Posts Tagged ‘business law’

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”.



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:





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?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka


Business Law Update: Michigan LLCs Filing with LARA: Pardon the Delays and Thank you for your Patience.

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Happy Thursday, all! I took this photo earlier today – the sun is out in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan and people are enjoying  the ice rink at Rosa Parks Circle.


Last week I posted about an update I received from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (“LARA”) extending the deadline to file annual statements and reports for LLCs and PLLCs to March 1, 2018.

Annual Statements are Due on February 15th each year, “however, due to increased demand for pre-assigned Customer ID Number (CID) and PIN information, an automatic 14-day extension will be granted.


In my post I also mentioned that I wasn’t surprised at the filing extension, given the fact that my experience with LARA lately has been frustrating to say the least. My clients have been experiencing serious delays in returned filings from LARA.


Today, I received an update from LARA’s Director Julia Dale, thanking me, and other system users for our patience in the delays that we have been experiencing.

In part, Director Dale acknowledged that:

“The Corporations Division serves more than 800,000 customers doing business in Michigan and reviews more than 240,000 documents and 640,000 annual reports each year…For the last two years…LARA worked diligently to bring the agency’s aging Corporations database into the modem era by completely replacing the outdated server-based technology with a new web-based system… The database was unstable, utilized unsupported technology and the fax-based filing system had become a burden for customers and staff.”


I am glad that my reasonable frustrations are being acknowledged by LARA. Thank you, Director Dale.


Many of my clients, (real estate investors, small business owners, entrepreneurs, etc..) rely on quick turn around for corporate filings. The fact that LARA’s e-filing system has not been reliable has been troubling for my clients – and therefore troubling to me.


I forewarn all clients who are looking for new entity filings that they should expect to experience delays.

If the particular filing is time sensitive, you have a deal closing soon and need an entity prepared ASAP, then you may want to consider paying extra to the State for expedited processing.


Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Michigan Limited Liability Companies: LARA extends 2018 Annual Statement Filing Deadline to March 1. Stay in Good Standing and Maintain your Corporate Formalities.

February 15, 2018 1 comment

It is the middle of the dreary season – February 15th. Not too long and I, like many folks in West Michigan with school-aged kids will be heading to Florida for Spring Break.

2017-04-09 21.33.41

This is a photo I took last year – sunnier days ahead.

Anyway, on to the point of this post:


Today I received an e-mail from The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs(“LARA”) reminding that all annual statements and reports for LLCs and PLLCs are due March 1, 2018.





Annual Statements are Due on February 15th each year, “however, due to increased demand for pre-assigned Customer ID Number (CID) and PIN information, an automatic 14-day extension will be granted.


As a practical note, if you are experiencing delay in receiving filings from LARA – just know that LARA has recently transition to an electronic filing system – and disposing of the fax filing.

All things considered, I am not surprised at the extension, and it is good news.


Per LARA’s announcement:

“Annual statements and reports can be submitted online at The first step to submit annual statements and reports online is to login to the system with the entity’s CID and PIN. If you have forgotten the CID or PIN, please contact the Corporations Division at or call (517) 241-6470 to obtain that information. Please do not send multiple email requests for CID/PIN numbers, as this will slow processing time.”

For more information about LARA, please visit



Consequences for Failing to File:

LARA also reminds that:

“Section 909(2) of the Michigan Limited Liability Company Act, 1993 PA 23, provides that if a domestic or foreign professional limited liability company does not file the annual report by February 15, then in addition to its liability for the fee, a $50.00 penalty is added to the fee.”

“Penalties will be assessed for 2018 annual reports received after March 1, 2018.”

Further LARA reports that, an LLC that “fails to file its annual statement/report or the filing fee is not paid for two years, the limited liability company will not be in good standing.  The status of the limited liability company will be “active, but not in good standing.”

“A limited liability company that is not in good standing is not entitled to a certificate of good standing; its company name will be available for use by another entity, and no document will be filed on behalf of the company other than a certificate of restoration.”


Is your LLC in Good Standing?

Occasionally I will have a business client come in and I will ask – just to make sure – “is your business still in good standing?”

The common answer is “I think so.”

And of course, after I perform a quick internet check with the State of Michigan it is all too common that I discover that either the LLC is “not in good standing” or worse, the company has been dissolved automatically for failure to file annual statements.

A Word on Resident Agents:

My law firm is happy to provide our business clients with resident agent services. One of the benefits of an LLC is that it provides its owners a level of privacy protection.


You can check out a recent ABAJournal Article on how a Court is making Jared Kushner’s real estate partners disclose their identity.


Michigan law requires Limited Liability Companies to have appointed a Resident Agent.

MCL 450.4207(1)(b) requires an LLC to have a resident agent. A person, or business with a physical presence in the State of Michigan.

Michigan law does not require that an “owner” of the LLC be the resident agent.

“The resident agent appointed by a limited liability company is an agent of the company upon whom any process, notice, or demand required or permitted by law to be served upon the company may be served.” MCL 450.4207(1)(b).

Many of my real estate investment clients will utilize my law firm as resident agent when filing their articles of organization with the State of Michigan.

In Conclusion:

Business owners, if you get these annual statements from the State of Michigan, or from your attorney – do not disregard them! Maintain your Corporate Formalities.

Questions? Comments?


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.



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:


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 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.


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Business Law Update: Concerning Current Politics and Non-Disparagement Clauses

January 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Today I read an interesting article published by the ABAJournal.

The ABAJournal article asks an interesting question (all politics aside):

“If Trump sues Bannon for violating a nondisclosure agreement, what are his damages?”

Again, all politics aside, the article presents interesting questions that comes up in business transactions: when faced with entering a business relationship should you enter into a non-disclosure agreement? (NDA)


The thought that comes to mind when I hear the word “Politics”

What if the NDA contains a non-disparagement clause? Can you even enforce it if breached? If so, what are your damages?

Going back to the ABAJournal Article, one legal scholar quoted in the ABAJournal article opined that such a lawsuit would be problematic, given damages are speculative (my paraphrase). University of Arizona law professor Jane Roberta Bambauer stated:

“It’s difficult for litigants to claim large damages when the nature of the award is that they expected to be less embarrassed (as opposed to NDA cases involving trade secrets and other financially valuable pieces of information that the protected party expected to exploit himself)”

Regardless of the damages argument, in general, such agreements are enforceable. That was the opinion of Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter who stated:


“We can put aside nondisparagement clauses buried in the boilerplate of consumer contracts, which companies sometimes try to use to prevent those who buy their products from posting negative reviews. Most courts have understandably held such clauses unenforceable,”…“But when non-disparagement clauses are included in employment contracts or separation agreements, they are enforced more or less routinely.”


Non-Disparagement Clauses…With a Penalty?

Would you sign a non-disparagement clause with a penalty attached to it in the event of breach?

A few years ago an interesting story emerged regarding a non-disparagement clause involving a settlement entered into by the City of Lansing.

As a lawyer, if I was approving my client’s signature on the City of Lansing Settlement agreement, I’d want to be sure that my client fully understood what constitutes “disparagement”


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.

Often times as part of a confidential settlement agreement, the parties to a dispute will agree not to “disparage” each other.

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)

2. Michigan Case Law Concerning “Non-Disparagement Agreements”

Rarely have I ever seen a non-disparagement clause become an issue. In fact, a review of Michigan case law supports this – I found only a handful of cases in Michigan where the parties litigated over one party’s alleged “disparagement” after a settlement agreement was entered.

One such case was the 2011 case of Sohal v. Mich. State Univ. Bd. of Trs. & Davoren Chick M.D., 2011 Mich. App. LEXIS 915, *12-14, 2011 WL 1879728 (Mich. Ct. App. May 17, 2011).)

There the Court held: “the term “disparage” in the non-disparagement clause is not ambiguous. While plaintiff attempts to ascribe several “reasonable” meanings to the term “disparage,” and thus the non-disparagement clause, the term fairly admits of but one interpretation.” Citing Meagher v Wayne State Univ, 222 Mich App 700, 722; 565 NW2d 401 (1997).

As the Court noted, “Other state courts have determined that the term “disparage” in non-disparagement clauses of settlement agreements are unambiguous.” (citations omitted).


In closing – non-disparagement clauses are standard clauses (but not universally used). Courts have consistently held that “Disparage” is a plainly understood term. It isn’t an ambiguous term.

Disparagement clauses may be enforceable. Most often, I would presume they would at least serve the purpose of deterring a party from speaking disreputably after a settlement is signed. However a good question to ask before entering into the agreement; unless you have a stipulated damages provision, how will you calculate damages in the event of a breach?


Questions?  Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Business Law Update: Another Call to Clear Contract Drafting.

September 26, 2017 Leave a comment

It is Artprize again in downtown Grand Rapids! See one of the exhibits on Monroe Avenue in front of the Venue.

2017-09-14 13.08.48



Did you know: “Shall” has a different meaning then “May”?

One is mandatory.

The other is permissive.

In business, it pays to be clear in the contract language you use.


Check out this recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision on why you need to take care in drafting contracts.



This case was a dispute over a commercial lease contained in a “letter agreement” – and the legal concept of contra proferentem that ambiguities in contracts should be construed against the drafter.



According to the Court of Appeals: “the primary question presented in this case is
whether the following paragraph of the letter agreement precluded plaintiffs from filing this lawsuit:
“10. The failure of either party to perform the preliminary duties outlined in
this agreement will permit the obligee of the duty to declare a default and
terminate this preliminary agreement to lease or other remedy that may be agreed
to by the parties.”

The trial court found that this language precluded the tenant from suing.

The court of appeals disagreed.

The Court of Appeals evidently found this language to be ambiguous.

“It is an elementary rule of construction of contracts that in case of doubt, a contract is to be strictly construed against the party by whose agent it was drafted.” Shay v Aldrich, 487 Mich 648, 673; 790 NW2d 629 (2010).

This rule of construction is known as “contra proferentem”.

The contra proferentem rule is applicable only as a last resort, when other techniques of interpretation and construction have not resolved the question of which of two or more possible reasonable meanings the court should choose. It is a tie breaker when there is no other sound basis for choosing one contract interpretation over another.”
Klapp v. United Ins. Group Agency, Inc., 468 Mich. 459, 460, 663 N.W.2d 447, 449, 2003 Mich. LEXIS 1224, *1 (Mich. 2003).

However, in this case, the Court seemed to make much of the fact that the drafter, who was a party to the contract, was an attorney.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court decision and found that the language did not preclude the tenant from filing suit and the case needed to proceed to trial.



Small business owners often times are wearing many “hats”. They are working with limited cash flow and are forced to make many choices. Many of these choices are in areas outside of their expertise.

Oftentimes startups and small business owners will “cut corners” to be more efficient and cost-effective.

When it comes to signing a legally binding contract – it is simply not worth cutting corners on.

The cost of what you do not know can be significant.

Question? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka







Removing Employment Barriers For the Most Vulnerable. Work To Be Done.

August 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Today I read an article from the ABA JournalNY District Attorney’s efforts resulted in some $644,000 of minor offenses being dismissed. Check out the article here.

In making his argument in support of the massive dismissals, the District Attorney explained to the Judge that:

“New Yorkers with 10-year-old summons warrants face unnecessary unemployment risk, housing and immigration consequences,”


Such unintended consequences are not unique to New York City.

In West Michigan, our community development organizations see firsthand that outstanding warrants cause significant barriers to employment and housing. Immigration is an ever increasing topic of local and national concern.


Indeed, the ABA Journal had noted several years ago that Post-conviction consequences make it difficult for ex-offenders to find jobs – here

The ABAJournal noted that: “The U.S. economy loses up to $65 billion in output each year because of fewer job opportunities for convicted felons, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The Small Business Association of Michigan – has previously reported that:

Convicts leaving incarceration often have a difficult time re-entering the working world because, according to one survey, 65 percent of employers would never consider hiring someone with a felony record.


Michigan’s Role..

Michigan government has taken steps to remove such employment barriers. The Work Opportunity Act was introduced in the Senate back in February to further incentive businesses in hiring former convicted felons.  You can check out my previous articles on the matter here.

More Locally…

Check out Mel Trotter Ministries and their Community Outreach Court – formerly “Street Court” initiative.


An older  press release (here) details how MTM, Degage Ministries and Heartside Ministries help the homeless with criminal backgrounds.

I’m thankful for the work that Mel Trotter, Degage, Heartside, and other organizations are doing to help the homeless in West Michigan clear up outstanding legal issues that are just another obstacle between them and employment..

Also Worth Praising their Efforts….

There are a number of great companies who reach out to support putting Michiganders with certain barriers to work.  Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids lead by CEO Kathy Crosby does a fantastic job of equipping this demographic and putting them into long term employment.

Some West Michigan companies who do a great job of reaching out to hire/place those with employment barriers are Cascade Engineering and its Founder Fred Keller. Others include Lacks EnterprisesKentwood Office Furniture and Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids lead by Janis Petrini to name a few.

These community partners deserve praise for their work putting to work the “unemployable” and the vulnerable in our local community.

To conclude:

there’s work to be done.

Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka