July 2012 Archives

Processing Delays at the California Secretary of State Continue for Business Documents Filings

July 31, 2012,

In the past couple of years, corporations and limited liability companies that were formed or registered in California have had to deal with long delays from the Secretary of State in getting their documents processed. Whether the document that is being filed is a Statement of Information, Certificate of Dissolution or Cancellation, or Articles of Incorporation or Organization, the Secretary of State is taking weeks or even months to process a filing. As a business lawyer in San Jose, I have seen a multitude of problems resulting from such delays.

Statements of Information are experiencing the greatest delays, as the Secretary of State is taking several months to process a filing. This has actually created problems for some businesses that pay the filing fee with a check that contains an expiration or "void-by" date. If the check expires before the Secretary of State is able to process the Statement of Information, the Secretary of State will either reject the Statement or treat the payment as a dishonored payment.

Since many of my San Jose clients are newly formed LLCs, I frequently see these delays cause another type of problem. Very often, my client's bank will require a copy of the LLC's filed Statement of Information before opening a bank account or approving a loan. Because of the significant amount of time that it is taking for the State to process Statements, I often have to work with my client to take advantage of a relationship with the bank and ask the bank to accept a copy of the Statement that the LLC has submitted for filing.

I can avoid this situation in several ways if I am aware of the need to provide a filed copy of a Statement of Information by a certain date.

For a corporation, we can file the Statement of Information online with the Secretary of State and then request a copy of the record (this option is currently not available to LLCs). This avoids the usual queue. In addition, most regional state offices offer the opportunity for a corporation or LLC to pay an expedited service fee for filing a Statement of Information in person at the Secretary of State's Sacramento office. We can email the document to our agent in Sacramento who actually walks it into the Secretary of State and files it on an expedited basis over the counter. The benefit to using the expedited service is that we can receive a filing confirmation or response within a guaranteed time frame (usually 24 hours).

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When the Minimum Franchise Tax is Not the Minimum Franchise Tax

July 25, 2012,

Every corporation, limited liability company and limited partnership, that either forms in California or registers to do business in California must pay an annual minimum franchise tax of $800. However, I just read an article in Spidell's California Taxletter that really annoyed me (Volume 34.7, July 1, 2012, pages 75-76). The article, entitled "Midyear switch from S to C corporation means an extra $800" says that when a corporation files two short year returns for one calendar year, each return is subject to the $800 minimum tax even though the corporation is the same entity for civil law purposes. Because it is changing its tax status, it is two different entities for tax purposes and therefore must pay the minimum tax twice in one year. As a corporate and business attorney, I am sensitive to this issue since many of my clients are small businesses or partnerships in San Jose, Santa Clara and other parts of Silicon Valley, and every dollar counts when you are running a small business.

This could be an issue in many midyear circumstances, including:
• When an S corporation loses its S election
• When an LLC switches from single member to multiple member
• When an LLC switches from multiple member to single member
• When a limited partnership changes into a limited liability company
• When 50% of the ownership of a limited partnership or limited liability company changes hands
• When an LLC elects to be taxed as a corporation, or revokes such an election
• If an entity changes accounting periods resulting in two short-period returns

Although this may look reasonable on the surface of one tax return independently, when you look at both returns together this looks like double-dipping to me. If one entity has to file two tax returns for one calendar year, I think the entity should get credit in the second tax return for any minimum tax already paid for that entity for that year. However, with California's ongoing budget crisis, I know this argument will fall on deaf ears. Therefore, I applaud Spidell's California Taxletter for informing tax practitioners of this tax trap. I'm hoping California business owners, as well as out of state owners with businesses registered in California, will read this blog and avoid inadvertently paying double minimum taxes. As a California business lawyer, I will do what I can to structure deals for my clients to avoid this double tax.

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U.S. Market Entry - The Flip-Up

July 17, 2012,

San Jose and Santa Clara are such vibrant places to do business that many foreign companies want to relocate to Silicon Valley. As a corporate lawyer working with start-up companies, I have helped a number of ventures enter the U.S. market, and have worked with companies from Australia, Canada, China, Denmark Finland, India, and Israel, among others.

In past blogs, I have discussed some of the threshold considerations faced by companies leaving their home countries and relocating in the U.S. I have also discussed some of the entity forms that companies can adopt when deciding to access the U.S. market merely to sell their products or services.

Companies that decide that they want to access the private equity markets and managerial and technical talent resident in Silicon Valley often relocate their headquarters here in the U.S. For these companies, a "flip-up" will allow them to grow their company in the U.S. by being in a position to access local capital and hire a sophisticated workforce.

A flip-up is essentially a corporate reorganization. At its simplest, owners of the foreign company will exchange their interests for shares in a U.S. company. When the transaction closes, the foreign company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the U.S. company, and the U.S. company is owned by the former owners of the foreign company.

A successful flip-up will require coordination among a company's U.S. and foreign tax advisors, legal advisors, and advisors for the foreign company's stockholders.

Flip-ups occurring during the early stage of a company are typically easier to accomplish than late-stage flip-ups. This is because the number of affected stockholders is usually smaller, as is the number of outside relationships that require special attention. If a company is considering a flip-up and a financing transaction, it should flip-up first and then close the financing. Often, U.S. investors will require that a company flip into the U.S. as a condition to a funding transaction.

A related reason for engaging in a flip-up early is that older companies usually have a capital structure and stockholder agreements that can be challenging to manage through a transaction. Companies that have closed numerous financing rounds often are subject to constraints that add complexity to closing. These constraints include stockholder rights enabling particular groups to have veto rights over reorganization transactions, outstanding options, warrants, and other convertible securities, and large numbers of stockholders. In addition, securities laws compliance can become relatively more expensive because the laws of the jurisdiction where the issuer (i.e., the U.S. company) resides, and the laws of the jurisdiction where each of the stockholders reside, must be followed.

On the other hand, new companies may face unique constraints. For example, young foreign companies may have received government grants to help them develop technology and grow their operations. Because these grants often require that the company be owned by citizens of the funding government, the terms of each grant must be reviewed carefully to determine whether the terms of the grant will permit a flip-up.

Whether accomplished when the company is young or more mature, a flip-up's structure needs to be carefully reviewed by experienced tax advisors to minimize or eliminate any tax impacts, particularly on the stockholders. This is particularly important because flip-ups rarely generate cash for any stockholders, and any tax liability would have to be paid out of a stockholder's other resources. Tax advisors should also be consulted in connection with determining where the company's intellectual property should reside for tax purposes after the flip-up is closed.

Flip-ups almost always require the approval of a company's stockholders. This will require the company to review its stockholder approval procedures, especially any voting agreements that might exist, and any relevant law. Likely, there will be minimum notification procedures that must be followed. In addition, disclosure documentation may be required. The cost and time of each of these must be built into the transaction so that the parties have a realistic expectation of the closing schedule.

Flip-ups are one of the best methods for a company that wants to take advantage of U.S. private funding opportunities and enter the U.S. market. The earlier the company can make the decision to reorganize as a U.S. company, the easier the transaction will be for all concerned.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific Questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

California's Corporate Requirements - Electing and Removing a Director

July 5, 2012,

As a business lawyer representing many closely held corporations, I often see shareholders elect board members without much thought, either because they are family members or employees of the business. The board of directors serves a very important management role for a corporation and the decision of who you put on the board should not be taken lightly. If an elected board member is no longer a good fit for your company, do not wait too long to replace him/her or you could be missing an opportunity to find a board member who will add value to your company.

Electing a Director

In most corporations, the bylaws provide that directors will be elected at each annual shareholders' meeting and will hold office until the next annual shareholder meeting and until their successors are elected and qualified, unless they are removed from the board before that time. Each year when it is time to renew your board, make sure you stop to consider whether the same directors should continue serving the company, or if it is time for some new blood. It is much easier to not re-elect a director, than it is to remove one during his/her term.

Removing a Director

Directors can be removed for cause, which means the director being removed did something wrong. The board can declare a director's seat to be vacant if that director is convicted of a felony or declared incompetent. A director can also be removed for cause by a court order, but the court will require at least 10% of the outstanding shares to petition for removal, and a showing of fraudulent or dishonest acts or gross abuse of authority by the director to be removed.

Shareholders may remove directors without cause if the removal is approved by a majority of the outstanding shares entitled to vote for the election of directors. However, no individual director can be removed over an objection by one or more shareholders who, collectively, have enough votes to elect that director under cumulative voting.

Filling a Vacancy on the Board

Generally, the shareholders are supposed to elect the board of directors. However, depending on how the seat was vacated, either the board itself, or the shareholders, can fill a vacant board seat. If a director dies, is incapacitated, or resigns, the remaining directors can usually appoint a replacement director (unless the corporate documents say otherwise). If a director is removed, the vacancy must be filled by the shareholders unless the corporate documents authorize the board to fill such a vacancy. In the event that a majority of the directors have been appointed by the board, there is a safeguard to make sure the shareholders have the ultimate authority. Holders of 5% or more of the outstanding shares may call a special meeting of the shareholders and elect an entirely new board.

Whether or not your entire board is in place, in order to maintain your corporate liability shield, the corporation must follow the statutory rules regarding regular and special board meetings for the board to make decisions on behalf of the company. The rules for board meetings will be covered in another blog.

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