Foreign Business Entities

USA

It’s true that the statutory and common-law rules at play in business divorce cases can vary widely from state to state. But it’s also true that court decisions in one state can influence courts in other states, and can provide business divorce lawyers with fresh ideas and novel arguments. I like to think of it as legal cross-pollination.

For many years, one of the nation’s leading authorities on business organization law, Professor Elizabeth Miller at Baylor Law School, has been collecting, curating, and publishing detailed synopses of cases from around the country involving LLCs and other unincorporated business entities, with a large complement of dissolution, breach of fiduciary duty, and other cases featuring disputes among business co-owners. It’s a terrific resource for keeping up with nationwide case law developments. Some of Professor Miller’s summaries can be found online, but the best way for lawyers to gain access to them on a regular basis is to join the LLCs, Partnerships and Unincorporated Entities Committee of the ABA’s Business Law Section. That’s the same committee that sponsors the incomparable LLC Institute every year.

Professor Miller’s most recent sampling of (non-Delaware) partnership and LLC cases was presented at a session of the 2017 Spring Meeting of the Business Law Section in New Orleans. I’ve selected from it and further distilled in the following summaries a quintet of business divorce cases from a quintet of states other than New York. Continue Reading Business Divorce Nation: Five States, Five Cases

egregiousKurt Vonnegut observed in his novel Deadeye Dick that the word “egregious,” which “most people think means terrible or unheard of or unforgivable has a much more interesting story than that to tell. It means ‘outside the herd.'”

He’s right. The original Latin ēgregius did indeed translate as “standing outside the herd” in the non-judgmental sense of exceptional, and it wasn’t until the late 16th century that the word took on its modern, disapproving sense.

I’ll grant you it’s a bit of a leap from etymology to business divorce, but in the court decision I’m about to describe, the meaning of the word “egregious” took center stage in a minority shareholder’s lawsuit seeking common-law dissolution of a closely held corporation.

The court’s decision last month in Braun v Green, 2016 WL 4539488 [Sup Ct NY County Aug. 31, 2016], sprang from a dispute between fellow shareholders in a Florida corporation whose sole asset is a commercial realty development near Houston, Texas. The plaintiff 8% shareholder, Braun, sourced the investment opportunity and presented it to the defendant 92% shareholder, Green, who provided all of the needed capital. Continue Reading Non-Egregiously Aggrieved Minority Shareholder Can’t Sue for Common-Law Dissolution

The tiny state of Delaware plays an enormous role in this country’s corporate life. Delaware has long been the overwhelmingly preferred state of incorporation for publicly owned companies, and its cutting-edge (many would also say pro-management) enabling acts for closely held business entities have made it an exporter to the other 49 states of countless privately owned corporations, limited partnerships, and limited liability companies that have no connection to Delaware other than their state of formation.

The Delaware judicial system serves an integral role in maintaining the state’s corporate hegemony. The Delaware Court of Chancery is widely viewed as the country’s preeminent business-law trial court by virtue of its broad jurisdiction over Delaware business entities both public and private, and thanks to a judicial selection process that promotes the best and brightest candidates for the court’s judgeships including one Chancellor and four Vice-Chancellors whose typically thorough and scholarly written opinions are closely followed by lawyers and judges throughout the country.

Business divorce practice nationwide is no less susceptible to the influence of the Delaware legislative and judicial juggernaut. In New York, as in other states that are home to many Delaware-formed business entities, the internal affairs doctrine mandates application of Delaware law to disputes among entity co-owners, and jurisdictional constraints require owners seeking the ultimate remedy of judicial dissolution to do so in the Delaware Chancery Court. The Chancery Court’s interpretation of Delaware business entity statutes governing internal relations among co-owners of closely held business entities also has had significant influence over the interpretation of counterpart statutes in other states by their judiciaries. (A prominent example of this is the Second Department’s 2010 decision in the 1545 Ocean Avenue case which drew heavily upon Delaware Chancery Court precedent in setting the standard for judicial dissolution of LLCs under Section 702 of New York’s LLC Law.)

HeymanLadigAll of which is why I’m excited to invite readers to listen to my most recent podcast episode on the Business Divorce Roundtable entitled “Business Divorce, Delaware Style” featuring my interview of two leading Delaware litigators — Kurt Heyman (photo left) and Pete Ladig (photo right) — talking about what it’s like to litigate business divorce cases in the Chancery Court and current developments in Delaware law affecting such cases including important decisions I’ve written about on this blog in the TransPerfect, Carlisle, and Meyer cases.

Click on the link at the bottom of this post to hear the interview.

Kurt Heyman is a founding partner of Proctor Heyman Enerio LLP in Wilmington, Delaware, where he focuses his practice on corporate governance, partnership and limited liability company disputes in the Delaware Court of Chancery. Kurt lectures and writes extensively on business divorce and other corporate governance topics, he’s Co-Chair of the Business Divorce Subcommittee of the ABA Business Law Section, and he leads the Business Divorce and Private Company Disputes group on LinkedIn.

Pete Ladig is Vice Chair of the Corporate and Commercial Litigation Group at Morris James also in Wilmington. Pete concentrates his practice in the areas of corporate governance and commercial litigation, stockholder litigation, fiduciary duties, partnership and limited liability company disputes, and class action and derivative litigation. He’s also active in the ABA Business Divorce Subcommittee and has published articles on business divorce topics including a must-read post on his firm’s blog called What Is Business Divorce? Pete also co-hosts a podcast called CorpCast discussing corporate and commercial law in Delaware.

If you’re interested in business divorce, you’ll certainly enjoy listening to my interview of Kurt and Pete, both of whom speak on the subject with great authority, insight, and passion.

WillThere’s been very little case law defining the powers of the executor of a deceased LLC member under New York LLC Law § 608, enabling the executor or other estate representative to “exercise all of the member’s rights for the purpose of settling his or her estate or administering his or her property, including any power under the operating agreement of an assignee to become a member.”

Perhaps the dearth of section 608 case law stems from the fact that even the most basic LLC operating agreements usually include provisions governing the disposition of a deceased member’s interest.

For example, the agreement may trigger mandatory redemption or buy-out of the deceased member’s interest. Or, as in the Budis case, it may track the default rules under sections 603 and 604 permitting the assignment of LLC interests to any person who, unless admitted as a member by the surviving members, obtains only an assignee’s right to receive the distributions and allocations of profits and losses the deceased would have received, i.e., receives no voting rights and therefore lacks member standing to participate in management, seek judicial dissolution, sue derivatively, demand access to books and records, etc.

A case from neighboring Connecticut may help to fill in at least some of the gaps in New York’s section 608 case law. A decision last month by the Appellate Court of Connecticut — that state’s intermediate appellate court — in Warren v Cuseo Family, LLC, AC 37239 [May 3, 2016], dealt with an interesting set of facts involving the estate of the majority owner of a family-owned LLC and produced an unusual but not surprising ruling giving the executor extraordinary power as temporary receiver to wind up the LLC’s affairs in order to settle the decedent’s estate. Continue Reading Executor of Deceased Majority Member Appointed Receiver to Wind Up LLC


ChhoseThe Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (2006) or “RULLCA” continues to gain momentum as it spreads across the United States. Currently, fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have adopted RULLCA including California, Florida, and two of New York’s neighbors — New Jersey and Vermont. If and when adopted by Pennsylvania and Connecticut, where RULLCA legislation already has been introduced, New York will be surrounded by RULLCA jurisdictions with the exception of Massachusetts. RULLCA legislation also is pending in Illinois and South Carolina.

Of greatest interest to business divorce lawyers are (1) RULLCA’s relatively expansive grounds for judicial (involuntary) dissolution of LLCs including oppressive conduct by managers and authorizing remedies other than dissolution, i.e, buy-out, and (2) RULLCA’s provision, completely foreign to LLC laws in New York and elsewhere, authorizing judicial dissociation (expulsion) of a member under certain circumstances.

The two provisions have a lot in common. Indeed, there’s substantial overlap between the statutory grounds for dissolution and dissociation under RULLCA. A recent appellate ruling out of the District of Columbia provokes examination of the strategic choice to be made when initiating a business divorce litigation whether to pursue dissolution, dissociation, or both. Continue Reading Choose Carefully: Dissolution vs. Dissociation Under RULLCA

Rosalyn H. Richter - Assocaite Justice, Appellate Division, First Department 042809

For more than 20 years, there’s been a split among New York’s several intermediate appellate courts on the question whether the state’s courts have subject matter jurisdiction in proceedings seeking judicial dissolution of foreign business entities.

No more. Last week, in a signed opinion by Associate Justice Rosalyn H. Richter (photo right), writing for a unanimous panel of the Manhattan-based Appellate Division, First Department, in Matter of Raharney Capital, LLC v Capital Stack LLC, 2016 NY Slip Op 01425 [1st Dept Feb. 25, 2016], the court abandoned its contrary 1994 ruling in Matter of Hospital Diagnostic Equipment Corp. and, realigning itself with decisions by the Brooklyn-based Second Department and Albany-based Third Department, held that New York courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over foreign company dissolution proceedings.

The Raharney case involves a petition filed in October 2014 in Manhattan Supreme Court by a 50% member of a two-member Delaware LLC with no written operating agreement, seeking judicial dissolution under § 18-802 of the Delaware LLC Act based on intractable deadlock (read petition here). The petition alleges that both members are New York residents, that the Delaware LLC’s place of business is New York, and that the LLC’s only connection to Delaware is its state of formation. The petitioner’s supporting memorandum of law predicated the court’s subject matter jurisdiction on Hospital Diagnostic in which the First Department found “without merit” the State Attorney General’s argument that the courts of New York lack subject matter jurisdiction to dissolve a foreign corporation. Continue Reading A Split No More: First Department Agrees, No Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Dissolve Foreign Business Entities

equityWhen it comes to LLC jurisprudence, equity’s on a roll.

A few major examples come to mind: the recent Carlisle case in which the Delaware Court of Chancery enforced “equitable dissolution” of an LLC upon the petition of the assignee of a membership interest who lacked standing under the dissolution statute; the Mizrahi case in which a New York appellate panel ordered an “equitable buy-out” of a 50% LLC member upon petition by the other 50% member in the absence of a statutory buy-out remedy; the Gottlieb decision in which another New York appellate panel gave birth to common-law “equitable accounting” claims.

Add to the growing list of equity-driven rulings for these contract-centric creatures of statute an unpublished decision last week by a New Jersey intermediate appellate court in All Saints University of Medicine Aruba v Chilana, No. A-2425-13T1 [N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Oct. 27, 2015], directing the lower court on remand to consider ordering a forced sale of a dissociated LLC member’s interest as a “common law equitable remedy” for “common law breaches of duty” notwithstanding the appellate court’s recognition that neither the applicable dissociation statute nor the LLC’s operating agreement authorized a compulsory sale. Continue Reading Dissociated LLC Member Faces “Equitable” Forced Buy-Out

articlesThis week I’m departing from my usual, case-focused, long-form post due to time constraints of an impending trial. Instead, I’m putting a well-deserved spotlight on two recently published articles of special interest to business divorce practitioners.

The first concerns one of my favorite topics, on which I’ve written several posts (here, herehere, and here), about whether the courts of one state have subject matter jurisdiction over involuntary dissolution petitions for a business entity formed in another state. The article, entitled Judicial Dissolution: Are the Courts of the State that Brought You In the Only Courts that Can Take You Out?, is co-authored by Peter B. Ladig and Kyle Evans Gay and is published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Business Lawyer (available here).

Ladig and his firm, Morris James LLP, represented one of the members of a Philadelphia-based newspaper publishing company organized as a Delaware LLC in a recent, high-profile dissolution case that initially played out as a game of jurisdictional ping-pong between the Pennsylvania and Delaware courts. Ultimately the Pennsylvania court sided with Ladig’s client and ruled against its own jurisdiction, allowing the case to proceed unobstructed in the Delaware Court of Chancery. It therefore comes as no surprise that Ladig’s thoroughly researched, scholarly article strongly supports the argument against subject matter jurisdiction to dissolve foreign business entities. Continue Reading Recent Articles Highlight Dissolution of Foreign Entities and Delaware LLC Litigation

shortsTraditions are good. This blog has two annual traditions. First, at the end of each year I write a post listing the year’s top ten business divorce decisions. Second, each August I offer readers who are (or ought to be) on summer vacation some light reading in the form of three, relatively short case summaries.

So here we are in what’s been a particularly felicitous August weather-wise (at least here in the Northeast U.S.), with another edition of Summer Shorts. This edition’s summaries feature two out-of-state cases — one from Florida involving expulsion of an LLC member and one from Delaware involving the valuation upon redemption of an LLC member’s interest — and a New York appellate court decision involving the removal of a limited partnership’s general partner.

The Anti-Chiu: Florida Court Upholds LLC Member’s Expulsion

Froonjian v Ultimate Combatant, LLC, No. 4D14-662 [Fla. Dist. Ct. App. May 27, 2015].  The Florida intermediate appellate court’s ruling in Froonjian makes for a fascinating contrast with New York case law represented most prominently by the Second Department’s 2010 decision in Chiu v Chiu holding that, absent express authorization in the LLC’s operating agreement, a member’s involuntary expulsion is not permitted. Going 180° in the other direction, the Froonjian court upheld the majority members’ expulsion of a minority member from a Florida LLC that had no operating agreement, reasoning that the Florida default statute vesting all decision-making authority in the members acting by majority vote encompasses the authority to expel a member. Continue Reading Summer Shorts: Member Expulsion and Other Recent Decisions of Interest

Jurisdiction2Thanks to a recent decision by a Manhattan Commercial Division judge, it’s “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1) on the pesky question whether New York courts have subject matter jurisdiction over judicial dissolution proceedings involving foreign business entities.

The unreported transcript decision is by Justice Jeffrey K. Oing in a case called Matter of Activity Kuafu Hudson Yards LLC, NY County Supreme Court Index No. 650599/15, in which the judge dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction a petition to dissolve an allegedly deadlocked Delaware LLC, notwithstanding a provision in its operating agreement waiving the members’ right to bring an action relating to the agreement “in any court outside New York County, New York.”

This is one of my favorite topics on which I’ve written several posts over the years (read here, here, here, and here). As you would expect, most of the cases involve New York-based Delaware entities, and of late the debate has shifted from Delaware corporations to the ever-more-popular Delaware limited liability company.

The Kuafu lawsuit involves a real estate project known as Hudson Rise that is part of the massive redevelopment of midtown Manhattan’s west side near the Javits convention center, to be built atop the existing railroad yards. The Hudson Rise project is being developed by a manager-managed Delaware LLC named Reedrock Kuafu Development Co., LLC. Reedrock was formed in 2013 and has three members, each of which is a New York LLC, which I’ll refer to in shorthand fashion as Kuafu (50%), Siras and Ludwick (together, 50%). Continue Reading Delaware LLC Agreement Says Members Waive Right to Sue Outside New York, But New York Judge Says Otherwise in Dissolution Case