Articles Posted in Limited Liability Companies

Trusts have long been one of the most important tools used by estate planning lawyers to ensure that a person’s assets ultimately benefit the people they are intended to benefit. For example, estate planning attorneys sometimes use spendthrift trusts to protect the estate from creditors of either the person implementing the estate plan or the plan’s beneficiaries. In recent years, limited liability companies have also become important estate planning tools, especially for estates that include businesses, in part because they provide certain protections against creditors of the owners of the LLC, similar to the protection provided by spendthrift trusts, that are not offered by corporations, the usual alternative to LLCs.

The LLC is a relatively new creature, intended to combine the limited liability of a corporation (i.e., a liability shield between the owners of the company and the company’s creditors) with the income tax structure of a partnership.  LLC law draws some of its principles from the law of corporations and other principles from the law of partnerships.  One of the areas in which corporation and partnership law differ is the nature of ownership of a corporation or partnership, which in turn affects the extent to which a creditor of an owner can acquire the economic fruit of the business and the rights of the owner to control and manage the business.

Ownership of a corporation is represented by a share of stock.  The corporation is an entity distinct from the owners of the stock (called stockholders or shareholders), and the shareholders do not directly own any of the assets that belong to the corporation.  The owner of a share of stock has the right to receive the economic fruit of the business, delivered in the form of dividends paid to the company’s shareholders, and certain rights to control the business, primarily through a right to vote in an election of directors who are entrusted with its management and operation. Generally, shares of stock in a corporation are freely transferable, and a person who buys or otherwise receives the stock, no matter who that person is, acquires the right to receive any dividends paid by the corporation and the right to vote in the election of directors.  Although there can be more than one class of stock, representing different economic and noneconomic rights, and the transferability of stock, and even the voting rights of shareholders, can be restricted by contractual agreement, the fundamental model is that stock in a corporation represents a relatively inseparable bundle of economic and noneconomic rights that are freely transferable from one person to another.

Partnerships, on the other hand, are very different. (Note that there are different types of partnerships, including general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.  For simplicity, we’ll concentrate on general partnerships.)  Although a partnership is generally treated as an entity distinct from its partners, some aspects of partnership law make the partnership look more like a collection of people (i.e., the partners) rather than a separate entity jointly owned by partners.  More importantly for these purposes, the rights of the owners of a partnership (i.e., the partners) to control it and to receive its economic fruit are often much more complicated than the rights of a shareholder of a corporation.  The details of those rights are, for the most part, controlled by an agreement among the partners called, appropriately enough, a partnership agreement, but the basic model is that a partner’s rights, especially noneconomic rights, are not freely transferable.  Generally speaking, even though a partner may be able to assign his or her right to receive the economic fruit of the partnership (mostly in the form of distributions of cash from the partnership to the partners), a partner can generally not assign his or her rights to participate in the control and the management of the partnership.  Only a partner has that right, and generally a person can become a partner only with the consent of the other partners.

In Part II, we’ll examine how these principles of corporation law and partnership law have been integrated into LLC law and how that affects the utility of LLCs for estate planning and asset protection purposes.

 

Not just the questions, but also the answers!

1.  I know that a limited liability company is created when articles of organization are filed with the Indiana Secretary of State.  What information is in the articles of organization?

Surprisingly little information is absolutely required.  The bare minimum:

  • The name of the LLC. The name must generally be distinguishable from the name of any other entity that is required to file documents with the Secretary of State and it must include the “limited liability company,” “LLC,” “L.L.C.” (Generally, but not always. If the LLC’s name is not distinguishable from the name of another entity the name may still be used if the owners of the other entity give their consent.) Note that two names are not considered distinguishable if the only difference between them is, for example, “LLC” versus “Inc.”  In other words, Indiana Construction Management, LLC is not considered distinguishable from Indiana Construction Management, Inc.
  • The street address of the company’s registered office in Indiana and the name of the company’s registered agent whose business address is the same as the address of the registered office. The registered agent can be an individual, a corporation, a nonprofit corporation, or another LLC.
  • A representation that the person named as registered agent has consented to serve as registered agent.
  • The latest date that the company will dissolve or a statement that the duration of the company is perpetual until dissolved in accordance with the Indiana LLC statute.
  • If the company is to be managed by managers, a statement to that effect. (Technically, no statement is required if the LLC will be managed by its members; in other words, management by members is the default.  However, the Secretary of State’s form requires a statement one way or the other.)
  • The name and signature of the person, who need not be a member, submitting the articles.

2.  Are the articles of organization available to the public?

Yes, readily available on the Secretary of State’s web site.

3.  What is the Secretary of State’s filing fee for articles of organization?

The fee is $90 if you file articles of organization on paper, a bit less if you file the articles online.

4.  Does Indiana require an operating agreement for every LLC?

No, but it is a good practice for every LLC, even those with only one member, to have an operating agreement.

5.  Is the operating agreement a public document?

Generally, no.  Unlike the articles of organization, the operating agreement does not have to be filed with the Secretary of State.

6.  You didn’t mention the names of the members as part of the information required for the articles of organization.  Does that mean the members of an Indiana LLC can remain anonymous?iStock_000011930554_Small

Sort of. The names of the members need not be filed with the Secretary of State; the Secretary’s form for online filing has a place to name one or more members, but that information is optional.  However, various federal and state tax forms require the members to be named, and there are other circumstances, such as litigation involving the company, in which the names of the members will likely be disclosed. But is possible to form an Indiana LLC without publicly disclosing the names of the members.

7.  What about the LLC’s business or mailing address?  Is that available to the public?

Strictly speaking, the company’s business or mailing address (which need not be a street address and need not be inside Indiana) need not be included in the articles of organization.  As with the names of the members, the company’s address must be disclosed to the federal and state taxing authorities, and perhaps others.  As a practical matter, most companies include their addresses in their articles of organization, but technically that information is optional.

This is the final installment in a series of articles dealing with Indiana’s new benefit corporation statute in general and its applicability to small businesses in particular, and we now arrive at the ultimate question:  Is it a good idea for a small businesses to incorporate as (or to convert to) a benefit corporation?

In our opinion, the best choice of entity for most small businesses is a limited liability company, not a corporation, and the new benefit corporation statute does not change that opinion. Although we think the benefit corporation statute is an excellent addition to Indiana corporate and business law, we believe the Indiana LLC statute already has enough flexibility to permit LLCs to adopt the same governing principles, policies, and procedures that are pre-packaged in the benefit corporation statute without giving up the other advantages that LLCs have over corporations in general.

First, the Indiana Business Flexibility Act allows LLCs to be organized for “any business, personal, or nonprofit purpose,” which certainly seems broad enough to include the combination of business and public benefit purposes for which benefit corporations are created. Second, all of the governance, transparency, and accountability provisions of the benefit corporation statute can be incorporated into a limited liability company’s operating agreement. Finally, certification as a B-Corp is not restricted to benefit corporations – essentially any form of business entity is eligible to be certified as a B-Corp, including LLCs.

Here are the links to the other articles in this series:

Benefit Corporations and Small Businesses — Part I
Benefit Corporations and Small Businesses — Part II
Benefit Corporations and Small Businesses — Part III
Benefit Corporations and Small Businesses — Part IV

Part I of this series briefly discussed Indiana’s new benefit corporation statute as well as certification of a company as a B Corp by B Lab and some of the their possible advantages.  Part II began a closer look at the details of the benefit corporation statute, including the question of whether the benefit corporation is a good choice for small businesses.

The “Benefit” Part of a Benefit Corporation

As we’ve mentioned before, a benefit corporation is one with purposes in addition to making money for its shareholders. All benefit corporations share the purpose of creating a general public benefit, defined as having an overall material positive impact on society and the environment.  In addition, benefit corporations may also establish for themselves the purpose of creating a specific public benefit that serves one or more public welfare, religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purpose or another purpose that goes beyond the strict interests of the shareholders.

Transparency and Accountability

The benefit corporation statute also includes provisions intended to provide transparency to investors, customers, and the public.  For example, the corporation must prepare and file with the Secretary of State an annual benefit report that includes, among other things, a description of the ways in which the corporation pursued the general public benefit and its specific public benefit, the ways in which those benefits were achieved, and an assessment of the corporation’s performance measured against a standard created by an independent third party.

The statute also includes provisions that assure a degree of accountability for pursuing the general public benefit and its specific public benefit. Among those provisions are standards of conduct that require the directors to take into account the effects of any corporate action or inaction on:

  • The corporation’s shareholders
  • The workforces of the corporation, of its subsidiaries, and of its suppliers;
  • The corporation’s customers as beneficiaries of the corporation’s public benefits
  • The communities in which the corporation’s facilities, subsidiaries, and suppliers are located
  • The local and global environment
  • The short-term and long-term interests of the company

In addition, the statute gives the corporation, shareholders, and directors the right to initiate a benefit enforcement proceeding against the corporation or its directors or officers for the failure to pursue or create a general public benefit or the corporation’s specific public benefit or to comply any duty, obligation, or standard of conduct created by the statute.

The Concern that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A concern of the boards of some business corporations who would like to take into account factors other than maximizing corporate profit is that, by doing so, they may expose themselves to shareholder lawsuits for a breach of their fiduciary duties.  One of the reasons for the standards of conduct described above is to address that concern for the boards of benefit corporations.  However, taking into account every factor listed above for every corporate action or inaction appears to be a tall order, raising the question of whether the benefit corporation statute shifts the directors’ exposure to shareholder lawsuits from those based on the failure to maximize profit to those based on the failure to pursue the public benefit.  That question is addressed in Part IV.

Part I of this series briefly discussed Indiana’s new benefit corporation statute as well as certification of a company as a “B Corp” by B Lab and some of the possible advantages of certification and of incorporation under the new statute.  Part II begins to look more closely at the details of the new law and to consider whether it makes sense for small businesses to incorporate under the new statute.

From a corporate law perspective, benefit corporations are, first and foremost, corporations subject to the Indiana Business Corporation Law, just like any other Indiana for-profit corporation.  In our view, a corporation is not the best choice of the form of entity for most small businesses.  For a number of reasons, including the tax alternatives available to LLCs, the “pick-your-partner” and charging order provisions of the Indiana LLC statute, and the fact that LLCs have fewer corporate formalities that must be observed (which decreases the possibility that the liability shield that protects the assets of owners from the creditors of the business will be disregarded through so-called veil-piercing), we believe that a limited liability company is a better choice than a corporation for most small businesses.

The above advantages of LLCs over corporations are the same – or even greater – for benefit corporations.  For example, partnership taxation is not an option for benefit corporations; if that is important enough, a benefit corporation is not a viable alternative.  In addition, the benefit corporation adds more required corporate formalities on top of those already imposed by the Indiana Business Corporation law, increasing the administrative burden and the possibility of weakening the liability shield protecting the assets of owners from the company’s creditors.  In other words, for most small businesses, a benefit corporation will not be the best choice of entity for most small businesses, unless the advantages of incorporating as a benefit corporation outweigh the advantages of organizing as a limited liability company.

As we discussed in Part I, the advantages of a benefit corporation appear to fall into two categories:

  • The business advantages that may be achieved by demonstrating to customers and investors the company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility and to creating specific social benefits.
  • Protecting the directors from lawsuits based on allegations of breach of fiduciary duties for basing decisions on social benefits instead of maximizing corporate profits.

As for the first category, we note that being a benefit corporation can help demonstrate a commitment to creating benefits to society but a benefit corporation probably has no more ability to produce those benefits than a regular business corporation or a limited liability company. For example, the Indiana Business Corporation Law already permits directors to take into account the impact of their decisions on constituencies other than their shareholders and concerns other than maximizing profit, and the Indiana Business Flexibility Act permits the organization of LLCs for any business, personal, or non-profit purpose, which seems broad enough to cover anything that might be accomplished by a benefit corporation. We will discuss that topic in more detail in Part III of this series.  The degree to which directors of a benefit corporation are exposed to lawsuits by shareholders for pursuing purposes other than the pecuniary interests of shareholders will be addressed briefly in Part III and more thoroughly by a guest blogger in Part IV.

The issuance or sale of securities is subject to regulation by the United States Securities Exchange Commission and by authorities in every state, including the Securities Division of the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State.   Depending on the situation, a member’s interest in a limited liability company may or may not be within the definition of a “security” and, therefore, may or may not be subject to federal and state securities laws.  If the securities laws apply, the consequences can be signficant because, as my friend and retired securities lawyer Steven Lund says, “There are three types of securities:  registered, exempt, and illegal.”

Contrary to what you may sometimes hear, there is no exemption for securities that are issued or sold to family members or close friends, and there is no sale of securities that is exempt solely because the value is less than a certain amount.  In addition, certain parts of the securities laws, such as those prohibiting securities fraud, apply to every securities transaction, even if it is exempt from registration requirements.  An illegal sale of securities can have serious ramifications, including civil lawsuits and potentially even criminal charges.  And there can be ramifications even if there is never a lawsuit or governmental enforcement action  For example, a debt incurred through a securities violation cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  Owners of small businesses who set up new LLCs, or bring new members into existing LLCs, without obtaining the advice of a lawyer with experience in corporate and LLC law expose their businesses and themselves to signficant risk.

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I sometimes run across small business owners who have set up their business as a corporation, and I often ask why they chose a corporation rather than a limited liability company (or LLC).  Sometimes the answer is that the business was incorporated before LLCs existed, or when LLCs were new and the lawyer who advised the owner was not familiar with LLCs or was not comfortable with using them, and that makes sense.  Another relatively common answer is that the owner’s lawyer or, more often, accountant advised the owner that there were advantages to being taxed as a Subchapter S corporation rather than being taxed as an LLC, so the business was organized as a corporation rather than a limited liability company.  That doesn’t make as much sense, at least not since 1997.

Although the history of LLCs can be traced back to earlier statutes in Germany and other European countries, there were no LLCs in the United States until 1977 when Wyoming passed the first LLC statute in the country.  For several years after that, the use of LLCs was suppressed by uncertainty surrounding their status for income tax purposes.

The Internal Revenue Code did not (and still does not) include provisions specifically written for taxing LLCs.  The question was whether they would be taxed as partnerships or as corporations, and the answer was not clear.  In 1995, the IRS issued guidance identifying four specific attributes Continue Reading

iStock_000014425910XSmall.jpgOne of the factors for determining when the owners of an LLC (or a corporation) may be held liable for the obligations of the business is whether the required corporate formalites have been observed. A while back, we posted an article about the required corporate formalities for Indiana limited liability companies. One of them is that each Indiana LLC must maintain certain records and must make them available to members for inspection and copying. Notably, that requirement is not a default provision that can be reduced or eliminated by the operating agreement.

Last week the LLC Law Monitor blog by Doug Batey of Stoel Rives commented on a Massacusetts case, Kosanovich v. 80 Worcester Street Associates, LLC, No. 201201 CV 001748, 2014 WL 2565959 (Mass. App. Div. May 28, 2014), that imposed liability on the sole member of a Massachusetts limited liability company primarily because of the LLC’s failure to maintain records. Doug described the case (correctly, in my view) as “an outlier decision on veil-piercing” for piercing the veil based on so little.

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iStock_000007115543Small.jpgLast week I posted an article about apparent authority of a member or manager of an Indiana limited liability companies to bind the LLC, usually by signing a contract on behalf of the company, including a discussion of a 2013 decision of the Indiana Court of Appeals, Cain Family Farms vs. Shrader Real Estate & Auction, addressing the common law doctrine of apparent authority and the provisions of the Indiana Business Flexibility Act that bestow apparent authority on members and managers. Under the facts presented by the record, the court held that apparent authority existed and, in particular, “Whether we consider the question of apparent authority under the common law or the
Indiana Business Flexibility Act, the outcome is the same.”

As discussed in last week’s Indiana Business Law Blog post, one can imagine situations in which the statute would establish apparent authority but the common law analysis would not, and vice versa. It seems clear that a member or manager has authority to bind a limited liability company if the Indiana Business Flexibility Act says so, even if the member or manager would not have apparent authority under the common law analysis. But what if it’s the other way around? Will an Indiana court enforce a contract signed by a member or manager on behalf of the LLC if the member or manager would have apparent authority under the common law but not under the Indiana Business Flexibility Act? Although the Cain Family Farm decision does directly address that question, the Court of Appeals appears to treat the two bases of apparent authority as independently viable, implying that Indiana courts will recognize the apparent authority of a member or manager under the common law even if apparent authority does not exist under the Indiana Business Flexibility Act.

Since I posted the article last week, I’ve corresponded with my friend John Cunningham, a New Hampshire attorney, a recognized expert on LLCs, a blogger, and co-author of Drafting Limited Liability Company Operating Agreements, my go-to reference for LLC law and operating agreements. I asked John about the question, and he pointed me to the official commentary of the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, which discusses why the RULLCA leaves the issue of apparent authority of members to the common law. See RULLCA Section 301.

After reflecting on my correspondence with John and reading the commentary to the RULLCA, I’ve come to believe that the path on which the Court of Appeals appears to have placed Indiana law is a good one. Note that question of apparent authority is irrelevant if the member or manager has actual authority to bind the company, and it cannot be used by another party to avoid a contract with a limited liability company over the LLCs objection. (If nothing else, the LLC can always ratify the contract.) The question arises only when an LLC tries to avoid a contract signed by a member or manager in the absence of actual authority, and the question is, who suffers the consequences — the LLC or the other party? Although the Indiana Business Flexibility Act creates some areas of relative certainty (which I believe is superior to the intentional silence of the RULLCA), it also denies apparent authority under some circumstances in which the other party to the contract reasonably believes, based on the conduct of the LLC, that the member or manager is acting within his or her authority.

In my personal view, it is better public policy to err on the side of enforcing contracts in those situations by maintaining the common law doctrine as a viable basis for apparent authority, independent of the statutory basis. First, the LLC is in the best position to control the actions of its members or managers, and the operating agreement can provide a remedy when one of them misbehaves. Second, the LLC is also in the best position to control its own actions and to avoid conduct that cloaks its representatives with apparent authority when they lack actual authority. Third, to fail to enforce a contract that the other party entered into in good faith, based on a reasonable belief that the member or manager had authority to bind the company (or to require prospective counterparties to consult the public record before signing a contract with a limited liability company) could cause others to be overly cautious, even leery, of doing business with LLCs.

Whether Indiana courts agree with this analysis remains to be seen.
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iStock_000007115543Small.jpgWhether a particular person has the authority to execute a contract on behalf of another person or entity is a standard question of agency law. If the principal has expressly or impliedly authorized an agent to execute contracts on behalf of the principal, the agent is said to have actual authority. However, a person who does not have actual authority can nonetheless bind the principal if that person has apparent authority.

Common Law Standard for Apparent Authority

The common law analysis of apparent authority is well established. An agent has apparent authority when a third person reasonably believes, based on the conduct of the principal, that the agent has authority. The reason for the belief need not be an actual statement by the prinicipal but can be (and usually is) found in the circumstances in which the prinicipal places the agent, but it is essential that the third party’s belief is based on the conduct of the principal; the statements or actions of the agent cannot create apparent authority. Moreover, if the third person knows that the agent has no actual authority, apparent authority does not exist.

Apparent Authority under the Indiana Business Flexibility Act

The Indiana Business Flexibility Act (Article 23-18 of the Indiana Code) contains different rules for the authority of members and managers of limited liability companies, and the rules are slightly different for LLCs formed on or before June 30, 1999 (Section 23-18-3-1), and LLCs formed after that date (Section 23-18-3-1.1).

If the LLC’s articles of organization do not provide for managers (i.e., a member-managed LLC), each member is an agent of the LLC for the purpose of the LLC’s business and affairs. Accordingly, the act of any member for those purposes, including the execution of a contract, binds the LLC, subject to the following exceptions:

  1. The member does not have actual authority and the person with whom the member is dealing knows that the member does not have actual authority.
  2. The act is not apparently for the purpose of carrying on the LLC’s business and affairs in the usual manner, unless the member has been granted actual authority by the operating agreement or by unanimous consent of the members.
  3. For LLCs formed after June 30, 1999, the articles of organization provide that the member does not have the authority to bind the company.

If the LLC’s articles of organizations provide for managers, a member acting solely in the capacity of a member is not an agent of the LLC and does not have authority to bind the LLC, except to the extent provided by the articles of organization. Instead, each manager is an agent of the company and has authority to bind the LLC, subject to the following exceptions:

  1. The manager does not have actual authority and the person with whom the manager is dealing knows that the manager does not have actual authority.
  2. The act is not apparently for the purpose of carrying on the LLC’s business and affairs in the usual manner, unless the manager has been granted actual authority by the operating agreement or by unanimous consent of the members..
  3. For LLCs formed after June 30, 1999, the articles of organization provide that the manager does not have the authority to bind the company.

Although Sections 3-1 and 3-1.1 of the Indiana Business Flexibility Act speak only of authority and agency, not of apparent authority and apparent agency, it seems clear that those sections deal with apparent authority and that actual authority of managers and members is addressed elsewhere, in Section 23-18-4-1. Indeed, the only Indiana decision to address Section 3-1.1, Cain Family Farm, L.P. vs. Schrader Real Estate & Auction Company, describes that section as a source of apparent authority and not actual authority.

Comparison of Common Law and Statutory Bases for Apparent Authority

The following table summarizes the main differences between the common law basis of apparent authority and the statutory basis.

Common law analysis of apparent authority

Apparent authority of members and managers under Indiana Business Flexibility Act

Applies to any agent of the company.

Applies only to members or managers.

Apparent authority created by conduct of the company.

Apparent authority created by the articles of organization; no other conduct necessary.

The person with whom the member or manager is dealing must have a reasonable belief that the member or manager has authority based on the company’s conduct.

As long as the person with whom the member or manager is dealing does not have actual knowledge that the member or manager lacks authority,
that person’s subjective belief is irrelevant.

No exception for acts outside the usual course of business

No authority for acts outside the apparent usual way the company does business, unless the authority is granted by the operating agreement or by unanimous consent of the members.

When we’re dealing with managers of an LLC or with members in a member-managed LLC, the statute confers authority more broadly than the common law because no other conduct on the part of the LLC is necessary. However, the statutory exceptions are also broader because the common law contains no exception for acts outside the usual way the LLC does business. In addition, the statute denies authority to members of a manager-managed LLC (except to the extent the articles of organization confer authority) but the common law analysis treats the members of a manager-managed LLC no differently than any other agent. In other words, it is possible for a manager or member to have apparent authority under the statute but not under the common law, and vice versa. What happens then?

One possibility is that the statute is now the exclusive source of apparent authority for members and managers of LLCs. That would not appear to cause any problems when the statute confers apparent authority more broadly than the common law standard, but what about situations that fall into one of the broader statutory exceptions, for example when the member of a manager-managed LLC takes an action that a third party would reasonably believe, based on the conduct of the LLC, the member was authorized to take? Does the statute abrogate the common law in that situation?

It appears that it does not. In the Cain Family Farms decision mentioned above, the Court of Appeals considered the apparent authority of a member to bind a member-managed LLC. In doing so, the Court of Appeals analyzed the member’s authority under both the common law and the Indiana Business Flexibility Act. Perhaps because the Court found that apparent authority existed under both analyses, it did not expressly decide which one would control in the event of a conflict. Nonetheless, the implication seems to be that both sources of apparent authority remain viable and that the LLC will be bound by the actions of a member or manager if either the common law or the Indiana Business Flexibilty Act impute that authority to the member or manager.

[For more discussion of this topic, see LLCs and Apparent Authority II.)
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