Foxconn Deal Tips the Scales of Justice

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Foxconn Deal Tips the Scales of Justice

Photo of the front of the building that houses the U.S. Supreme Court, with an inscription above th doorway that reads "equal justice under the law."

The following opinion piece appears in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

Our system of justice rests upon two pillars: equal treatment and independent judgment.  Every person who appears before our state courts expects to be treated equally to every other litigant.  In addition, every party to a lawsuit expects to have his case heard by a judge who is free to exercise their own independent judgment.  Recently, the state legislature in Madison and Governor Walker approved legislation – a $3 billion package luring Foxconn Technology Group to build a flat-screen TV factory in Racine County — that seriously undermines these two fundamental principles.

The principle of equal treatment commands that the same rules should apply to all parties appearing before the court.  No one should receive special status.  It is true that the two sides in a case might not be evenly matched, and that one might have more financial resources or a more skilled legal team.  But, even then, both parties in the case should be subject to the same set of laws and procedures, and have the same opportunity to argue that the law supports their claim.

The Foxconn legislation creates special treatment for Foxconn whenever that corporation is sued in Wisconsin courts.  The law forces the Wisconsin Supreme Court to directly take appeals involving “Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zones” (EITM) from the circuit courts. By law there is only one such zone, and that zone is home to Foxconn. Typically, the high court would hear appeals at their discretion, and then only after the case was heard by an intermediate court.  The reason for placing cases involving Foxconn on a “fast-track” to the Wisconsin Supreme Court should be obvious.  That Court currently boasts a majority of Justices who were elected with the financial support of Wisconsin’s largest trade and manufacturing lobbyists.  The drafters of the legislation expect these Justices to be sympathetic to the concerns of manufacturers like Foxconn.

We expect our state court judges to be free to exercise their independent judgment when deciding the merits of a case.  It is the trial judge that hears the facts and the evidence, and who determines the appropriate remedy should the plaintiff prevail.  It is not the state legislature’s job to decide which party in a case should win, or what remedy should be imposed in an individual case. Continue reading “Foxconn Deal Tips the Scales of Justice”

The Rise of Benefit Corporations: Show me the Money…and the Good

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A large cardboard box with a hole in the top is labeled to accept donations for a book drive sponsored by the organization Better World Books.The “Benefit Corporation” is a new corporation class and it may be coming to a state near you (if it hasn’t already).  A benefit corporation (colloquially referred to as B-corp) is an entity type that seeks to blend profit and purpose.

In 2010, Maryland was the first state to adopt a benefit corporation law.  Since then, about 30 other states have followed suit. As of October 2017, the Wisconsin legislature had a bill under consideration to create a benefit corporation statute.

What Exactly Is a Benefit Corporation?

Benefit corporations seek to create a material positive impact on society and the environment. These companies focus beyond the entrenched corporate purpose of profit maximization.  Most states with benefit corporation statutes base these laws on the Model Benefits Corporation Legislation.  Benefit corporations are required to (a) espouse a general/specific public benefit, (b) be accountable, and (c) be transparent.

This pursuit of public benefit could take various forms, such as: providing low-income communities with beneficial services; preserving the environment; improving human health; promoting the arts; or any other nonpecuniary purpose that could be of benefit to society or the environment.

For example, Better World Books, a benefit corporation, is an online book retailer that sells used and new books.  For every book sold, it gives a percentage of its funds and unsold books to literacy foundations across the globe.  Some other famous companies who have decided to go the benefit corporation route include Kickstarter, Etsy, and Ben and Jerry’s.

Benefit corporations are usually required to have some measure of accountability. This often entails measuring the provision of the corporation’s stated public benefit goal against an independent third-party standard.

Most benefit corporation statutes also require specific disclosures. Corporations are required to provide an annual benefit report to their shareholders regarding the corporation’s success or failures in delivering the espoused public benefit.  Continue reading “The Rise of Benefit Corporations: Show me the Money…and the Good”

Dealing with the Aftermath of  Yet Another Data Breach . . . Bring in the Lawyers

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A couple weeks ago someone asked me what “area of law” is currently a big litigation area in civil law. My immediate response was data breach / data privacy. And within a couple days we all learned that Equifax had suffered a data breach and hackers had accessed up to 143 million customer account details, including names, Social Security numbers, driver licenses, and credit card numbers. Just take a look at the Identity Theft Resource Center’s website and you’ll see that data breaches are growing rapidly year in and year out. Just take a look at the list put out by WIRED of data breaches in 2017 and you’ll see names like Verizon and Chipotle. And, as the Equifax breach shows, no company appears safe.

Data breaches, like the Equifax breach, create numerous legal issues that produce a fair amount of litigation. First, if the hackers can be tracked down, you have companies suing the hackers.  Second, you have class actions by the customers or consumers whose information was taken against the companies who were hacked. Those typical class-action lawsuits involve questions such as, what policies did the company have in place to prevent the hack and to detect the hack, did the company follow those policies, and how quickly did the company act upon learning of the hack. From what we know regarding the Equifax breach, the breached lasted for two and a half months and Equifax was aware of the potential breach point before it was hacked. So Equifax will be litigating whether its policies and actions were “reasonable” in light of industry standards and what it knew and when. Third, you may have a litigation fight between Equifax and its insurers if Equifax believes its insurance covered data breaches resulting from negligence. There the insurers will argue that language does not cover the breach while Equifax will argue the language does cover the breaches.  Continue reading “Dealing with the Aftermath of  Yet Another Data Breach . . . Bring in the Lawyers”

FCPA Enforcement in the Trump Administration: Nevertheless, It Persists

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Whenever a new president transitions into the White House, there is almost always a level of uncertainty around how the new administration will handle certain hot button issues now in their purview. As logic dictates, we often look to the newly minted president’s campaign promises to ascertain their stance on these issues. But with the election of President Donald Trump, many of us looked to Twitter and old interviews from the then-businessman turned reality TV maven to determine what would come of a myriad of laws and loose ends. One of the laws that many speculated could come under attack is rooted in preventing corporate corruption, and geared towards the promotion of respectable business practices, both domestically and internationally – the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 [“FCPA”].

What is the FCPA?

The FCPA ascended from a cauldron of toil and trouble – or more aptly stated, came into existence as a result of corruption, scandal, and an unveiling of the pervasive bribery of foreign officials perpetuated by U.S. companies. The botched break in of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Shaking hands with hidden moneyHeadquarters at the Watergate office complex ultimately led to the discovery of slush funds used to bribe domestic political parties and certain foreign government officials. In order to conceal these payments, companies misrepresented their corporate financial statements, allowing the cycle of corruption to continue domestically and internationally. These findings not only tainted the view of U.S. businesses, but revealed just how awful corruption is for business. Recognizing the need to restore confidence in U.S. businesses and mitigate future corruption, Congress enacted the FCPA.

Continue reading “FCPA Enforcement in the Trump Administration: Nevertheless, It Persists”

Proposed Changes to the Model Business Corporation Act: Future Changes to Chapter 180?

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The Model Business Corporation Act, potentially following suit with the rest of ever-changing 2016, has acquired proposed notable changes through provisional amendments by its Official Committee. Some of these changes model company-friendly Delaware’s legal structure, which can only help to attract companies to incorporate within states that choose to adopt such changes. Although Wisconsin has modeled its own state corporation statutes based on the Act under Chapter 180 of the state legislature, the addition of these new amendments could help attract local companies to incorporate within the state.

First, the Committee has proposed adoption of the addition of subchapter E to chapter one of the Act, mirroring the Delaware General Corporations Law’s 2014 amendments. The subchapter permits the ratification of defective corporate actions, including actions in connection with the issuance of shares. It also provides for retroactive validity of subsequent actions taken in reliance on the validity of the defective action upon its ratification. If Wisconsin adopts this subchapter, actions taken by local corporations won’t be hindered and found void based on, for example, a greater issuance of shares than allowed by the articles of incorporation. This malleability gives companies assurance that certain vote-based corporate actions have a safety net from being deemed void instantly, ensuring a remedy for defective corporate actions.

Next the Committee has proposed changes to sections 2.02 and 8.70 of the Act, allowing corporations to include a provision within its articles limiting or eliminating the duty of a director or officer to become involved with a corporate opportunity without informing the corporation, which typically falls under a director’s or officer’s duty of loyalty. These provisions would give the corporation control over the liability imposed upon its directors and/or officers upon involvement in corporate opportunities, shielding them from said liability. It would also allow directors and officers to engage in such opportunities against the wishes of the company. These provisions have their strengths and weaknesses, but the advantage surrounds the control given to the corporation. Continue reading “Proposed Changes to the Model Business Corporation Act: Future Changes to Chapter 180?”

MU Team Excels at Corporate Law Moot Court Competition

Posted on Categories Corporate Law, Marquette Law School, Public, Uncategorized2 Comments on MU Team Excels at Corporate Law Moot Court Competition

ruby valeCongratulations to the team representing Marquette University Law School at the Ruby R. Vale Interschool Corporate Law Moot Court Competition in Delaware this past week.  Kyle Thelen, Alex Ackerman and Samuel Casson were awarded “Best Brief” at the competition and advanced to the Quarter Finals, where the judges deliberated for a full 45 minutes before declaring that our Team was edged out “by less than a razor thin margin.”  All in all, it was an outstanding performance.  Thank you to the Team, for all of their hard work, and to all of the faculty and students who helped the Team in its preparations.

Photo: Ruby R. Vale

The Securities Act: Does It Permit Companies To Cheat Investors?

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New_York_Stock_Exchange_EntranceAuthor’s Note: This post is taking an economic and investor approach to The Securities Act of 1933. This is not to ignore the time and monetary cost of information. It is merely a critique of one portion of a larger regulatory scheme and its effects.

The purpose of the 1933 Securities Act was to protect investors by providing them with information in order to make a sound investment decision. Albeit not articulated at the time of The Securities Act’s inception, the modern application of the Securities Act reflects the Capital Asset Pricing Model and the Efficient Capital Market Hypothesis. Roughly, the efficient capital market hypothesis assumes that the market and the stock prices are a reflection of information available about that security.(1)  As the original standards for reporting requirements and disclosure requirements of the Securities Act have loosened in recent years, have we cheated investors? Are investors not being fairly compensated or informed for the risks they have assumed?

When a security becomes available to the public for the first time, the SEC requires certain disclosures through its registration statement. The registration statement provides basic information about the company and basic financial information. During this process, there are underwriters who analyze and then provide the first price for the security. They will consider the projections of the company, the segment in which it operates, as well as general global and national market conditions. Their ultimate goal, however, is to sell the securities. The underwriters receive a percentage of the final sales price, which incentivizes them to have a higher price than potential fair market value. The SEC helps to regulate this process and civil liabilities and administrative action can provide a disincentive to be overly optimistic about the security’s prospects.

Since 2005, there has been a movement towards reducing the information required from issuers prior to offering securities to the public. Continue reading “The Securities Act: Does It Permit Companies To Cheat Investors?”

Crowdfunding and Sport: How Soon Until the Fans Own the Franchise?

Posted on Categories Corporate Law, Legal Scholarship, Public, Sports & Law1 Comment on Crowdfunding and Sport: How Soon Until the Fans Own the Franchise?

Jamaika-BobThe latest issue of the Marquette Sports Law Review is now available online.  This is a faculty symposium issue.  I am proud to have my article, “Crowdfunding and Sport: How Soon Until the Fans Own the Franchise?,” included in this issue.  Here is the introduction.

The Green Bay Packers football team operates as a nonprofit corporation that has been publicly-owned since 1923.  Since that time, the franchise has raised capital by selling shares of stock in five different stock offerings, and there are currently over 350,000 individual members of the public who are shareholders of the team.  These shareholders are the joint owners of a sports franchise that is currently valued at $1.375 billion.

The public ownership of the Green Bay Packers is often noted in the media, and it is generally praised for contributing to the team’s strong tie to the surrounding community.  However, it is highly unlikely that any other N.F.L. team will follow in Green Bay’s footsteps.  Public ownership of franchises is actually prohibited under the current N.F.L. Constitution, and Green Bay’s ownership structure persists solely because of a grandfather clause that excludes the Packers from the prohibition.  Moreover, the unique nature of the Packer’s public ownership structure extends beyond the boundaries of the N.F.L.  The Green Bay Packers are currently the only wholly publicly owned franchise among all of the four major sports leagues (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) in the United States.

There is no reason why publicly owned professional sports teams cannot thrive and succeed at the same level as privately owned teams.  While public ownership of professional sports teams is relatively rare in the United States, it is common overseas.  Notable examples of publicly owned soccer teams are Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, both of which play in Spain’s Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, commonly known as “La Liga.”  These teams are operated as “socios,” a form of nonprofit organization where fans of the club pay an annual membership fee for the right to buy season tickets in a special section of the stadium and the right to vote on certain management decisions.  Another team that plays in La Liga, Real Oviedo FC, has maintained consistent and significant numbers of public owners despite the relative disadvantage of being based in the region of Asturias, far from Spain’s major population centers.

It is not just that the United States lacks more than one example of a major league team that is wholly owned by the public.  It is also uncommon for American major league sports teams to have a minority ownership stake comprised of public shareholders.  In recent decades, the private owners of several major league franchises have experimented with establishing and maintaining a publicly owned minority stake, seeking to inject additional capital into their team whilst still maintaining control over the enterprise.  However, in each instance the private ownership group used a stock offering in order to create a minority interest, only to subsequently abandon the structure and negotiate the sale of the entire team to new owners.  For example, the Cleveland Indians baseball team held a public offering of shares in 1998 but went wholly private again in 1999.  The Boston Celtics basketball team had a longer run with minority public shareholders, holding a public stock offering in 1986 but eventually reverting to wholly private ownership in 2002.

Today the ownership of major league sports teams in the United States remains almost exclusively the province of large corporations, wealthy individuals or ownership groups comprised of these same two actors. Continue reading “Crowdfunding and Sport: How Soon Until the Fans Own the Franchise?”

Some Perspective from Five Marquette Lawyers Who Are General Counsel

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You are the general counsel of a large corporation. Your company is involved in negotiations to buy a competitor and there are layers upon layers of complexity and risk. Is a lawsuit against the competitor a deal-killer or no big deal? Why is a key employee of the other company about to bolt for a third company? Business for your own company has been slipping. Do you need this deal to save your company or will the deal wreck what you do have? The questions—and the pressure—build.

Ray Manista, Cari Logemann, Paul Dacier, Julie Van Straten, and Frank Steeves in Eckstein Hall’s Appellate Room
Ray Manista, Cari Logemann, Paul Dacier, Julie Van Straten, and Frank Steeves in Eckstein Hall’s Appellate Room

Paul Dacier, L’83, outlined the scenario before a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall on Feb. 20, and as he did so, he asked members of the audience how they would handle each step.

As Dacier’s story comes to a head: The CEO calls you into his office. “It’s just the two of you in the room and the CEO is sweating bullets,” Dacier says. He wants to know what you as general counsel recommend.

Continue reading “Some Perspective from Five Marquette Lawyers Who Are General Counsel”

Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law, First Amendment, Health Care, Public, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

the bosses of senateOn October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the second of three blog posts on the presentation.  Readers can find the first post here.  What follows are my prepared remarks on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

The legal issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores can be described simply.  Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services requires employers to provide health insurance plans making contraception available to their female employees at no cost.  In the NFIB v. Sebelius decision in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ power to pass the Affordable Care Act as an exercise of its taxing power.  But even if Congress has the power to pass the law, can a for profit corporation nonetheless avoid following the law by arguing that the contraception provisions burden the corporation’s free exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?

The rights of the individual shareholders that own the corporation were not at issue.  The law does not act on the individuals, and does not require these human beings to do anything.  The only legal requirement imposed by the law is imposed on the corporate entity.

So what did Congress intend to do when it passed RFRA in 1993?  As I will explain, the Hobby Lobby case presents two opposing views as to what Congress attempted to accomplish by passing that law.  The dissent by Justice Ginsburg argues that the intent of RFRA was to create a statutory remedy for burdens on religious expression that adopted the standard for evaluating First Amendment violations prior to the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case. The majority opinion by Justice Alito argues that by passing RFRA Congress created a statutory remedy that protected more “persons” than the pre-Smith caselaw protected and that granted them greater protections than the pre-Smith caselaw granted. Continue reading “Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.”

What Is the NBA?

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basketballProfessor Nadelle Grossman has another forthcoming publication, “What Is the NBA?”, written for the faculty symposium issue of the Marquette Sports Law Review.  The abstract is below, and you can access the full article at SSRN:

The NBA’s organizational structure is curious.  While courts at times refer to the NBA as a joint venture and at other times as a single entity, their analyses are conducted not for state organization law purposes but to assess the NBA’s compliance with federal antitrust law.  Commentators, too, consistently address the NBA’s organizational structure only under antitrust law and not state organization law. As I argue, given the different purposes of these two legal regimes — antitrust law to protect consumers through preserving competition, and state organization law to ensure managers are faithful to the business purpose and to create a default structure among owners and managers — conclusions about the NBA’s organizational structure for purposes of compliance with antitrust law does not control the analysis of the NBA’s structure for purposes of state organization law.

To fill the gap in case law and commentary, this article analyzes the NBA’s organizational form under state organization law.  This analysis is important because the NBA’s organizational form impacts the rights and duties of the member team-owners of the NBA.  If, for example, the NBA is a joint venture partnership under state organization law — that is, an association of team owners who have come together to pursue a limited scope business for profit — then by default, its members would owe fiduciary duties to the other members and any member could seek judicial expulsion of a recalcitrant member.

Casual Convergence in Unincorporated Entity Law

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offices-at-night-smProfessor Nadelle Grossman has a forthcoming book chapter entitled “Casual Convergence in Unincorporated Entity Law” in the Research Handbook on Partnerships, LLCs and Alternative Forms of Business Organizations (Robert W. Hillman & Mark J. Loewenstein eds., Edward Elgar Publ’g forthcoming 2015).  The abstract is below. You can access Prof. Grossman’s full book chapter at SSRN.

As seemingly uniform as the surface of the sea, unincorporated entity acts in most states are drafted from one of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law’s (NCCUSL) uniform acts.  In fact, by the end of 2013, seven states had adopted NCCUSL’s latest uniform act governing limited liability companies (LLCs), called the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, or RULLCA, and more have since followed.

Supporters of uniformity, including NCCUSL, argue that uniformity among state LLC acts generates administrative and cost savings.  Critics, on the other hand, argue that uniformity undermines state experimentation to achieve more efficient LLC laws.

However, I argue in the chapter that these debates about uniformity are misguided.  Continue reading “Casual Convergence in Unincorporated Entity Law”