Virginia Expands the Virtual Meeting Space, Allowing Nonstock Corporations to Hold Annual Meetings in Cyberspace

Trying to find a location for your annual shareholder meeting, but concerned about cost and picking a place that is convenient for and will be attended by most of your members?  Virginia lawmakers recently enacted legislation with the aim to address these problems for nonstock corporations grappling with the difficulty of getting member participation at their annual meetings.  The Virginia General Assembly, effective July 1, 2018, passed House Bill 1205, which amended the Virginia Nonstock Corporation Act, allowing nonstock corporations to conduct annual and special meetings of members via electronic means, provided their Articles of Incorporation and bylaws do not require the meetings to be held at a specific location.  This allows nonstock corporations to move their meetings from a physical boardroom to a virtual boardroom.

Allowing virtual meetings for corporations is not a new phenomenon.  Delaware amended its General Corporation Law in 2000 allowing stock corporations to conduct virtual shareholder meetings.  In the age of the convenience of the Internet, many corporations have begun utilizing virtual meetings to reduce costs for both the corporation and individual shareholders, while increasing shareholder participation and board of director control over the structure of the meeting, as board of directors can limit any or all member communication.  Since 2000, additional jurisdictions have also begun allowing corporations to use online real estate and conduct their meetings without any in-person attendance.  Virginia, however, is one of the first jurisdictions to expand the use of virtual meetings from stock corporations to nonstock corporations as well.

Nonstock corporations are corporations that generally do not have owners or members that share in the corporation’s profit and are formed with no intention of generating a return of income.  Examples of these types of corporations are organizations that have Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c) tax-exempt status, such as charitable, fraternal, political, religious, trade, or civil organizations.  Nonstock corporations are typically managed by a board of directors and members have voting rights, just not a right to corporate profits.  Similar to the concerns of stock corporations preferring virtual meetings over physical meetings, nonstock corporations are also concerned with cost, convenience and member participation.  For example, without a bylaw specifying what constitutes a quorum, Section 13.1‑849 of the Virginia Nonstock Corporation Act only requires 10% of members to meet a quorum.

Virginia’s latest expansion allowing nonstock corporations a virtual means to hold annual shareholder meetings versus the confines of a physical venue is likely an attempt to remediate these problems and increase member participation.  It should be noted, Virginia House Bill 1205 does not alter notice requirements for the annual meetings.  The amendment also requires the nonstock corporation to implement reasonable measures to (1) verify that each person remotely participating is a member or proxy, and (2) provide the members a reasonable opportunity to participate in the meeting, vote on matters, and to read or hear the proceedings of the meeting.

While there is still little guidance on how nonstock corporations should organize virtual meetings with their members, it is yet to be seen how many nonstock corporations begin conducting virtual meetings or how many other jurisdictions follow suit and expand the ability of nonstock corporations to conduct virtual meetings.  As the Internet and technology, however, continue to connect the way people communicate, so too could formal corporate mechanisms enter the cyber world to conduct business meetings with their members.

© 2018 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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U.S. Supreme Court Expands Rights of States to Collect Tax on Internet Transactions

by James S. Pieper

Since the dawn of the Internet, online sellers have benefited from a line of United States Supreme Court precedent that prevented states from requiring out-of-state businesses to collect and remit sales tax on sales in states where the seller has no “physical presence.”

On June 21, 2018, the Court discarded its longstanding “physical presence” test, thus opening the door for state governments to impose a broader range of duties on remote sellers, including the duty to collect and remit sales tax.

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., South Dakota sought to defend its statute that imposed a duty on all retailers with more than $100,000 of sales or 200 transactions within the state to collect sales tax on transactions and remit the tax to the state.  For retailers with no physical presence in the state, the statute was clearly in violation of the historic interpretation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which limits the ability of states to regulate “interstate commerce” unless there is a “substantial nexus” between the state’s interests and the commercial activity.

Prior court decisions concluded that a state could have no “substantial nexus” with a seller that had no “physical presence” in said state.  As a result, online sellers with no “brick-and-mortar” presence or employees working in a state were free from the obligation to collect tax on their sales.

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, the Court rejected its prior interpretations of the Commerce Clause and held that a “substantial nexus” could be created by online sales alone despite the lack of “physical presence.”  The decision was decided with a bare 5-4 majority.

As a practical matter, the majority of online sales already entail the collection of sales tax due to either requirements that were valid under prior law or voluntary compliance by larger online retailers (including amazon.com).  Some retailers with no physical stores, however, will lose the advantage of being able to undertake transactions without collecting tax (including the respondents in the case, wayfair.com, overstock.com and newegg.com).

It will be up to each state to set the parameters of which remote sellers might be exempt from collecting tax due to a lack of significant sales, and the Court did not set a constitutional standard for what level of sales would constitute a sufficient “substantial nexus” to allow a state to impose duties (only that South Dakota’s standards were more than sufficient).

Perhaps more importantly, by jettisoning the “physical presence” standard as inappropriate in an era of “substantial virtual connections,” the Court has raised the prospect of greater opportunity for individual states to tax and regulate the actions of businesses whose only connection to said state is via online presence.

All businesses that connect with customers in other states via online connections will need to have heightened awareness that state tax and regulatory requirements in those other states may now apply to those interactions due to the Court’s new reading of the scope of a state’s authority under the Commerce Clause.

© 2018 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Business Entities as Parties to Real Estate Transactions: Who Has Authority?

Business entities buy and sell real estate on a regular basis. A successful transaction hinges, in part, on the proper parties executing the requisite documents. Because failing to correctly identify the parties and obtain proper signatures can be fatal to any real estate transaction, understanding who has authority to sign, on behalf of the entity, is imperative.

Four types of business entities are commonly involved in real estate transactions: (1) general partnerships; (2) limited partnerships; (3) limited liability companies; and (4) corporations.

A general partnership is an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners a business for profit. Formation of a partnership does not require a filing with the State, nor does it require a partnership agreement. As such, any conveyancing documents must clearly identify whether partnership property, versus non-partnership property, is being sold. In general, all partners should sign the conveyancing document to sell partnership property. However, a Statement of Authority may be voluntarily filed with the Secretary of State, granting specific partner(s) express authority to solely dispose of partnership property. Unlike the general partnership, a limited partnership (“LP”) is registered with the Secretary of State and is comprised of one or more general partners and one or more limited partners. Like the general partnership, a limited partnership may be governed by a partnership agreement. To convey real property, a deed must be executed by all general partners, unless a duly executed and authorized partnership agreement or Statement of Authority provides otherwise.

A limited liability company (“LLC”) is either member-managed or manager-managed and is created by filing a Certificate of Organization with the Secretary of State. The entity is governed by an operating agreement, which is not filed. Unless the operating agreement dictates otherwise, consent is typically required by all managers (if manager-managed) or members (if member-managed) to transfer real property outside the ordinary course of business. A duly executed and authorized Statement of Authority can be filed with the Secretary of State to supersede the signing authority as designated in the operating agreement. As such, be sure to confirm that the Statement of Authority is executed by all members or managers, depending on the LLC management structure.

A corporation is a legal entity that is owned by shareholders and operated by the Board of Directors. Articles of Incorporation must be filed with the Secretary of State to create a corporation. The corporation’s affairs are governed by its bylaws. If the corporate president does not have authority to transfer real estate, corporate disposition of property is generally a two-step process. The Board of Directors, as dictated by the bylaws, must consent to the transaction, and upon consent, the Board must pass a resolution that authorizes the transaction and designates the authorized signatory.

Early review of the relevant entity documents is key, if not crucial, to ensuring the proper parties are named and have executing authority in any real estate transaction. This simple, but fundamental, step can certainly facilitate not only a timely and efficient real estate closing, but also a successful transaction.

© 2018 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Prohibits Certain Arbitration Clauses

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) released a final rule that prohibits certain financial service companies from blocking class action lawsuits with pre-dispute arbitration clauses and class action waiver clauses in consumer financial services contracts. The final rule requires arbitration clauses to contain a provision that explains that the arbitration clause cannot be invoked in a class action proceeding and requires parties to submit certain arbitration records to the CFPB whenever an arbitration claim is filed in relation to a consumer that entered a pre-dispute arbitration agreement after the rule’s compliance date.

 

The rule is a consequence of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, in which Congress authorized the CFPB to issues regulations that limit or prohibit the use of arbitration agreements in the financial industry.  However, it is unclear whether the broad scope may adversely impact smaller entities that cannot afford to defend themselves against a class action lawsuit.

 

The rule is set to become effective on September 17, 2017 and applies to consumer financial services contracts that are entered into 180 days after September 17, 2017.  Thus, the rule does not affect existing contracts, except when a new financial services entity becomes a party to an older contract. Institutions should prepare to review and update their contract provisions to comply with the final rule.

 

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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The Importance of Personal Cybersecurity

Malware attacks occur regularly in the United States, costing an estimated $15 million annually. The attacks on large corporations tend to make the news, but anyone connected to the internet is at risk of becoming a victim of a cyberattack. Personal internet connections are, generally, open, and personal computers are easy to locate with scanners, making an easy target for the cybercriminal.

Roughly 64% of Americans experience a data breach and nearly 20 million people become victims of identity theft each year. Many consumers fall prey to hackers through use of social media, where Cybercriminals gain access to personal data by creating fake links that download malware to user devices when users click the link. Consumers may also suffer data loss when cyber thieves victimize companies. The companies are desirable targets for cybertheft as they often collect their customers’ addresses, names, social security numbers, and other personal information.

In response to the data breaches, security-related legislation has been enacted at both the state and federal level. This legislation requires companies to take certain measures to protect sensitive information and establishes standards for notifying consumers when a breach occurs. Depending upon the industry, such as the healthcare industry, additional rules and penalties apply. Overall, with the proliferation and advanced tactics of cyber criminals, careful planning is required, both by a business and those with devices connected to the internet.

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Selecting the Right Entity for Your Tech Startup

Nebraska, and neighboring Midwest states, have developed a reputation as the “Silicon Prairie,” a prime location for technology startups. The recent tech startup boom in the Midwest can be attributed to the lower cost of living, knowledgeable tech labor force, and willingness of the community to embrace the startup. For many of these startups, besides the intense need to develop and protect the technology, a common issue is picking the right business entity structure.

 

In picking the right entity for the startup, several considerations should be weighed, including the need for liability protection, how the company will fund operations, and the most beneficial tax status. For example, if a tech startup is developing a product that will take a substantial period to produce, and likely need multiple rounds of equity financing involving institutional investors, with other funding coming through debt, the demand for classes of shares, preferences, and conversion rights, may require that the startup to form as a C-corporation, with corresponding tax status. On the other hand, if the startup only intends to have one round of equity financing, through a “friends and family” offering, a limited liability company may be appropriate, providing additional flexibility to select tax status.

 

Picking the right type of entity is important for the success of a tech startup, with many considerations to weigh. Ultimately, as facts change, it may be possible to change the structure of your company, but initial selection should not be taken lightly and can reduce problems as your company grows.

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Companies Accidentally Waiving Attorney-Client Privilege

In the digital age, most companies rely heavily on email to communicate, even with their attorney. Generally, attorney-client privilege will apply to these emails, but when the client forwards the email, questions about privilege can arise. As several cases in 2016 highlight, many employees will forward an attorney’s email without significant thought, but prior to forwarding the email, care should be taken to avoid inadvertently waiving privilege.

 

As highlighted by AU New Haven, LLC v. YKK Corp., No. 1:15­CV­3411­GHW, (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2016), when a company employee forwards an attorney communication to non-attorney employees, several rules will apply. As a default, generally, if the email is forwarded to employees of the company, the privilege will be retained. Similarly, if everyone receiving the email is deemed to have a common interest, even if not a direct employee, privilege is often retained. However, if one person doesn’t share the common interest, privilege is broken.  An example of broken privilege, in Newman v. Highland School District No. 203, 381 P.3d 1188 (Wash. 2016), the court refused to uphold privilege because the employee was no longer employed by the company. Thus, the court determined that privilege did not apply because the employee that received the communication was now a former employee.

 

Overall, these two cases highlight the fact specific nature of whether privilege is retained when an employee of a company forwards an email from the company’s attorney. Moreover, the determination of whether privilege was retained will be specific to the state. Thus, employees of a company receiving privileged communication should take steps to retain privilege, including having internal policies about forwarding emails from the company attorney.

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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