Articles Tagged with Business Law

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In the June 20, 2019 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, Edward Kang, Managing Member of KHF wrote “Piercing the Corporate Veil Under Pennsylvania Law.”

In its simplest form, the piercing of the corporate veil is an equitable remedy available to the creditors of corporate entities to request the court to hold their owners liable for the corporate debts. The underlying cause of action against the corporate entity could be a contract or tort action, none of which is attributable to its owners. For the creditors, the veil-piercing is desirable as their last resort to recover their damages while for the owners, it is detrimental as it exposes them to the type of liability that they wished to exonerate themselves from by forming a company in the first place. These two competing interests drive the forces behind the state laws on substantive elements and procedural requirements for veil-piercing: the more favorable the state policy is toward preserving limited liability, the harder it is under the state law for the court to disregard corporate entity, and the other way around. Pennsylvania law adopted a “strong presumption” against veil-piercing, see Stephen B. Presser, “Section 2:42.Pennsylvania, in Piercing the Corporate Veil,” (last updated July 2018).

Substantive Elements

Pennsylvania state and federal courts applying Pennsylvania law has long listed a vast set of factors that the court may consider in its decision to disregard the corporate shield, including, among others, using the corporate form as a sham to pursue fraudulent or illegal activities or to cause injustice, ignoring corporate formalities, undercapitalizing the company and exerting control to influence the corporate decisions and actions for personal interests. Continue reading →

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In the January 3, 2019 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, Edward Kang, Managing Member of KHF wrote “Defending Officers and Directors From a Lawsuit by the Company.

When a corporate director or officer is sued by a third party for alleged misconduct carried out in her capacity as director/officer, the company generally indemnifies the director/officer by defending her against the lawsuit. The company’s duty of indemnification arises from both the law and governing corporate documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws or employment agreement). While there are limited exceptions to the company’s duty of indemnification—e.g., the director/officer acted in her personal capacity or that she acted in bad faith against the interest of the company—the duty of indemnification is broad. The company must defend the director/officer, at least until the court determines otherwise. What protection does a corporate director/officer have, however, if the person suing her is the company itself?

A company sues its officer or director more frequently than many people think. The company could bring a direct lawsuit against an officer or director for a breach of fiduciary duty (e.g., alleged self-dealing). Sometimes, a shareholder could bring a derivative lawsuit under the company’s name against the officer or director. Continue reading →

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In the November 29, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer Edward Kang, Managing Member of KHF and Kandis Kovalsky, Associate of KHF, co-authored “Have the Courts Made Room for Inevitability Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act?

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), 18 U.S.C. Section 1836, et seq., which was enacted on May 11, 2016, after a Senate vote of 87-0, is the first federal law to protect trade secrets. The rare unanimous vote was unsurprising given the stunning report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property that outlined how theft of intellectual property costs U.S. businesses more than $300 billion a year.

The DTSA highlighted Congress’ goal of aligning the federal law closely with the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), which has been adopted in some form in almost every state. Just as the Lanham Act, which coexists with state trademark law, the DTSA coexists with state trade secret law. As such, it is important to understand this interplay and what it is likely to look like going forward. Continue reading →

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In the January 5, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, Edward Kang, Managing Member of KHF, writes A Primer on International Chamber of Commerce Arbitration for Litigators.

Arbitration, whether compulsory or voluntary, is commonplace these days as a less expensive and more efficient resolution to litigation than trial. Litigators in Pennsylvania are familiar with the Court of Common Pleas Compulsory Arbitration Program for cases with an amount in controversy of $50,000 or less. For cases with a larger amount in controversy, parties will often agree to arbitrate with a company offering a private arbitrator, such as AAA, JAMS and ADR Options.

In cases involving international disputes, the arbitration venues commonly found in contract include, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), Swiss Chamber’s Arbitration Institution (SCAI), Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), German Institution of Arbitration (DIS), Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC), Vienna International Arbitration Center (VIAC), International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the International Court of Arbitration for the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

The number of international arbitrations has been increasing due largely to the growing number of courts in foreign countries recognizing and enforcing foreign arbitral awards. An ICC arbitral award, for instance, can now be enforced in China, where its courts refused to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against its citizens on many occasions.  It is becoming increasingly likely for practitioners to face a dispute over a contract providing for arbitration before one of these international forums. This is true even with smaller cases involving an amount in controversy under $50,000.

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What is a bulk sale clearance certificate, and how is a bulk sale clearance certificate related to a Pennsylvania real estate transaction?  In Pennsylvania, a bulk sale clearance certificate must be obtained in all transactions involving the sale of fifty-one or more percent of the assets of a business, including real estate.  Because it is common for property owners to create single purpose entities to own the real estate, bulk sale clearance certificates are required in many real estate transactions, since the real estate represents the sole asset (i.e., 100%) of the assets owned by such SPE.  A bulk sale clearance certificate from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue verifies that a particular entity satisfied all tax obligations due to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including taxes, interest, penalties, fees, charges and any other liabilities up to and including the date of transfer.

Moreover, under 69 P.S. § 529, every corporation, joint-stock association, limited partnership or company organized under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or any other state that engages in business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which sells in bulk fifty-one percent or more of any stock of goods, wares or merchandise of any kind, fixtures, machinery, equipment, buildings, or real estate, shall give the Department of Revenue ten days’ notice of the sale, prior to the completion of the transfer of such property.

To provide proper notice and comport with Pennsylvania law, the seller must file form REV-181, the Application for Tax Clearance Certificate, with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry ten days before the closing of the sale. A copy of the agreement of sale and preliminary settlement statement should be included with the Application for Tax Clearance Certificate.  (Note, however, that the Department of Revenue often requests re-submission post-closing so that all closing information and interim tax returns through the date of closing may be submitted).  In addition, all such entities must file all state tax reports with the Department of Revenue to the date of the proposed closing on the transfer of property and pay all taxes and unemployment compensation contributions due to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the date of closing. If all state tax reports have been filed and if all state taxes and unemployment compensation contributions are paid up to the date of the proposed transfer, the State issues a clearance certificate to the seller, which is then provided to the buyer.

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DRS-head-shot-200x300On September 1, 2017, a federal court issued an order permitting a putative class action lawsuit against Craft Brew Alliance, the owner of the Kona Brewing Company beer brand, to move forward.   The lawsuit, Broomfield v. Craft Brew Alliance, No. 17-cv-01027-BLF (N.D. Cal. Filed Feb. 28, 2017), alleges that Craft Brew Alliance engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices by packaging beer sold under the Kona Brewing Company name in a manner that led the plaintiffs to believe they were purchasing beer brewed in Hawaii, when in actuality, the beer was brewed in the continental United States.  Broomfield v. Craft Brew Alliance, 2017 WL 383843 (N.D. Cal. 2017).  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the outer packaging of six and twelve packs of Kona beer, which includes Hawaiian imagery, the statement “Liquid Aloha,” a map of Hawaii with the location of the Kona brewery marked, the address of Kona’s Hawaii brewery, and the statement “visit our brewery and pubs whenever you are in Hawaii” can lead a reasonable consumer to believe that the beer was brewed in Hawaii.  Id. at *1.  While the address listed on the packaging is the address for Kona’s brewery, only the draft Kona beer sold in Hawaii is brewed there—all bottled and canned Kona beer is brewed in Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, and Tennessee.  Id.  The plaintiffs allege that they paid a premium for Kona beer believing it to be Hawaiian and brought claims for violations of California’s consumer protections laws, breach of warranties, fraud, and misrepresentation.  Id. at *2.

Craft Beer Alliance filed a motion to dismiss the complaint arguing that the statements on the Kona packaging are at most “mere puffery” and that reasonable consumers cannot interpret the packaging to mean that the beer was brewed in Hawaii, as well as that the claims fail to state a sufficient claim upon which relief can be granted because the labels of the bottles and cans identify all five locations that Kona is brewed.  Id. at *6.  The court, however, found that the statements and imagery on the packaging, particularly the map of Hawaii identifying the Kona brewery, the Hawaii address of the brewery, and the invitation to visit the Hawaii brewery could possibly lead a reasonable consumer to believe that the beer was brewed in Hawaii.  Id. at 7.  The court also stated that the identification of all five breweries on the labels of the bottles and cans is insufficient to eliminate any potential confusion because consumers are not required to remove bottles and cans from their outer packaging to ascertain whether the representations on the packaging are misleading.  Id.  The court therefore denied Craft Beer Alliance’s motion to dismiss.

The court’s ruling differs from other recent rulings in lawsuits against the makers of Foster’s (Nelson v. MillerCoors, LLC, 2017 WL 1403343 (E.D.N.Y. 2017)), Red Stripe (Dumas v. Diageo PLC, 2016 WL 1367511 (S.D. Cal. 2016)), and Sapporo (Bowring v. Sapporo, 234 F.Supp.3d 386 (E.D.N.Y. 2017)), all of which dismissed similar putative class action claims because the labels identified that the beers were brewed in the United States, not in the foreign countries from which the plaintiffs contended they were lead to believe the beer was produced.  The ruling, however, is not unprecedented.  In Marty v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC, 43 F.Supp.3d 1333 (S.D. Fla. 2014), a class action claim against the maker of Becks, Anheuser Busch, for marketing that allegedly deceived the plaintiffs into believing Becks was brewed in Germany, not the United States, was permitted to proceed despite the labels stating that the beer was brewed in the United States.  Anheuser Busch eventually settled the lawsuit for $20 million.

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In an opinion handed down on August 22nd of this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that, unlike other contracts formed under Pennsylvania law, limited partnership agreements formed under the pre-Act 170 version of the Pennsylvania Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act, do not contain the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The Pennsylvania legislature amended the state’s Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act in late 2016 as a provision of Act 170, which altered the formation and operation of corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and other business forms.  As part of its revisions to the PRULPA, Act 170 provided that a limited partnership agreement could not change or do away with the contractual obligation of both limited and general partners to discharge their duties under the agreement in accordance with the contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing.

The case, Hanaway v. The Parkesburg Group, LP, involved a dispute among members of a limited partnership (Parkesburg) that had been formed to invest in and develop several parcels of real estate. The plaintiffs, who were among Parkesburg’s limited partners, sued the corporation’s general partner, alleging that he sold Parkesburg’s assets to a new partnership he had formed, so that the new partnership could develop the real estate in question without the plaintiffs.

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Beer
In June, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced the largest fine ever imposed upon a beer wholesaler by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.[1]  The Hunterdon Brewing Company (“Hunterdon”) agreed to a fine of $2 million to avoid a suspension of its license in light of allegations that it committed trade practice violations.[2]  Beer wholesalers such as Hunterdon act as intermediaries between brewers and retailers by purchasing beer from craft breweries such as Dogfish Head, Weyerbacher, and Avery and reselling the beer to retailers such as bars and restaurants.  Chief among Hunterdon’s alleged trade practice violations was its alleged sale of draft beer tap systems at “below fair market prices” in violation of N.J.A.C. 13:2-24.1.[3]

The regulations Hunterdon is said to have violated are part of a three-tier distribution system that was established by most states in the aftermath of prohibition.[4]  The three-tier distribution system, which traces its origins to a study entitled Toward Liquor Control that was financed by John D. Rockerfeller, Jr., a noted teetotaler, creates a separation between alcohol manufacturers and retailers.[5]  As a result, wholesalers like Hunterdon exist to act as intermediaries between brewers and bars for the sale of beer.

Toward Liquor Control, in no hidden terms, made clear that its goal was to limit alcohol consumption by making the sale of alcohol difficult and expensive.[6]  As part of this scheme to increase the price of alcohol, three-tier distribution systems 1) prohibit direct sales from manufacturers to retailers, and 2) limit the ability of brewers and wholesalers to incentivize retailers to carry their products.[7]