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Real Estate Law Update: Published Court Case: the Scope of a Construction Lien and consequential damages.

September 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I took this photo today – flags at half mast in downtown Grand Rapids.

I will #NeverForget where I was – at the cafeteria in McDonel Hall @michiganstateu watching the horror on the T.V.

Thank you all who gave their lives and prayers to all who lost loved ones 18 years ago today.

Flags at half mast outside of DeVos Place, Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan

Yesterday a published court decision came out that affects the scope of a construction lien. Check out TSP Services, Inc. v National Standard Company, et al

Update: On September 17, 2019 the Court Vacated its Prior decision and issued a new decision – see here

This case involves a breach of contract claim and a construction lien foreclosure claim.

The case went to arbitration and, according to the Opinion, “the arbitrator approved a lien for $782,469.05, which is $641,386.05 greater than the unpaid balance under the contract.” –

Wow!

The very first page of the Opinion gives you much of the information you need to know to understand the holding:

” Michigan law limits a construction lien to the amount of the contract less any payment already made. Although a party suing for breach of contract might recover consequential damages beyond the monetary value of the contract itself, those consequential damages cannot be subject to a construction lien. “

The construction lien act provides: “Each contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or laborer who provides an improvement to real property has a construction lien upon the interest of the owner or lessee who contracted for the improvement to the real property.” MCL 570.1107(1).

“A construction lien acquired pursuant to this act shall not exceed the amount of the lien claimant’s contract less payments made on the contract.” MCL 570.1107(1)

“Michigan’s construction lien act authorizes a lien up to the unpaid balance of the amount contracted. A lien that includes an amount for consequential damages flowing from, but otherwise outside of the four corners of the contract, exceeds the authorized amount of the act. “

To summarize – consequential damages are not allowable under a construction lien.

consequential damages are a permissible damage under contract law – but you won’t get them added to your lien to foreclose on. You will need to find some other way to recover under a judgment.

A good question to ask: what happens if you file a lien and indicate too much?  Is your lien void? Typically. no.

In order to void a construction lien that is filed in an excessive amount a showing of bad faith is required.  Tempo Inc v Rapid Elec Sales & Services, Inc, 132 Mich App 93; 347 NW2d 728 (Mich Ct App 1984).  “A lien is not lost because the amount claimed is excessive, unless the claim was made in bad faith. In such instances, the proper remedy is to reduce the amount of the lien to the correct amount.” Id

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

http://www.dwlawpc.com

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

September 9, 2019 1 comment
Cedarville, Michigan

I hope you all had a great Labor Day Weekend. I spent the long holiday weekend with my family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

On September 4, 2019, Senate Bill 0483 was introduced in the Michigan Senate.

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 previously with 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 Government Operations.

The Bill has a few key components to it:

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

The Bill would only permit Employers to execute 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.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

http://www.dwlawpc.com

(A) Informed the prospective employee in writing of the requirement 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 – particularly the fee shifting mechanism if a court limits a non-compete in any respect. My first thoughts – if this Bill does come out of 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”. Otherwise, like I said, the fee shifting provision is a huge penalty.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Detroit Startup Week Kicks Off – Schedule Now Available, Includes Legal Workshops

Today starts art festival in Grand Rapids – I took this photo just minutes ago.

Summer is coming fast and so is Detroit Startup Week. Scheduled from June 18-22.

6.1

According to its website, Startup week is:

“A week long celebration of Detroit’s entrepreneurs. Volunteer-led and completely free for attendees, we are aiming to create a community driven event that builds a stronger startup ecosystem. Startup Week is held in dozens 

of cities around the world.”

Crain’s Detroit reported  that the venue will be moved to outdoors where a crowd of 8,000 – 10,000 is expected, up from last year’s 6,500.

Crain’s reports that Startup week will consist of similar “weeklong collection of panel discussions, speeches, activities, networking and competitions is bringing back its women-tailored entrepreneur events.”

 

The Schedule is Now Available

Check out the great workshops and events for entrepreneurs which will take place in Detroit in the coming weeks.

Last year the week kicked off with Detroit’s Small Business Legal Academy.

 

This year there are several types of legal workshops including:

  • Social Enterprise/non-profit.

Social Enterprise is definitely a trending area in Michigan.

 

I think it is no secret – that startup businesses would do well to get some basic legal  during their business startup

 

I had a client send me this e-mail, below (unprompted) which I was given permission to share – it is extremely on point:

 

“I don’t think you understand how valuable your assistance is. A small guy like me, without you, would sign whatever they put in front of me and get into big trouble because of that someday.  The problem is that most small businesses don’t understand how critical legal review is either.” – client

 

The reality is that there are a host of legal areas that can turn into pitfalls for startup businesses – over the years I have written on quite a few of those areas, including:

Terms and Conditions in Contracts

Non-Competition Agreements

Entity Formation and Personal Liability

Personal Guarantees

 

 

Cash flow is a barrier for startups. This doesn’t mean you should avoid educating yourself on the legal issues affecting your business.

Take advantage of the resources available.

Consult with an attorney – Particularly law firms friendly to startup businesses.

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Small Businesses and Startups: What you Don’t Know Can Hurt You.

It is truly starting to feel like summer in downtown Grand Rapids! This was the scene today from my office.

5.17.18

 

Summer is coming fast and so is Detroit Startup Week. Scheduled from June 18-22.

 

According to its website, Startup week is:

“A week long celebration of Detroit’s entrepreneurs. Volunteer-led and completely free for attendees, we are aiming to create a community driven event that builds a stronger startup ecosystem. Startup Week is held in dozens of cities around the world.”

 

Crain’s Detroit reported this week that the venue will be moved to outdoors where a crowd of 8,000 – 10,000 is expected, up from last year’s 6,500.

Crain’s reports that Startup week will consist of similiar “weeklong collection of panel discussions, speeches, activities, networking and competitions is bringing back its women-tailored entrepreneur events.”

Last year the week kicked off with Detroit’s Small Business Legal Academy.

I think it is no secret – that startup businesses would do well to get some basic legal  during their business startup

 

I had a client just yesterday send me this e-mail, below (unprompted) which I was given permission to share – it is extremely on point:

 

“I don’t think you understand how valuable your assistance is. A small guy like me, without you, would sign whatever they put in front of me and get into big trouble because of that someday.  The problem is that most small businesses don’t understand how critical legal review is either.” – client

 

The reality is that there are a host of legal areas that can turn into pitfalls for startup businesses – over the years I have written on quite a few of those areas, including:

Terms and Conditions in Contracts

Non-Competition Agreements

Entity Formation and Personal Liability

Personal Guarantees

 

Cash flow is a barrier for startups. This doesn’t mean you should avoid educating yourself on the legal issues affecting your business.

Take advantage of the resources available.

Consult with an attorney – Particularly law firms friendly to startup businesses.

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

Business Law Update: When Can a Business Sue Another Business over its Corporate Status?

March 29, 2018 Leave a comment

I (like much of West Michigan) am headed out the office and on vacation for my kids’ Spring Break. But before I go I wanted to share an interesting business law case that came out a few days ago.

2016-01-09 12.56.14

Check out the March 27, 2018  case:

Michigan Radiology Society v OMIC, LLC et al

The first sentence of the opinion sums up the dispute:

This case arises from plaintiff’s effort to prevent defendants from continuing the
operation of their business.

 

 

 

 

Facts:

 

  • Plaintiff is a non-profit corp. Its owners are radiologists licensed to practice medicine in Michigan.
  • Defendant OMIC, LLC,  is a for-profit LLC.
  • OMIC  provides diagnostic imaging to the public and is solely owned and managed by defendant SusanSwider.
  • Defendant Susan Swider is not a licensed physician.
  • Plaintiff sued, claiming that defendants were in violation of:
    • the Michigan Limited Liability Company Act (LLCA)
    • the Business Corporation Act (BCA),  and
    • the Public Health Code (PHC)

 

Plaintiff sued asking for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Basically, Plaintiff claimed “You can’t do that! You need to be properly licensed!”

The case was dismissed by the Trial Court.

A reasonable question to ask is: Why?  

 

Why was the case dismissed by the Trial Court?

Answer: Plaintiff was not a proper party to enforce a claimed violation under the statutes.

Plaintiff did not have “standing”.

 

Who has Standing to Bring a Claim?

The Court of Appeals cited the long standing law of our constitution:

Our constitution requires that a plaintiff possess standing before a court
can exercise jurisdiction over that plaintiff’s claim. This constitutional standing
doctrine is longstanding and stems from the separation of powers in our
constitution. Because the constitution limits the judiciary to the exercise of
“judicial power,” Const 1963, art 6, § 1, the Legislature encroaches on the
separation of powers when it attempts to grant standing to litigants who do not
meet constitutional standing requirements.” Id page 3.

 

So in this case, Plaintiff sued Defendants saying they violated 3 statutes. The question presented was, did the Plaintiff have standing to sue Defendants under those statutes?

“Statutory standing…necessitates an inquiry into whether a statute
authorizes a plaintiff to sue at all.” Id. Page 3.

Basically, the Court held that the statutes above that the Plaintiff sued under (LLCA, BCA PHC), only allowed the Attorney General to sue to enforce a violation.

“[T]he Attorney General alone has the authority to challenge corporate status.” Id. Page 3,  citing  Miller v Allstate Ins Co, 481 Mich 601, 606-608; 751 NW2d 463 (2008)

 

Lesson:

If you are a business and believe another business is operating “illegally” it doesn’t mean you are the proper party to sue them.

Think about this another way: You are business and know of a business that is gouging a client of yours – does that give you the right to sue that business? Do you have standing to sue that business.

Something you should talk with your lawyer about…

For all of those traveling on Spring Break – safe travels!

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Business Law Update: Michigan Bill Would Prohibit Non-Disparagement Clauses with Consumers.

I’m not going to sugar coat it – it is a gray day in downtown Grand Rapids.

I had lunch with a friend today, who told me – he can’t stand it when in response to the question “how are you doing” someone gives a pat answer – “good”.

IMG_2205

 

I agree.

I appreciate authenticity.

And today, is gray, and somewhat depressing and I am a little down.

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a friend and fellow attorney who died suddenly. I am grieving and in prayer for Adam’s family, including his wife, two small children and his brother and parents.

 

 

 

Ok, enough authenticity, and on to the subject matter of this post…

 

I previously wrote about an interesting article published by the ABAJournal.

The article presents interesting questions that come up in business transactions:

when faced with entering a business relationship should you enter into a non-disclosure agreement? (NDA)

What about if the NDA contains a Non-Disparagement Clause?

What is Disparagement?

Michigan courts have held that “disparagement” is plain in its meaning. It is not ambiguous. Therefore, when signing a non-disparagement clause you can have some reasonable certainty in your conduct.

Disparage – as you will see below – has a fairly common meaning

.

‘Disparagement’ is ‘a false and injurious statement that discredits or detracts from the reputation of another’s property, product, or business.’ Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed. 1999).

stated another way:

(1) To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle.

(2) To reduce esteem or rank.’ . . . American Heritage Dictionary (4th Ed. 2000)

 

Non-Disparagement Clauses in Contracts with Consumers

 

Recently the Federal government passed a law holding that such non-disparagement provisions in contracts are unenforceable under Federal law

California has had such a law in place since 2016.

 

It is one thing if two sophisticated business parties are negotiating a business relationship, but should consumers have specific protections concerning Non-Disparagement Clauses?

 

At least one Michigan lawmaker thinks so.

Michigan House Bill 5193

On October 31, 2017, HB 5193 was introduced to amend the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (“MCPA”).

“The MCPA provides protection to Michigan’s consumers by prohibiting various methods, acts, and practices in trade or commerce.” Slobin v. Henry Ford Health Care, 469 Mich. 211, 215; 666 NW2d 632 (2003).

The Amendment would prohibit anyone engaged in Trade or Commerce from including in a contract with a consumer for the sale of lease or sale of consumer goods:

“A PROVISION THAT WAIVES THE CONSUMER’S RIGHT TO MAKE A STATEMENT CONCERNING ANY OF THE
FOLLOWING:
(i) THE SELLER OR LESSOR.
(ii) EMPLOYEES OR AGENTS OF THE SELLER OR LESSOR.
(iii) THE CONSUMER GOODS OR SERVICES.

(B) THREATEN OR SEEK ENFORCEMENT OF A CONTRACT PROVISION PROHIBITED UNDER SUBDIVISION (A).

(C) PENALIZE A CONSUMER FOR MAKING ANY STATEMENT PROTECTED UNDER SUBDIVISION (A).

 

Of note, under this Bill businesses would still be permitted to include provisions that protect its proprietary information.

 

I understand the intent of this provision. However, it hasn’t made any progress in committee. I will keep you posted on any development.

 

 

Questions?  Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Business Law Basics: A 5 Million Dollar Comma

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Today in downtown Grand Rapids is the “World of Winter Festival” where Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.  provides a “Snow Globe” experience. Very colorful.  A lot of fun downtown.

 

IMG_2150

Rosa Parks Circle, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

Today I read an article posted by the ABAJournal that illustrates the profound impact on word and grammar usage in contracts and legislation.

As the ABAJournal reported:

“A dairy company in Maine has agreed to pay $5 million to its drivers after a federal appeals court last year found ambiguity in a state overtime law because it lacked an Oxford comma.”

The ABA Journal reported in its story last year Oxford comma issue benefits drivers in overtime case:

“FOR WANT OF A COMMA”

Ambiguity caused by lack of a comma in a law on overtime pay has benefited Maine dairy delivery drivers.”

“The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pointed out the issue in the first sentence of its March 13 decision(PDF). ‘For want of a comma, we have this case,” the court said in an opinion by Judge David Barron.

Because the statute was ambiguous, it should be interpreted in favor of the dairy workers who distribute milk but do not pack it, the appeals court found.

 

As a result – a 5 Million Dollar  Comma.

 

A SINGLE WORD CAN BE LEGALLY SIGNIFICANT TO SHIFT RISK

A few years back I wrote about how the words used in a contract dispute significantly impacted the rights and obligations in a business dispute, based upon the Michigan Supreme Court’s interpretation.

The Michigan Supreme Court made a distinction between the inclusion of the word “in” in a Title Company’s Closing Protection Letter in a prior case, and the “exclusion” of the word “in” in that instant case. In the Court’s determination:

“Although the distinction is slight—the only difference is the word “in”—the distinction is legally significant.”

Words Matter.

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com