July 21, 2014

Covenant or Condition? Why does it matter?

iStock_000025338621Small.jpgI remember a story told by a a business owner who had been involved in the negotiation of a very complicated contract, with both sides represented by high-priced lawyers. In one particularly brutal negotiating session, the lawyers argued at length about a particular provision, with one side saying it should be a warranty and the other side saying it should be a covenant. At long last, they reached some sort of agreement, and everyone took a break for dinner. The business owner related that, as he rode down the elevator with his lawyer, he asked, "What's the difference between a covenant and a warranty?" The answer: "Not much." And that is not too far from the truth. But it would be a very different story if the question had been, "What is the difference between a covenant and a condition?"

The importance of the distinction between a covenant and a condition was driven home by a 2010 decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision received a great deal of attention at the time, and I used it as an assignment in the law school class I was teaching on contract drafting. Even though the decision has been thoroughly discussed from every angle, it still serves as a useful reminder to lawyers not to be careless with license agreements and to pay particularly close attention when drafting conditions.

The case was MDY Industries v. Blizzard Entertainment, and it dealt with a license agreement for the popular online role-playing game, World of Warcraft, or WoW. The license agreement prohibited the licensee from using bots to simulate people playing WoW. There was no question that the licensee had violated that term of the agreement. The question was whether the provision was a covenant or a condition.

A covenant is a promise by a party to a contract to do something or not to do something. If the promise is broken, the breaching party is liable to the other party for monetary damages -- usually the amount of money required to put the non-breaching party in the same situation it would have occupied if the covenant had not been broken.

In contrast, a condition is a fact that must exist (or not exist) before another substantive provision of a contract takes effect. In the context of a license agreement, the other substantive provision is the license itself. If the conditions to a license are not satisfied, the license is void. And if the license is void, the breaching party will probably be liable for infringement of the underlying intellectual property -- in this case, the copyright to the software.

So the question before the Ninth Circuit was whether the crucial contract provision was a promise by the licensee not to use bots or a condition on the grant of the license itself. If the former, the licensee would be liable for monetary damages, which would amout to relatively little. However, if the prohibition on using bots was a condition to the license, the licensee would be liable for copyright infringement, including statutory damages that could greatly exceed the damages owed for breach of contract.

In analyzing the provision, the Ninth Circuit noted that the folowing language was under a heading, "Limitations on Your Use of the Service."

You agree that you will not . . . create or use cheats, bots, "mods," and/or hacks, or any other third-party software designed to modify the World of Warcraft experience . . .

First the court disregarded the heading, using the common rule of contract interpretation that headings are for convenience only and are not part of the actual language of the contract. Once that was done, the court noted that there was nothing else about the language to connect the prohibition on bots to the scope of the license or the effectiveness of the grant of the license. Instead, the provision was written merely as an ordinary agreement, or a promise. If the copyright owner's real intent when the license agreement was drafted was to restrict the scope of the license, it could easily have done so by designating the prohibition as a condition to the license. The resolution of the case, or at least part of the case, turned on that subtle, technical drafting issue.

So if you are ever in a contract negotiation and your lawyer is arguing with the other side that a provision should be a covenant instead of a warranty, or vice versa, you might want to take a break and, outside the negotiating room, ask your lawyer if it is really worth the time to argue about it. However, if your lawyer is arguing with the other lawyer about a covenant versus a condition, you can be fairly certain it really is worth the time.

Continue reading "Covenant or Condition? Why does it matter?" »

July 17, 2014

Anticipatory Breach and Mitigation of Damages revisited: The Indiana Supreme Court Clears the Minefield

iStock_000030882778Small.jpgLast year we wrote about a decision of the Indiana Court of Appeals, Fisher v. Heyman, that addressed the amount of damages owed to the seller of a condominium after the buyers refused to go through with the sale unless the seller corrected a minor electrical problem. See "Anticipatory Breach and Damage Mitigation: A Minefield for Real Estate Sellers?" Today the Indiana Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The case began with a purchase agreement for a condo between Gayle Fisher, the seller, and Michael and Noel Heyman, the buyers. The purchase agreement permitted the buyers to have the condo inspected and to terminate the agreement if the inspection revealed major defects. The inspection report showed that some electical outlets and lights did not work. The Heymans informed Fisher that they would terminate the contract unless Fisher corrected the problem by a specified date. Fisher did not meet the deadline, and the Heymans refused to go through with the purchase. However, shortly after the deadline passed, Fisher had an electrician repair the problems, for which the electrician charged her $117. By then, however, the Heymans had found another propertyand refused to purchase Fisher's condo. Fisher put the condo back on the market, but the best offer she received was $75,000 less than the price that the Heymans had agreed to pay. In the meantime, she incurred additional expenses that raised her damages to over $90,000.

The buyers argued that they believed the electrical problem was a major that allowed them to back out of the deal. However, the trial court and the Court of Appeals disagreed with the buyers, holding that the demand for repairs was an anticipatory breach, a concept we discussed in our previous blog post. The Supreme Court decision changes nothing about that aspect of the Court of Appeals decision. Both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court held that trial court did not err by finding that the electrical problems were not a "major defect" and that the buyers breached the purchase agreement by making a demand that they were not entitled to make. The difference between the two opinions is how to analyze the seller's duty to mitigate damages.

When one party breaches a contract, the other party is entitled to damages sufficient to put the non-breaching party in the same position it would have occupied had the contract been performed. However, the non-breaching party must use reasonable efforts to mitigate the damages. This case illustrates the concept nicely. The original purchase price was $315,000. Sometime later, Fisher received, but rejected, an offer of $240,000. Ultimately, she sold the condo for $180,000. The trial court found (and the Supreme Court affirmed) that Fisher acted unreasonably when she rejected the offer of $240,000. Accordingly, the most she could recover was the difference between $315,000 and $240,000, not the difference between $315,000 and $180,000. The question, however, is whether the doctrine of mitigation of damages required Fisher to comply with the Heymans' demand to have the electrical problem fixed. If so, she would be able to recover only $117, the amount it cost her to fix the electrical problems. Last year, the Court of Appeals said yes.

Today, the Supreme Court said no, agreeing with Judge Cale Bradford of the Court of Appeals. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Bradford reasoned that the doctrine of mitigation of damages does not require the non-breaching party to accede to a demand that creates a breach. The Supreme Court agreed with that reasoning and elaborated that, just as a non-breaching party may not put itself in a better position than it would have been had the contract been performed as agreed, neither can the breaching party. Here, the buyers agreed to pay $315,000 for a condo that had minor electrical problems (if tripped ground fault interrupters and burnt out light bulbs can be considered "problems"), and the seller was not obligated to sell them a condo with no electrical problems for the same price. Result: The Heymans owed Fisher not $117, but more than $90,000.

Setting aside the legal arguments, the Supreme Court decision avoids some very practical, real-world issues that would have been posed by the Court of Appeals decision. Had that decision stood, the law in Indiana would have allowed a party to a contract to continue to make additional demands on the other side, confident that the worst thing that could happen is that it would be required to pay the incremental cost of the demand. Conversely, the party on the receiving end of those demands would be forced to choose between acceding to them or being satisfied with the incremental cost of the demand, regardless of the magnitude of its actual damages.

A simple example: Imagine a musician who agrees to perform at a concert for $20,000. The organizer of the concert has already incurred another $30,000 in expenses and sold $100,000 worth of tickets. At the last minute, the musician refuses to go on stage unless he is paid an additional $10,000. The organizer would be forced to choose between paying the additional $10,000 or suffering a loss of $80,000, while being able to recover no more than $10,000. Surely that is not how mitigation of damages is supposed to work.

[Note: In discussing the example of the last paragraph, this post originally mentioned a loss of $130,000 rather than $80,000, but that's not the way damages are calculated. The organizer's damages would be the cost of refunding the price of the tickets ($100,000) less the $20,000 that the organizer originally promised the musician. The $30,000 in expenses would have been incurred even if the concert proceeded, giving the organizer a profit of $50,000. If the musician breached, the organizer would have to refund the price of the tickets, leaving the organizer with a $30,000 loss. To put the organizer in the same position it would have occupied had the contract not been breached -- i.e., with a $50,000 profit -- the musician would owe the organizer $80,000.]

Continue reading "Anticipatory Breach and Mitigation of Damages revisited: The Indiana Supreme Court Clears the Minefield" »

July 9, 2014

Office Lease: No signature, no personal guaranty

iStock_000014240498_Small (1).jpgBJ Thompson Associates, Inc. leased an office from Jubilee Investment Corp. The lease included the following language:

Guaranty of Performance In consideration of the making of the above Lease by LANDLORD with TENANT at the request of the undersigned Guarantor, and in reliance by LANDLORD on this guaranty the Guarantor hereby guarantees as its own debt, the payment of the rent and all other sums of money to be paid by TENANT, and the performance by TENANT of all the terms, conditions, covenants, and agreements of the Lease, and the undersigned promises to pay all LANDLORD'S costs, expenses, and reasonable attorney's fees (whether for negotiations, trial, appellate or other legal services), incurred by LANDLORD in enforcing this guaranty, and LANDLORD shall not be required to first proceed against TENANT before enforcing this guaranty. In addition, the Guarantor further agrees to pay cash the present cash value of the rent and other payments stipulated in this Lease upon demand by LANDLORD following TENANT being adjudged bankrupt or insolvent, or if a receiver or trustee in bankruptcy shall be appointed, or if TENANT makes an assignment for the benefit of creditors.

Even though the above language referred to "the undersigned Guarantor," the lease had no signature block for a guarantor. It had signature blocks for only the landlord and tenant. The signature block looked like this

BJ Thompson Associates, Inc.

By: ____________________

Date: __________________

followed by the address for BJ Thompson Associates, Inc. and the word "TENANT." It was signed by BJ Thompson, the sole shareholder and president of BJ Thompson Associates, Inc.

The original term of the lease was for one year, but the tenant held over for a number of years. (In essence, the lease was automatically renewed for successive one-year terms.) Eventually, however, the tenant moved out three months into the year and stopped paying rent. The landlord sued both BJ Thompson Associates, Inc. for rent for the remaining nine months, and it also sued BJ Thompson personally on the theory that he had personally guaranteed his company's obligations under the lease. The trial court dismissed the complaint against BJ Thompson personally because he had signed the lease only on behalf of his company as tenant and not on his own behalf as guarantor. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals agreed.

A guaranty is a promise by one person to pay the obligations of another person. When landlords sign leases with small businesses, it is common for them to require the lease to be personally guaranteed by the business owners, and the same thing occurs with other types of contracts as well. A guaranty is simply a particular type of contract, and it is governed by the same rules that apply to the interpretation and enforcement of other contracts. However, a guaranty is also one of several types of contracts subject to the statute of frauds, which says that, in order for a contract to be enforced, the contract must be in writing and must be signed by the party against whom it is being enforced.

In this case, the lease included language obligating "the undersigned Guarantor," but it did not identify BJ Thompson as the guarantor, and, although BJ Thompson signed on behalf of his company, the tenant, nothing in the lease identified his as the guarantor and nothing in the signature blocks indicated that he was signing in any capacity other than as the agent of his company.


Continue reading "Office Lease: No signature, no personal guaranty" »

July 2, 2014

Streamlined Application for Tax Exempt Organizations

iStock_000018610908Small.jpgAs anticipated, the Internal Revenue Service announced a streamlined, much simpler and shorter version of Form 1023, the Application for Recognition of Tax Exempt Status.

Standard Form 1023

The standard Form 1023 is 26 pages long, not counting a 38-page instruction booklet, 3 additional pages of instructions the IRS has added to the front of the form making changes to the form and the instructions, and a 2-page checklist to make sure the entire submission package is complete and compiled in the correct order. But that's not all -- one of the most important sections of the form, Part IV, is only about a quarter-page long but it calls for the applicant to attach a detailed narrative description of the organization's activities explaining how each of them supports the organization's charitable purpose, and several other sections leave so little room to include all the necessary information that most applicants find it necessary to attach addtional pages. With all that, and with the other information that must be submitted, such as articles of incorporation and bylaws, Form 1023 submission packages can easily reach 50, 60, or 70 pages.

The IRS says that they currently have a nine-month backlog of Form 1023 applications, and it is possible that number is actually an understatement. Once received by the IRS, Form 1023 applications go through a sort of triage process. Applications that are complete and do not appear to pose significant obstacles to approval are directed into a queue to be processed more quickly than applications that will require the IRS to request significantly more information. Just this week our office received a determination letter for a Form 1023 that had been pending for more than seven months, and that application was, presumably, directed through the quicker process.

Form 1023-EZ

In contrast, Form 1023-EZ is less than three pages long, although that is a little misleading because it still requires an instruction booklet with 10 pages of instructions to explain how to complete the form, a 7-page worksheet that must be completed in order to determine if the organization is eligible to use the streamlined form, and a 3-page list of National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) Codes from which the applicant must select the code that best fits the organization. Nonetheless, Form 1023-EZ should be considerably less burdensome than the standard form.

After completing the worksheet, the applicant must file the form online at www.pay.gov, which requires a username and password obtained through free registration. Any applications submitted on paper are automatically deemed incomplete.

Eligibility

Most organizations with annual revenues less than $50,000 for the current year, each of the previous three years, and the next two projected years are eligible to submit Form 1023-EZ. However, some types of organizations must submit the standard Form 1023 regardless of revenues. Here is a partial list of organizations that are ineligible for Form 1023-EZ:


  • Those organized as limited liability companies.

  • Churches and associations or conventions of churches. (Note: Churches are not required to submit an application for recognition of tax exempt status, but if they do not, they will not have a determination letter from the IRS, which can be useful for various reasons. Those that wish to receive a determination letter will continue to submit Form 1023 rather than 1023-EZ.)Schools, colleges, and universities.

  • Hospitals, medical research organizations, and hospital organizations.

  • Health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

  • Accountable care organizations (ACOs).

  • Supporting organizations (i.e., charitable organizations that are derive their status as public charities from their supporting relationship to another charitable organization that is a public charity).

  • Credit counseling organizations.

  • Organizations that have previously had their tax exempt status revoked except organizations that have had their tax exempt status revoked for failing to file Form 990 (or 990-EZ or 990-N) for three consecutive years.


That last part is significant because many smaller organizations have lost their tax exempt status for failure to file Form 990, and Form 1023-EZ will be available to those wishing to have their tax exempt status reinstated.

Continue reading "Streamlined Application for Tax Exempt Organizations" »

June 30, 2014

Partnership Dissolved, but Partner Still Liable

iStock_000023649013Small.jpgLast year the Indiana Court of Appeals decided a case that illustrates some of the hazards of operating a business as a general partnership. The case is Curves for Women of Angola vs. Flying Cat, LLC.

In 2001, a married couple, Dan and Lori, purchased a fitness and health franchise known as Curves for Women that they intended to operate in Angola, Indiana. The franchise agreement, which Dan and Lori both signed, contained the following affirmation:

We the undersigned principals of the corporate or partnership franchisee, do as individuals jointly and severally, with the corporation or partnership and amongst ourselves, accept and agree to all of the provisions, covenants and conditions of this agreement[.]

At no time did Dan and Lori form a corporation or limited liability company to own the franchise - not before signing the franchise agreement and not after.

At about the same time, Dan and Lori leased space in which to operate the business, known as Curves for Women of Angola. The landlord was Flying Cat, LLC. Both Dan and Lori signed the lease, each in the capacity of "Owner." The lease was for a term of three years, with options to renew for additional three-year terms.

After the lease was signed, the business began operation. Lori managed the day-to-day operations, and Dan handled the responsibilities for accounting and equipment maintenance. The profits from the business were treated as joint marital property, available to both Dan and Lori.

In 2004, Dan and Lori exercised the option to renew the lease. As with the original lease, they both signed the renewal agreement.

In 2005, Dan and Lori separated. Over the next two years, they made several attempts to reconcile, but in 2007 Lori filed for divorce.

After she filed for divorce, Lori signed a second lease extension with Flying Cat, LLC. Dan did not sign the renewal agreement. At the time the second lease extension was signed, the business was already behind in its rent, and over the next two to three years, it fell even further behind. In 2010, Flying Cat, LLC sued Curves for Women of Angola, Lori, and Dan, claiming that, as partners, Lori and Dan were both personally liable for the back rent owed by the partnership.

First, the Court of Appeals held that a partnership existed between Dan and Lori. In doing so, the court cited Ind. Code § 23 4 1 7, which provides that, with certain inapplicable exceptions, the receipt by a person of a share of the profits of a business is evidence that a partnership exists. Once a partnership exists, each partner is personally liable for all the obligations and debts of the partnership. In addition, it requires the signature of only one partner to form a contract that binds the partnership and, by extension, binds all the partners.

However, Dan argued that he was not bound by the second lease extension that Lori signed after she filed for divorce, pointing to the fact that her petition clearly indicated her intent to terminate the business relationship with Dan. The Court of Appeals agreed with Dan that the partnership was dissolved when Lori filed her petition, but nonetheless held that Dan was liable for the second lease extension.

The basis for the holding lies in Ind. Code § 23 4 1 35(1)(b), which provides that a partner can bind the partnership after dissolution if the other party to the transaction knew that the partnership existed prior to dissolution and had no knowledge or notice that the partnership had been dissolved. Notice can be provided by publishing a notice of the dissolution in a newspaper of general circulation in the place where the partnership regularly conducted business. The Court of Appeals noted that the landlord knew of the partnership prior to dissolution, that the landlord had no knowledge or notice of the dissolution, and that no notice had been published in the local newspaper. Accordingly, Lori's signature on the second lease extension bound the partnership and, by extension, Dan, even though the partnership was already dissolved.

Because each partner to a general partnership is liable for all the obligations and debts of the business, including obligations and debts incurred by one partner even without the knowledge of the others, it is hard for us to imagine a situation in which we would advise a client to organize a business as a general partnership. Even so, general partnerships exist, and, as this case illustrates, a partner leaving the partnership must take appropriate measures - including publication of a notice of dissolution - to protect himself or herself from incurring further liability.

Continue reading "Partnership Dissolved, but Partner Still Liable" »

June 2, 2014

Family Businesses: Succession planning for LLCs

iStock_000017700348Small.jpgOwners of Indiana LLCs (and their lawyers) can learn some lessons from a recent case involving an Alabama LLC. The case is L.B. Whitfield, III Family LLC v. Virginia Ann Whitfield, et al.

The Whitfield Case

L.B. Whitfield, III owned half of the voting stock in a business that had been in his family for generations. The other half had belonged to L.B.'s brother, who died and left the stock to his only son, in trust. L.B. had four children, his son Louie, and three daughters. After his brother's death, L.B. became concerned that the 50/50 voting balance might be disturbed if, after he died, his stock were to be divided among his four children. To prevent that from happening, L.B. created a manager-managed Alabama limited liability company to hold his half of the voting stock. L.B. was the sole member, and he and Louie were the two managers. Upon his death, his interest in the LLC passed in four equal shares to his four children in accordance with his will.

After L.B.'s death, Louie continued as manager, and the four children were treated as members of the LLC. About 10 years later, a dispute arose between Louie and his sisters, and the dispute escalated into litigation. Ultimately, the litigation was resolved on a theory that was not argued in the original pleadings and, in fact, appears not to have occurred to the lawyers involved until several months into the case.

The Alabama Supreme Court noted that L.B. was the sole member of the LLC and that, after he died, the LLC had no members. His will gave them equal shares of his interest (i.e., his economic rights) in the LLC, but economic rights in an LLC and membership are two different things. The Court further noted that, under the Alabama LLC statute, a limited liability company that has no members is dissolved and its affairs must be wound up, a process which includes payment of its debt and distribution of its remaining assets to the holders of interest in the LLC (who are not necessarily members). Accordingly, the Court held that the assets of the LLC should be distributed in four equal shares to Louie and his sisters.

Interestingly, the Alabama statute provides a way that L.B.'s heirs could have become members and avoided the dissolution of the LLC, but they had to do it by mutual written agreement within 90 days of L.B.'s death, and there was no such written agreement.

How does it work in Indiana?

If the Whitfield case had involved an Indiana LLC, the results might well have been the same. Unless other provisions (discussed below) have been made to avoid the result, when the single member of an LLC dies, that member will be dissociated (i.e., will cease to be a member) (Ind. Code 23-18-6-5(a)(4)), the LLC will have no members, and, as a result, it will be dissolved (at least if the LLC was formed after June 30, 1999) (Ind. Code 23-18-9-1.1(c)). As a result, the member's heirs will not receive an ongoing business; instead, they will receive only the rights to receive distributions from the dissolved LLC after all obligations are satisfied -- which may be far less valuable than the business would have been as an ongoing concern.

Note that there are other scenarios that can create a similar result. Under Ind. Code 23-18-6-4.1(e) (which applies only to LLC's formed after June 30, 1999), a member who assigns her entire interest to another person ceases to be a member. If the person making the assignment is the sole member, the person who receives the interest can become a member, Ind. Code 23-18-6-4.1(b) provides that the person who receives the interest can become a member "in accordance with the terms of an agreement between the assignor and the assignee." But what if there are no such terms? What if the agreement simply says, "Seller hereby assigns her interest in the LLC to Buyer," but doesn't mention membership? In that case (unless the operating agreement already deals with the situation some other way), the LLC will have no members, and it will be dissolved. In other words, the person who thought he bought an ongoing business may well have bought only the rights to receive distributions from a dissolved LLC.

Now, what if there are multiple members and one of them dies? In that case, the LLC is not dissolved (at least not if it was formed after June 30, 1999), but the member's heirs may not become members. Although they may inherit the deceased member's interest (i.e., rights to receive distributions), they will become members (and therefore have the right to participate in the management of the company), only if the operating agreement makes some other provisons or the other members unanimously consent.

What should you do?

If you own an LLC, or if you own part of an LLC, and these possibilities make you uncomfortable, you need a business succession plan that includes two different components. First, it should include appropriate estate planning tools to make sure that your economic interest in the LLC goes to the people you want to taken care of after your death. For example, you may want to designate a transfer-on-death beneficiary to your interest in the LLC. Second, the LLC should have an operating agreement with appropriate provisions to ensure that your heirs benefit not only from the right to receive distributions from the LLC but also the right to participate in its management, along with other rights of membership. There are different ways to do that; an attorney with experience in business succession planning, particularly with Indiana LLCs, can help you choose the best one for you.

In addition, if you are selling or buying a business, you need an attorney on your side to make sure the documents are written so that you actually get the deal that you think you're getting.

Continue reading "Family Businesses: Succession planning for LLCs" »

May 14, 2014

Indiana Supreme Court Holds Police Interrogation Went Too Far

100_3697.JPGOrdinarily, I leave this area of the law to the Smith Rayl Criminal Defense Division and my partner, Susan Rayl, but today (well, yesterday by the time I'm writing this) the Indiana Supreme Court issued a decision, written by Justice Stephen David, that deserves notice here, even though it has nothing to do with business law or nonprofit organizations. In Bond v. State, the Court held that the defendant's confession was involuntary, and therefore inadmissible as evidence against him, because it was obtained through interrogation by a police officer who told the defendant, an African American from Gary, Indiana, that his race would prevent him from getting an impartial jury or a fair trial.

The officer's interrogation strategy was to persuade the defendant that the police knew he was guilty and that the only way he could improve his situation was to confess. Over a period of three hours, the officer suggested that the defendant might be charged with a less serious crime if he confessed and told the defendant that a confession would allow him to see his children and talk to his mother. Then, about two hours into the interrogation, the officer told the defendant:

[d]on't let twelve people who are from Schererville, Crown Point--white people, Hispanic people, other people that aren't from Gary, from your part of the hood--judge you. Because they're not gonna put people on there who are from your neck of the woods. You know that. They're not gonna be the ones to decide what happens to you. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. All they're gonna see is, oh, look at this, another young motherf***** who didn't give a f***.

About an hour later, the defendant confessed.

Although both the trial court and the Court of Appeals criticized the officer's statement, neither found it sufficiently coercive to render the confession inadmissible. In a unanimous decision filled with quotations from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, an article by the Court's former Chief Justice, and the writings Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Supreme Court disagreed.

The Court acknowledged that police are given wide latitude in interrogating suspects. Many people (including many suspects who are later charged and convicted) are surprised to learn that the police are not required to tell the truth during interrogations, and the Supreme Court specifically noted that the other interrogation tactics used in this case (suggesting that a confession might lead to a lesser charge and promising to let the defendant see his family in exchange for a confession) were acceptable. But the suggestion that the defendant could not get a fair trial because of his race went too far. Justice David wrote:

[I]n this case Bond was intentionally deceived as to the fairness of the criminal justice system itself because of the color of his skin. Regardless of the evidence held against him or the circumstances of the alleged crime, he was left with the unequivocal impression that because he was African American he would spend the rest of his life in jail. Unless he confessed. And in unfortunate days gone by, this might have been the case. But no one wants to go back to such a time or place in the courtroom, and so we will not allow even the perception of such inequality to enter the interrogation room.

For a number of reasons, the decision is likely to serve as strong precedent. For example, confession was ruled involuntary despite the fact that an hour elapsed between the officer's racial statements and the confession itself. Moreover, the Court made it clear that it did not believe the interrogator was racially motivated, which means that defendants seeking to have similar confessions excluded from evidence will not be required to prove that police officers are themselves racists. In addition, because the officer did not expressly refer to the fact that the defendant was African American, veiled references are not likely to save an otherwise impermissible interrogation. Finally, the Court's express approval of the other interrogation tactics means that the officer's racial statement alone was sufficient to taint the entire interview and therefore the confession that it produced.

As Justice David wrote,

[D]espite nearly two hundred years of effort by civil rights activists, legislatures, law enforcement, courts, and others, the perception remains that racial discrimination still exists within our justice system: from police treatment to jury selection to jury verdicts and sentences. And the perception is especially common within the African-American community. It defines reality for many African Americans faced with, serving in, or incarcerated by our criminal courts, and unquestionably has roots in our nation's tortured history of race relations. That there remains such fear or mistrust of the justice system is why all courts must remain vigilant to eradicate any last vestiges of the days in which a person's skin color defined their access to justice.

Continue reading "Indiana Supreme Court Holds Police Interrogation Went Too Far" »

April 5, 2014

Indiana Limited Liablity Companies and the Required Formalities

iStock_000034659194Small.jpgA primary reason to organize a business as a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) is to protect the owners from personal liability for the debts of the business. Sometimes, however, a court may "pierce the corporate veil" of a business to hold the owners of the business personally liable for the company's obligations.

In deciding whether to pierce the corporate veil, Indiana courts examine and weigh several factors, including whether the owners of the business have observed the required formalities for the particular form of organization. One of the reasons we generally favor LLCs for small businesses is that there are fewer required formalities for LLCs than for corporations, which in turn means that there is not only a lower administrative burden associated with LLCs, but also fewer opportunities for business owners to miss something. However, there are a few requirements, discussed below.

1. An Indiana LLC must have written articles of organization, and the articles must be filed with the Indiana Secretary of State .

There's almost no need to mention this one because an LLC does not even exist until its articles of organization are filed with the Secretary of State, but for the sake of being complete . . .

The articles of organization must state:

  • The name of the LLC, which must include "limited liability company," "LLC," or "L.L.C."
  • The name of the LLC's registered agent and the address of its registered office (discussed in more detail below).
  • Either that the LLC will last in perpetuity or the events upon which the LLC will be dissolved.
  • Whether the LLC will be managed by its members or by managers. (Technically, the articles can remain silent on this point, in which case the LLC will be managed by its members, but the Secretary of State's forms call for a statement one way or the other.)

2. An Indiana LLC must have a registered agent and a registered office within the State of Indiana.

The purpose of this requirement is to give people who sue the LLC a way to serve the complaints and summons. The registered office must be located within Indiana, and it must have a street address. A post office box is not sufficient. The registered agent must be an individual, a corporation, an LLC, or a non-profit corporation whose business address is the same as the registered office's address.

The registered office and registered agent must be identified in the articles of incorporation and in the business entity reports (discussed below) filed every other year with the Indiana Secretary of State, but the requirement to have a registered office and registered agent applies all the time, not just when those filings are made. If the LLC's registered agent resigns, the LLC must name a new one and file a notice with the Secretary of State within 60 days.

In addition, LLCs formed after July 1, 2014, are required to file the registered agent's written consent to serve as registered agent or a representation that the registered agent has consented. That new requirement was established by Senate Bill 377, passed by the 2014 General Assembly and signed into law by the governor.

3. An Indiana LLC must keep its registered agent informed of the name, business address, and business telephone number of a natural person who is authorized to receive communications from the registered agent.

This is another new requirement contained in Senate Bill 377. It takes effect on July 1, 2014.

4. An Indiana LLC must maintain certain records at its principal place of business.

The required records are:

• A list of the names and addresses of current and former members and managers of the LCC.
• A copy of the articles of organization and all amendments.
• Copies of the LLC's tax returns and financial statements for the three most recent years (or, if no tax returns or statements were prepared, copies of the information that was or should have been supplied to the members so they could file their tax returns).
• Copies of any written operating agreements and amendments, including those no longer in effect.
• A statement of all capital contributions made by all members.
• A statement of the events upon which members will be required to make additional capital contributions.
• The events, if any, upon which the LLC would be dissolved.
• Any other records required by the operating agreement.

[Note: Ind. Code 23-18-4-8(e) provides that the failure to keep the above records is NOT grounds for imposing personal liability on members for the obligations of the LLC. It's more likely to become an issue in the event of a dispute among the members. Thanks to Josh Hollingsworth of Barnes & Thornburg for reminding me. MS:4/7/2014].

5. An Indiana LLC must file a business entity report with the Secretary of State every two years.

The report is due at the end of the month that contains an even-numbered anniversary of the filing of the articles of organization. Failure to file the report within 60 days of the due date is grounds for administrative dissolution of the LLC.

Continue reading "Indiana Limited Liablity Companies and the Required Formalities" »

March 25, 2014

The Difference Between Tax Status and Legal Form of a Business or Nonprofit

iStock_000005953904Small.jpgI just read a report by the Small Business Administation that includes a wealth of statistics and other information about small businesses in the United States. As useful as the report is, it contains a mistake that, although commonly made, one would not expect from the SBA. The last item in the report asks the question, "What legal form are small businesses?" That's a good question, but the SBA didn't answer it. Instead, it answered another question, "What is the tax status of small business?" Even though the two questions are related, they are nonetheless distinct, and answering the second question does not answer the first.

Legal Form of a Business or Nonprofit

As we've discussed before, businesses are commonly organized according to one of a handful of legal forms: sole proprietorships, general partnerships, corporations, and limitied liability companies. There are a few others used less frequently, including limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and professional corporations. Tax exempt organizations are commonly organized as nonprofit corporations, but they can also be organized as unincorporated associations, charitable trusts, and sometimes limited liability companies.

The legal form of a business or tax exempt organization is primarily related to two fundamental attributes: who controls the organization, and who is liable for the organization's obligations. For example, if a business is structured as a general partnership, the partners collectively control the business and the partners are individually liable for the obligations of the partnership. In contrast, if a business is structured as a corporation, it is probably controlled by a board of directors, elected by the shareholders and acting through the officers. Unless something goes wrong, neither the shareholders, the directors, nor the officers are liable for the corporaton's obligations.

Tax Categories

Although selecting the legal form of an organization determines the attributes of control and liability, it does not determine how much income tax the organization must pay. There are four common possibilities of tax status for businesses and nonprofit organizations, categorized by the applicable subchapter of Chapter 1 of Subtitle A of Title 26 of the United States Code (also known as the Internal Revenue Code): Subchapter C (the default provisions for corporations), Subchapter S (which is an alternative to Subchapter C that can be elected by small business corporations that meet the eligibility criteria), Subchapter K (for partnerships), and Subchapter F (for tax exempt organizations). Finally, some types of legal forms that have a single owner, such as sole proprietorships, are diregarded for income tax purposes, with their income reported on the owner's income tax return. Those businesses or nonprofit organizations are known as, appropriately enough, "disregarded entities."

Each of these tax categories can apply to more than one type of legal form of organization, and with two exceptions (sole proprietorships and general partnerships), each legal form has more than one possibility for the tax category, as shown in the chargt below. Even nonprofit corporations have more than one possibility; while most nonprofit corporations are organized with the intent of qualifying for Subchapter F (exempt organizations), if a nonprofit corporation fails to meet the criteria for tax exemption, it will be subject to taxation under Subchapter C.

Thumbnail image for Legal Form Tax Status Table cropped.jpg

Now you won't make the same mistake that the SBA made.


Continue reading "The Difference Between Tax Status and Legal Form of a Business or Nonprofit" »

March 21, 2014

The Confusing Status of the Indiana Statute of Limitations for Breach of Written Contracts

iStock_000005882706Small.jpgSuppose that eight years ago, you hired a construction contractor to build an addition to your house in Indiana. Shortly after the construction was finished, you noticed that the roof shingles on the addition weren't quite the same color as those on the rest of the house. You checked the bundle of extra shingles that the contractor left behind and compared the information on the label with the specification in the contract. Sure enough, the contractor used the wrong shingles. Not only were they the wrong color, but they were also a lower quality than the contract specifications required. Even so, you were busy at the time and never got around to calling the contractor to get him to correct the mistake. Now you have a potential buyer for the house who is threatening to back out of the deal unless you replace the shingles. You call the contractor and demand that he correct his mistake. He refuses, saying it is too late for you to complain about the problem, that you should have called him as soon as you noticed it. Are you out of luck or not?

Statutes of Limitations

The key to answering the question is to determine the applicable statute of limitations. A person who has the right to sue someone for breach of contract (or, for that matter, the right to sue for other reasons) cannot wait forever to do it. How long the person can wait is determined by the statute of limitations that applies to the particular type of claim. In Indiana, there are two different statutes that might apply to the situation described above:

Which one applies?

It has been more than six years, but less than ten, since the addition to your house was finished and you noticed the problem with the shingles. Which statute applies?

Certainly your construction contract called for the payment of money, but don't most contracts do that? Is every contract that requires payment of money subject to the six-year statute of limitations, regardless of the rest of the contract? If so, that leaves the ten-year statute of limitations to cover only those contracts that do not involve the payment of money at all. On the other hand, maybe the idea is that the six-year statute of limitation covers contracts that do not involve anything other than the payment of money.

Surprisingly, there are very few published Indiana court decisions that address the question of which written contracts are covered by the six-year statute of limitations and which are covered by the ten-year statute, even though those statutes originated in 1881. However, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed the question with respect to an earlier version of the statutes in 1923.

The Ten-Year Limitation

The case was Yarlott v. Brown (192 Ind. 648, 138 N.E. 17, for those who would like to look it up), and the question was the statute of limitations on a mortgage. (At the time, the two statutes of limitation on written contracts were 10 years and 20 years, rather than 6 years and 10 years. A lawsuit was brought more than ten years, but less than 20 years, after the loan was supposed to be repaid.) Even though people commonly refer to the loans they take out to buy their homes as "mortgages," in reality the mortgage is actually a document that reflects the lender's right to foreclose on the property if the loan is not repaid; the obligation to pay the loan itself is set out in another document, called a note. However, in Yarlott, even though the mortgage was accompanied by a note, the mortgage contained not only the right of the lender to foreclose; it also repeated the obligation to repay the loan. It was clear that the statute of limitations on the note itself -- a written contract for the payment of money -- expired after ten years. But what about the mortgage? If it had not mentioned the repayment of th loan, it would have been subject to the longer statute of limitations. Did the fact that it repeated the obligation to repay the loan move it to the shorter limitation, the one that applied to "promissory notes, bills of exchange, and other contracts for the payment of money"?

The Indiana Supreme Court said no, the 20-year statute of limitations applied to the mortgage, despite the fact that it also provided for the payment of money. The Court reasoned that

. . . a mortgage differs in essential particulars from a promissory note, bill of exchange, or other written contract for the payment of money of the same kind as notes and bills. On the other hand, many actions which may be brought on such a mortgage bear a close resemblance to actions for the collection of judgments of courts of record, which are liens on real estate, or to actions for the recovery of possession of real estate. A familiar rule of statutory construction is that, where words of specific and limited signification in a statute are followed by general words of more comprehensive import, the general words shall be construed to embrace only such things as are of like kind or class with those designated by the specific words, unless a contrary intention is clearly expressed in the statute.

The underlining in the above quotation is ours, not the court's, but those words are the key to understanding the decision. The shorter statute of limitations applies to written contracts that are similar to promissory notes and bills of exchange.

Now what about your construction contract? Even though it involves the payment of money, a construction contract is very different from a promissory note or bill of exchange. Doesn't that mean that the applicable statute of limitations is ten years and that you still have the right to expect the contractor to pay for the cost of replacing your shingles? Well, maybe not.

Or is it the six-year limitation?

In 1991, the Indiana Court of Appeals stated that a teacher's contract -- which is also very different from a promissory note or bill of exchange -- was a contract for the payment of money and therefore subject to the statute of limitations of six years, not ten. Aigner v. Cass School Tp. of Porter County, 577 N.E.2d 983. The decision did not even mention Yarlotte v. Brown or the possibility that the period of limitations might be ten years instead of six. However, the lawsuit regarding the teacher's contract was brought within two years, so it was not barred regardless of which statute of limitations applied.

So where does that leave your claim against your former contractor? If a teacher's contract is subject to a six-year statute of limitations, isn't your construction contract also subject to a six-year limitation? It certainly seems so. But if you sue the contractor, you may be able to persuade the court that the Court of Appeals decision regarding the teacher's contract was simply wrong because it failed to follow the precedent set by the Indiana Supreme Court in Yarlott v. Brown. Alternatively, perhaps you can pesuade the court that the statement in Aigner about the six-year statute of limitations is not binding precedent because that result in that case would have been the same even if the ten-year limitation applied. Unfortunately, you might have to go all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court to get a favorable decision on either rationale.

On the other hand, the decision in Aigner has been around more than 20 years, and it has not been overturned yet. Indiana courts may continue to follow Aigner for most written contracts, narrowly applying Yarlott to those that, even though they involve the payment of money, "bear a close resemblance to actions for the collection of judgments of courts of record, which are liens on real estate, or to actions for the recovery of possession of real estate." All we can say is that anyone with a claim for breach of a written contract that involves any payment of money is far better off to file the lawsuit within six years; to wait longer is, at best, risky.

We invite others who may be able to shed light on this question to send us a message using the contact form on this page.

Continue reading "The Confusing Status of the Indiana Statute of Limitations for Breach of Written Contracts" »

February 20, 2014

New Reporting Requirement for Businesses and Nonprofits -- Change in responsible party

Reports.jpgThe Internal Revenue Service's application for an employer identification number (or EIN) requires the applicant to submit the name and tax identification number (usually a social security number) of the applicant's "responsible party." That is true whether the application, Form SS-4, is submitted on paper or online, and it is true for any type of organization applying for an EIN, including corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, trusts, and tax exempt organizations. That is the last time most organizations ever think about the "responsible party." Until now.

On May 6, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published a final rule that requires any business, nonprofit organization, trust, or other entity with an EIN to report any change in the entity's responsible party. Here are the answers to some questions that essentially every business and tax exempt organization should know.

Who is a "responsible party"?

The answer differs a bit for various types of organizations. For companies with shares traded on a public exchange or securities registered with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, the responsible party is defined fairly unambiguously:

For corporations, the responsible party is the principal officer. For partnerships, the responsible party is a general partner. For trusts, the responsible part is the trustee, grantor, or owner. For disregarded entities, the responsible party is the owner.

For other entities, the definition is more ambiguous:

The responsible party is "the person who has a level of control over, or entitlement to, the funds or assets in the entity that, as a practical matter, enables the individual, directly or indirectly, to control, manage, or direct the entity and the disposition of its funds and assets."

For business corporations, the responsible party may be the president or chairman of the board; for LLCs, a member; for partnerships (including limited partnerships, such as family limited partnerships), a general partner.

The issue of identifying a responsible party for a nonprofit organization may be particularly problematic because, in many organizations, no single person who has the authority to control, manage, or direct the organization and -- in particular -- to control the disposition of its funds and assets. In fact, we often tell the boards of directors of our nonprofit clients that, collectively, they have full authority to control the organization but, individually, they have no authority at all. Even so, the IRS requires the designation of a responsible party, and the organization must decide who best fits the definition. For some organizations, that may be the executive director or CEO; for others, it may be the president or chairman of the board.

Our LLC has three members, all with the same rights and authority. Who is the responsible party?

If more than one person qualifies as a responsible party, the entity must select one of them by whatever criteria the entity chooses.

When and how must changes be reported?

As of January 1, 2014, any change in an entity's responsible party must be reported on IRS Form 8822-B within 60 days after the change takes effect. Changes made prior to January 1, 2014 must be reported before March 1, 2014.

Our organization obtained an EIN years ago, and we have no idea who was listed as the responsible party. But Form 8822-B requires us to list not only the new responsible party, but also the old one. What do we do with that?

The best course is probably to submit Form 8822-B without the information about the old responsible party and attach a statement explaining what you have done to locate the information and why it is unavailable despite those efforts. [Revised February 21, 2014, to include the idea of attaching a statement -- a suggestion from James W. Foltz, Attorney at Law, of Indianapolis, Indiana.]

Our nonprofit has filed Form 990 (or 990-EZ or 990-N) every year, and we always have to list the organization's principal officer. Isn't that good enough?

From what we know at the moment, probably not. Even if the responsible party and the principal officer are the same person, Form 8822-B calls for the responsible party's social security number, but Form 990 does not. The same thing is true for the tax matters partner identified on Form 1065 filed by partnerships and by LLCs taxed as partnerships.

I called the IRS and tried to get some more specific information about the new reporting requirement, and the person I spoke with had never heard of this new requirement. Are you sure about it?

We had the same experience, but, yes, we're sure. We hope the IRS will issue guidance that clarifies some of the details, but we're sure the rule is in effect.

What happens if we do not file Form 8822-B or file it late?

That's the good news. As far as we can tell, there is no penalty for failing to file or for filing late. Even so, everyone with an EIN, including small businesses and tax exempt organizations, should comply with the rule using the best understanding of the requirement and the best information available.

Continue reading "New Reporting Requirement for Businesses and Nonprofits -- Change in responsible party" »

February 11, 2014

The 2014 IRS Mileage Rates

Odometer.jpgIf you use a vehicle for business, medical, or moving purposes, or in providing volunteer services to a charitable organization, you may be able to deduct at least a portion of the cost on your income tax return. There are two alternatives for calculating the amount of the deduction, but the simplest is to keep track of the number of miles driven and multiply by the appropriate standard IRS mileage rate.

The standard mileage rates are based on an annual study of the costs of operating a motor vehicle, conducted by the IRS and an independent contractor. The information used in deriving the standard rate for business purposes include both fixed and variable automobile costs, such as insurance, fuel, maintenance, and repair costs. Only variable costs are considered in calculating the standard rate for medical and moving purposes. The charitable rate is fixed by statute.

What are the rates?

On December 6, 2013, the IRS announced the standard mileage rates for 2014. The rates as of January 1, 2014, are:

• 56 cents/mile for business miles driven for business purposes
• 23.5 cents/mile for miles driven for a medical purpose or a moving purpose
• 14 cents/mile for miles driven as a volunteer to a charitable organization.

These rates apply to the use of automobiles, including includes cars, vans, pickups, and panel trucks. With fuel prices generally decreasing, the standard rates miles driven in 2014 for business, medical, and moving expenses are one-half cent below the rates for miles driven in 2013. The charitable rate is the same in 2014 as it was in 2013.

What counts as "Business" miles?

While commuting to and from work does not count toward business mileage, there are many trips that may be characterized as business trips for purposes of calculating mileage, including driving to meet a client, driving to a bank to making a business transaction, driving to pick up mail from the post office, and driving to a supply store to make purchases for your business.

Of course it is easy to forget to keep track of your miles driven, but if you are disciplined about it, the savings can add up. For example, if you are in the 28% tax bracket, the deduction for 100 business miles may reduce your federal income tax by about $15.00.

Other considerations:

As mentioned above, the use of standard mileage rates is not the only alternative for calculating the deduction for the use of a vehicle. Taxpayers may instead calculate the actual costs of using their vehicle, including costs of gas, oil, registration fees, repairs, tires, and insurance. However, calculating the actual costs of using a vehicle for taxation purposes of often takes more time and effort. Broadly speaking, the more economical the vehicle is, the more likely that the standard mileage rate will give you a better deduction. Conversely, if the operating costs of a vehicle are high, the more likely the actual cost method will give you a better deduction.

If a taxpayer uses the depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), or claims a Section 179 deduction for a vehicle, she may not use the mileage rates. Additionally, the standard rate for business purposes cannot be used for more than four vehicles simultaneously.

December 15, 2013

Social Media and Two Remarkably Unremarkable Contract Cases

bored woman.jpgConsider these two relatively recent cases, one from Massachusetts and one from Indiana, both involving allegations of breach of contract through the use of social media:

  • A vice president of a recruiting firm leaves her job and goes to work for another recruiting firm. She has a covenant not to compete with her first employer that prohibits her from providing recruiting services within a specified list of "fields of placement" and within a specified geographic area. She updates her LinkedIn profile to reflect the new job. A message goes out to her list of over 500 contacts, including a number of her former employer's customers. Her former employer sues, alleging (among other things) that her LinkedIn update violated the covenant not to compete.
  • The agreement between an IT contractor and one of its subcontractors prohibits the subcontractor from soliciting or inducing the contractor's employees to leave their jobs. The subcontractor posts a job opening on LinkedIn where it could be viewed by anyone who had joined a particular public group. One of the contractor's employees sees the job posting, contacts the president of the subcontractor, and expresses an interest in the job. At a later meeting, the employee tells the subcontractor his compensation requirements and what he is looking for in a job. The subcontractor makes an offer of employment, and it is accepted. The contractor sues the subcontractor for breach of the covenant not to solicit its employees.

Although the law sometimes struggles to keep up with technology, in each of these cases the court decided the issue very readily, relying on standard contract law.

The first case is KNF&T, Inc. v. Muller, a case filed earlier this year in Massachusetts Superior Court. In filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff asked for a preliminary injunction. After reviewing the law on covenants not to compete and explaining that they are to be construed narrowly, the court denied the plaintiff's request, noting that, although Ms. Muller's LinkedIn profile mentioned things such as "staffing services" and "recruiting," it made no mention at all of any of the fields of placement that were listed in her covenant not to compete and, therefore, did not breach her agreement with KNF&T.

The second case is Enhanced Network Solutions Group, Inc. v. Hypersonic, decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2011. In doing so, the court had to determine the meaning of "solicit" and "induce," as those words were used in the covenant not to solicit the contractor's (ENS's) employees. Because neither the contract nor Indiana case law defined them, the court looked to the ordinary dictionary definitions. Citing Black's Law Dictionary, the court explained that "soliciting" involves requesting or seeking to obtain something, and "inducing" means enticing or persuading someone to do something. The court held that Hypersonic did not solicit or induce the employee to leave ENS, but rather the employee solicited Hypersonic. In fact, it appears that the court did not even consider the LinkedIn job posting as a close call, mentioning only that the employee "made the initial contact with Hypersonic after reading the job posting on a publicly available portal of LinkedIn."

Do these cases mean that one cannot violate a noncompete agreement or a nonsolicitation agreement by posting something on a social media site? Not at all. In fact, it seems entirely possible that the Massachusetts case would have gone the other way if Ms. Muller's LinkedIn profile had mentioned one fields of placement from which she was barred by her agreement with her former employer. Similarly, the Indiana case might have gone the other way if someone from Hypersonic had sent an email message specifically addressed to the ENS employee with a link to the LinkedIn job posting, particularly if the message encouraged him to apply.

Indeed, what is noteworthy about these cases is that the social media aspect of them had no bearing on the courts' analyses. The Massachusetts case would likely have turned out the same way had Ms. Muller sent out paper announcements saying the same thing her LinkedIn profile said, and the Indiana case would likely have turned out the same way had the job posting been a classified ad in a newspaper. The courts had to plow no new ground to deal with them.

In that sense, these cases are unremarkable. Remarkably so.

Continue reading "Social Media and Two Remarkably Unremarkable Contract Cases" »

October 3, 2013

Celebrate Disability and Employment Awareness Month with the Indianapolis Business Leadership Network on October 8

Two office workers one in wheelchair.jpg[Today's article is written by guest author Attorney Juli Paini, Director of the Office of Disability Affairs of the City of Indianapolis, publicizing an event hosted by the Indianapolis Business Leadership Network. Our thanks to Scott Beauchamp of Indianapolis Yellow Cab, a member of IBLN, for letting us know about it. The presence of the article on our blog does not in any way imply an endorsement of Smith Rayl by Juli, the City, IBLN, Scott, or Indianapolis Yellow Cab, and none of them is our client. -- MS/SRLO]

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, individuals with disabilities have enjoyed the right to equal access in employment as well as barrier-free participation in our communities, from dining in a restaurant to exercising the right to vote. Unfortunately, twenty three years after passage of the ADA, individuals with disabilities continue to experience low rates of employment and high rates of underemployment. According to the United States Department of Labor, this past June only 17.8% of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 63.6% of people without disabilities. This gap remains constant even for college graduates, who experience a 50.6% employment rate compared to that of 89.9% for college graduates without disabilities. (John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the Kessler Foundation, 2012).

Enter the Indianapolis Business Leadership Network (IBLN), a like-minded group local employers convened by the City of Indianapolis Office of Disability Affairs. The IBLN, based upon a national model, uses a business-to-business approach to further the employment of persons with disabilities and to promote the benefits and contributions of a diverse workforce. Its goal is to create employer awareness through strong partnerships and collaboration, connecting Indianapolis employers with the resources they need to successfully employ individuals with disabilities. The IBLN Steering Committee, with representation from the City of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Yellow Cab, Eli Lilly, WellPoint, Teachers Credit Union and the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, hosts networking and educational opportunities for central Indiana employers to share best practices and information regarding the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the diversity planning process.

On October 8, from 8:30-10:30a, the IBLN is hosting "Strategies for Recruiting College Students with Disabilities" for human resource and diversity professionals. The event, held at the Central Library, is free with 1.25 HRCI credits pending. The event will feature national expert Alan Muir, University of Tennessee, Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, as well as local experts Greg Fehribach, attorney and Fellow at the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University, Larry Markle and Donnelle Henderlong of Disability Services at Ball State University, and Michele Atterson of Student Disability Services at Butler University.

To learn more about this event and register, contact Juli Paini, Director, City of Indianapolis Office of Disability Affairs, at 327-3798 or jpaini@indy.gov.

September 26, 2013

Nonprofit Growth and Trends

Growth chart.jpgPeter Orszag at Bloomberg wrote an interesting article about the growth of nonprofit organizations from 2008 onwards. One study cited was done by Nonprofit HR Solutions, entitled "Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey."

The article and the survey both painted an optimistic picture about nonprofit organizations post-millennium. They were viewed as a source of jobs and growth (nearly 5% of GDP according to Mr. Orszag) in contrast to the for-profit sector which has contracted, according to a study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

One key finding of the Nonprofit HR Solutions study was that nonprofits are continuing to grow and expand with no signs of slowing down. A full 40+% of institutions plan to add positions in the upcoming year, an upwards trend from the 33% in 2011.

Another interesting observation is that nonprofits may be facing a leadership vacuum. As one generation heads for retirement, plans for succession are not clearly developed. Whether or not this affects organizational stability remains to be seen, as nonprofit growth may attract qualified individuals needed as the for-profit sector continues to contract.

According to the survey, many nonprofits are ill prepared to deal with turnover, particularly in leadership positions. They have not developed succession plans or implemented measures to prevent key employees with needed knowledge, skills, or qualifications from leaving - either laterally to another nonprofit or to the for-profit sector or to government employment. A lack of a retention strategy could, in theory, lead to a brain drain or a boom-bust phenomenon where growth sectors lack the knowledge needed most as the lucrative lure of the private sector exacerbates the problem at precisely the wrong time.

Nonprofits, according to the survey, continue to explore social networking sites as a recruitment tool. Although non-traditional, such sites like Facebook and LinkedIn offer inexpensive, almost ubiquitous tools. There is also potential for growth in this sector, as it relates to another survey finding: the difficulty of attracting and retaining employees in the under-30 demographic.

As job markets in the for-profit sector contract, candidates who might have otherwise never considered a job in the non-profit sector take positions at these institutions. This creates a benefit for these non-profits in that they have a larger applicant pool to choose from. Due to corporate cost-cutting and austerity measures, the phenomenon is not limited to entry-level jobs but encompasses all levels of seniority.

Ironically, the success of nonprofit organizations may ultimately lead to a darker spot on the horizon. As Mr. Orszag points out, some politicians question whether tax-exempt status gives nonprofit organizations an unfair advantage over for-profit businesses that offer similar services. Although some nonprofits provide the same or similar services that are also provided by for-profit businesses (hospitals are an example that often comes to mind), many tax exempt organizations satisfy needs that would go entirely unmet if left to the private sector. Regardless of one's political views, it is an area to watch in future discussions of tax reform.

Despite some uncertainties, if nonprofits can continue to expand, retain, and plan for leadership transitions, the future is bright indeed.

Continue reading "Nonprofit Growth and Trends" »