Articles Posted in Members | Partners | Shareholders

business divorce attorneys medical practiceWhat is sufficient evidence of membership interest in a limited liability company? It is not uncommon that the intentions of the parties in forming a limited liability company are poorly documented and or non-existent.

The plaintiff in this case argued that documents that indicated his initial interest in the LLC were sufficient to establish his membership. These include emails in which he expressed his interest in participating in the LLC, the fact that he was included as a signatory in an early letter of intent with HUMC, the fact that he was initially included in an email group of members and the receipt of meeting notices.

Appellate Court Considers Evidence of LLC Membership in Ownership Dispute Among Critical Care Doctors

share-certificateWe counsel many owners of limited liability companies that the filing of a Certificate of Formation does note automatically protect the owners from person liabilities.  There are a number of business practices, often referred to as the “corporate formalities” that should be followed.

A case from Iowa’s Court of Appeals illustrates this principle, in which the court affirmed the finding of a trial court that the owners of a limited liability company were personally liabile for $235,000 owed to a supplier.  Keith Smith Co. v. Bushman, 873 N.W.2d 776(Table), 2015 WL 8364910(Table) (Iowa App., 2015).

The supplier claimed that the defendant was essentially a shell company with inadequate capitalization.  The trial court agreed and the appeals court affirmed.

  • Good faith and fair dealing are obligations implied in every contract, including contracts among owners of closely held businesses, and cannot be waived by the language in an operating agreement voiding fiduciary duties.

  • The duties of good faith and fair dealing require disclosure of conflicts of interest involving controlling LLC members or partners.

  • Contracts contain obligations that are so ‘obvious’ that they are not included in the written agreement; these obligations fall withing the scope of good faith and fair dealing.

Restrictive Covenant Attorney
Litigating with a former employee for violation of a restrictive covenant agreement becomes more complicated when the former employee was terminated without good cause.  And because we are an at-will employment economy, this becomes an issue more frequently than one might imagine.

As one author notes, it typically is not the underperformer who creates a problem for their former employer.  It’s the superstars, of course, that threaten to walk out the door not because they were fired but because they plan on taking a big chunk of business.

Include Poor Performance as Grounds for Termination

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The parties to a transaction, including a transaction that concludes a business divorce, will often include a provision that states that neither side is relying on verbal representations of the other.  Most often, this provision refers to the due diligence that precedes a transaction, but it can also refer to other circumstances including the discovery in an ongoing litigation.

We were recently involved in a case in which one of the parties claimed that it had been fraudulently induced into a transaction, notwithstanding the substantial discovery that had occurred.  It wasn’t a successful argument, but it added to the complexity of the case.

More often, however, there is a claim either that there were facts or circumstances that were hidden or that that there were oral representations made that were material to the decision to enter into the transactions.  A recent decision of the Delaware Chancery Court in  IAC Search, LLC v. Conversant LLC , C.A. No. 11774-CB (Del. Ch. Nov. 30, 2016) demonstrates that an anti-reliance provision in a contract can avoid such a fraud in the inducement claim.

Attorney for Buy-Sell Agreement
A business divorce case came into the office a couple of years ago, one of the second-generation owners was looking to force one of the first generation owners — who never came to work anymore — into retiring and selling his interests.

We reviewed the shareholder ledger and the by-laws and the second generation had a clear majority of shares.  So at least the majority could terminate the employment of the minority if that was the way they wanted to go, and he would then have the ability to bring a suit to be bought out.  Or more likely, once he was fired, he would want to be bought out.  So far, so good.

But then the buy-sell agreement.  It provided a formula for valuation that was pegged to the equity accounts of the shareholders some 25 years earlier.  The books and records for that time period had long since disappeared.  In the end, we were able to piece together a guess about the equity accounts and to negotiate a package.

LLC | LImited Liability Company Distribution of Profits

The Appellate Division sent a case back to the trial judge to figure out exactly what the owners of an LLC meant in a settlement agreement when it referred to when it linked a contingent payment to a “distribution.”

The case, which involves a relatively modest amount in dispute, is a cautionary tale arising from the use of a statutorily defined term in a context in which it just wasn’t clear what the parties were referring to. One of the parties pointed to the dictionary and the other the text of the statute.

Be Careful with that Word

Limited liability company derivative action
New York has recognized the right of limited liability company members and managers to bring derivative claims – that is, claims belonging to the LLC – against other members or managers. But, the derivative plaintiff needs to beware of the demand requirement or face having their case dismissed.

Derivative Suit Seeks Recovery for LLC of Management Fees

In a derivative case, the plaintiff is actually asserting a claim that belongs to the company. If there is a recovery, it goes to the company and the derivative plaintiff only gets individually what may, or may not, be passed through to the equity members. The law even provides for an award of attorney’s fees in some derivative cases to encourage shareholders or members to police the business.

Agent with Authority to Bind Partnership
It is not unusual that a dispute between the owners of a closely held business also involves a dispute about the authority of one of the owners to act as agent for the entity.  We had a recent case, for example, in which a central issue was whether the manager of a limited liability company exercised his business discretion in a way that was in the best interests of the business.

Once that dispute was on the table, we had to look at whether the manager had express or implied authority to act — in this case to hire a third party — and whether that exercise of authority was within the scope of the generally delegated authority provided to the manager by the operating agreement, or required an affirmative vote of the owners.

Professor Douglas Moll, writing on the law professors blog, parses the issues nicely under the most recent iteration of the Uniform Partnership Act, which has been widely adopted by state legislatures.  For Professor Moll, the question of authority turns on the extent to which an ordinary business transaction is involved.

Conflict and Negotiation Case Study: The Importance of Sincerity
One of the hardest things about being an effective negotiator is the ability to leave your ego at the door.  We need to listen, not impress.

Seasoned Negotiators, Effective Apologies

As negotiation trainer Jim Camp warns, an effective negotiator learns how to let the other side be “ok,” even when you’re not.  The fact is that no matter how well we listen, no matter how well we employ our negotiator’s tool kit to learn the real interests of the other side, we’re going to make mistakes.

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