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My Thoughts on Social Enterprise: Am I Living Each Day with Conviction and Purpose?

Last week I mowed the lawn for the first time this year.

I didn’t have any gas to fill up the mower, so I just relied on the unknown amount of gas that had been in the mower over the winter.

As I was mowing the back yard, the largest portion of my lawn, I kept wondering – is this gas going to last the entire lawn? I really had no idea.

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I like mowing the lawn because it gets me thinking outside of myself.

My thoughts shifted to a friend who had unexpectedly passed away in February. My friend was the same age as me, 37, he was in excellent health, married with young children. He died suddenly of a heart attack while vacationing with his family.

 

 

 

 

I am sure my friend had no idea that morning he woke up on vacation, that it would be his last on earth.

 

Mowing the lawn without knowing how much gas was in the tank reminded me of how none of us are promised tomorrow.

I had no idea when my mower was out of gas.

None of us knows when we will breathe our last breath.

It gave me pause to ask myself:

am I living each day with conviction and purpose?

am I living each day for what really matters?

 

I think we all could benefit from this “eternal” or “purposeful” mindset.

 

This “purposeful mindset”  is one reason why I love social entrepreneurs:

Those in business who are purposeful in using their business as a force for good.

 

And it is why I am excited about the proposed Benefit Corporation laws that have once again been introduced in the State Legislature.

 

My call to you:
Be purposeful.

Be eternally minded.

 

Questions? Comments?

Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Connect with me on Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

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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.

 

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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

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

 

Question:

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.

 

Conclusion:

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?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michigan Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses: Crowdfunding Law Update.

Last year  Representative Tom Barrett introduced House resolution2015-11-26-13-04-02 235 (HR 235)

“to support the (SEC)’s recent adoption of rules…to facilitate small and start-up companies’ access to capital raised through crowdfunding.”

The resolution supports crowdfunding as viable tools for start-up businesses.

The resolution acknowledges:

Businesses in Michigan have greatly benefited from the opportunities created by the…Michigan Invests Locally Exemption (MILE) program. MILE has allowed everyday Michiganders, referred to as unaccredited investors, the ability to play a larger role in growing Michigan’s creative business ventures through Michigan-based crowdfunding platforms while still enjoying investor protections and security in their investments” (Emphasis added.)

 

Is Crowdfunding a Viable Option in Michigan?

Fast forward to today,  MIBiz recently reported that Michigan’s crowdfunding law hasn’t gained much traction

However, it may remain a viable tool for cash-strapped startups and the Michigan legislature has not given up on it.

 

Yesterday the Michigan House passed HB 4035 that amended the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption to Intrastate Crowdfunding.

 

According to yesterday’s announcement from the Michigan House Republican Website:

The amendments contained in HB 4035 “will expand the program so people can also invest in small businesses primarily doing business in the state and allows Michigan’s law to remain active under new Federal regulations

You can check out the House Fiscal Agency’s Analysis Here

The HB now moves to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration.

 

Entrepreneurs and Start-ups:

 

Proponents of Crowdfunding: access to capital.

A while back Candace Klein Chief Strategy Officer at DealStruck was Interviewed by CrowdfundInsider and talked about how small business might benefit from crowdfunding. She had this to say, in part:

“Most businesses are community-based, and have an immediate impact for those in their community, whether geographic or industry-based.  Crowdfunding brings these companies together with the everyday investors in their communities.”

 

Crowdfunding for Social Enterprise?

I agree. As I’ve previously written about, crowdfunding appears to be a viable tool for community based businesses.

People are willing to invest in projects that will enhance their local community.

This is what makes local equity-based crowdfunding attractive for social entrepreneurs.

This is what makes local equity-based crowdfunding attractive for social entrepreneurs.

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

Business Law Basics: “For Want of a Comma” The Words You Use Can be Costly.

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Disclaimer: The photo below has nothing to do with this post. It is simply my way of recognizing that I am sick of winter and looking forward to the 15 hour drive to Florida in a few weeks…

 

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

Oxford comma issue benefits drivers in overtime case  

2016-01-09 12.56.14

Photo I took of Clearwater Beach, FL

“FOR WANT OF A COMMA”

As the ABA Journal reports:

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.

 

A SINGLE WORD CAN BE LEGALLY SIGNIFICANT TO SHIFT RISK

Last year 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

Business Law Update: Key Terms to Consider in Business Contracts.

January 13, 2017 Leave a comment

If you’ve followed my posts for any amount of time, you probably aren’t surprised that I  like reading and writing about the latest Michigan court cases.

Particularly if they are relevant to business or real estate. I always find there are some lessons to be learned.

As another aside – I also like to include photos I took of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – overloimg_1360oking Rosa Parks Circle. This one, from today, shows the Zamboni smoothing out the ice for skaters looking to enjoy some weekend ice skating.

The latest case on my mind:

Summit Diamond Bridge Lenders, LLC v Philip R. Seaver Title Company, Inc.

This dispute really has to do with:

Forum Selection Clauses in a Contract.

Backing up a step, why do we prepare written contracts for business transactions?

Contracts are about risk allocation.

In any business transaction, business owners need to  have set in stone terms that answer one question:

who bears what risk?

A Forum Selection Clause would include language indicating that no matter where a dispute about the contract occurred, the contract will be interpreted under (in our case) Michigan law, and the parties agree that any dispute shall only be resolved in _______ County (Typically,  Kent County, Michigan, for my clients.) The parties then would agree to submit to the jurisdiction of said Courts.

Therefore, if your contract contains a forum selection clause, and, for instance, you are owed money by a company in Florida, you would not need to retain a Florida attorney for initiating a lawsuit in Florida. Just initiate the lawsuit in good ole’ Grand Rapids.

So as a general principle, if your business operates in commerce in other states or countries, it is wise to have such a clause.

 

However, the Summit Diamond Bridge Lenders case tells us that although generally such clause is enforceable, it isn’t always the case.

FACTS:

This case involved an escrow agreement with a  forum selection clause that “provides that California law governs any dispute arising from or related to the escrow agreement. The parties also designated the state of California in the agreement’s forum-selection clause.”

Plaintiff brought suit in Michigan alleging defendant, title company, breached its fiduciary duty as escrow agent of the loan funds by dispersing the funds without an approved letter of credit. Id. at page 2.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss – arguing that Plaintiff sued in the wrong state. California was the proper forum for the dispute under the plain language of the escrow agreement.

The trial Court agreed. It dismissed the case.

The trial court held that California was the proper forum based upon the plain language of the forum selection clause.

The Court of Appeals reversed.

The Court of Appeals noted on page 3 of its decision that “In Michigan, public policy favors the enforcement of such clauses and, absent certain exceptions” citing Michigan Statute, MCL 600.745(3)(a)-(e).

Those excepts are:

(a) The court is required by statute to entertain the action.

(b) The plaintiff cannot secure effective relief in the other state for reasons other than delay in bringing the action.

(c) The other state would be a substantially less convenient place for the trial of the action than this state.

(d) The agreement as to the place of the action is obtained by misrepresentation, duress, the abuse of economic power, or other unconscionable means.

(e) It would for some other reason be unfair or unreasonable to enforce the agreement.” Id. at pg 5, citing MCL 600745(3).

The Court looked to California Law to determine whether or not the forum selection clause applied. California had a statute that ” precluded from bringing suit against a defendant who is a foreign corporation unless …(2) the agreement relates to a transaction involving at least $1,000,00.” Id. at page 4.

Because the agreement does not relate to a transaction involving at least $1,000,000, because defendant only agreed to hold in escrow $700,000 of plaintiff’s funds.

Essentially, the court of appeals held that since California would not entertain the lawsuit – because it did not meet the monetary threshold – the parties couldn’t obtain effective relief in California – satisfying the exception under subsection b.

 

Important Lesson:

1. Understand Your Contract Before Signing. 

Contracts are about risk allocation. In a business relationship you need to decide what risk you are willing to bear, and what risk you will allocate away. I am sure in this case Summit did not foresee a dispute arising, and therefore was willing to bear the risk in the event of a dispute to litigate in California in an inconvenient forum. They were fortunate that an exception applied and allowed them to maintain their suit in Michigan.

2. Understand  Your Contract After Signing.

Your business contract will dictate what your rights and duties are.  Here, Summit had the perceived contractual duty to pursue its dispute in California. However, its attempt to avoid abiding by the contract worked out – but it was costly. It was initially dismissed. It took an appeals court to find that a narrow exception applied.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

 

 

Business Law Update: You have Terms and Conditions, but are they CONSPICUOUS?

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Business Owners – ask yourself:

When selling or buying, what are in my company’s Terms and Conditions?

You can check out some of my prior posts on Terms and Conditions. “TnCs” are important to review closely. TnCs “allocate risk” among the two parties to the contract. In some instances, even if one party never reads the TnCs.

Recent Case…

On November 29th, a Court of Appeals case was issued stemming from a product sold by a business to a customer. The case: John French Jr. v Ben’s Super Center

This case involved “the sale of a defective outdoor wood furnace”

Facts:

“On May 21, 2011, after meeting with defendant’s salesman, Todd Kaatz, and having a fairly lengthy discussion with him regarding purchasing an outdoor wood furnace for his home, plaintiff purchased an outdoor wood furnace, (“Optimizer 250″) from Ben’s Supercenter for $12,000.00.” Id. at pg 1.

Defendant delivered the Optimizer 250 to plaintiff’s property and plaintiff installed it.

Sometime around Christmas of 2011, after plaintiff had been using the furnace for about three weeks, he began to have trouble with its performance and contacted Kaatz for help.

“Kaatz…came to plaintiff’s property and inspected the furnace, but they were unable to determine why the furnace was operating inefficiently.”

After several years of attempting to work with the manufacturer and “retrofit” to make the furnace work, Plaintiff sued Defendant.

Plaintiff raised about of claims, variations of “breach warranties”.

Among other things, Plaintiff claimed that Defendant had breached an “implied warranty of merchantability.”

Essentially, it is implied in a sale of goods that what the buyer is getting, he or she will be able to use for the purpose it is generally intended to be used for.

Michigan law allows a business to exclude such warranties.

So the question is: did this business properly exclude any such warranties?

Answer: No.

Under MCL 440.2316 if a business is going to exclude such warranty, it must do so in CONSPICUOUS LANGUAGE. According to the statute, conspicuous “means so written, displayed, or presented that a reasonable person against which it is to operate ought to have noticed it.” Id. pg 4.

In this case, the business pointed not to any of its own terms and conditions, but to the manufacturer’s handbook, which had one line that stated: “No other warranty is expressed or implied.” Id. Pg 5.

As the Court noted – this was not conspicuous language.

The Court upheld the verdict in favor of Plaintiff.

Take Away on Terms and Conditions

  1. Read the Terms and Conditions

Enough said.

2. Implement Terms and Conditions

I recommend business clients to always include a Terms and Conditions page that is either attached to the back of their physical Purchase Orders, or is included in their Website and incorporated by reference. The Terms and Conditions will, essentially, allocate risk and liability, on such items like:

  • warranties (what is the provider guaranteeing and what isn’t it?) As emphasized by the French case – disclaimers need to be CONSPICUOUSLY IDENTIFIED.
  • payment terms (when and how is payment accepted? Late fees?)
  • remedies (what is your recourse in the event the goods aren’t what the buyer expected? Are your damages limited to a refund, or can you get related damages as well? Can attorney fees be covered?
  • Venue – (where can you bring your dispute? An arbitrator? Who pays the fees? Is the location of the arbitration specified?

3. Enforce Terms and Conditions

And of course, its important that a business enforces its terms. I have had clients who have been sued before and forgot of their advantageous language in their terms and conditions. If a business is sued and it waits too long in the litigation before raising its right to arbitration, the court very well might consider the business to have “waived its right” to arbitration. Although, “Waiver of a contractual right to arbitrate is disfavored” by the Courts. Best v Park W Galleries, Inc, No. 305317, 2013 WL 4766678 (Mich Ct App September 5, 2013), app den 495 Mich 979 (2014).

Questions?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka