Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Delaware, Charging Orders and SMLLCs

Friday, 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

Manesh on Dictum & Default Duties

Tuesday, 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

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

Monday, 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

Larry Ribstein (1946-2011) RIP

Saturday, 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.

Charging Orders and Two Kinds of Exclusivity

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

I have already noted Thursday’s opinion of the Florida Supreme Court in Olmstead v. FTC that a statutory charging order is not the exclusive remedy available to creditors of a member of an LLC.  That opinion was in response to a certified question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for 11th Circuit.  Whether you agree, or disagree, with the holding in Olmstead, at least the lawyers, and the 11th-Circuit panel, recognized the existence of the charging order.  The same cannot be said of theat least 11  lawyers and 13 judges involved in the opinions in  Hotel 71 Mezz. Lender LLC v. Falor, 2010, No. 9 (N.Y. Feb. 16, 2010), rev’g 2008 NY Slip Op 09848 (NY AD [1st], December 16, 2008).  In Falor, the sole issue raised on appeal was the jurisdiction of New York courts to apply New York general creditors’ remedies to reach interests in LLCs formed under the laws of other states.  As I’ve discussed earlier, at least the Appellate Division panel recognized, via forum non conveniens, that it might be better to litigate in other states.

So there are two different exclusivity issues that should be addressed by legislatures drafting LLE statutes that include a charging order remedy.   To a large extent, both turn on the same a question:  are charging orders intended to be an integral component of an interest in an LLE, rather than merely a remedy?  If the answer is “yes,” then the local charging order should be exclusive, both locally, and in other states.  If the answer is “n0,” then the only reason to have a charging order at all is as one way to gets courts recognize the difference between ownership interests in corporations, and in LLEs.

The question of how to handle single-member LLCs is a different question.  Unfortunately, neither the Olmsread majority opinion does not do that as clearly as I would like.  That just makes it harder to keep everyone from conflating the two questions.

posted by Gary Rosin

Drafting Delaware LLC Agreements

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Even though law schools are starting to put greater emphasis on practice skills, such as drafting transactional documents, most law professors have little occasion to draft organizational documents for business entities.  It came as a surprise when I was asked to note the relatively publication of Drafting Delaware LLC Agreements, by John M. Cunningham and Vernon R. Proctor (Aspen Law & Business 2009).  The focus of the book is on guiding lawyers drafting LLC Agreements.  According to Aspen,

On the basis of their ownership structure, management structure and federal tax structure, the book identifies 10 principal types of LLCs relevant in Delaware LLC formation practice, and in a compact disc, it provides a complete set of 29 forms specifically tailored for use in forming these LLCs.  These forms include six for single-member LLCs owned by individuals; three for single-member LLCs owned by entities; 19 for multi-member LLCs, including LLCs with general partnership, limited partnership and corporate management structures; and a special form for Delaware series LLCs.  The book also provides detailed guidelines for choosing among these forms for particular LLC formation clients.

The book seems comprehensive, with both checklists, and suggested signing memoranda–always good things.

Given the wide discretion in contracting with regard to fiduciary duties for Delaware LLCs, the May 2010 supplement will include a new chapter on fiduciary duties, and suggested drafting approaches and language.  It is here that I would disagree with the authors, who suggest silence, and reliance on common-law principles, as a drafting tactic. § 14A.01[D].  The authors do note in the following subsection that Chief Justice Myron T. Steele of the Delaware Supreme Court is of the view that the Delaware LLC Act abolishes common-law fiduciary duties.  In any event, the new chapter includes a broad discussion of, and forms for, key aspects of common-law fiduciary duties.

posted by Gary Rosin

Update:  Check out Peter A. Mahler’s interview of John Cunningham (01/25/2010) on the New York Business divorce blog.

“Contorts” and Limited Liability. Parker Oil Co. v. Mico Petro & Heating Oil, LLC (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009)

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Parker Oil Co. v. Mico Petro & Heating Oil, LLC, 979 A.2d 854, 2009 PA Super 105 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009) involves a routine breach of contract.  For several years, a gasoline station had been buying gasoline on open account from a supplier.  The station had been struggling, with earlier delays or irregularities in payment.  Eventually, the station failed, and did not pay for its last batch of gasoline.  Of course, the LLC that owned and operated the station had “shallow pockets” at best.  The supplier sued the LLC’s sole member (Singh), alleging that he had participated in the conversion of the oil.  The Court summarily rejected this argument:

¶ 9 The situation may well have been different if there was one large transaction and evidence that Singh knew the corporation (sic) could not pay for it. However, that is not the situation here. First, it is undisputed that Parker knew that Singh was operating through a corporation, and in fact had dealt with him for years, always in a corporate rather than individual relationship. Second, it is undisputed that Parker knew for a long time that Mico Petro was having financial difficulty, as many checks were drawn with insufficient funds but later made good. This is evidence of a corporation struggling to make it, and a supplier going along with this. When the corporation finally goes out of business, this does not turn a long-time contractual relationship into a tort. This is a classic situation where an individ-ual wishes to shield himself from personal liability and uses the classic corporate structure, and a supplier knows about both the corporate structure and the finan-cial difficulties of the corporation and chooses to take the risk. The decision by the trial court in this case could drastically undermine our business structure by allowing creditors to end-run the normal burden of piercing the corporate veil under the little used “participation” theory. The only participation here was that of a corporation trying to stay afloat and a creditor going along with it in the hope that ultimately it will get paid–incidentally making a profit for a number of years along the way.

¶ 10 We also note that in the current economic situation, this is something that is likely to happen more and more. While there is certainly evidence that Mico Petro owed a great deal of money to Parker, we cannot find any evidence that Singh accepted the oil planning not to pay for it. There is nothing more than a showing that finally the corporation came to the conclusion that it was not profitable and had to close.

979 A.2d at 857.  The only surprise here is that the dissent bought-in to the participation argument, reasoning that “products were received and resold and … there is principal due….”  Id. at 860.

posted by Gary Rosin

The Law of Closely Held Corporations

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Aspen has just published a treatise, The Law of Closely Held Corporations, by Contributing Editor Douglas Moll and his co-author, Robert Ragazzo (Houston). 

Gary Rosin

Adverse Domination. Wilson v. Paine (KY 2009)

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

In Wilson v. Paine, 288 S.W.3d 284 (KY 2009), the Kentucky Supreme Court adopted the “adverse domination” doctrine.  Under that doctrine, the statute of limitations on claims of misconduct against a corporation’s officers and directors does not begin to run until the corporation “knows” of the misconduct giving rise to the claim.  Taking off from the “adverse agent” exception to the rule that the knowledge of agents is ‘attributed” to the principal, the adverse domination doctrine does not impute to the corporation the knowledge of the offending officers and directors.  The Court adopted the “majority” domination variant of the doctrine, under which the knowledge of an innocent corporate “agent” will not be attributed to the corporation so long the offenders control the Board of Directors.

The Court also held that the doctrine does not apply when a majority of the directors are merely negligent.  Instead there must be “intentional wrongdoing of some kind, which would include fraud”.  Slip Op. at 12.  The rationale of the court was two-fold.  First,

To [allow a negligence standard] would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations in all cases involving a corporation’s claims against its own directors . . . . [I]t could almost always be said that when one or two directors actively injure the corporation, or profit at the corporation’s expense, the remaining directors are at least negligent for failing to exercise “every precaution or investigation.” (Internal citation omitted.) If adverse domination theory is not to overthrow the statute of limitations completely in the corporate context, it must be limited to those cases in which the culpable directors have been active participants in wrongdoing or fraud, rather than simply negligent. 

Id. at 11 (quoting from FDIC v. Dawson, 4 F.3d 1303, 1310 (5th Cir. 1993)).  Second, the Court believed that

[T]he danger of fraudulent concealment by a culpable majority of a corporation’s board seems small indeed when the culpable directors’ behavior consists only of negligence.”

Id. (quoting from Dawson, 4 F.3d at 1312-13) (emphasis added by Court).

Here the Court drifts off the path.  First, the conduct of directors is protected by the business judgment rule, which generally requires at least gross negligence or bad faith before directors will be found liable.  Second, a similar standard protects directors against liability for failures to supervise or to monitor.

Authority of LLC Agents Other Than Its Manager. T.W. Herring Investments, LLC v. atlantic Builders Group, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2009)

Monday, August 24th, 2009

T.W. Herring Investments, LLC v. Atlantic Builders Group, Inc.,186 Md.App. 673, 975 A.2d 264 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2009) raises an issue so basic that you wonder how it the trial court got it wrong.  An authorized agent of an LLC formed undder North Carolina law, but not its manager, filed an affidavit and a verified answer to a complaint by builder seeking a mechanic’s lien.  The trial court accepted the argument that only the manager had authority to act for the LLC in the litigation.  Slip Op., at 4. 

The Court of Special Appeals reversed:

There is no requirement in the above statutes or rules relating to the legal sufficiency of the affidavit other than that the affiant have the required knowledge. Thus, there is no Maryland statute or rule that prohibits a party from extending authority to a person with knowledge for the limited purpose of executing an affidavit on the party’s behalf.  In this case, the actual authority for that limited purpose was not contested by appellant; it was admitted.  

Slip Op., at 7-8.  Builder argued that Section 57C-3-25(c) of the North Carolina LLC Act only allowed managers to file official documents:

   (c) Any document or instrument required or permitted by law to be filed, registered, or recorded with any public authority and to be executed by a limited liability company … shall be sufficiently executed for such purpose if signed on its behalf by one of its managers.

Slip Op., at 9.  The Court rightly recognized that the purpose of that provision was only to assure the authority of the manger of act in that situation, not to limit the ability of other agents to act.  Id.  The Court then noted that Section 57C-10-03(c) of the North Carolina LLC Act incorporated the law of agency.  Id.  at 10.  Section 57C-3-24(a) permits a manager to delegate authority to other persons:

The delegation is without limitation, including authority to conduct the business of the company. The act of any person within the scope of the authority delegated is as effective to bind the limited liability company as would the act by a manager….

Id. (citations omitted).

Gary Rosin