Posts Tagged ‘startup’

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 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


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.



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?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka



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):


  • 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:
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.
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.




Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Detroit Startup Week Kicks off with Legal Panels: There are Legal Matters Startups Need to Know.

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Detroit Startup Week is about a month away.

It is exciting to see the growth in downtown Detroit.  Detroit was recently ranked the No. 4 City where Downtown is Making a Comeback.

It must be an exciting time to be part of the downtown Detroit community.  The city promises to be buzzing during Detroit Startup Week.


Working in downtown Grand Rapids, I can’t help but mention some of our local startup groups.

We have some great organizations that support small business and encourage entrepreneurship in West Michigan, including:

Start Garden

Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Grand Rapids





Grand Rapids Chamber

Small Business Association of Michigan


Back to Detroit Startup, Week…

You can check out the events schedule, which includes a whole week packed full of valuable events.

I think it no coincidence that the very first day, May 20th, starts out with Detroit’s Small Business Legal Academy.

It seems fitting that a week long celebrating startups begins with education on all the legal ways things can go wrong.

According to the website:

SBLA Detroit will consist of a series of hands-on panels designed to provide practical legal and professional information necessary for new business owners and entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level. The panelists will cover legal issues involving real estate, intellectual property, employment, funding, formation, and organizational issues.


From the above excerpt, the legal panels look to discuss real issues that entrepreneurs will run into. I hope many take advantage of these panels.


The reality is that there are a host of legal areas that can turn into pitfalls for startup businesses – I write on quite a few of those areas:

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.




twitter: @JeshuaTLauka



Business Law Update: When are Non-Competes Enforceable?

March 20, 2017 2 comments

I took this photo from my office, the first day of Spring 2017. It is fitting that the ice rink in Rosa Parks’ circle is melting.

With spring comes new opportunities – including employees leaving their jobs.

What happens if the employee signed a non-competition agreement during the course of employment? Are non-competes enforceable?



 – it depends.

Check out a November 2017 article from MIBiz-  PR firm sues former exec for breach of contract

A few years back I posted on an article written by Above the Law titled – Jimmy John’s Serves Up Sandwiches And Oppressive Non-Compete Agreements.

See the link from the “Above the Law Blog”

In Michigan, Non-Competes are enforceable to protect legitimate busines
s interests.

MCL 445.774a provides:

“1) An employer may obtain from an employee an agreement or covenant which protects an employer’s reasonable competitive business interests…”
Further the Agreement must be reasonable:
  • “as to its duration,
  • geographical area, and
  • the type of employment or line of business.”

In November I posted an article about a possible change to Michigan covenants not-to compete statute, you can see that article here – no new movement on th
at HB. It appears that it got stuck in committee and left to die…

Of note, a bill was proposed earlier this month that would require employers to offer Paid Sick Leave

At any rate, going back to the topic at hand…

The question posed by the Above the Law article is a good one – ok, Jim
my Johns, you have a non-compete agreement, that may be valid…so,

to what end?

What is the point? What type of legitimate business interest is Jimmy Johns trying to protect here?

Going back to the initial topic of this post – when can a business enforce a non-compete?

One Answer:

When a business has a legitimate interest to protect.


A recent Michigan Court of Appeals on the topic of Non-Competition Agreements provides some illustration on this point.

BHB Investment Holdings v Ogg

I won’t delve into the details, but the first paragraph of the Opinion is telling:

“Steven Ogg took a job with Aqua Tots Canton after being terminated by its competitor, Goldfish Swim School of Farmington Hills. Ogg’s actions breached a noncompetition agreement he signed with the Goldfish franchisee, BHB Investment Holdings. BHB sought to preliminarily enjoin Ogg from working with Aqua Tots, but presented no evidence of irreparable harm. BHB later failed to establish that the agreement protected a legitimate business interest to support the issuance of a permanent injuncti
on. Nor did BHB substantiate that it suffered any damages as a result of the breach.”


Is restricting a former employee from swim instruction a legitimate business interest?

The Court on page 3 recognized a number of factors in the analysis in denying enforcing the non-compete, including:

  1. the position was a low-level position;
  2. employee had no access to confidential information;
  3. employee didn’t take any information;
  4. employee didn’t solicit customers;
  5. interestingly, the employer didn’t previously enforce the non-compete when other employees left.

One other interesting piece of information – the Court rejected the employer’s allegation that its swimming lessons were proprietary information. The Court’s rationale?

the employer “placed its methods in the public domain because this was a public building and the students parents, as well as any member of the public, could watch the lessons and glean the methods.” pg 8.

Having no proprietary information, the employer “could not establish a legitimate business interest it needed to protect.” Id.



  1. Non-competes will not be enforced unless they protect a legitimate business interest.
  2. Non-competes are less likely to be enforceable against low-level positions with no access to proprietary information.
  3. If you are going to seek an injunction in court, it helps to have some evidence that your former employee is unfairly competing.


questions? comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka