by Justin J. Atwater and Russell K. Smith
Since Wyoming’s passage of the first limited liability company (“LLC”) statute in 1977, the LLC has grown to be a favored form of business entity, not only in Utah, but throughout the nation. This is largely because of the flexibility of an LLC and its hybrid feature of corporate protection coupled with partnership taxation.
All states and the District of Columbia have adopted LLC statutes, and many of these statutes have been substantially amended several times. These statutes vary considerably in both form and substance. Many of the early statutes were based on the first version of the ABA Model Prototype Limited Liability Company Act (the “Prototype Act”) while a few of the later statutes were based on the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (“ULLCA”). Because of important differences between the various statutes, attorneys have the opportunity to forum shop and choose the LLC statute which best fits a particular client’s needs.
Utah enacted its first LLC statute in 1991, and after several revisions, the entire statute was replaced, in 2001, with the Utah Revised Limited Liability Company Act (the “Utah LLC Act”). The Utah LLC Act consists of provisions taken from a variety of sources including the Utah Revised Business Corporation Act, the Utah Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (the “Utah LP Act”), the Utah Professional Corporation Act, the Utah Revised Nonprofit
Corporation Act, the Prototype Act, the ULLCA, and the LLC statutes of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
While the intent of the drafters of the Utah LLC Act was to create a useful, flexible, and comprehensive LLC statute, the Utah LLC Act has several characteristics that are less business-friendly than other LLC statues. This article explores three such areas where
a client’s interests might be better served by forming a non-Utah LLC: (1) inadequate asset protection; (2) subordination of creditormembers; and (3) undue extension of statutory apparent authority. Other less business-friendly aspects not discussed in this article
include: the prohibition of oral operating agreements; limitations on modifying fiduciary duties; limitations on delegation of authority; and confusion of the tax term-of-art “capital account.”
Inadequate Asset Protection
An important aspect of the law of unincorporated business organizations (i.e., partnerships and LLCs) is the “pick-yourpartner” principle. Most, if not all, LLC statutes provide that, subject to certain limited exceptions, a transferee of an LLC interest is not automatically admitted as a member of the LLC. Express consent of the existing members is often required for
admission of a new member.
An extension of the “pick-your-partner” principle is the use of charging orders in lieu of foreclosure and liquidation as a creditor remedy to satisfy personal debts of a member. Charging
orders operate much like garnishments and require an LLC to pay over to a debtor-member’s creditor amounts that otherwise would be distributed to the debtor-member until the debt is satisfied. A charging order constitutes a lien on a debtor-member’s LLC interest. Once the liability has been satisfied either with distributions from the LLC or otherwise, the charging order terminates and the rights to receive distributions with respect to the LLC interest are fully restored to the debtor-member. Importantly, a creditor with a charging order does not become a member of the LLC, and, accordingly, has no voting or management rights in the LLC.
Many LLC statutes limit a creditor’s right against a debtor-member’s LLC interest to a charging order. Such statutes are viewed as friendly toward LLC members because they severely restrict a creditor’s collection rights against a debtor-member. For example, the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (the “Delaware Act”). provides that “[t]he entry of a charging order is the exclusive remedy by which a judgment creditor of a member or of a member’s assignee may satisfy a judgment out of the judgment debtor’s limited liability company interest.” Del. Code Ann. tit. 6, § 18-703(c) (2009).
In contrast, some statutes, including the Utah LLC Act, take a “liquidation approach,” under which a creditor can foreclose on the debtor-member’s LLC interest and receive permanent economic rights in the LLC interest, including rights to distributions from the LLC after the member’s debt has been satisfied. See Utah Code Ann. § 48-2c-1103(2)(b) (2007). In addition, when a creditor forecloses on a single-member Utah LLC interest, the creditor
becomes the sole member of the LLC without the consent of the member and the creditor remains as the sole member of the LLC even after the debt is satisfied. This liquidation approach deprives members of a potentially valuable asset protection tool and is often cited as a factor for clients in choosing non-Utah LLCs. Clients interested in asset protection should consider forming LLCs outside Utah in states with LLC statutes that provide charging orders as the exclusive remedy by which a creditor may satisfy a debtor-member’s liability out of the member’s LLC interest.
Subordination of Creditor-Members
The Utah LLC Act, like other LLC statutes, provides that a member of an LLC may transact business with the LLC and, subject to applicable law, shall have the rights and obligations with respect to any such matter as a person who is not a member. See Utah Code Ann. § 48-2c-119 (2009). These provisions recognize not only that members of LLCs often wear many different hats (e.g., creditor, lessor, guarantor, employee, etc.), but also that members of an LLC frequently transact business with the LLC, and should not be penalized for such transactions.
A member may become a creditor of an LLC in a variety of ways. In practice, members often: (i) lend money (either secured or unsecured) to the LLC; (ii) provide services to the LLC for which the member is to receive remuneration; (iii) sell goods to the LLC on credit; (iv) are entitled to receive indemnification payments from the LLC; (v) are entitled to reimbursement for
LLC expenses paid by the member on behalf of the LLC; and (vi) lease real or personal property to the LLC.
Each LLC statute establishes a priority of asset distribution in connection with the winding up of an LLC’s business. Typically, assets are first applied or set aside to satisfy an LLC’s obligations to creditors, in the order of priority, as provided by law (i.e., secured creditors first based on the priority, and then to the unsecured creditors based on priority). It is only after the
creditors have been paid or otherwise provided for that any remaining assets are distributed to the members in respect of the LLC interests.
Member-friendly LLC statutes do not distinguish between non-membercreditors and member-creditors with respect to priority of liquidating distributions, and the fact that a person is a member does not alter any rights that such person may have as a creditor. For example, the Delaware Act provides that upon the winding up of a Delaware LLC, the LLC’s assets are to be distributed as follows: (1) first, to creditors, including members and managers who are creditors, to the extent otherwise permitted by law, in satisfaction of liabilities of the LLC other than liabilities for which reasonable provision for payment has been made, and liabilities for interim and resignation distributions to members and former members; (2) second, to members and former members in satisfaction of liabilities for interim and resignation distributions, unless otherwise provided in the LLC agreement; and (3) thereafter, to the members. See Del. Code Ann. tit. 6, § 18-804(a) (2009). In contrast, the Utah LLC Act penalizes member-creditors by subordinating their creditor interests behind non-member-creditors in liquidation. Under the Utah
LLC Act, the assets of an LLC are to be applied or distributed as follows: (1) first, to pay or satisfy the liabilities of creditors other than members, in the order of priority, as provided by
law; (2) second, to pay or satisfy the liabilities to members in their capacity as creditors, in the order of priority, as provided by law; (3) third, to pay or satisfy the expenses and costs of
winding up the LLC; and (4) thereafter, to the members. See Utah Code Ann. § 48-2c-1308. This member-creditor subordination penalty is neither warranted nor justified solely on the grounds that the creditor is a member. In fact, this provision is inconsistent with other Utah creditor rights statutes including the Utah Uniform Commercial Code and the Utah Real Estate Act, both of which provide for different payment priorities.
The Utah LLC Act further confuses creditor rights with respect to expenses and costs incurred as part of winding up an LLC. The Utah LLC Act subordinates creditors of costs and expenses of winding up behind all other creditors, regardless of whether or not the creditor of such expense is a member or non-member. See id. § 48-2c-1308(1)(c). Accordingly, non-member-creditors such as attorneys, accountants, and employees who assist in the winding up of the LLC and suppliers and other consultants who provide goods and services during the winding up period of an LLC may be subordinated to all other creditors. This provision of the Utah LLC Act is a disincentive to persons who might otherwise provide goods and services to an LLC that is, or might be, winding up its business, especially in circumstances where the LLC may have insufficient assets to pay all of its creditors.
The Utah LLC Act has the dubious distinction of being the only LLC statute that creates such an inequitable asset priority distribution. In fact, not even the Utah LP Act uses such a liquidating distribution provision. Instead, the Utah LP Act uses the same basic liquidating distribution provision as the Delaware Act (i.e., first to creditors, including partner creditors). See Utah Code Ann. § 48-2a-804 (2009).
Some practitioners have argued that the members of a Utah LLC may contract or opt out of the statutory distribution provisions of the Utah LLC Act in a written operating agreement. In fact, it is the authors’ experience that many Utah LLC operating agreements, either intentionally or inadvertently, contain asset liquidation distribution provisions that conflict with the distribution ordering provisions of the Utah LLC Act by including provisions similar to the liquidation
distribution provisions provided under the Delaware Act and the Utah LP Act. In spite of this proactive drafting, these statutory distribution provisions may not be modified with respect to
non-member-creditors without their consent. The Utah LLC Act specifically provides that a Utah LLC’s articles of organization or operating agreement may not restrict rights of persons other
than the members, their assignees and transferees, the managers and the LLC, without the consent of those persons. See id. § 48-2c-120(h). Accordingly, the superior priority rights granted to non-member-creditors under the Utah LLC Act may not be restricted without such non-member-creditors’ consent and, therefore, an operating agreement with an alternative liquidating distribution scheme would not be operative or enforceable vis-à-vis
Given that the Utah LLC Act unduly penalizes member-creditors and creditors of wind-up expenses by subordinating their creditor interests, clients and attorneys should consider alternate jurisdictions with LLC statutes that do not contain similar subordination provisions.
Undue Extension of Statutory Apparent Authority
The Uniform Partnership Act of 1914 first codified a particular type of apparent authority based on position, providing that “[t]he act of every partner…for apparently carrying on in the
usual way the business of the partnership binds the partnership.” The position concept of statutory apparent authority has found its way into the various uniform partnership and limited liability company acts, as well as almost every LLC statute including the Utah LLC Act. Although the position concept of statutory apparent authority makes sense for general and limited partnerships, its application to LLCs is questionable.
Third parties dealing with general or limited partnerships know by the entity’s legal name and by a person’s status as a general or limited partner whether the person has the power to bind
the entity. However, as noted in the prefatory note to the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (the “RULLCA”), the position concept of apparent authority “does not make sense
for modern LLC law, because: (i) an LLCs status as membermanaged or manager-managed is not apparent from the LLC’s name…; and (ii) although most LLC statutes provide templates
for member-management and manager-management, variability of management structure is a key strength of the LLC form of business organization.”
One hallmark of the LLC is its flexible management structure. However, most state LLC statutes (including the Utah LLC Act) require that the LLC specify upon formation whether it is managed by “managers” (i.e., a “manager-managed” LLC) or managed by “members” (i.e., a “member-managed” LLC). These same statutes vest in a person or persons apparent authority to act on behalf of the LLC based on the management structure selected. In a member-managed LLC, each member, as a member, has apparent authority to act on behalf and bind the LLC in the ordinary course of business of the LLC. In contrast, in the manager-managed LLC only those persons named as managers have statutory apparent authority, and the members, as members, have no statutory agency authority. In each case, the statutory agency authority is linked exclusively to the internal governance structure, and is not readily apparent to outsiders.
Problems often arise with statutory agency authority when the members of an LLC do not intend that every manager in a managermanaged LLC or every member in a member-managed LLC have such broad agency authority. For example, the members may want a corporate- or board-style management structure. In such a management structure, the board of managers is intended to operate as a group with no single manager, acting alone, having actual agency authority to act on behalf of the LLC. However, if under the applicable state LLC statute, each manager has statutory apparent authority to act on behalf of and bind the LLC in the ordinary course of business of the LLC (as is the case in Utah, see Utah Code Ann. § 48-2c-802(2) (2007)), then, notwithstanding a written operating agreement and intentions of the members, a manager may, without actual authority, bind the LLC in the ordinary course of business if the third party did not know or did not otherwise have notice that the manager lacked authority.
The Utah LLC Act provides as follows:
an act of a manager, including the signing of a document in the company name, for the apparent carrying on in the ordinary course of the company business, or business of the kind carried on by the company, binds the company unless the manager had no authority to act for the company in the particular matter and the lack of authority was expressly described in the articles or organization or the person with whom the manager was dealing knew or otherwise had notice that the manager lacked authority.
Id. § 48-2c-802(2)(c) (emphasis added).
In addition, in connection with transferring or affecting a Utah
LLC’s interest in real or personal property, the Utah LLC Act
unless the LLC’s articles of organization expressly limit a manager’s authority, a manager signing, acknowledging and delivering a document purporting to transfer or affect the LLC’s interest in real or personal property, the document so delivered shall be conclusive in favor of the
person who gives value without knowledge of the lack of authority of the manager.
Id. § 48-2c-802(3). Accordingly, under the Utah LLC Act, any limitation on a manager’s (or member’s) authority must be expressly set forth in the articles of organization to be effective
against third parties, and limitations set forth only in the operating agreement will only be effective against third parties with knowledge of such lack of authority.
In contrast, the Delaware Act (Section 18-402), the RULLCA (Section 301(a)), and the Revised Prototype Act (Section 301) each departs from the statutory apparent authority model found
under the legacy LLC statutes, including the Utah LLC Act.
The Delaware Act provides in part: “Unless otherwise provided in a[n] [operating] agreement, each member and manager has the authority to bind the [LLC].” Del Code Ann. tit. 6, § 18-402. (2009). As such, the Delaware Act does not vest statutory apparent authority in a person or persons based of the type of management structure adopted by the LLC (i.e., “member-managed” or “managermanaged”). While perhaps not apparent upon first review, the Delaware Act puts all third parties on notice that no member or manager has apparent agency authority to bind the LLC. In commenting on this section of the Delaware Act, one commentator relayed the following anecdote: “When a man says, ‘I can do anything unless my wife says I may not,’ I question anyone’s ability to rely upon him without her there to confirm he may act.” Thomas E. Rutledge & Steven G. Frost, RULLCA Section 31 – The Fortunate Consequences (And Continuing Questions) Of Distinguishing Apparent Agency And Decisional Authority, 64 The Business Lawyer 37 (Nov. 2008). The Delaware Act operates in the same fashion and third parties may not rely on the statute for authority of a member or manager, they must look to the operating agreement of the LLC because it may grant agency authority or limit such authority in ways that are different than would exist in the absence of such provisions in the operating agreement. RULLCA Section 301(a) expressly provides that members have no statutory apparent authority. Furthermore, by its silence (i.e., no specific statutory authority granted), managers of a managermanaged LLC also do not have statutory apparent authority. The
Revised Prototype Act goes even further and provides that no person shall have power to bind the LLC except to the extent such person is authorized in the LLC operating agreement, by the members, in a duly-filed statement of authority, or as provided by law.
Each of the Delaware Act, the RULLCA and the Revised Prototype Act provide greater management flexibility than the Utah LLC Act by allowing members of an LLC, formed pursuant to these statutes, to adopt a management structure, authorize person(s) with authority to bind the entity, and have greater comfort that persons lacking actual authority will not have the power to bind the LLCs as to third parties. While this may impose a greater burden on the third parties to make sure that the person with whom they are dealing has actual authority, such due diligence is no different than what third parties must do when conducting business with a corporate agent.
Therefore, to the extent a client desires to change, limit, or eliminate the statutory apparent authority that would otherwise be granted under the Utah LLC Act, attorneys should consider
forming the LLC in Delaware or in a state that has adopted either the RULLCA or the Revised Prototype Act.
Forum selection is often overlooked during the LLC formation process. Due to perceived ease and convenience, many clients and practitioners elect to form their LLCs in the state in which
the company will operate. Failure to carefully consider the forum for LLC formation can result in unwanted consequences. In particular, and as explored in this article, the Utah LLC Act has hidden traps that can produce undesired business results. Clients and practitioners wanting to avoid these traps should consider forming their LLCs under more business friendly statutes
such as the Delaware Act.
Justin J. Atwater is an associate attorney at Durham Jones & Pinegar specializing in corporate and securities law.
Russell K. Smith is a shareholder and chair of the Corporate and Securities Section at Durham Jones & Pinegar. He specializes in private equity and LLC formation.