Beginning as a part-time college job walking friends’ dogs, Cary Barker’s full time business now employs over 30 college students to walk neighborhood dogs and to deliver them for daily activities to and from his Barkingham Palace Doggie Day Care Center, LLC. Although not yet ready to seek investors and begin franchising, Cary wants to grow Barkingham Palace, protect its blind spots, get alternative perspectives from other’s experiences and expand his network of friends. Cary’s friend Bayh Lawz suggests that Cary should select a board of directors. Should he? Continue Reading Selecting an Advisory Board – Do’s & Don’ts
Spurred by the frenzy of mid-century modern furniture of the 1950s and 1960s returning in popularity, a growing number of collectors are investing in and holding vintage furniture. Capitalizing on that craze, N. Stile Sune’s start-up Mothbalz Antiques cannot grow fast enough to meet demand. To buy more old warehouses and re-fit them into climate controlled spaces, N. Stile must raise over $2 million and is willing to give his investors an equity interest. Can N. Stile use crowdfunding or must he go the old fashioned route of a private placement memorandum (PPM)?
Due to Sune’s $2 million in capital needs (and more) crowdfunding is not a viable option.
The JOBS Act 2012 (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) was designed to encourage funding of U.S. small businesses and to ease various U.S. securities regulations affecting business investment. Enticingly entitled the “Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act of 2012,” Title III of the JOBS Act had visions of giving small individual investors access to early-stage investment and the enhanced ability to raise money beyond “friends and family,” through social media and from unknown investors like other sites such as Kickstarter.
When compared to other forms of private placements, crowdfunding is not a feasible option for our friend N. Stile Sune and Mothbalz Antiques. As explained in Forbes, here are ten reasons why:
- Issuers are capped to raising $1 million in any 12-month period.
- Shares issued are subject to a one-year restricted period.
- Crowdfunding is capped over a 12-month period at amounts depending upon net worth / income.
- Crowdfunding must be done through a registered broker-dealer or registered “funding portal.”
- The disclosure document (PPM) must be filed with the SEC prior to first sale and N. Stile Sune would have to file audited financial statements.
- Unlike JOBS Act changes affecting accredited investors, crowdfunding does not allow advertising except in narrow exceptions.
- Annual reports and possibly more frequent reports must be filed with the SEC.
- Legal prospectus liability applies to disclosures.
- Extensive due diligence is required, including background checks on management and large stockholders.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
Beware. Crowdfunding is far from a start-up fund raising panacea. You can still be sued for fraud for an actual or perceived misrepresentation or omission. One of the best ways to legally protect yourself and your business is also one of the most effective means for garnering serious investor interest. Disclose as much information as possible about your business, ensuring that if things begin to fall apart and investors threaten to sue for securities fraud or other issues, you can use your disclosure as a powerful defense – through the traditional Private Placement Memorandum – or PPM for short.
Growth in the DFW metroplex is booming, and the City of Flourish is one of the driving forces. Unfortunately, the City has had a difficult time keeping up its infrastructure with the growing population. Recently the City selected a bid from Slab Mixer Co., a concrete pipe manufacturer, for culverts for a project widening some of the City’s streets. After the City and Slab signed their contract, a group of Flourish citizens, concerned with how the City’s spending might affect their taxes, requested a copy of the contract under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). When the City notified Slab of the request, Slab asserted that some of the terms in the contract needed to be redacted because they would give Slab’s competitors an advantage in future contracts. Does Slab have the right to do that?
Background on the Texas Public Information Act
The Texas Public Information Act provides the public with the right to access information the government collects, subject to approximately 60 exceptions. Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 552.221, 552.101-.154. One exception is “information that, if released, would give advantage to a competitor or bidder.” Id. at § 552.104(a). Historically, the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is charged with interpreting the Act and maintaining its uniformity, has taken the position that this exception only protects the governmental body, and not a private party. In other words, the AG believed the Act only allowed a governmental body to protect information that would place it at a disadvantage with other governmental bodies inside and outside of the State of Texas.
Do Private Parties Have a Right to Protect Their Bid Information?
Yes. In 2015 the Texas Supreme Court in The Boeing Company et al. v. Paxton held that “a private party may assert the exception to protect its competitively sensitive information.” The Court found that the plain language of the exception was not limited to a governmental body’s right to protect that information. It also noted that the governmental body had the right to defer to the private party to assert its competitive interests were at stake and request that the competitively sensitive information be withheld. Thus, Boeing had standing to assert the exception, but would have to show that the information requested, “if released, would give advantage to a competitor or bidder.”
What about Citizens’ Right to Know How Much Their Government is Spending?
Some have claimed the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Boeing has given governmental bodies a carte blanche loophole to avoid turning over any information about their contracts. According to these critics, the Court’s decision allows the governmental bodies to assert that disclosing that information would give an advantage to the successful bidder’s competitors in the future.
While it’s a superficially appealing position from a taxpayer’s perspective, it ignores another argument that the governmental bodies assert to protect disclosure of this information. As mentioned above, the governmental bodies have asserted the exception protects disclosure of sensitive information that the body believes will give other governmental bodies an advantage.
For example, the Boeing case points out that the Attorney General ruled the exception protected disclosure of information concerning the Texas Governor’s marketing meetings with businesses in other states because the State is competing with other states to recruit those businesses to relocate. The release of that information would give other states the advantage to approach those businesses with competing or better incentives.
Companion bills (HB 792 and SB 407) have been filed in the Texas House and Senate to address the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Boeing. If enacted, the legislation would make clear that the exception only allows a governmental body to protect information that it believes would harm its competitive interests. It would also apply an “exception to the exception” that would require governmental bodies to disclose that competitive information after the body awards the contract. HB 792 was recently referred to committee. SB 407 was referred to committee, where it was discussed but not voted upon yet.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
That depends on how your business has been affected by the competitive bidding process. If you have won bids in the past, and your proposals contain proprietary information that gives you a competitive advantage, you should ask the governmental body to redact that information if anyone requests it under the TPIA. On the other hand, if your business has consistently lost out in the bidding process, you may want to press the Legislature to pass HB 792 and SB 407 this session so that you can see your competitor’s proposals and try to figure out how you can match, or beat, them in the future.
Last week Emma Grant’s line cook and 25 other undocumented employees at her bar-b-que restaurant Emma Grant’s Bar-B-Que were working the lunch shift when it was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, apparently at least in partial response to a recent executive order. Can the President of the United States do that? Can this be a problem for Emma Grant and her bar-b-que restaurant?
Recognized since George Washington as being authorized by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution that provides “the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America,” there have been more than 13,000 issued, in one form or another, since 1789. Notable executive orders were Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Franklin Roosevelt’s mandatory registration of aliens from World War II enemy countries. FDR also holds the record, by far, of the most Executive Orders at 3,721; next closest is Woodrow Wilson at 1,803. To date, President Donald Trump has issued twelve executive orders. Suggested as undoing many of President Barack Obama’s policies, here’s a list and short summary of each. The Federal Register details the executive orders transcripts, numbers and disposition tables from Herbert Hoover to date.
The Legal Reality
But what about Emma’s exposure? Yes, as the employer of the undocumented workers, Emma Grant could have liability. Employers must verify the identity and employment authorization of each person hired after Nov. 6, 1986 and complete and retain Form I-9. Failure to do so can result in civil fines ($539 for each at the first offense and up to $21,563 for each after multiple offenses), criminal penalties (when there is a pattern or practice of violations), and debarment from government contracts.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
Get a completed I-9 for each employee. Undertake reasonable and diligent investigation, if appropriate. For key employees, consider undertaking steps to secure their legal residency in the United States.
On Valentine’s Day, Zack takes Kelly, his high school sweetheart who goes to a different college, to the Max for a romantic dinner. At the end of the meal Zack says, “Kelly, I want us to promise each other that after college we’ll both move back to Bayside and get married. Will you marry me?” Kelly responds, “Oh Zack, that’s wonderful! I love you so much and I promise.” Delighted, Zack puts the engagement ring on Kelly’s finger and says, “That’s great Kelly! Now there’s one more thing – I spent every dime I made working last summer on this ring. Will you promise me that if we don’t get married after college you’ll return this ring?” Kelly writes on her napkin “I promise to return my engagement ring if we don’t get married after college,” signs her name and gives it to Zack.
Two years later, Kelly decides to take make a surprise visit to Zack’s school one weekend. When she arrives she finds Zack at a party kissing another woman. “You two-timing slime ball! We’re through and never getting married,” Kelly tells him. Zack asks for the ring back and Kelly refuses. Three months later Zack sues Kelly for the ring. He still has Kelly’s napkin from Valentine’s Day. Does he have a good case even though he’s a pig?
Written Promises Around Engagements Are Enforceable
We covered this topic many years ago under a different fact scenario and the law has not changed since then. Zack is entitled to the ring. Kelly promised in writing to return the ring if they did not get married after college. Importantly, Kelly’s written promise was not conditioned on who broke off the engagement or why it was broken off. Thus, Zack gets the ring although his actions caused Kelly to call off the engagement.
What if Kelly Didn’t Give Zack the Napkin?
Kelly probably gets to keep the ring because it was Zack’s fault that the engagement ended, even though Kelly called it off. In the absence of an enforceable written agreement, Texas follows the conditional gift rule, which requires Kelly (the donee) to return the ring to Zack (the donor) if Kelly is at fault in terminating the engagement. But, Texas courts allow the donee to keep the ring if the donee can prove that there was a justified reason for calling off the engagement. Zack’s cheating should be enough, absent other facts.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
While some people might find the conditional gift rule offensive, other people may see it as a reasonable approach. Regardless, it’s important to remember that if you have significant assets you are bringing into a new marriage, you may want to consult with an attorney about whether you should have a prenuptial agreement in place in case the marriage does not work out.
Riding her beloved Packers late-game win against the Dallas Cowboys, Allfer Funn, owner of Con Genial, is polishing her cheese head hat and dusting off her Super Bowl Squares Pool from last year in anticipation of the Big Game in a couple of weeks. Electing not to “Reinvigorate [Her] Super Bowl Office Betting Pool” as some have suggested, she does, however, decide to up the ante from $10 a square on her 10 x 10 grid to $20 a square. Just good clean office fun to build morale, right? It’s not illegal… or is it?
The Legal Reality?
Yes, it’s illegal in any number of ways. It’s illegal gambling in Texas. And, for Allfer, organizing the Pool is likely “bookmaking” – receiving more than 5 bets in a 24 hour period. Under the gaming laws of all 50 states, it’s a bet with a prize that is won or lost solely by chance. Because squares pools involve randomly assigned numbers, the contest is entirely based on chance and thus illegal unless (in a state other than Texas) it falls within a state-specific “recreational gaming exception.”
And there’s more.
Beyond Texas, the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 also prohibits gambling, specifically on professional and amateur games. Should Allfer Funn or her employees elect to bet online there’s always the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) which Tilting commented upon in 2011 that prohibits nearly all types of online gambling.
Notably, the UIGEA exempts most fantasy sports competitions, classifying them as games of skill rather than games of chance – except for the Super Bowl. A fantasy football competition is based upon a single game with a limited number of outcomes as well as a limited number of players/teams from which participants can choose, whereas the Super Bowl is viewed as a game of chance rather than a game of skill.
The Practical Reality?
As reported in a Houston KTRH NewsRadio 740 interview last year by Tilting’s own Cleve Clinton, “It’s illegal. Now, realistically and practically, is anybody going to do anything about it? No.”
In the same interview, Clinton told KTRH that Texas law has such a broad definition of gambling, that technically any betting pool violates state law. Whether or not the state chooses to enforce that depends on a few factors.
“The first thing you really want to look at is how big of a pool are we talking about, the second thing is who’s running it, and the third, will someone (the organizer) profit by it,” says Clinton.
Allfer may want to reconsider and not increase the pool size from a total of $1,000 to $2,000.
Good Clean Fun?
Notwithstanding that gambling on the Super Bowl is illegal, Allfer Funn should be wary of potential retaliation and hostile work environment claims from employees either excluded from or uncomfortable with office gambling. What happens if an employee snitches? The Texas Penal Code seems to offer “testimonial immunity.”
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
While Texas does have strong laws against gambling, most low-stakes office pools should be all right, as long as they are run by an individual and not the company, and nobody takes a profit or fee off the top for organizing or running the pool. “It risks becoming a problem when you get out of bounds on size or (scope),” says Clinton. It is best for Allfer Funn that she not manage the Super Bowl pool. And, she should check Con Genial’s employee manual to make sure that she is not stepping out of bounds of her own company policy. Finally, Allfer should be cognizant of the objection of any employee and respond accordingly. Go Packers!
Tilting the Scales articles: Internet Gambling in the U.S., March Madness Basketball Gambling, Wanna Bet? Betting About Baseball Returns to the News
Dr. Nole Specs created a website for his successful optometry practice. Over the holidays, Dr. Specs received a threatening letter from Mo Dougherty, a plaintiff’s lawyer. Dougherty’s letter claims Specs’ website is not ADA compliant, and demands that Specs fix the problem immediately and pay Dougherty $2,500 or Dougherty will sue. While Specs knows the ADA applies to the brick and mortar aspect of his business, he’s never heard of it applying to websites and thinks it’s a scam. Should Specs just ignore Dougherty’s letter?
The Federal Government Believes Websites are Governed by the ADA
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability in places of public accommodation, such as a restaurant, movie theater, school, doctor’s office, or other business. Recently, 60 Minutes ran a story on “Drive-By Lawsuits,” where plaintiffs’ lawyers or people hired by them will drive around looking for businesses that are not ADA compliant. Typically, the public considers this prohibition applying to wheelchair access. But in 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, issued a notice stating it would amend the language of the ADA to ensure accessibility to websites for individuals with disabilities. As a result of this notice there has been a proliferation of demand letters from plaintiffs’ lawyers threatening to sue businesses for having non compliant websites, and offering to settle if the business will bring the website into compliance and pay the lawyer a few thousand dollars to go away.
How do you ensure ADA Compliance?
First, it’s important to know that the DOJ has not issued binding rules on regulations on ADA compliance for websites. The DOJ is not expected to issue binding rules until sometime in 2018, unless the new administration changes course on this issue. However, the DOJ and plaintiffs’ lawyers consistently suggest that websites will be considered ADA compliant if they follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG-2.0) Level AA. For example, if the website includes live audio content, Level AA guidelines call for the website to also provide captioning.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
Although the DOJ has not issued binding rules and regulations, you should take steps to bring your website within the WCAG-2.0 Level AA guidelines now. Some plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against plaintiffs even without the binding rules in place and successfully argued that the website was a place of public accommodation that was not accessible to disabled individuals. This is especially important for businesses that sell goods online, because courts have routinely considered those businesses’ websites to be places of public accommodation.
Following his transfer to Houston, Ruel Benda decided to keep his posh gated neighborhood Rodeo Drive house and started advertising it on AirBNB. His profits were so good that he began renting for 7 days or less. Insisting that Benda’s home use was commercial and not residential, a violation of his property owners association’s (POA) recorded Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, the POA fined him. Benda sued. Did he win? Can Benda continue to rent his house?
It depends. No, if Ruel Benda lived in San Antonio. Under these facts a San Antonio appellate court concluded that the POA deed restrictions prevented such rentals and granted the POA’s injunction denying further rentals.
Yes, if Benda lived in Austin where, under very similar facts, the Austin Court of Appeals found no violation of a restrictive covenant under similar circumstances, determining that the covenant restricting homes to be used “for single family residential purposes” was ambiguous. The Austin court “resolve[d] the ambiguity against the Association and in favor of the [homeowner’s] free and unrestricted use of their property.” The San Antonio Court respectfully disagreed with the Austin Court of Appeals and did not find its reasoning persuasive.
Like Uber, the AirBNB kerfluffle has landed in the news in Chicago, Spokane, (requires a license) and even Arlington County near Washington, D.C. – just in time for Inauguration Day. Even San Antonio is considering municipal regulations that would affect properties not otherwise subject to a property owner’s association.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor. Avoid being surprised. If you are in a property owner’s association, read your documents. While many POAs have more detailed restrictions against short term rentals (STR) of POA homes, some enforce their rules and others don’t. Likewise, while smaller counties and cities are not actively enforcing requirements to report and pay hotel occupancy taxes upon home rentals, many cities like Austin, San Antonio and Houston are.
Under Texas law, an STR is rental of a property for less than 30 days and the guest is charged $15 or more per day. Texas hotel occupancy tax due to the Texas Comptroller is six percent of the room cost. Counties are authorized to impose a hotel occupancy tax also.
And, by the way, your income from the STR may well be taxable. As my colleague Drew York wrote a couple of months ago, whether the income is taxable depends upon a “Master Exception” to the Internal Revenue Code. Check out our September article Do I Owe Income Taxes When I Rent Out My Home?
This is the last installment of a series discussing potential pitfalls relating to selling your business. Recently Tilting the Scales highlighted Successfully Selling Your Business: Top 6 Potential Pitfalls; So You Might Sell Your Business Someday: Do You Need a Broker?; Successfully Selling Your Business: 4 Tips – No Matter the Buyer; Selling Your Business: Why Accurate Financials are Important; and Selling Your Business: 5 Critical Deal Points. Today we’re going to discuss why it’s important to have a business plan.
It’s the end of the year and you have made that decision: you want to sell your business next year and retire. Congratulations! Previous installments in this series discussed the importance of deal points, accurate financials and having any legal issues resolved to avoid any pitfalls when you sell your business. But to get to the point of making a deal with a buyer, you first have to have a marketable business. A business plan is the essential tool you need to help market your company.
Business Plans are Road Maps for Buyers
The question on every prospective buyer’s mind is “What makes your business so special that it’s worth $_____________?” A business plan helps buyers understand your assets and why someone would want to buy your business. For example, a business plan can summarize historical and projected financial data, market share, marketing strategies and analyze your competition. Your business plan should also summarize what key intellectual property your business owns, as well as any proprietary licensing that is in place. This information attracts prospective buyers to dig deeper – especially if the business plan is packaged well because it conveys a sense that you run a disciplined business.
Putting it All Together to Tilt the Scales in Your Favor
We’ve talked about a lot of important issues in this series. If you are looking to sell your business remembering these key points will help your sales process get off to a good start:
- Prepare or update your business plan to market your company to prospective buyers.
- Have your accountant audit your financials.
- Make sure a prospective buyer signs a confidentiality and non-competition agreement before you allow them to conduct any non-public due diligence.
- Qualify your buyer. Why waste time allowing a buyer who can’t meet your payment terms or get financing from a lending institution?
- Use a lawyer to prepare, review and advise you on all letters of intent or sales agreements.
- When negotiating back and forth with a prospective buyer, make sure all of the terms are documented in writing!
Hope you have enjoyed this series. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2017.
This is the fifth installment of a series discussing potential pitfalls affecting the intended sale by JR and Sue Ellen Pawlenty of their business Pawlenty Energy. Recently Tilting the Scales highlighted Successfully Selling Your Business: Top 6 Potential Pitfalls; So You Might Sell Your Business Someday: Do You Need a Broker?; Successfully Selling Your Business: 4 Tips – No Matter the Buyer and Selling Your Business: Why Accurate Financials are Important. This month we discuss the Top 5 Critical Deal Points and Recommendations.
Get to the Offer Stage Quickly by Term Sheet or Letter of Intent. Before signing any written understanding, JR and Sue Ellen should consult a trusted representative to assist them in preparing a well drafted non-binding Letter of Intent, which is critical to setting goals and expectations for a clearly understood, viable offer that represents a good probability of closing.
- Payment Terms – Price and Timing. Unless you are paid in cash in full at closing, there’s more than setting price. Expect to negotiate both time and money – deferred and/or contingent payments such as earn-outs, seller notes and stock all depend upon whether your buyer is strategic or financial. Taking a modest down-payment with a note secured only by your company assets and giving the buyer control over your company’s operations, for example, is a recipe for probable disappointment, if not certain disaster.
- Reps and Warranties. These are essential statements of fact made by the buyer and seller to each other about various aspects of the transaction, typically including finances, customers, taxes, contracts, ownership, legal issues, intellectual property and more. While both pledge their statements to be true, difficulty of proof and ability to collect realistically impact any agreed upon remedy. Making sure that the statements (promises) you make are clear and accurate is critical.
- Indemnification. If a representation or warranty of either you or the buyer is incorrect, the transaction documents address who is responsible and how damages are determined; attorney’s fees are frequently assessed against the loser. Careful attention to contract language addressing both the promises made and the scope of liability imposed for misstatements is crucial.
- Transition. Expect the buyer to require your continuing participation to transition the sale. Delaying negotiation of your role and compensation risks an undesirable commitment of time at an almost certainly reduced compensation.
- Employees. What assurances does the buyer require about key employees? What is the buyer’s plan for both key and support employees post-closing? Will the buyer retain them with the same compensation and benefits? Be careful when you tell your team. Wait for a solid plan and a solid buyer so you can answer– what does this mean to them?
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
Beyond the deal points there are some lessons learned that are worth knowing, particularly if this is your first “rodeo”:
- Your first “buyer” likely won’t.
- Run your business as if you were going to own it forever – it improves your negotiation position.
- Due diligence is a two-way street. Check out your buyer’s ability to perform.
- Run a litigation check on your prospective buyer.