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Michigan Behind the Ball with Benefit Corporation Laws.

Good afternoon, all. It has been a while since my last post – I hope you all have been enjoying the summer.

I usually include in these posts a recent photo of downtown Grand Rapids where my office overlooks Rosa Parks Circle.

7.10 On one of my walks downtown last week I decided to take a different photo – the memorial of Rosa Parks – the courageous woman who  this part of downtown Grand Rapids is named after.

It is wonderful to see Rosa Parks, and all that she stood for, honored – prominently at the intersection of Monroe Center and Monroe Avenue.

People, particularly vulnerable people, who stand up for what is right, even in the face of fierce opposition, should be honored.

 

 

 

West Michigan is truly a unique place where business and philanthropy intersect unlike any other place.  Giving of time, talents and treasure to worthy causes is embedded in the culture of this community.

 

Because business as a force for good is part of the fabric of Grand Rapids, it only makes sense to me that social enterprises such as benefit corporations should be able to thrive in West Michigan.

BCorp Certification is Trending in Michigan…

Over the last several years more and more local businesses have becoming Certified B Corps through BLabs. West Michigan has the most concentration of BCorp businesses in the State.

Check out a March article from Rapid Growth Media on the strong presence of Bcorps in West Michigan.

Headlines in Grand Rapids have brought attention to the need for businesses to ask the question: Am I working to build a better community?

 

B-Corp certification is one way (certainly not the only way) for businesses to hold themselves accountable to being a good community partner.

 

Unfortunately, Michigan has no legal framework for BCorps – yet.

 

BCorps?

A few months back the State House tantalized social entrepreneurs, once again, with the possibility of benefit corporations (“Bcorps”) becoming a viable legal option to do business in the State of Michigan.

House Bills 5867, 5868 & 5869 were introduced on April 24, 2018, that would allow BCorps to be formed under Michigan Law.

 

There has been no movement on this bill.

 

Back almost two years ago the legislature proposed similar legislation which died in committee. For a review of the Former BCorp Bills, the House Fiscal Agency issued a Fiscal Analysis, check it out here. 

 

The Analysis provides good background on what the legislation would do. This is helpful for those who are not overly familiar with BCorps in general.

 

 

The latest proposed Bcorp Legislation

The current Bcorp legislation has some different language than the 2016 proposed language. I am assuming it conforms with the model BCorp Legislation. One difference is the definition of “general public benefit” to “specific public benefit” which would be defined under the new Bcorp law as:

 

“SPECIFIC PUBLIC BENEFIT” INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO,
ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
(i) PROVIDING LOW-INCOME OR UNDERSERVED INDIVIDUALS OR
COMMUNITIES WITH BENEFICIAL PRODUCTS OR SERVICES.
(ii) PROMOTING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIVIDUALS OR
COMMUNITIES BEYOND THE CREATION OF JOBS IN THE NORMAL COURSE OF
BUSINESS.

(iii) PRESERVING THE ENVIRONMENT.
(iv) IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH.
(v) PROMOTING THE ARTS, SCIENCES, OR ADVANCEMENT OF KNOWLEDGE.
(vi) INCREASING THE FLOW OF CAPITAL TO ENTITIES THAT HAVE A
PUBLIC BENEFIT PURPOSE

 

Education on the “why” for BCorps.

Interested groups and local politicians have been educating the public on why BCorp laws would be a good thing for our state.

State Rep Hank Vaupe gave a discussion to a local chamber group on B-Corps two Septembers ago:

As Rep. Vaupe indicated “benefit corporations provide an opportunity for businesses to use the markets, rather than traditional charity giving, to advance their philanthropic missions.”

 

 

Michigan is behind the ball.

 

Over the last several years Michigan legislators have repeatedly introduced BCorp legislation – to no avail.

Check out this handout from Rep Barnett almost 8 years ago in support of the BCorp legislation he proposed in September 2010.

I found particularly interesting the very last section – it provides some comment on why some Michigan businesses may have been averse to the introduction of BCorp legislation. Feel free to read it and reach your own conclusions.

 

Michigan now ranks as one of the vast minority of states that has not enacted benefit corporation legislation.

 

Check out the Benefit Corporation website for a state by state legislative analysis.

 

Of particular note, just a few months back in February our neighboring State of Wisconsin has enacted Bcorp legislation.

 

I am hopeful for a more meaningful update on these Bills in the months to come…

 

Questions? Comments?

Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Connect with me on Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

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Business Law Update: A Booming Downtown Real Estate Market Means Businesses Should Pay Careful attention to Contracts.

June 5, 2018 1 comment

Happy Tuesday, all.

I took this photo yesterday from the skywalk between the Amway Grand Plaza and the DeVos Place Convention Center. I like walking downtown and watching the development unfold.

6.4

It is an exciting time to be working or living in downtown Grand Rapids. Everywhere you look, real estate development is transforming the town.

Check out Experience Grand Rapids for a detailed list of all the current downtown development.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade (but that is kind of a lawyer’s job)…

With increased commercial activity comes increased opportunity to fall into legal pitfalls.

 

 

As I tell my clients – if you are in business for any amount of time, it is just a matter of time, you will probably get into a business dispute.

Real estate development is no exception. The more transactions, the more opportunity for hiccups along the way.  A Court opinion I read last week brought this reality to  my mind.

 

Case Study

Last week an unpublished Michigan court of appeals case was released that highlights some contract drafting pitfalls. You can check out the May 31st unpublished decision of Greater Faith Transitions, Inc. v Ypsilanti Community Schools here

 

The case was about a commercial lease in which Landlord also granted Tenant an option to purchase the Building.

These “lease with options to purchase” can pose interesting questions – as the facts of this case illustrate.

Summary of the Facts

  • On August 13, 2013, plaintiff and defendant entered into a lease with option to purchase a property in Ypsilanti owned by defendant.
  • The parties intended the lease to be effective until August 31, 2018.
  • Under the lease terms, plaintiff was required to make monthly rent payments and to pay for all utility bills, including water bills.
  • According to plaintiff, it had attempted to enforce its option to purchase the property in a text to defendant on February 2, 2017, that stated:
    I tried to call you to make you aware of the fact that we’re buying the church this year.
  • On February 13, 2017, defendant sent to plaintiff a letter from its attorney and a Notice to Quit Termination of Tenancy, claiming that plaintiff was in default of the lease for repeated failure to pay water bills.

Plaintiff, tenant, sued its landlord, among other things, for interfering with its right to exercise its option to Purchase.  The trial court ended up dismissing Tenant’s lawsuit.

The tenant appealed.

The opinion of the Court of Appeals was interesting, essentially holding that the tenant’s claim for breach of contract was not ripe – since a contract was not yet breached. The tenant was not yet evicted.

(See opinion, page 2 – “Plaintiff claims that “Defendant’s improper use of summary proceedings to evict Plaintiff from the leased premises will breach the parties’ Lease
with Option to Purchase because Plaintiff will be deprived of its right to cure any defaults during the term of the Lease (i.e., through August 31, 2018) so that Plaintiff can exercise its option to purchase thereunder.”)

 

The ultimate ruling aside, the case, to me, provides a good opportunity to highlight a few drafting issues that can come up in commercial leases.

First, a general point I want to bring to the business owner’s attention:

Why Careful attention to Business Contracts is important – Freedom of Contract 

First and foremost, when entering a business contract each party should understand – they will be bound to the contracts they sign.

In a commercial lease context the courts’ mantra is “Freedom of Contract“.

The Court will look at the contract that the parties’ agreed to, and, absent extraordinary circumstances, enforce it by its term. (therefore in  a commercial lease you might see language such as the following “rent is due with no right of offset, setoff, counterclaim…”) In such instance, the landlord is telling the tenant that tenant has no right to withhold rent just because landlord may have breached a duty under the lease.

The Courts have recognized that commercial landlords and tenants are “free to contract”:

 

Drafting Issues.

Going back to the court opinion, it doesn’t appear to me from reviewing the opinion that the parties disputed that the tenant defaulted in failing to pay utility bills.

Question:

Did the lease have a provision that said that the “Option to Purchase” terminated if:

  • the tenant had been in default at any time?
  • or, only in Default at the time the Option was being exercised?
  • Or, did it say nothing on the subject of Default?

Another question:

was there a lease provision that strictly provided where “notices” must be sent?

e.g. – was it left up to the parties to interpretation whether or not notice delivered “via text message” was an appropriate method?

 

If these issues are plainly addressed in business contracts, then possibly, the parties avoid a lawsuit.

 

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauk

 

 

 

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: Michigan Senate to Take up “Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act”

 

It is a rainy day in Grand Rapids, today. I took this photo of Lyons Street – showing the Amway Grand Plaza and the Windquest Building.

Speaking of Amway and Windquest, the Michigan House passed a Bill that would benefit Amway’s direct sales business.

5.3.18

 

The Michigan legislature has been busy proposing some interesting laws that affect business.  I posted a few days ago on the recent BCorp legislation. 

The Legislature also apparently wants to clarify that direct selling companies like Amway are not within the definition of pyramid schemes.

The Michigan House recently passed four bills that would create a new Act known as the Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act. 

Those Bills appear to address the question: what is a pyramid scheme v.s. what is a perfectly legal direct selling business.

Not surprising, the following companies were in support of the Bills:

Direct Selling Association
Amway
American Communications Network
Mary Kay, Inc.
Southwestern Advantage

 

According to an Article published by U.S. World News 

“The new classification more obviously sets distinctions between pyramid schemes and traditional direct selling companies such as Amway, which testified in support of the bill. The legislation exempts operations that repurchase unsold inventory from participants at no less than 90 percent of the original cost.”

the Bills would create a new Act known as the Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act, amend the criminal code, as well as the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

For more detailed information you can check out the House Fiscal Agency’s Analysis of these 4 bills.

According to the HFA this legislation is intended:

“to more clearly define a pyramid promotion scheme and provide for the attorney general to investigate and prosecute when violations are found”

 

Stiff Penalties

According to the new Act:

“Any person that promoted a pyramid promotional scheme would be guilty of a felony
punishable by imprisonment for not more than 7 years or a fine of not more than $10,000 (per violation), or both.”

 

With penalties this severe, it is understandable why certain companies would want to insure they are clearly on the right side of the law.

 

What’s Next.

Next week the State Senate Commerce Committee will be taking on these four bills.

The Meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 9 at 9:00 am in Lansing.

This could result in a fast track course for this new Act.

Questions? Comments?

Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Connect with me on Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

 

Michigan is Back Trending Towards Social Entrepreneurship: April 24, 2018 Benefit Corporation Legislation Proposed.

April 30, 2018 3 comments

Good morning! Downtown Grand Rapids is starting to look and feel like spring. The trees are just starting to get their leaves – I can’t wait for West Michigan to become green once again.

4.30

Speaking of new life – the legislature has breathed new life in the possibility of benefit corporations (“Bcorps”) becoming a viable legal option to do business in the State of Michigan.

House Bills 5867, 5868 & 5869 were introduced last week, on April 24, 2018, that would allow BCorps to be formed under Michigan Law.

 

Back almost two years ago the legislature proposed similar legislation which died in committee. For a review of the Former BCorp Bills, the House Fiscal Agency issued a Fiscal Analysis, check it out here. The Analysis provides good background on what the legislation would do. This is helpful for those who are not overly familiar with BCorps in general.

 

 

The latest proposed Bcorp Legislation

The current Bcorp legislation has some different language than the 2016 proposed language. One difference is the definition of “general public benefit” to “specific public benefit” which would be defined under the new Bcorp law as:

 

“SPECIFIC PUBLIC BENEFIT” INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO,
ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
(i) PROVIDING LOW-INCOME OR UNDERSERVED INDIVIDUALS OR
COMMUNITIES WITH BENEFICIAL PRODUCTS OR SERVICES.
(ii) PROMOTING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIVIDUALS OR
COMMUNITIES BEYOND THE CREATION OF JOBS IN THE NORMAL COURSE OF
BUSINESS.

(iii) PRESERVING THE ENVIRONMENT.
(iv) IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH.
(v) PROMOTING THE ARTS, SCIENCES, OR ADVANCEMENT OF KNOWLEDGE.
(vi) INCREASING THE FLOW OF CAPITAL TO ENTITIES THAT HAVE A
PUBLIC BENEFIT PURPOSE

 

I still need to perform a more detailed review of the legislation to see how it differs from the prior iteration; and also how it compares to what other states are doing.

 

 

Education on the “why” for BCorps.

Interested groups and local politicians have been educating the public on why BCorp laws would be a good thing for our state.

State Rep Hank Vaupe gave a discussion to a local chamber group on B-Corps two Septembers ago:

As Rep. Vaupe indicated “benefit corporations provide an opportunity for businesses to use the markets, rather than traditional charity giving, to advance their philanthropic missions.”

 

BCorp Certification is Trending in Michigan…

Over the last several years more and more local businesses have becoming Certified B Corps through BLabs. West Michigan has the most concentration of BCorp businesses in the State.

Check out a March article from Rapid Growth Media on the strong presence of Bcorps in West Michigan.

Headlines in Grand Rapids have brought attention to the need for businesses to ask the question: Am I working to build a better community?

 

B-Corp certification is one way (certainly not the only way) for businesses to hold themselves accountable to being a good community partner.

 

Why has it taken so long to get here?

 

Over the last several years Michigan legislators have introduced BCorp legislation – to no avail.

Check out this handout from Rep Barnett several years ago in support of the BCorp legislation he proposed in September 2010.

I found particularly interesting the very last section – it provides some comment on why some Michigan businesses may have been averse to the introduction of BCorp legislation. Feel free to read it and reach your own conclusions.

Trending Towards Social Entrepreneurship.

The trends all show that millennials and our up and coming workforce want to to be part of business as a force for good in our local community.

Questions? Comments?

Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Connect with me on 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