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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Business Conspiracy and Employee's Fiduciary Duties

FACTS: Feddeman & Co offered a group of its employees the opportunity to buy out the main stockholder, creating an employee owned corporation. During the negotiations, the buy-out began to seem unattainable to the employees, so these employees and directors of Feddeman met with a competitor (Langan Associates). The employees discussed the possibility of employment with Langan Associates, and used the threat of resignation as a leverage.

Feddeman then sued Langan and Feddeman's former employees for conspiring to ruin Feddeman's business, usurpation of Feddeman's business opportunities and breach of fiduciary duties.

In order to legally leave Feddeman the employees followed the advice of an attorney, who was also Langan's lawyer.

JURY RULING: An Alexandria Circuit Court jury awarded 3.3 million dollars to Feddeman.

COURT RULING: The judge set aside the 3.3 million dollar verdict in part because the "employee Defendants scrupulously adhered to the advise of counsel as to how to prepare to leave". The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

SUPREME COURT RULING: The Virginia Supreme Court found that there was not basis to set aside the verdict because defendant employees and defendant directors did more than merely prepare to resign and advise others of a plan to leave. Credible evidence supported the jury determination that the conduct fell below the required standard of good faith and loyalty, and was sufficient to constituted a breach of fiduciary duty. The Court reinstated the 3.3 million dollar verdict.

ACTION ADVISE: When making an important business decision, hire a lawyer that does not have a conflict-of-interest. Conspiring against an employer with a competitor may be considered a breach of good faith and loyalty, as well as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The following article is not meant to replace legal advise. If you'd like to speak with one of Gross & Romanick's attorneys please fill out their online form, email law@gross.com or call (703) 273-1400.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Buildout Allowance - Landlord Gets Slammed

FACTS: Tenant leased property from a commercial Landlord. Part of the lease agreement was a building allowance of $699,000 to be paid by Landlord for improvements. Tenant hired a contractor to do the improvements to the property. The Contractor accidentally demolished an unoccupied improvement on the property. Upon noticing their mistake - the same day, The Contractor offered to remedy by either rebuilding the improvements or allowing for a credit for the value of the improvements. Instead of accepting one of the offered remedies the Landlord decided to withhold $301,000 of Tenant's allowance. When Tenant and Contractor sued for the allowance, the Landlord counter-claimed for lost rent and replacement of the improvement even though the Landlord did not have a tenant for the demolished space and did not replace the demolished improvement.

COURT RULING: The Court determined that the Landlord's counter-claims were without merit; and that the Landlord and its counsel should have known of the meritless nature of the claim. Judgment was entered against the Landlord for $351,057.65 for the withheld allowance plus interest. The Court also sanctioned the Landlord the sum of $251,018.16 for attorney's fees and costs for the baseless counter-claim and defenses, which prolonged the litigation (Va. Code § 8.01-271.1).

ACTION ADVISE: A building allowance is an enforceable right of the tenant. If the landlord withholds payment for the allowance, it will need good cause to do so. Furthermore, if a landlord does not have a tenant for the demolished or damaged space, it should not withhold a building allowance on the basis of lost rent. If the landlord has no intention of rebuilding the damaged improvements, the landlord is not acting in good faith by charging the contractor for the repair cost. Finally, asserting baseless claims in a court proceeding can result in sanctions. Try to resolve these disputes out of court!

The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like to speak to one of Gross & Romanick's attorneys, please contact the firm by filling out their online form, emailing law@gross.com, or calling (703) 273-1400.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Statute of Frauds: It's Not What it Sounds Like (What you should put in writing)

Based on its name you might think that the Statute of Frauds has something to do with criminal or civil fraud, but it doesn't. The name "Statute of Frauds" actually refers to a law passed by the British Parliament in 1677, and the name has been retained through the centuries. It specifies which kinds of contracts must be in writing in order to be enforceable. Its purpose is to prevent the setting up of supposed agreements and then supporting them by perjury.

The most common applications of the Statute of Frauds are as follows:

* Holding a person responsible for the promise to pay the debt of another
* Contracts for the sale of real estate
* Leases for real estate over 1 year
* Agreements which cannot be performed within 1 year
* Sale of personal property over $5,000
* Sale of goods over $500, unless the buyer accepts the goods
* Agency agreements

While the Statute requires a written agreement, almost any writing sufficient to indicate some kind of agreement between the parties will suffice. However, the "writing" must be signed by the party who is being charged. Thus, the venerable Statute of Frauds is still an important and influential part of modern law.

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The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. For legal representation or for questions regarding a specific case, please contact Gross & Romanick directly by filling out their online form, e-mailing law@gross.com or calling 703-273-1400.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Important Commercial Eviction Deadlines

During a commercial eviction procedure there are important deadlines that landlord must meet in order to successfully evict a tenant. Some of them are as follows:

Notice of Default
There are no 5 day statutory notice requirements as in residential evictions. However, all notices required by the lease must be satisfied before filing the Unlawful Detainer.

Service of Unlawful Detainer
Must be made 5 days prior to first return date.

Removal
Tenant may seek to remove the case to the Circuit Court but must do so within 10 days after the first return date. If this occurs, be sure to demand that the tenant post a bond for future rent.

Appeal
If either tenant or landlord wants to appeal the General District Court trial verdict, a notice of appeal must be filed within 10 days; or, 30 days from a Circuit Court judgment.

Writ of Possession
If the court awards possession to the landlord, the Writ of Possession can be filed after 10 days. But, many clerks of court will not issue a Writ of Possession after 60 days.

Sheriff's Return
The sheriff must evict the tenant or return the writ of possession to the court without eviction within 30 days. Don't delay or Landlord may have to start the eviction all over again.

*** The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like legal representation for your specific situation, please contact Gross & Romanick today by filling out the online form, emailing law@gross.com, or by calling (703)273-1400.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Construction Law: Performance Bonds

Companies in the construction industry should understand performance bonds. Performance bonds differ in many ways from payment bonds. While payment bonds are designed to assure compensation to subcontractors and suppliers, performance bonds seek to secure completion of the project or award of damages to the owner for default by the general contractor.

Performance Bonds Defined

The parties to a performance bond consist of the following: (1) the principal (usually the general contractor), (2) the obligee (the owner), and (3) the surety. In some cases, a performance bond is required of a subcontractor, in which case the principal is the subcontractor and the obligee is the general contractor. Performance bonds are primarily designed to afford significant protection to the owner, while subcontractors and suppliers typically have no rights under such bonds.

Claims are brought by the obligee, when the principal has defaulted on its contract with the obligee - the obligee declares the principal to be in default and notifies the surety. Only then is surety required to act, since premature actions by the surety can result in litigation with the principal.

Actions upon Default

In the event of default by the principal, the surety has several options. It can permit the owner to finish the project and compensate the owner for damages. Or, the surety can finish the project through a new contractor. Or, it can finance the general contractor so the defaulting obligee can complete the contract. The choice depends upon the situation and the players.

Statute of Limitations

While the federal Miller Act states no specific time period within which suit must be brought against a surety, there are federal, state and local time limitations applicable to performance bonds. Virginia Code Section 11-59 requires actions against sureties on performance bonds be filed within one year after completion of the contract, including the expiration of all warranties and guarantees. If the action is for a breach of warranty or defect, then all cases must be filed within one year of discovery of the defect or breach of warranty.

Conclusion

In conclusion, individuals in the construction industry should keep in mind that the rules and principles, which govern the operation of these bonds, are sometimes peculiar to the bonds themselves and the statutes under which they are provided. Therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of the terms of your bond, any applicable statutes, your contract and the facts.

This brief article is only meant to provide a very broad overview of the complex area involving payment bonds and cannot be relied upon as a substitute for legal advise. Contact Gross & Romanick by filling out out online form, emailing us at law@gross.com, or calling (703) 273-1400 if you need information about your specific situation.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Financing a Company in Chapter 11: Who Would?

Who would lend money, lease property or extend credit for supplies to a company in Bankruptcy? Why would anyone want to do that?! Who would want to provide financing to a company that has already mismanaged itself into bankruptcy? Answer: you may want to.

Inevitably a Chapter 11 debtor will require additional cash flow or extensions of credit. Because companies in bankruptcy need money, leases and supplies, if a creditor is willing to provide funds, offer a lease or extend credit, that creditor stands to obtain very favorable terms. Because few creditors are willing to enter into high risk investments, Congress enacted incentives under Section 364 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which permits priority to such creditors over already existing creditors and administrative costs (the so called "super priority"), as well as providing security in the assets of the debtor.

Extending Credit

The potential creditor should obtain a copy of the company's bankruptcy schedules. The schedules will reveal the company's assets and liabilities. The creditor should also request all financial information that will assist in assessing the company's ability to repay the credit. Ask for balance sheets, income statements and monthly operating reports.

The potential creditor should try to place itself in the most secure position possible. The levels of security available range from unsecured credit that is paid back as an administrative expense prior to pre-existing unsecured creditors, to debt secured by a senior lien on property of the estate.

A creditor is most secure if it holds a senior lien on property of the bankrupt company. Be creative! You can hold a lien not only on real property, but also accounts receivable, equipment, inventory, etc. If the bankrupt company has real property with sufficient equity, a lender can get a lien senior to a pre-existing security interest. This is a unique opportunity for a lender to bypass perfected liens and Deeds of Trust, and to move directly into a first position. Of course, existing creditors may object to their loss of position at a hearing but the judge ultimately decides based upon the best interest of all the creditors.

At a minimum the creditor should demand a "super priority". A "super priority" will allow the creditor to be paid back prior to administrative claims such as fees charged by lawyers, accountants and other expenses incurred by the company to preserve the estate.

Conclusion

Opportunities for profit are available for those creditors who take advantage of the protection available. Furthermore, an infusion of credit or cash may preserve the bankrupt company to your long-term benefit.

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The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. For more information or to retain legal counsel, please contact Gross & Romanick by filling out their online form, emailing law@gross.com, or calling (703) 273-1400.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Slip & Fall: Landlord's Should Take Notice

Virginia is one of the most difficult states in the country in which to win a slip and fall case by an injured party. Nevertheless, a jury recently awarded a Plaintiff $2.5 million against a landlord for a slip and fall. Yet, a previous jury hearing the same case presented by the same attorneys awarded $0. The vagaries of the jury system account for this stark discrepancy, but the ultimate verdict indicates that landlords need to understand their obligations to safeguard the public from injury while on their premises.

Three 1992 Virginia Supreme Court cases prevent most victims of slip & falls from succeeding. A&P Tea Co. v. Rosenberger, establishes that owners of property are not insurers or guarantors of the safety of business invitees. Colonial Stores v. Pulley states that plaintiffs must prove that the owner created the defect which caused the fall or at the very least should have known of the problem. A&P Tea Co. v. Berry instructs judges to dismiss the case if the jury must speculate in order to determine that the owner had notice of the defect.

Thus, in order to recover Plaintiffs must prove that the defendant knew or should have known of the defect which caused the fall. This standard of proof is extremely difficult since many victims do not know why they fell or cannot conclusively prove that the owner or lessor of the property actually knew a problem existed. However, violations of building codes and standards can overcome proof difficulties since many such violations are considered negligence per se with no requirement of notice.

The $2.5 million case was successful because Plaintiff introduced evidence that there was grease or greasy water on the floor of the fast food restaurant. Another case was successful because a leaky roof was not repaired after notification by a tenant. A more complex case succeeded when a succulent plant was shown to be shedding leaves because of improper care by the plant section of the department store, which also failed to sweep the area for 4 1/2 hours. In addition, a slight erosion of the owner's position is taking place regarding slip on ice cases, since the Supreme Court held that merely walking on ice or snow was not an assumption of the risk or contributory negligence.

Despite these and other cases, the landlord in Virginia has the upper hand if proper attention is paid to dangers for which there is actual notice and if proper maintenance schedules are followed.

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For more information or to seek legal counsel for your personal injury case or a case filed against you, please contact Gross & Romanick by filling out their online form, emailing law@gross.com, or calling (703) 273-1400.