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Community Revitalization To Include Downtown Grocery Stores: Update on The Urban Food Initiative.

August 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday I read a story about a Detroiter, Raphael Wright who plans on opening a “mission-driven supermarket” in downtown Detroit. Check out the article on NextCity.

Raphael’s idea is sparked by a much needed grocery option in Detroit- particularly for low-income residents.

I love this idea.

A few years back I took my family to New York City. We loved the walk-ability of City life – that you could walk down a block to a grocery store and get all of your household needs.

food-healthy-vegetables-potatoesI love downtown Grand Rapids.

 

If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs a downtown grocery store.

In February, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative” it would provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.

 

 

Specifically, HB 4207 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program

 

An update since my last post, in May, the Trade and Commerce Committee recommended a substitute bill, check here.

The Bill substitute changed the name,  Urban Food Initiatives, to “NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMERCIAL CORRIDOR FOOD INITIATIVE”  – thereby broadening the applicability of these community revitalization incentives –  I have bracketed the additional language:

Property that will be used primarily as a retail supermarket, grocery store, produce market or delicatessen that is located in a downtown [OR IN A DEVELOPMENT AREA AS DEFINED IN SECTION 2 OF 3 THE CORRIDOR IMPROVEMENT AUTHORITY ACT] area…that offers unprocessed USDA inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”

The other substantive revision to the substitute bill would require that at least 5% of community revitalization incentives be awarded to these initiatives. Check out the Bill Analysis from the House Fiscal Agency, for more information.

 

Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living, particularly for low-income residents. Check out a previous article from Next City about the Food Revolution in Detroit.

A downtown grocery store is necessary if a City wants to attract urban living – it is also necessary to provide healthy food options for those living downtown without readily available transportation.

 

 

I think particularly of the under-employed and the homeless who receive services from organizations like Mel Trotter Ministries. Grand Rapids has a need for affordable housing for the most vulnerable in our society. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am looking forward to tracking the progress of this bill. I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan taking serious their responsibility as community stakeholders and asking the question: “How am I building a better community?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

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

Business Law Update: Lessons From Court on Deadlock Between Business Owners.

July 12, 2017 2 comments

This morning was rainy and gray in Grand Rapids.

It is one of those days that prompted me to write on a topic that can be downright depressing – when relationships between shareholders go bad.

I had a client come in recently and ask me to set up an LLC for him.

rainy dayClient planned on owning the LLC 50/50 with a business partner. Someone he trusts (right, because no one goes into business thinking it will end in a lawsuit.) Regardless of the best intentions between these business partners, The 50/50 ownership can be problematic.

For an example, look no further than the May 11, 2017 Court of Appeals Decision in Shamee Catwilmat, LLC v Shamee Development Company, LLC et al.

The Shamee case originated out of Kent County’s Business Court Docket. (A little pride here, for our esteemed business court).

 

Shamee was a convoluted case regarding default on a Note, Mortgage and collateralized business assets – and ended in a mess for both sides. In essence, the Bank erroneously  foreclosed on only a portion of the Property that was otherwise secured by the mortgage.

However, of particular note for the purpose of this post is how the LLC was owned and the resulting problems:

50/50 ownership between members – Shah and Mead.

According to the Court:

“At some point, Shah and Mead began to disagree about the management of Shamee Development. Unable to reconcile their conflicting viewpoints, they reached a “membership deadlock” that prevented Shamee Development from continuing to service its debt to the Bank and from taking the necessary steps to refinance or renegotiate such debt. After Shamee Development failed to make payments as agreed, the Bank accelerated the debt, including the mortgages, and instituted this action against
defendants.”

 

Thus, one equal member had the power to halt business operations, fail to service its debt, and the result was this lawsuit foreclosing on real estate and an appeal.

There are several ways the members could have avoided this scenario, here are just a few:

  1. Create an Operating Agreement that contained a deadlock provision.  This provision could call for mediation/arbitration, or even a buy-out in the event that equal owners halt the business from making key business decisions.  Going back to my client mentioned above, that was my solution for him. Creating a deadlock provision in his Operating Agreement.
  2. Negotiate different ownership prior to forming your business: someone  has majority control, someone has minority.
  3. Set up the LLC as a manager-managed LLC – give certain powers to a single manager to take care of the daily business affairs of the Company – and retain some of the “major” decisions, such as amendment of operating agreement, admission of new members, dissolution, etc… to the members.

 

Lesson:

When setting up a business, you should always have the end in mind. How does a business owner get out of the business?  You should also make sure that one member does not have the power to halt business operations, like in the Shamee case.

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

Real Estate Investors: Update on Bill Allowing Single Member LLCs To Evict Tenants without Legal Representation

 

A common scenario in my legal practice:2015-11-26-13-04-02

Investor purchases property in an LLC. Investor locates a tenant. Tenant falls behind in rent. Investor hires attorney to evict Tenant.

Why hold real estate in an LLC?

Most of my investor clients own investment real estate in a Limited Liability Company.

This is for liability protection.

 

Once a limited liability company comes into existence, limited liability applies, and a member or manager is not liable for the acts, debts, or obligations of the company. “Duray Dev., LLC v. Perrin, 288 Mich. App. 143, 151 (2010).

 

Why not hold real estate in an LLC?

Some investment property owners decide not to do so. The primary driving reason from my experience is cost.

Cost associated with setting up the LLC; and

Cost associated with hiring an attorney and evicting non-paying tenants.

Some landlords don’t want to hire an attorney to evict a tenant.

Under current Michigan law, since an LLC is a separate legal person independent of the actual owners of the LLC, unless such owner is a licensed attorney, an owner of an LLC cannot file a lawsuit on behalf of the LLC.

To do so would be the unauthorized practice of law.

You can practice law on your own behalf – just not on behalf of someone else.

Although, the saying goes – he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.

 

UPDATE ON PROPOSED House Bill 4463 – Would Allow LLCs to Evict without Legal Representation.

 

House Bill 4463 was introduced in March and referred to the  committee on law and justice.

 

 

The Bill would allow owners of a single-member LLC (or a married couple under certain conditions) to file their own eviction actions on behalf of the LLC without the need for legal representation.

If the Landlord is seeking money damages, the amount, not including taxable costs, must be under the small claims Court maximum.

I commented that I would be surprised if this bill passes, although other states have similar laws.

 

Call me surprised.

The Bill recently came out of the committee on law and justice and a substitute bill was referred for a second reading.
The Major Difference in the Substitute Bill

 

The major revision that came out of the committee affects property managers.

The Bill as introduced would have allowed property managers or agents to represent the LLC under certain circumstances – e.g. – having personal knowledge of the relevant facts related to the Property and tenancy.

That language was removed from the first version of the bill.

Under the substitute bill, Property Managers or other Agents would not be allowed to represent the LLC.

Further, this is a “burden shifting” mechanism in the substitute bill – the law would place the burden on the LLC owner to prove he or she is in compliance with the statute. That makes sense – since the legislature would be creating an exception to the rule – only lawyers practice law.

 

To Hire an Attorney or Not?

As I stated in my last post, this makes sense for Landlords who want quick and cost-effective resolutions. I understand that an Investor who is not making money on a tenant also doesn’t want to expend additional legal fees to evict a Tenant. This is particularly true since the most attorney fees that a Landlord can recover against a residential tenant is limited to the statutory amount (currently $75).

All business owners make this same business decision –

at what point can I handle a legal matter myself and at what point do I pick up the phone and call my lawyer?

 

However, I will refer readers back to the lawyer who has a fool for a client…

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Business Law Update: Business Owners: Bill Would Restrict Non-Competition Agreements with Employees.

2017-05-09 08.08.30On June 14, 2017, House Bill 4755 was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives.

If passed it would limit the enforceability of a non-competition agreement signed between an employer and an employee.

In my opinion – in some pretty significant ways.

I have spent several articles discussing the legal consequences/enforceability issues of non-competes.

It appears the Legislature is wrestling with the question posed by Nick Manes of MIBiz in an article a few years back: “Are noncompetes a barrier to growth?

You can check out the text of the bill here

The Bill was referred to the committee on commerce and trade.

The Bill has a few key components to it:

1. Require Employers to follow a Specific Procedure prior to enforcing a non-compete.

The Bill would only permit Employers to enforce a non-competition agreement if the Employer followed a procedure intended to notify the Employee of the requirement of signing a non-compete as a condition of employment.

(A) INFORMED THE PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYEE IN WRITING OF THE REQUIREMENT AT OR BEFORE THE TIME OF THE INITIAL OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT.

(B) Disclose the Terms of the Non-Compete in writing; and

(C) Post the Text of the Law at the Worksite in a CONSPICUOUS LOCATION

2. Non-Compete unenforceable if the Employee is a “low wage” worker.

Defined generally as $15.00/hr or $31,000 annually.

 

3. Voids Certain Provisions in a Non-Compete – shifts the burden to Employer.

The Bill also has some teeth in it for Employees, including:

  1. Prohibits an Employer from including a clause that states a different state’s laws control the Agreement – this would be an obvious attempt to circumvent the prohibition of non-compete against “low wage” workers;
  2. Gives the Attorney General power to prosecute a violation of the Act;
  3. Automatically places the Burden on the Employer to prove that the Non-Compete was reasonable, as to “scope, duration, time limit.”
    1. Moreover, if a Court limits the non-compete in any respect, the employee is entitled to recover attorney fees.

 

Wow. This bill has a lot of bite to it. My first thoughts – if this Bill does come out of the Trade and Commerce Committee, I can’t imagine it will look the same as its current version.

I understand the legislature’s interest in protecting “low wage workers” from unreasonable restrictions. Check out my prior post on the subject of Jimmy John’s non-competes.

However, in my opinion the restrictions as written places an enormous burden on the employer to narrowly tailor the non-compete, to a judge’s definition of “reasonableness”.

 

 

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

http://www.dwlawpc.com

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

Business Law Update: Michigan Supreme Court’s May 15, 2017 Decision on Minority Oppression

 

There are relatively few court opinions covering the Michigan Limited Liability Company Act. There have been even less on the issue of minority oppression claims.

It has been almost 3 years since the Michigan Supreme Court issued its Opinion in the  Madugula v Taub  case on Michigan’s shareholder/member oppression statutes.

The Madugula clarified that a claimant is not entitled to a jury a trial undmoney-73341_640er the Act; and breach of a Shareholder/Operating Agreement can be evidence of “oppressive” conduct.

On May 15, 2017 the Michigan Supreme Court issued its Opinion in Frank, et al v. Linkner, et al.

In summary, the Supreme Court held:

  • that MCL 450.4515(1)(e) provides alternative statutes of limitations, one based on the time of discovery of the cause of action and the other based on the time of accrual of the cause of action; and
  • That a cause of action for LLC member oppression accrues at the time an LLC manager has substantially interfered with the interests of a member as a member, even if that member has not yet incurred a calculable financial injury. See Frank, id. page 1.

 

The facts of Frank are admittedly, interesting (and unfortunate if you are the Plaintiffs):

Facts:

  • Defendant ePrize was founded by defendant Joshua Linkner in 1999 as a Michigan LLC specializing in online sweepstakes and interactive promotions.
  • Plaintiffs are former employees of ePrize who acquired ownership units in ePrize.
  • Plaintiffs allege Linkner orally promised them that their interests in ePrize would never be diluted or subordinated.
  • In 2005, plaintiffs’ shares in ePrize were converted into shares in ePrize Holdings, LLC.
  • In 2007, ePrize ran into financial difficulties and required an infusion of cash.
  • To remedy this problem, ePrize obtained $28 million in loans in the form of “B Notes” from various defendantmembers of ePrize and other investors;
  • plaintiffs were not invited to participate in these investments.
  • In 2009, ePrize remained struggling to meet its loan obligations and therefore issued new “Series C Units.”
  • These units were offered to various investors, including those who had obtained B Notes.
  • In exchange for the Series C Units, investors were required, amo
    ng other things, to make capital contributions, guarantee a portion of a $14.5 million loan from Charter One Bank, and convert their B Notes into “Series B Units.”
  • On August 20, 2012, ePrize sold substantially all of its assets and, pursuant to the Operating Agreement, distributed nearly $100 million in net proceeds to the holders of Series C and Series B Units.
  • Plaintiffs received nothing for their common shares.

Procedural History

Plaintiffs sued on April 19, 2013 alleging among other claims, minority oppression under MCL 450.4515. The trial court dismissed the claims, indicating that they were “untimely” under the 3 year statute of limitation period. The Court of Appeals reversed. This matter then went to the Supreme Court.

 

 

In General – Michigan Minority Oppression Statute

Michigan law provides a cause of action against the shareholders/members who are in control of a company and oppressing minority owners:

Minority Shareholder Oppression, MCL 450.1489 (Minority Member Oppression, MCL 450.4515)

“A shareholder may bring an action…to establish that the acts of the directors or those in control of the corporation are:
illegal;
fraudulent;
or willfully unfair and oppressive to the corporation or to the shareholder.” 
“If the shareholder establishes grounds for relief, the circuit court may make an order or grant relief as it considers appropriate, including, without limitation,
an order providing for any of the following:
(a) The dissolution and liquidation of the assets and business of the corporation.
(b) The cancellation or alteration of a provision contained in the articles of incorporation, an amendment of the articles of incorporation, or the bylaws of the corporation.
(c) The cancellation, alteration, or injunction against a resolution or other act of the corporation…
Therefore, if a court finds that those in control of the business committed misconduct against a minority owner amounting to “oppression”, the Court has broad discretion to create the type of relief it deems is best.
Back to the Supreme Court’s Decision in Frank…
a. Statute of Limitations
The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that:
“MCL 450.4515(1)(e) contains two alternative statutes of limitations:”
1. (2 years) predicated upon discovery of the cause of action and
2. the other (3 years) predicated upon accrual of the cause of action. Id. at pg 6.
The Supreme Court clarified that under the statute “A plaintiff has two years from the time he or she ‘discovers or reasonably should have discovered the cause of action” to bring a claim [under the minority oppression statute]”. Id pg 13. “…a plaintiff cannot bring a claim three years after accrual of the cause of action, even if he or she did not discover and reasonably would not have discovered the cause of action during that period.”
b. when does an oppression claim accrue?
The Plaintiffs/minority members argued that their claims “did not accrue until they first incurred a calculable financial injury after ePrize sold substantially all of its assets in 2012.” Id. pg 16. They reasoned that no monetary damages occurred until the company was liquidated. Id.
The Supreme Court, however reasoned that the “plaintiffs’ argument conflates monetary damages with ‘harm'”.  The Court held that:
the actionable harm for a member-oppression claim under MCL 450.1515 consists of actions taken by the managers that “substantially interfere with the interests of the member as a member,” and monetary damages constitute just one of many potential remedies for the harm.
Therefore, the Court held that :the Court of Appeals erred by focusing on the availability of monetary damages, rather than on when plaintiffs incurred ‘harm’.” The Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this issue. Id. 17.
“Once a plaintiff proves that a manager engaged in an action or series of actions that substantially interfered with his or her interest as a member, the “harm” has been incurred, and therefore the claim has accrued.” Id.
Application 
In application, the Supreme Court therefore found that the alleged harm occurred when the minority members’ interest were subordinated (in 2009) by amendment of the operating agreement and not when the sale occurred (in 2012). Id. at 20.
So, unless plaintiffs can show fraudulent concealment, Plaintiffs’ claims for monetary damages are barred.

 

Take away for Business owners/Investors/Entrepreneurs:

 

1. Get an attorney involved before the business relationship begins and clearly document the business relationship, especially your shareholder/operating agreement. That will contain the exit strategy and relevant buy-out language. Further, any conduct the parties agree to in their shareholder/operating agreement will not be deemed “oppressive”. However, a breach of the agreement, may deemed interference with your rights sufficient to constitute “oppression” however, this is based on a highly fact-intensive analysis.

2. If you believe you are being frozen out of control/profits in a business – do not wait. The Michigan Supreme Court has held that your claim accrues when the harm occurs. Learn from the Frank Decision.  Michigan law gives you broad remedies, including the minority shareholder/member oppression statutes.

Questions?

Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka