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Business Law Update: Court Lessons on Personal Guarantees.

Rosa Parks Circle in Downtown Grand Rapids

In the world of lending if a business wants to secure financing, you will be hard-pressed to find a bank that is not going to require some collateral, including a personal guarantee of the debt by the principal owner(s) of the business.

businesses don’t want to sign personal guarantees; it’s why businesses take on the corporate formalities of a limited liability company, or a corporation – to limit their personal liability. Therefore, it is understandable in a lawsuit over a promissory note that an individual would argue against the enforceability of a personal guarantee.
This is a reason why lenders, private investors, should make sure their legal documents are precise – so that in the event a lawsuit needs to be filed the document is not drafted so as to create an ambiguity.
Two cases come to mind that illustrate problems in enforcing personal guarantees – one recent and one a few years back.
June 29, 2017 Real Estate Development case
For an interesting case that went up and down the appellate courts, just look no further than a June 29, 2017 decision of WNC Housing LP v Shelborne Development Company
In that case a mortgage loan for a particular real-estate development project, the “Shelborne Park project,” was in default, and to avoid foreclosure, plaintiffs purchased the debt at a negotiated price.” Id.
The trial court found the general partner in a limited partnership of the development, Makino, to be a guarantor.
Makino appealed the trial court’s determination that she was personally liable, attacking the language of the general partnership agreement. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision that Makino was liable, but the Michigan Supreme Court, vacated that portion and essentially told the Court of Appeals to reconsider it.  The Court of Appeals reconsidered, reviewing the text of Makino’s partnership agreement and found, once again, Makino was liable under the language of the agreement (The pertinent language stated that Makino as general partner “hereby guarantees lien free Completion of Construction of the Apartment Housing on or before May 1, 2003”) . Id. at page 3.
October 9 , 2012 Case of the Ambiguously Signed Promissory Note.
Another example is illustrated in the 2012 unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals case of Marcuz v. Steven Premiere Properties & Dev., L.L.C., 305733, 2012 WL 4801060 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2012)
The promissory note was signed by Branoff twice: once as a “member” of Premiere Properties, and once “individually.” The note was also signed by defendants Mario and Antonio Giannandrea “individually.”
Premiere Properties defaulted on the promissory note so Marcuz sued the company and individuals on September 3, 2009.
In court, Branoff admitted that he signed the promissory note twice, but he claimed his second signature was not intended as a personal guarantee.  But his signature and the two other individuals were simply “because “we were showing…who were going to be the finalized members of the company.

Thus, an ambiguity exists.
Regardless, the trial court and the Court of Appeals disagreed with Branoff.
The Court held that “[w]hen Branoff signed the promissory note first as a “member” of Premiere and second “individually,” he manifested his intent to personally guarantee the note. Simply put, it would have been redundant for Branoff to sign the promissory note a second time if he did not intend that his second signature have some legal effect different from his first signature.”
LESSON from these two cases:Don’t Draft Legal Documents In a Manner That Creates Ambiguities.
Although the Lender in both instances did in fact win the day, the problem remained – they won after litigating a case that went to appeal, (and in Makino’s case, up to the Supreme court and back down to the Court of Appeals) which undoubtedly cost significant legal fees. The  drafter of the promissory note and the partnership agreement – much of the trouble could have likely been avoided if the partnership agreement and promissory note were more clearly drafted.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

OCC’s Remarks on Fintech Charter and a “Conversation about Financial Innovation and Fintech”

Today, Keith A. Noreika, Acting Comptroller of the Currency gave remarks encompassing the topic of Responsible Financial Innovation and Fintech Companies.

2015-11-14 13.57.51You can read Mr. Noreika’s remarks here.

All the excitement surrounding fintech companies reminds me of something that gets me excited – college football, particularly Michigan State Spartan Football (thus, a photo from one of my past experiences at Spartan Stadium)

 

Back to Fintech, by way of recap…

The prior OCC, Thomas Curry announced earlier this year that OCC would move forward with considering applications from financial technology (fintech) companies to become special purpose national banks.

 

Mr. Curry had this to say, in the past:

“Over the past year, no topic in banking and finance has drawn more interest than innovative financial technology, and for good reason. The number of fintech companies in the United States and United Kingdom has ballooned to more than 4,000, and in just five years investment in this sector has grown from $1.8 billion to $24 billion worldwide.

 

“The OCC published a paper discussing the issues and conditions that
the agency will consider in granting special purpose national bank charters.” You can check that paper out here

 

Fintech Charter: Praise, Debate, and a Lawsuit.

The propriety of a Fintech charter has been supported by the Fintech community in general.

 

As reported by Crowdfund InsiderBrian Peters, Executive Director of Financial Innovation Now  “a public policy coalition comprised of Amazon, Apple, Google, Intuit and PayPal” stated;

“FIN believes that payments and lending regulation needs streamlining for the modern era. We commend the

OCC’s leadership and vision in driving this regulatory discussion. The OCC has rightly concluded that its approach must evolve to ensure that all American consumers and small businesses are empowered with better access to the benefits of financial technology.”

According to Crowdfund Insider  “Fintech Charter could benefit innovative financial firms that can provide superior services at a lower cost for both consumers and businesses.”

 

 

That being said, the propriety of such action by the OCC has been questioned by others, and officially sued by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors as an “unprecedented, unlawful expansion of the chartering authority”- check out the Press Release from the CSBS back in April.

 

 

The OCC’s present Stance on a Fintech Charter

It appears no action will be taken until at least the lawsuit is resolved.

Mr. Noreika stated today that “at this point, the OCC has not determined whether it will actually accept or act upon applications from nondepository fintech companies for special purpose national bank charters that rely on this regulation. And, to be clear, we have not received, nor are we evaluating, any such applications from nondepository fintech companies.

Still, Mr. Noreika expressed his thoughts on the need for a fintech charter:

“I also believe that if you provide banking products and services, acting like a bank, you ought to be regulated and supervised like a bank. It is only fair, but today, that is not happening. Hundreds of fintechs presently compete against banks without the rigorous oversight and requirements facing national banks and federal savings associations.”

 

Why Fintech Intrigues me – Purpose Driven.

I’ve previously talked about why fintech is so intriguing.

a. taking a risk doing something different;

b. disrupting business as usual;

c. for the good of others.

That’s social entrepreneurship at its finest.

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update – a Court Case Discussing Laches.

From a lawyer’s perspective, real estate disputes are often messy.

The parties are often driven by emotion. The facts are often complex.

Simply put – it is usually a mess.

2017-04-09 21.33.41

Often the doctrine of laches gets raised in such a lawsuit.

A few years back I wrote a post about the legal (technically, “equitable”) doctr ine of Laches and how laches is an often raised defense in real estate disputes.  

The argument usually goes something like this:

“Hey, Plaintiff! You should have brought your claim sooner! Because you were so late in suing me, there are specific related reasons that make it unjust for the court to hold me responsible!”

A June 2017 Michigan Court of Appeals decision came out, where laches was raised as a defense.

You can check out the case here:   DeGhetto v Beaumont’s, et al. (unpublished) No. 330972 (June 22, 2017).

In this case – the court opined that the facts were “muddled”.  (my interpretation – “a mess”)

But first, as a recap…

 

The Equitable Doctrine of Laches:

 

“Laches is an equitable tool used to remedy the inconvenience resulting from the plaintiff’s delay in asserting a legal right that was practicable to assert.” Public Health Dept v. Rivergate Manor, 452 Mich. 495, 507; 550 NW2d 515 (1996).

As such, “when considering whether a plaintiff is chargeable with laches, [a court] must afford attention to prejudice occasioned by the delay.” Lothian, 414 Mich. at 168. It is the prejudice occasioned by the delay that justifies the application of laches.Dunn v. Minnema, 323 Mich. 687, 696; 36 NW2d 182 (1949) .

 

Stated another way,

“the equitable doctrine of laches bars a claim “when the passage of time combined with a change in condition would make it inequitable to enforce the claim ag

 

ainst the defendant.” Township of Yankee Springs v Fox, 264 Mich App 604, 612; 692 NW2d 728 (2004) (Emphasis added.)

Therefore in deciding on the issue of Laches, a Court will ask two questions:

1. was there a delay in bringing the claim and, if so,

2. did it prejudice the Defendant?

Question: Why is laches relevant to real estate disputes?

Answer: Because many real estate claims are based in “equity” as opposed to “law”-  e.g. –an injunction, specific performance, action for quiet title…

 

The Case of DeGhetto v Beaumonts, et al.

The case involved homeowners and an Association.

The dispute was about the “ongoing viability of restrictive covenants o

 

n plaintiffs’ lots” and the ability of an Association to assess Association dues against Association members.

The Association believed it could enforce deed restrictions – the homeowners disagreed.

Certain disagreements arose, including l.iens recorded on some properties,

and thereafter the Homeowners sued the Association.

The Homeowners asked the Court to declare the deed restrictions were unenforceable, and that the Association had no rights to assess dues.

The Court admitted that the facts are a bit “muddled” – as is often the case in real estate disputes.

One of the Association’s defense was that laches should bar the homeowners’ lawsuit.

“Defendant argues that the doctrine of laches should apply to bar plaintiff’s suit
because there was a change in conditions that made granting relief to plaintiffs inequitable—plaintiffs’ sudden refusal to pay dues, which prejudiced defendant because it had relied on their payments for years.” DeGhetto. Pg 8

 

 

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the Association, holding that:

“Plaintiffs did not delay in filing suit. There was debate over whether the
dues were enforceable and two attorneys rendered different opinions on the matter. Plaintiffs asserted their right by filing suit after defendant indicated that the dues were mandatory as opposed to voluntary. Furthermore, defendant cannot show prejudice.” Id.

 
The Court held that Defendants did not satisfy the requirements to establish Laches.

As the Court held in Charter Township of Lyons v James E. Petty, et al. (unpublished) No. 327686 (Oct. 13, 2016):

“Prejudice is a mandatory element.” and

“The prejudice necessary to establish a laches or estoppel defense cannot be a de minimis harm…” Id. pg 5.

 

Lesson:

Laches is an often raised and valid defense, applicable in many real esta

te disputes. When raising a defense of laches in real estate disputes, Defendant must show Plaintiff delayed in bringing forth the claim.

Showing merely the passage of time is not sufficient.

Further, showing the presence of de minimis harm due to the passage of time is not sufficient.

Significant harm must be shown along with delay.

 

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Michigan Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses: Crowdfunding Law Update.

Last year  Representative Tom Barrett introduced House resolution2015-11-26-13-04-02 235 (HR 235)

“to support the (SEC)’s recent adoption of rules…to facilitate small and start-up companies’ access to capital raised through crowdfunding.”

The resolution supports crowdfunding as viable tools for start-up businesses.

The resolution acknowledges:

Businesses in Michigan have greatly benefited from the opportunities created by the…Michigan Invests Locally Exemption (MILE) program. MILE has allowed everyday Michiganders, referred to as unaccredited investors, the ability to play a larger role in growing Michigan’s creative business ventures through Michigan-based crowdfunding platforms while still enjoying investor protections and security in their investments” (Emphasis added.)

 

Is Crowdfunding a Viable Option in Michigan?

Fast forward to today,  MIBiz recently reported that Michigan’s crowdfunding law hasn’t gained much traction

However, it may remain a viable tool for cash-strapped startups and the Michigan legislature has not given up on it.

 

Yesterday the Michigan House passed HB 4035 that amended the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption to Intrastate Crowdfunding.

 

According to yesterday’s announcement from the Michigan House Republican Website:

The amendments contained in HB 4035 “will expand the program so people can also invest in small businesses primarily doing business in the state and allows Michigan’s law to remain active under new Federal regulations

You can check out the House Fiscal Agency’s Analysis Here

The HB now moves to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration.

 

Entrepreneurs and Start-ups:

 

Proponents of Crowdfunding: access to capital.

A while back Candace Klein Chief Strategy Officer at DealStruck was Interviewed by CrowdfundInsider and talked about how small business might benefit from crowdfunding. She had this to say, in part:

“Most businesses are community-based, and have an immediate impact for those in their community, whether geographic or industry-based.  Crowdfunding brings these companies together with the everyday investors in their communities.”

 

Crowdfunding for Social Enterprise?

I agree. As I’ve previously written about, crowdfunding appears to be a viable tool for community based businesses.

People are willing to invest in projects that will enhance their local community.

This is what makes local equity-based crowdfunding attractive for social entrepreneurs.

This is what makes local equity-based crowdfunding attractive for social entrepreneurs.

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

Fintech Update: Disruption for Good. The OCC’s Remarks Yesterday to Fintech Innovators at LendIt USA in New York

Yesterday, 2015-11-26-13-04-02Thomas J. Curry, Comptroller of the Currency gave remarks about Fintech Innovation at LendIT USA (The Worlds Biggest Show in Lending and Fintech) Conference in New York. You can read Mr. Curry’s remarks here.

Mr. Curry praised the innovative Fintech Companies who “have fueled healthy competition to modernize and improve how the nation’s financial services needs are met.

What I personally like is Mr. Curry’s emphasis on the opportunity Fintech has to reach the vulnerable in our communities.

According to Mr. Curry:

” Financial inclusion…brings those who are unbanked and underbanked into the fold, and too many of those individuals are concentrated in low- and moderate-income communities that are often the most vulnerable to financial difficulty and predatory practices.”

“What’s encouraging about (Fintech)is that there’s good data from the FDIC and others that suggest these communities that have been left out of the traditional system have higher adoption rates for new services that capitalize on emerging and mobile technologies”

 

****UPDATED

Check out the article by Crowdfund Insider  reporting on Curry’s address: “We Will Be Issuing Charters to Fintech Companies

 

Why Fintech Intrigues me – Purpose Driven.

I’ve previously talked about why fintech is so intriguing.

a. taking a risk doing something different;

b. disrupting business as usual;

c. for the good of others.

That’s social entrepreneurship at its finest.

Given the hot water that big banks continue to find themselves in, it isn’t surprising that a consumer friendly alternative is attractive, particularly to the vulnerable communities.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Update on Fintech, Social Entrepreneurship and Special Purpose National Bank Charters for Fintech Companies.

January 19, 2017 1 comment

Last month, Thomas J. Curry, Comptroller of the Currency gave remarks about Special Purpose National Bank Charters for Fintech Companies. You can read Mr. Curry’s remarks here.

Mr. Curry announced that the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) would move forward with considering applications from financial technology (fintech) companies to become special purpose national banks.

Mr. Curry had this to say, in part:2015-11-26-13-04-02

“Over the past year, no topic in banking and finance has drawn more interest than innovative financial technology, and for good reason. The number of fintech companies in the United States and United Kingdom has ballooned to more than 4,000, and in just five years investment in this sector has grown from $1.8 billion to $24 billion worldwide.

“The OCC published a paper discussing the issues and conditions that
the agency will consider in granting special purpose national bank charters.” You can check that paper out here

Support for Special Purpose National Banks from the Fintech Community.

Today I read an article from CrowdFund Insider: Financial Innovation Now supports the OCC’s charter.

Financial Innovation Now is “a public policy coalition comprised of Amazon, Apple, Google, Intuit and PayPal”

Some heavy hitters.

As reported by Crowdfund Insider, Brian Peters, Executive Director of Financial Innovation Now, stated;

“FIN believes that payments and lending regulation needs streamlining for the modern era. We commend the
OCC’s leadership and vision in driving this regulatory discussion. The OCC has rightly concluded that its approach must evolve to ensure that all American consumers and small businesses are empowered with better access to the benefits of financial technology.”

According to Crowdfund Insider  “Fintech Charter could benefit innovative financial firms that can provide superior services at a lower cost for both consumers and businesses.”

Why Fintech Intrigues me – Purpose Driven.

I’ve previously talked about why fintech is so intriguing.

a. taking a risk doing something different;

b. disrupting business as usual;

c. for the good of others.

That’s social entrepreneurship at its finest.

Given the hot water that big banks continue to find themselves in, it isn’t surprising that a consumer friendly alternative is attractive.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Special Purpose National Bank Charters for #Fintech Companies

December 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Today, Thomas J. Curry, Comptroller of the Currency gave remarks at Georgetown Law School about Special Purpose National Bank Charters for Fintech Companies. You can read the remarks here.

Mr. Curry announced that the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) would move forward with considering applications from financial technology (fintech) companies to become special purpose national banks.

Mr. Curry had this to say, in part:

“Over the past year, no topic in banking and finance has drawn more interest than innovative financial technology, and for good reason. The number of fintech companies in the United States and United Kingdom has ballooned to more than 4,000, and in just five years investment in this sector has grown from $1.8 billion to $24 billion worldwide.

“The OCC published a paper discussing the issues and conditions that the agency will consider in granting special purpose national bank charters.” You can check that paper out here

 

http://www.dwlawpc.com

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Categories: banking, fintech, Uncategorized