribstein (1946-2011) RIP

December 24th, 2011

Prof. Larry Ribstein (Illinois) passed away yesterday (via Prof. Brian Leiter, Prof. Geoffrey Manne). Larry was a major advocate for  “uncorporations” (as he called them). His loss will be deeply felt.

More on Power to Bind by an Unauthorized Act

August 26th, 2011

In Sources of Apparent Authority, I discussed the apparent authority requires a holding out  (manifestation) by the principal; as a general rule apparent authority cannot be based only on the conduct of an agent.  That said, one of the traditional sources of apparent authority is appointing an agent to a position that, by custom, carries with it certain authority to act for the principal.  In most of the cases involving “power of position,” the principal does not communicate directly with the third person;  the only affirmative act by the principal is the appointment to the position.  That raises the question:  how is that apparent authority, as opposed to estoppel to deny agency power? That question leads to these further observations:

  • The traditional view is that an agent has implied authority to tell third persons the position to which the agent has been appointed.  A statement by the agent–a holding out–“I am the General Manager” (for example)–can be deemed to be a statement by the principal.  In Tutti Mangia Italian Grill v. Amer. Textile Maintenance Co., if the person who signed the contract as General Manager was, in fact, the General Manager (an additional fact), then the holding out by the GM was a holding out by the principal.
  • To the extent that you don’t buy the traditional view, then estoppel to deny agency power can apply.  The principal appoints the agent to a position with customary power.  The principal should reasonably foresee that the agent will tell his position to third persons, who will reasonably believe that the agent has the customary authority.  If the principal limited the agent’s authority, the principal’s failure to warn third parties of that limitation can form the basis of estoppel to deny agency power.
  • Where the agent is a general agent, apparent authority by position would also be inherent agency power (which Restatement Third of Agency rejects).

The point is that the Restatement categories tend to overlap.  Many states, such as California, tend to lump them all together into ostensible authority. 

As I tell my students, all these doctrines are just judges and professors trying to explain the circumstances in which power to bind by an unauthorized act arises.  But, as the Zen koan put its:  the finger that points at the moon is not the moon.

When Learned Hand was pointing at the moon, he probably didn’t intend to invent a new doctrine, inherent agency power.  Because he was the Revered Learned Hand, that’s what happened.  The Restatement Third would abolish the doctrine. Good luck with that.

posted by Gary Rosin