Category Archives: Contracts & Agreements

New Jersey Supreme Court Provides Test To Determine Whether A Limited Liability Company Member Can Be Judicially Expelled

By Steven Walder, Esq.
swalder@pashmanstein.com

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently addressed in IE Test, LLC v. Carroll, ___ N.J. ___ (2016), the circumstances under which the member of a limited liability company (LLC) can be judicially expelled.  The IE Test decision is important as LLC’s are among the more common form of business organization throughout New Jersey.  By providing seven factors for New Jersey trial courts to consider, guidance has now been provided to determine whether it is “not reasonably practicable” for a member to remain associated with an LLC that wishes to continue operating.

The dispute that prompted the IE Test litigation resulted from the failure of a prior business, Instrumentation Engineering, LLC, in which IE Test’s three LLC members were involved. Defendant Kenneth Carroll was the co-owner of Instrumentation Engineering with Patrick Cupo, while Byron James was employed at the company.  In 2009, following a series of financial setbacks, Instrumentation Engineering filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  During the bankruptcy proceeding, Carroll claimed that Instrumentation Engineering owed him more than $2.5 million.  Ultimately, Instrumentation Engineering failed to repay this debt to Mr. Carroll.

As Instrumentation Engineering’s business was failing, its owners contemplated establishing a new business.  Ultimately, IE Test was formed as a New Jersey LLC shortly before Instrumentation Engineering filed for bankruptcy.  IE Test had three members, which included Cupo at 34%, with Carroll and James each at 33%.  From the outset of IE Test, Cupo and James played an active role in the business, while Carroll was a passive member.  While the intention of the three members of IE Test was to enter into an operating agreement, this never came to fruition, primarily due to the fact that Carroll was seeking compensation that would allow him to recover some of his lost investment in Instrumentation Engineering.

By early 2010, as a result of the members’ failure to enter into an Operating Agreement, in addition to the belief of Cupo and James that they could no longer work together with Carroll, IE Test filed a lawsuit against Carroll seeking to remove him as a member.  Specifically,   IE Test alleged in its complaint that Carroll had engaged in conduct which made it “not reasonably practicable” pursuant to N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24(b)(3) of the New Jersey Limited Liability Company Act (“LLCA”) to carry on the activities of IE Test with Carroll as a member.

The trial court agreed that it was not reasonably practicable for IE Test to continue as a business with Carroll as a member and entered an order expelling him from membership.  Carroll appealed the trial court’s decision, which was ultimately affirmed by the Appellate Division.  The basis for the Appellate Division’s ruling in March of 2015 was that N.J.S.A. 42:2C-46(e) of the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (“RULLCA”), which had replaced N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24(b)(3) of the LLCA in 2013, required that a trial judge engage in predictive reasoning in order to evaluate the future impact of an LLC member’s current conduct.  Utilizing predictive reasoning, the appellate panel found that the continued operation of IE Test with Carroll as a member was “not reasonably practicable” because Carroll’s relationship with Cupo and James never recovered from Carroll’s demand that he be compensated in a manner that permitted him to recoup his lost investment in Instrumentation Engineering.

The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division ruling that LLC members seeking to expel a fellow member are required to clear a high bar.  The Supreme Court indicated that neither N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24(b)(3)(c), nor its counterpart N.J.S.A. 42:2C-46(e)(3), authorizes a court to disassociate an LLC member merely because there is a conflict.  Instead, both provisions require the court to evaluate the conduct of the LLC member relating to the LLC, and assess whether the LLC can be managed notwithstanding that conduct, in accordance with either the terms of an operating agreement or the default provisions of the statute.

In an effort to guide trial courts in the evaluation whether an LLC member should be expelled under the “not reasonably practicable” standard, the Supreme Court provided seven factors to be considered.  The factors include: (1) the nature of the LLC’s members conduct relating to the LLC’s business; (2) whether, with the LLC member remaining a member, the entity may be managed so as to promote the purposes for which it was formed; (3) whether the dispute among the LLC members precludes them from working with one another to pursue the LLC’s goals; (4) whether there is a deadlock among members; (5) whether, despite that deadlock, members can make decisions on the management of the company, pursuant to the operating agreement or in accordance with applicable statutory provisions; (6) whether, due to the LLC’s financial position, there is still a business to operate; and (7) whether continuing the LLC, with the LLC member remaining a member, is financially feasible.

The Supreme Court summarized its view that a trial court considering an application to expel an LLC member should conduct a case-specific analysis of the record using the seven factors, as well as other considerations raised by the record, with no requirement that all factors support expulsion, and no single factor determining the outcome.

Pashman Stein Walder Hayden’s Corporate Group is available to answer any questions that you may have about the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling and its impact on LLC’s facing internal disputes among its members.

NJ Boards of Directors May Not Alter Shareholder Quorum Requirements Via Amendment to Corporate Bylaws

By Rachel Mills, Esq.
rmills@pashmanstein.com

It is not unusual for shareholders in closely held companies to overlook the shareholder quorum requirements.  But such quorum requirements can be either an Achilles’ heel or powerful tool in the event of a shareholder dispute on the direction and operations of the company.  In a recent appellate decision, a New Jersey court ruled that a corporation’s board of directors could not deal with an obstructionist shareholder by modifying the company’s shareholder-quorum requirement through a bylaw amendment.[1]  Instead, any deviation from the New Jersey Business Corporation Act’s default rule on shareholder quorum—that a majority of a corporation’s shares must be represented in person or by proxy at a shareholder meeting in order to constitute quorum—must be provided for in the corporation’s certificate of incorporation.  Companies and shareholders looking to either prevent corporate changes or overcome obstructionist shareholders should carefully consider their options.

Background

The Board of Directors of Laurel Gardens Co-Op, Inc. (“the Co-Op”), a New Jersey corporation, attempted to alter the definition of quorum for purposes of shareholder meetings by amending the Co-Op’s bylaws.  Those bylaws required the majority of the Co-Op’s shares, sold or unsold, to appear in person or by proxy to constitute quorum.

Prior to the Board’s attempt to alter the shareholder-quorum requirement, the Board, in 2012, twice called a shareholder meeting wherein the Board intended to vote on a proposed amendment to the bylaws regarding the Co-Op’s subleasing rules and requirements.   Specifically, the sublease amendment would alter the bylaws to require, as a pre-condition for subleasing an apartment, that the owner wait at least one year after acquiring an apartment before the owner can apply to sublease the apartment.  This amendment would essentially reduce the ratio of rental units to owner-occupied units, which would make it easier for prospective purchasers to obtain financing to purchase Co-Op shares.  The plaintiffs, who included the Co-Op’s sponsor at the time the Co-Op converted to a cooperative from of ownership, raised objections to the sublease amendment, asserting that the amendment would violate the sponsor-protection provision.  That provision provided that the bylaws could not be amended in any manner that would affect the sponsor’s rights/interests.  While the proposed sublease amendment exempted the sponsor from its restrictions, the plaintiffs claimed that the sublease amendment nonetheless ran afoul of the sponsor-protection provision because the amendment had the potential to harm the sponsor’s future attempts to sell its shares to prospective purchasers who may wish to sublease the units rather than occupying the units themselves.

At the two shareholder meetings called by the Board to put the sublease amendment to a vote, an insufficient number of shareholders attended the meetings to establish a quorum.  The Board then called a third shareholders’ meeting, immediately following the Board’s monthly meeting.  At the Board meeting prior to the shareholder meeting, all of the Board members who were present unanimously approved the sublease amendment and also an amendment to the bylaws’ shareholder-quorum requirement.  The shareholder-quorum amendment reduced the necessary quorum from a majority of the Co-Op’s shares to 20% of the shares.

The plaintiffs—the Co-Op’s sponsor and one of the Co-Op’s directors—filed suit, individually and derivatively, against Co-Op and the directors who approved the challenged amendments.  The plaintiffs claimed shareholder oppression, breach of contract, and tortious interference based, in large part, on the bylaws’ sponsor-protection provision.  The plaintiffs argued that the sublease and shareholder-quorum amendments ran afoul of that sponsor-protection provision because they had the capacity to limit the value of the sponsor’s shares to prospective purchasers.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant Co-Op and directors and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

The Appellate Division Decision

The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that, under the unambiguous text of the New Jersey Business Corporation Act, N.J.S.A. 14A:1-1 to 17-18 (“the Act”), the Board could not unilaterally reduce the shareholder-quorum requirement by bylaw amendment.  N.J.S.A. 14A:15-9 states in relevant part: “Unless otherwise provided in the certificate of incorporation or this act, the holders of shares entitled to cast a majority of the votes at a meeting shall constitute quorum at such meeting.”  The court interpreted this “to mean that, in order to hold a vote amongst the Co-Op’s shareholders, a majority of all shares of the Co-Op must be represented at the meeting.”

The court explained that the only manner to modify the shareholder-quorum requirement under the Act is by amendment to the certificate of incorporation, which can only be approved by a vote of the shareholders under N.J.S.A. 14A:9-2(4).  The Co-Op’s certificate of incorporation did not address quorum for shareholder meetings, and, as a result, the Act’s default majority requirement for shareholder quorum controls.  Under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 14A:15-9, an amendment to the corporation’s bylaws was insufficient to modify the Act’s default quorum requirement.

The appellate court was not persuaded by the defendants’ argument that some shareholders, particularly the sponsor who held a substantial percentage of shares, were preventing the Board from conducting meaningful business by boycotting shareholder meetings.  The court noted that the Board had alternatives to address the perceived obstructive behavior, including by persuading shareholders to attend the annual meeting to amend the certificate of incorporation or by initiating General Equity Litigation under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-2 to obtain a court-ordered shareholder meeting wherein “the majority quorum requirement would have been waived by operation of law.”

The Bottom Line

Quorum requirements are critical to a company’s operations because they determine how many shares must approve material changes to the business and how it functions.  Smaller quorum requirements can empower minority interests to exert significant control.

On the one hand, this case is a powerful example of the ability of a shareholder owning a substantial portion of an entity’s shares to slow and obstruct the business of the corporation to its advantage by merely absenting itself, and other shareholders under its influence, from attendance at shareholder meetings.  Going forward, those forming corporations in New Jersey could consider altering the Business Corporation Act’s default rules in the certificate of incorporation at the time of the corporation’s inception to give the Board of Directors the necessary flexibility to take corporate action in the face of shareholder obstruction, apathy, or inaction.

On the other hand, managers and shareholders may wish to implement and maintain the default majority quorum requirements to prevent a minority group from taking action that affects the entire business without a majority present.  Businesses can deal with obstructionist shareholders in other ways, including, as described in the Appellate Division decision, by instituting General Equity Litigation.

Board members or shareholders considering modifications the default quorum requirements can contact me for further discussion and evaluation of strategies for dealing with individual situations.

 

 

[1] Sterling Laurel Realty, LLC, et al. v. Laurel Gardens Co-Op, Inc., No. A-0696-14T4 (N.J. App. Div. April 5, 2016) (approved for publication).

Fees on Fees for Corporate Indemnification: Who pays the bill when you have to sue your company to defend you?

As it appeared in the New Jersey Law Journal.

Schwartz, A.By Adam Schwartz, Esq.

So you are an officer or director of a company and you have been sued for some action (or inaction) you took in your corporate capacity. Does the company defend and indemnify you? In most instances, unless you are being sued for fraud, the company’s bylaws, and in some instances even New Jersey statutes, require the company to provide defense and indemnification. But what happens if the company refuses?

Under New Jersey’s corporate indemnification statute, you can sue to obtain the defense and indemnification to which you are entitled, but at what cost? Will you spend more suing the company than paying for your own defense in the underlying matter? Unless you can recover the attorney fees you incur in suing the company (often referred to as “fees on fees”), you will not be made whole. Moreover, if the company is not compelled to pay your legal fees, it creates an incentive to deny coverage in the first instance. Maybe you won’t bother suing. Maybe you won’t realize you can challenge the company’s decision to deny coverage.

There are no reported New Jersey cases addressing “fees on fees” in the corporate indemnification context. However, a New Jersey court will inevitably face this issue. How will it be resolved? On issues of first impression, New Jersey courts often look to other jurisdictions for guidance, such as Delaware and New York, which have similar corporate indemnification statutes. However, those states have reached opposite conclusions—Delaware allows an officer to recover “fees on fees” while New York does not. Thus, New Jersey courts facing this issue will likely follow the state—Delaware or New York—with the most persuasive reasoning.

As an initial matter, all three states follow what is called the “American Rule,” which provides that each litigant must bear his own legal costs unless a statute, court rule or contract specifically provides that a successful plaintiff can recover attorney fees. See Porreca v. City of Mellville, 419 N.J. Super. 212, 224 (App. Div. 2010); see also Goodrich v. E.F. Hutton Group, 681 A.2d 1039, 1043 (Del. Sup. Ct. 1996); Baker v. Health Management Systems, 98 N.Y. 2d 80, 88 (2002). Thus, the ability to recover “fees on fees” will be determined by corporate indemnification statutes and/or the company’s bylaws. As bylaws frequently provide for coverage “to the fullest extent” allowed under the law, the corporate statutes will be the focal point for any analysis.

The applicable Delaware Statute, 8 Del. C. 145(a), provides as follows:

A corporation shall have the power to indemnify any person who was or is a party or is threatened to be made a party to any … suit or proceeding … by reason of the fact that the person is or was a director, officer, employee or agent of the corporation … against expenses (including attorneys’ fees), judgments, fines and amounts paid in settlement actually and reasonablyincurred by the person in connection with such action, suit or proceeding.

In Stifel Fin. Corp. v. Cochran, 809 AD.2d 555 (Del. Sup. Ct. 2003), the Delaware Supreme Court noted that § 145(a) permits indemnification “in any action,” may extend to the indemnification action itself. It further noted that § 145(a) is remedial in nature and “should be broadly interpreted to further the goals it was enacted to achieve.” Those goals include (i) assisting corporate officials resist what they consider to be unjustified suits, and (ii) encouraging “capable men to serve as corporate directors, secure in the knowledge that expenses incurred by them in upholding their honesty and integrity as directors will be borne by the corporation they serve.”

In light of those objectives, the Stifel court held that “without an award of attorneys’ fees for the indemnification suit itself, indemnification would be incomplete.” Thus, it concluded that, while § 145(a) does not expressly state that “fees on fees” are recoverable, the language provides that “fees on fees” are “permissible” and therefore “authorized”—although not required. As the company’s bylaws provided for indemnification to the fullest extent of the law, and “fees on fees” are permissible under the law, the officer was reimbursed for the fees he incurred in seeking indemnification. Moreover, the Stifel court observed that allowing “fees on fees” under these circumstances would prevent a company with “deep pockets” from wearing down a former director, “with a valid claim to indemnification, through expensive litigation.”

In essence, Stifel subordinated the American Rule and looked to the purposes behind § 145(a) to determine that “fees on fees” supported the statute’s remedial purpose. It did not believe corporations would be unduly punished by this result because they can tailor their bylaws to exclude “fees on fees” if so desired.

On the other hand, New York’s highest court has held that New York’s corporate indemnification statute does not permit “fees on fees.” Baker, 98 N.Y.2d at 88. The corporate indemnification statute in New York, McKinney’s Business Corporation Law § 722, provides that:

A corporation may indemnify any person made, or threatened to be made, a party to an action or proceeding … by reason of the fact that he … was a director or officer of the corporation … against judgments, fines, amounts paid in settlement and reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees actually and necessarily incurred as a result of such action or proceeding, or any appeal therein.

In Baker, a corporate officer who successfully obtained indemnification argued that he was entitled to “fees on fees” because the attorney fees he incurred by suing to obtain indemnification were “necessarily incurred as a result” of his being sued in his corporate capacity for securities fraud. The Baker court rejected the officer’s argument, holding that the fees he incurred in the indemnification lawsuit were caused by the company’s refusal to indemnify; they were not incurred as a result of the officer being sued in the underlying securities fraud action.

The Baker court then examined the legislative history of §722 and discerned no evidence suggesting an intention to allow “fees on fees.” It further held that even if the officer’s argument had merit, it would be preempted by the American Rule. In essence, the Baker court held that, since “fees on fees” were not expressly authorized in §722, they are not available. It did not believe its holding would unduly punish corporate officers because they “remain free to provide indemnification of fees on fees in bylaws, employment contracts or through insurance.”

New Jersey’s corporate indemnification statute provides that: “Any corporation … shall have the power to indemnify a corporate agent against his expenses and liabilities in connection with any proceeding involving the corporate agent.” N.J.S.A. 14A:3-5(2). As with the Delaware and New York statutes, it is silent on the issue of fees on fees. The reasoning of Delaware and New York, provide credible arguments for and against “fees on fees.” However, New Jersey is more likely to follow the logic of Stifel.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has noted that Delaware’s corporate indemnification statute is similar to and in fact, constitutes “the very genesis of New Jersey’s Indemnification Statute.” Vergopia v. Shaker, 191 N.J. 217, 220, fn. 1 (2007). Thus, it will likely look to Delaware courts for guidance as it has previously done for corporate law issues. Moreover, New Jersey courts have recognized the remedial nature of the corporate indemnification statute and the goals it seeks to achieve—goals identical to those identified in Stifel. SeeCohn v. Southbridge Park, 369 N.J. Super. 156, 160 (App. Div. 2004) (noting that the statute (i) helps corporate officials resist what they consider to be unjustified suits and claims, and (ii) encouragescapablemen to serve as corporate directors.)

Moreover, one of the primary differences between New York and Delaware is who the courts believe are responsible for protecting themselves against an unfavorable result. Delaware believes that it is incumbent upon the company to amend its bylaws to exclude “fees on fees”; while New York places that burden for ensuring the availability of “fees on fees” on the individual officer.

Faced with this dichotomy, New Jersey will likely place the burden on the company to exclude coverage. In other instances, New Jersey courts have looked to the relative bargaining power of the respective parties to determine the viability of a claim. SeeMohammed v. Count Bank of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, 189 N.J. 1, 15 (2006) (contracts of adhesion); see also Alloway v. General Marine Industries, 149 N.J. 620, 628 (1997) (whether tort or contract principles apply to transaction). In this instance, the relative bargaining power clearly rests with the company, which has already approved the bylaws and has deeper pockets that the individual.

Thus, notwithstanding New Jersey’s adherence to the American Rule, a New Jersey court will likely find that “fees on fees” are permitted under N.J.S.A. 14A:3-5(2).•

Reprinted with permission from the February 9, 2015 issue of The New Jersey Law Journal. © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

Prepayment Fees on Commercial Loans

By Louis Pashman, Esq.
lpashman@pashmanstein.com

It is pretty widely known at this point that New Jersey does not permit prepayment penalties on mortgage loans.  N.J.S.A. 46:10B-2.

What if, however, you enter into a commercial loan?  That loan is often guaranteed by a principal of the borrower.  Additionally, the lender frequently requires a mortgage on the guarantor’s personal residence.  Is that sufficient to bring into play the prohibition on prepayment penalties?

That was the question in Lopresti v. Wells Fargo Bank, 435 N.J. Super 311 (App. Div. 2014).

The borrower was a commercial enterprise.  Lender required a personal guaranty from the President of the company.  Borrower also required a mortgage on the guarantor’s personal residence.  Some years later, when interest rates had fallen, borrower asked Wells Fargo to renegotiate the loan.  The bank refused.  Borrower then went to another bank to refinance.  That bank paid off Wells Fargo, including a prepayment fee of $48,306.41.  Borrower challenged that, claiming that because the bank held a mortgage on his personal residence it was a mortgage loan and therefore no prepayment penalty was permitted.

The court first decided that the guarantor had standing to bring the action.  Although his interest was “inchoate and conditional,” he had a “real and genuine financial interest in the transaction….”

The court then noted, however, that all proceeds of the loan and the refinance were deposited directly into the account of the business.  No portion of the money was used for personal or residential purposes.  The mortgage secured the personal guaranty, not the business obligation.  Therefore, the mortgage on the personal residence was not a “mortgage loan” within the statute’s definition and the lender was not “the holder of a mortgage loan.”

The upshot is that prepayment fees, long considered acceptable in commercial transactions, do not lose their character as commercial loans if guaranteed by an individual and that guarantee is secured by a mortgage on the guarantor’s personal residence.

Application of the Oppressed Shareholder Provisions of the Business Corporations Act to Minority Oppression in other Business Organizations

By David White, Esq.
dwhite@pashmanstein.com

A developing trend toward applying minority shareholder oppression remedies under the Business Corporations Act (“BCA”), to owners of other business entities was curtailed by the Appellate Division.  Tutunikov v. Markov, A-1827-10T3 (August 1, 2013).

N.J.S.A. 14A:12-7, contained in the BCA,  provides a range of remedies to oppressed minority shareholders. “Oppression” is said to occur where the conduct of the majority owners frustrate the minority shareholder’s reasonable expectations in the venture. Where oppression is demonstrated, courts are authorized to order a forced buyout of the oppressed shareholder’s interests and fix the price at “fair value.”  “Fair value” is a judicial construct designed to avoid diminishing the value of an oppressed shareholder’s stock by valuation discounts, such as those for minority or non-marketable interests, which would inure to the benefit of the buyer.

The current Limited Liability Act (the “LLC Act”) does not contain a compulsory buyout remedy.  Instead N.J.S.A. 42: 2B-39 provides that an LLC member may resign and receive fair value for his shares “less all applicable valuation discounts.” Because of similarities in the predicaments of oppressed owners in the corporate and LLC settings, and in the absence of a specific, statutory remedy, Courts had begun to “import” oppression remedies from the BCA to minority members.

In Tutunikov, the Appellate Division flatly held that the BCA is not applicable to LLCs. Thus its oppression remedies were not portable. Nevertheless, the opinion did uphold a buyout at fair value, a concept generally seen in the setting of shareholder oppression.

New Jersey has adopted the Revised Uniform LLC Act (“RULLCA”), which includes an oppression remedy similar to that under the BCA. N.J.S.A. 42:2C-48.  The RULLCA will become effective for all New Jersey LLCs on March 1, 2014. In the short interval before RULLCA becomes effective, the application of the BCA to LLCs is unlikely to receive additional judicial attention.  However, the Tutunikov decision does not necessarily foreclose crafting oppressed owner remedies in the partnership setting by analogy to the BCA. Like the LLC Act, the Partnership Act, N.J.S.A. 42:1A-1, et seq. is silent on remedies for oppression. In precluding BCA remedies for LLC members, the Tutunikov Court relied in part on the fact that an oppression remedy under the RULLCA was imminent.   No such revision in the partnership statutes is pending, and accordingly, the Tutunikov decision does not completely preclude arguments along those lines.

New Act Will Apply to All Limited Liability Companies – Part Three

By Bruce Ackerman, Esq.
backerman@pashmanstein.com

New Jersey’s new law affecting every limited liability company (“LLC”) is the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (“RULLCA”), which took effect September 19, 2012.  RULLCA controls all LLC’s formed on or after March 18, 2013, and all LLC’s regardless of when formed as of March 19, 2014.  This final part of three parts explaining elements of RULLCA will address the following areas which have changed in the new Act — distributions, resignation and withdrawal, and the rights of members to information.

As to distributions, the old LLC law provides that, unless the operating agreement provides otherwise, distributions are to be made based on “the agreed value … of the contributions made by each member.”  Again highlighting the importance of the operating agreement, RULLCA provides that distributions prior to dissolution or winding up are to be “in equal shares among members and dissociated members.”  That is contrary to the ordinary agreement by members, which would provide for distributions by their percentage of ownership.  The parties must have their operating agreement set forth the terms of their agreement as to distributions.

As to resignation of a member and the right to any payment or “distribution” upon such withdrawal, the old LLC law provides for six months’ notice to withdraw and the payment of any distribution provided under the operating agreement or, if not provided, then payment of fair value for the interest held, less all applicable discounts.  In contrast, under RULLCA, a member may withdraw at any time, and there is no entitlement to any distribution upon withdrawal.  Of course, the members themselves may agree otherwise and set forth that entitlement within their operating agreement.

Finally, under the old LLC law in New Jersey, each member is entitled to receive information on the business and financial condition of the company, tax returns, member addresses, the operating agreement itself, and the value of cash and other assets held by the LLC.  The manager may maintain the information in confidence for such time as reasonably believed necessary to maintain trade secrets or other information the disclosure of which is believed not in the best interests of the LLC or required by a third party to keep confidential.

In contrast, RULLCA sets forth a procedure and time in which to secure LLC documents.  In general, RULLCA provides that the LLC shall furnish to each member any information concerning the company‘s activities, financial and other wise, that is material to the member pursuant to its operating agreement and, on demand, any other information.  Each member has that duty to provide information as well.  However, in a manager managed LLC, this information shall be provided by the manager if sought by the member for a “a purpose material to the member’s interest as a member,” and the member must make a written demand “describing with reasonable particularity the information sought and the purpose for seeking the information.”  The law provides a ten day period for the LLC to respond and inform the member when and where the LLC will provide the information and, if declined, the reasons why the information will not be provided.

As shown, a careful review of your current operating agreement should be made and appropriate changes and supplements to address those areas under RULLCA that leave to the members in their operating agreement to clarify and change what RULLCA provides.  With the March deadline looming for the RULLCA to apply to all LLC’s in New Jersey, it is important to make that review and update soon.

Disassociation of LLC Member

By David White, Esq.
dwhite@pashmanstein.com

The Appellate Division recently construed the disassociation provisions of the LLC Act in a way that ostensibly eliminates the need for fault to expel a member.  In All Saints University of Medicine Aruba v. Chilana, 2012 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2797  (2012), the Court held that judicial disassociation under N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24 b (3) may be granted, without more, where the member ‘s business conduct makes the prospect of continuing the LLC’s activities reasonably impractical.

In All Saints, plaintiffs and defendants formed a New Jersey LLC in connection with their operation of a medical school in Aruba.  Disputes arose among the members over financial issues and management of the company, including signing authority for checking accounts.  Plaintiffs’ complaints about the signatories resulted in the company’s  banks freezing its accounts.  Inability to access the accounts aggravated the already dire financial status of the medical school and threatened its operation.  The answering Defendant elicited capital contributions from the other members to continue the operation.  Plaintiffs declined to contribute and brought an order to show cause seeking relief for breaches of the Operating Agreement.  Defendant counterclaimed seeking authorization to operate the LLC unilaterally.  While the matter proceeded, defendant funded the company and sought to judicially disassociate plaintiffs from the LLC.

N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24(b) controls judicial disassociation of LLC members.  Sub section (3) (a) provides for expulsion where the member “engaged in wrongful conduct that adversely and materially affected the limited liability company’s business.”   Sub section (3)(c) permits expulsion where the member’s business related conduct “makes it not reasonably practicable to carry on the business with the member as a member of the limited liability company.”

The trial court determined that plaintiffs’ conduct met both tests, finding that it was wrongful under sub section (3)(a) and, under sub section (3)(c ), that it made impractical carrying on the business together.

On appeal, the Appellate Division observed that the statutory grounds were expressed disjunctively.  It further noted that N.J.S.A. 42:2B-24 uses the generally mandatory verb, “shall,” in providing for disassociation on the occurrence of one of the specified bases.  Accordingly, it found that either basis would suffice, calling them “equally dispositive.”

While the decision sidesteps whether the fault alleged against plaintiffs was “wrongful,” it carefully notes “the reality” of the adverse consequences.  The court limited its holding “to the facts of this rather unusual case.”  Notwithstanding the apparent equation of the wrongfulness and impracticality grounds for disassociation here, the sub-text of the Appellate decision suggests that in general, fault remains at least a background factor.