We have previously written about Florida’s new Limited Liability Company (LLC) Act. Section 605.0205 of the Act creates new personal liability exposure for LLC members and managers. What is the exposure? How do you manage it?
Section 605.0205 applies when an LLC filing with the Florida Department of State is incorrect and a person suffers a loss as a result of the inaccurate statement. This is most likely to occur when an annual report filing results in the Sunbiz website inaccurately showing a person as having authority to act on behalf of the LLC, and then that person improperly causes the LLC to contract with a third party or otherwise improperly acts on the LLC’s behalf.
Section 605.0205 imposes personal liability on a person signing a filing knowing it is inaccurate. That is not surprising.
But Section 605.0205 also imposes personal liability on certain LLC members or managers who had notice of the inaccurate filing and failed to remedy it despite having an opportunity to do so. The problem is that notice and opportunity to cure are factual issues evaluated in hindsight. Circumstances could exist to suggest that a passive investor had notice even though the investor had no actual knowledge of the inaccurate filing. For example, some companies send copies of filings to all their members, which might create a presumption of notice, even though in the real world few if any passive investors would actually inspect such documents to verify their accuracy.
What should you do to manage this risk?
First, if you manage an LLC, pay more attention than you have in the past to your Florida Department of State filings. Verify that annual reports are accurate, and create periodic calendar ticklers to verify that no inaccurate or fraudulent filings have occurred between annual reports.
Second, if you are a passive investor who does not have management responsibilities, inquire whether the LLC can be “manager-managed” under the Act. If the LLC is “member-managed” under the Act, inquire whether the LLC operating agreement contains a clause making only the active members with management duties liable for improper filings. Under an exception in Section 605.0205, either circumstance may protect you.
Third, rather than managing or owning an LLC individually or through another entity with separate assets, use single-purpose LLCs you own and control as managers and members in operating or investment-holding LLCs. This may provide additional protection if the other safeguards fail.
This is, of course, yet another risk business owners and investors would prefer not to spend precious time managing. The Legislature has nevertheless decided that time commitment is now part of the price for limited liability. Don’t shoot the messenger!
Here is a link to Section 605.0205 of the Act: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0600-0699/0605/Sections/0605.0205.html.
Here is a link to our prior, more comprehensive post regarding the LLC Act:
E. John Wagner, II