When You’re Alone, You’re Alone: Hillman and Weidner on Partners without Partners

In a partnership at will, unless the partners otherwise agree, the voluntary withdrawal of a partner (a much nicer word than “dissociation”) automatically causes dissolution of the partnership.  RUPA § 801(1).  For partnerships for a definite term or particular undertaking, after the voluntary withdrawal of a partner only results in dissolution of the partnership by the express will of at least half of the remaining partners.  RUPA § 801(2)(i). If the withdrawal of a partner does not result in dissolution of the partnership, the partnership must purchase the interest of the withdrawn partner.  RUPA §§ 603(a), 701(a).

But what if the partnership had only two partners?  does the remaining partner have the right to buyout the other partner? Robert Hillman (Cal-Davis) and Donald Weidner address this question in an article forthcoming in The Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law, Partners without Partners:  The Legal Status of Single Person Partnerships (SSRN, draft dated Aug. 1, 2011).  Prof. Hillman is of the view that, under RUPA § 101(6),  the partnership dissolves by operation of law:

The core of RUPA’s definition is that a partnership is “an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners a business for profit.” If one partner leaves, the predicate association of two or more persons no longer exists, which means a partnership is constituted only for the limited purpose of winding up the business. In other words, the partnership that existed prior to the dissociation is no more.

Id. at 3 (footnotes omitted).  Dean Weidner, who was the Reporter for the RUPA, disagrees:

I obviously think you are asking the definition of partnership to do too much by effectively operating as a special dissolution rule whenever partnerships no longer meet the language of the definition. RUPA contains three separate articles on partnership breakups, defining when and how liquidations versus buyouts are to take place. To attach to the definition substantive breakup consequences would create yet another set of dissolution rules and certainly was not considered in the drafting of the RUPA.

* * *

RUPA’s breakup provisions are much more detailed than the UPA on how a departing partner is to be cashed out. * * *

* * * Section 801, by its terms, lists the “only” events that cause dissolution and winding up, and a departure from a term partnership is not on the list. Both Sections 603(a) and 801, therefore, require a buyout in this situation.

Id. at 6-7 (footnotes omitted).

In a recent opinion, the Third Division of the Fourth District of the California Court of Appeals reasoned that, by definition, a partnership requires at least two partners, and ruled that the withdrawal of one partner in a two-partner partnership automatically caused dissolution.  Corrales v. Corrales, G043598 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2011).

In many ways, this conundrum is a self-inflicted wound, in that it is an artifact of the RUPA generally embracing the “entity” concept.  Under the UPA, the withdrawal of a partner automatically dissolved the partnership, and usually gave each partner the right to liquidation.  But, in a partnership for a term or undertaking, UPA § 38(2)(a) gave the other partners the right to continue the business, either alone, or with others.

In any event, the problem of the partner-less partner under the RUPA illustrates how the entity approach can be a snare; you begin to believe that all partnership-related problems can be solved by the ritual invocation of the entity.  Even the RUPA retains aggregate elements, such as liability of the partners. Partnerships and sole proprietorships are the only business forms that can be formed without filing with the state.  The difference between the two has always been the partnerships were aggregates; it takes at least two to partner.  As Bruce Springsteen sang in When You’re Alone:

When you’re alone you’re alone
When you’re alone you ain’t nothing but alone

Hat tip:  Eric C. Chaffee (Dayton), Jay Adkisson.

Gary Rosin

3 Responses to “When You’re Alone, You’re Alone: Hillman and Weidner on Partners without Partners”

  1. Daniel S. Kleinberger says:

    Gary,

    Two thoughts:

    (1) A parallel issue exists under the Delaware LLC Act. The Act defines an LLC as follows:

    “Limited liability company” and “domestic limited liability company” means a limited liability company formed under the laws of the State of Delaware and having 1 or more members.

    Del. Code Ann., tit. 6, § 18-101(6).

    However, with regard to dissolution, the Act provides, in pertinent part, that dissolution occurs:

    (4) At any time there are no members; provided, that the limited liability company is not dissolved and is not required to be wound up if:

    a. Unless otherwise provided in a limited liability company agreement, within 90 days or such other period as is provided for in the limited liability company agreement after the occurrence of the event that terminated the continued membership of the last remaining member, the personal representative of the last remaining member agrees in writing to continue the limited liability company and to the admission of the personal representative of such member or its nominee or designee to the limited liability company as a member, effective as of the occurrence of the event that terminated the continued membership of the last remaining member; provided, that a limited liability company agreement may provide that the personal representative of the last remaining member shall be obligated to agree in writing to continue the limited liability company and to the admission of the personal representative of such member or its nominee or designee to the limited liability company as a member, effective as of the occurrence of the event that terminated the continued membership of the last remaining member, or

    b. A member is admitted to the limited liability company in the manner provided for in the limited liability company agreement, effective as of the occurrence of the event that terminated the continued membership of the last remaining member, within 90 days or such other period as is provided for in the limited liability company agreement after the occurrence of the event that terminated the continued membership of the last remaining member, pursuant to a provision of the limited liability company agreement that specifically provides for the admission of a member to the limited liability company after there is no longer a remaining member of the limited liability company

    Del. Code Ann., tit. 6, § 18-801(a)(4) (emphasis added).

    (2) Query the effect of RUPA § 302(d): “If a person holds all of the partners’ interests in the partnership, all of the partnership property vests in that person. The person may execute a document in the name of the partnership to evidence vesting of the property in that person and may file or record the document.” This provision implies that the partnership is at least in dissolution, with the vesting of partnership property occurring as part of winding up.

    Regards,

    Dan

  2. grosin says:

    Dan, in your comment on LNET-LLC, you mention the Comment 6 to RUPA 302(d):

    Subsection (d) is new. The UPA does not have a provision dealing with the situation in which all of the partners’ interests in the partnership are held by one person, such as a surviving partner or a purchaser of all the other partners’ interests. Subsection (d) allows for clear record title, even though the partnership no longer exists as a technical matter. When a partnership becomes a sole proprietorship by reason of the dissociation of all but one of the partners, title vests in the remaining “partner,” although there is no “transfer” of the property. The remaining “partner” may execute a deed or other transfer of record in the name of the non-existent partnership to evidence vesting of the property in that person’s individual capacity. (emphasis added)

    Two thoughts. First, As I argued in The Entity-Aggregate Dispute: functionalism and Conceptualism in Partnership Law, 42 ARK. L. REV. 395 (1989), when a partner stopped being a partner, the partner lost all UPA 25 rights in specific partnership property. The remaining partner(s) were then the only holders of the UPA 25 rights, but by operation of law,rathert than by transfer. On death of a partner, that is the express result under 25(e).

    Second, the “vests” language generally means successsion by operation of law, rather than by transfer, as in a merger. Of course, RUPA’s
    entity focus would obscure that, save for 302(d).

    Gary

  3. […] Rosin, commenting on the paper, states his position more succinctly, quoting Springsteen: “When you’re alone you’re alone.  When you’re alone you ain’t […]