Articles Posted in Limited Liability Companies

Businesses are moving away from the traditional storefront and are instead setting up shop online. Both the internet and apps connect individuals across the globe, providing businesses with greater and more innovative ways to reach new customers. For example, on Black Friday 2016, the busiest shopping day of the year for most retailers, online sales rose 21% year-over-year for a total of $3.34 billion. A full one-third of that figure was just from mobile sales.  On Cyber Monday 2016, the largest online shopping day, online sales rose over $3 billion with 26% of sales just from mobile devices.

As a greater number of businesses devote their focus to the development of an online presence and using e-commerce to conduct their business, businesses must pay more attention to properly establishing and operating their online business.

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What happens to an LLC member’s membership interest in the LLC if the member files bankruptcy? How does the member’s (the debtor) bankruptcy filing impact the LLC and its other members? Does the bankruptcy trustee (or the debtor in possession in a chapter 11) step into the debtor’s shoes contrary to an express provision in the LLC’s operating agreement restricting transfers by members and prohibiting a transferee or assignee of a member from becoming an LLC member without the other members’ consent? Is the bankruptcy trustee bound by the terms of the LLC’s operating agreement, or does the trustee acquire the debtor’s membership interest free and clear of any transfer or other restrictions imposed by the LLC’s operating agreement? To answer these questions, the Bankruptcy Court in the debtor’s bankruptcy must first determine whether the LLC’s operating agreement is an “executory” contract under Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code.

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The Bankruptcy Code does not define “executory contract.” However, many circuits, including the Ninth, have adopted the “Countryman Test,” which provides that a contract is executory if ‘the obligations of both parties are so far unperformed that the failure of either party to complete performance would constitute a material breach and thus excuse the performance of the other.’ Determining whether a contract, including an operating agreement, is executory therefore requires a case-specific examination of the contract in question.

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The State of California protects consumers of retail goods by limiting warranty disclaimers on products sold in the state. California’s warranty protection extends to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers alike.  The warranties apply to both the sale and lease of consumer goods. The seller can disclaim the warranties by following very specific and highly detailed statutory requirements. Failing which, the seller cannot disclaim the warranties implied in every consumer sale. The sale of a service contract at the time of or within 90 days of the sale of the goods adds another aspect to the seller’s ability to protect themselves after the sale. San Jose’s preeminent business attorneys at Structure Law Group, LLP possess a high level of experience and skill drafting warranty disclaimers for businesses.

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The implied warranty of merchantability protects consumers in every sale of goods in California. Specifically, the implied warranty of merchantability extends to the retailer, distributor, and manufacturer of goods. The retailer is indemnified by the manufacturer for the full amount of liability. Merchantable goods must either conform to the contract description or be of acceptable quality in the trade or business. In addition, the goods must be fit for their ordinary use, rather than for a specific purpose. The goods must also be identified, labeled and packaged appropriately. Lastly, the goods must conform to the promises made on the label or packaging. Goods are non-conforming if the goods fail to satisfy any one of the necessary requirements set forth above.

A second implied warranty arises in specific circumstances. This warranty is the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.  The warranty of fitness for a particular purpose attaches to the sale of goods when the retailer, distributor or manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the consumer is relying on the goods to perform a very specific purpose. Additionally, the buyer is relying on the seller’s expertise and advice that the goods purchased are sufficient to satisfy the particular purpose.  Additionally, the seller must know or have reason to know that the buyer is relying on the seller’s expertise and judgment. The goods must conform to the seller’s expectations, i.e. the particular reason the consumer purchased the goods.

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Corporate officers, partners in a partnership, and members of a limited liability company owe a fiduciary duty to the principal, i.e., the business entity, to act in the best interest of the organization. Failure to act in the principal’s best interest or actively competing against the principal to which a fiduciary duty is owed exposes the fiduciary, the agent of the principal, to civil liability. Care must be taken by the fiduciary not to compete against the organization to which they owe their duty of loyalty. The Silicon Valley Business Attorneys’s at Structure Law Group, LLP are highly experienced in preventing and resolving corporate disputes that may arise from a breach of fiduciary duty.

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The foundational tenet of agency law is the duty of loyalty owed by the agent, or fiduciary, to the principal or business entity. The duty of loyalty obligates the fiduciary to act in the best interests of the principal. The duty of loyalty extends to “all matters connected with the fiduciary relationship.”  Thus, the duty of loyalty prohibits fiduciaries from obtaining a benefit from others as a result of the fiduciary relationship. This prohibition extends to all dealings in which the fiduciary is involved on behalf of the principal. The duty to act with loyalty is not limited to financial matters.

The fiduciary’s duty of loyalty encompasses situations involving parties adverse to the principal. The fiduciary has an absolute duty not to act on behalf of a third party whose interests are adverse to those of the principal.  The fiduciary is duty-bound not to compete, either personally or on behalf of, another entity. The agent’s obligations last for the entire duration, and in some instances depending on contract language, last beyond the termination of the fiduciary’s relationship with the principal. However, agency law does provide for the fiduciary to plan and prepare to leave the principal, even to then compete with the principal.  Notwithstanding, the action taken by the fiduciary must not violate any other duty owed to the principal.

Public policy in California dictates that businesses should be free to compete against each other in the marketplace. Competition among businesses greatly benefits consumers. At the same time, competition engenders higher quality goods and higher service quality at price points advantageous to the consumer. Toward that end, California’s antitrust law, known as the “Cartwright Act,” prohibits a wide variety of conduct designed to restrain competition in the marketplace.

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The San Jose business lawyers at Structure Law Group, LLP dedicate their practice to helping business owners grow their company while insulating them from harm.  Unfair competition has a negative effect on consumers and businesses. Business entities should avoid structuring agreements which arguably cause unfair competition. Failure to do so could subject those businesses to lengthy and costly litigation and expose them to potential damages.

According to California business, trusts are unlawful and against public policy. California law defines a trust as a “combination of capital, skills, or acts by two or more persons” to:

The exchange of cash for payment for a goods or services is rare these days. We have certainly become a digital society. Business make advances daily to make transactions more efficient and convenient. However, businesses engaging in e-commerce must not compromise security for expediency. Additionally, businesses store infinite amounts of personal data about their customers. These businesses, such as health care providers and health insurance companies, not only must safeguard their electronic transactions but must also secure sensitive information and proactively combat data breaches. Failure to do so can lead to a huge economic loss for the customers and the company. The savvy business attorneys at Structure Law Group, LLP advise businesses on the best practices to prevent data breaches and counsel them on the necessary steps to take if such an unfortunate event occurs.

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In California, people have a constitutional right to the safety and integrity of their personal information. California’s information security act defines personal information as any information that could identify or describe a person. Personal information is also an individual’s name, address, social security number, license number, medical information, and the like. A business in possession of such information must take reasonable steps to prevent disclosure of private information. California law obligates businesses to implement security measures reasonably designed to protect the integrity of the private information. Every business entity, from a sole proprietorship to a multi-national corporation is subject to the information security act.

California law broadly defines “data breach.” Data breach includes any “unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that compromises the security, confidentiality, or integrity of personal information maintained by the person or business.” The information may be used in good faith for the benefit of the person whose information is disclosed, provided that such disclosure is authorized.

A “fraudulent,” or more accurately “voidable” transfer, is a transfer by a party (the “debtor”) of some interest in property with the goal or effect of preventing a creditor or creditors from reaching the transferred interest to satisfy their claim or claims.

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What Law Governs “Fraudulent” or “Voidable” Conveyances/Transfers?

Fraudulent conveyances are governed primarily by the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (UVTA), which replaced the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) in California as of January 1, 2016.  The UVTA applies to transfers made or obligations incurred after January 1, 2016.  The UFTA will continue to apply to transfers made or obligations incurred prior to January 1, 2016.  One of the most noticeable changes made in the UVTA is the removal of the word “fraudulent” from the title and body of the act. This change emphasizes that a transfer may be, and often is, voidable even in the absence of any sort of improper intent by the debtor or the transferees.

Businesses must endeavor to guard their trade secrets jealously. Failure to do so can wreak havoc upon development and growth. It will also give competitors a leg-up in the marketplace. Knowing and understanding California’s trade secret law is therefore critically important. Implementing multiple safeguards to prevent trade secret disclosure is necessary. If a business fails to implement reasonable safeguards to prevent trade secret misappropriation, then the business may be without recourse in court. Working closely with experienced business attorneys to develop the appropriate security measures to prevent trade secret theft could prevent disaster from striking. The San Jose San Jose business attorneys at Structure Law Group, LLP (in San Jose and Oakland) have extensive experience counseling businesses on how to best protect their trade secrets and defending businesses against trade secret misappropriation in court.

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California’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”), which follows the Uniform Trade Secrets Act adopted in 48 states, defines a “trade secret” as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: (1) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (2) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.” (Ca. Civil Code §3426.1.)

In order to assert a claim for misappropriation of trade secret information, the owner of the trade secret information must identify its trade secret with sufficient specificity so that the information is separate from areas of general knowledge. For example, customer lists, marketing plans or pricing concessions are examples of broad categories of trade secret information. Or, the trade secret can be highly specific, such as a newly designed manufacturing process or the recipe for some sugary carbonated beverage, such as the recipe for Coca-Cola.

A partnership is created whenever two or more people agree to do business together for a profit. Additionally, partnerships should ensure that they follow sound business practices once they begin their new venture.

Steps in Forming a Partnership

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The first step to forming a partnership is choosing its name.  In California, a partnership may use the last names of the individual partners or any fictitious names. If a fictitious name is used, it must be distinguishable from the name of any business name that is currently on record.  Before choosing the name, a search should be run in the following databases such as California Secretary of State or The United States Patent & Trademark Office.   If a fictitious name is used, the state of California requires that a fictitious business name statement is filed in the office of the county clerk where the partnership intends to do business.  The fictitious business name must also be published in the county newspaper for four weeks.

California law requires employers to take reasonable steps to prevent and address alleged discriminatory and harassing conduct, to provide a government-issued brochure on sexual harassment to all employees, and to conduct sexual harassment prevention trainings if the employer has 50 or more employees.  As of April 1, 2016, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has enacted regulations that will require employers to develop written anti-discrimination and harassment policies with certain content requirements.

Under the new regulations, the anti-discrimination/harassment policy must be in writing, and must at a minimum:

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  1. List all of the protected categories under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which currently include race, creed, color, national origin, age, ancestry, physical and/or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, and military and/or veteran status,