Esboço de uma teoria para dar, ao advogado, relevo na sociedade contemporânea: institucionalização da sociedade unipessoal como nova maneira de empreender
Jayme Vita Roso*
"Deita, meu filho... você está com sono e precisa dormir um pouco. Pode se deitar no meu ombro; faça do meu braço, assim mesmo partido, um travesseiro para o seu cansaço. Não é macio, mas serve..." - Paulo Dantas1
- V - A sociedade de responsabilidade limitada unipessoal no Estado de Illinois (EUA)
1 – Conhecida como limited liability company (LLC), nos Estados Unidos, como outros tipos societários, a competência para criá-la é estadual, tratando-se de statute law2.
Elegemos aquele Estado, porque somos afiliados à entidade Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), com mais facilidade, portanto, para a pesquisa e elaboração de dados, a fim de confeccionar este ensaio. E isso conseguimos, como auguramos.
2 – Dentro da Seção Business Law, há um Comitê criado para os conhecidos small business, especialmente voltado para auxiliar os advogados nas complexas e intrincadas relações de seus clientes com autoridades governamentais, levando em conta que, sendo pequenas empresas, o seu ciclo de vida pode ser abreviado por razões dos mais diferentes matizes, vis-à-vis, como nas suas atividades, como bem exposto em ensaio de autoria de Thomas G. Komaromi 3.
No espaço existencial, incluem-se inúmeros estágios, ou acontecimentos, ou atuações, e cada um merece atenção particular, e dentre outros, a organização da empresa e a relação de acordos ou contratos entre seus membros e seus efeitos com terceiros; a composição do capital, seu pagamento e integralização, financiamentos para consegui-lo e alianças estratégicas entre os sócios; a contratação de empregados e a tomada de toda gama de decisões prévias a serem resolvidas quanto a possíveis benefícios a conceder-lhes, entre si ou não, e outras tantas idéias que se articulam para perseguir o fim para que se criou a LLC.
3 – Mas a LLC distingue-se da Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), sendo sutis as nuances de cada uma, considerando que a grande mobilidade da economia norte-americana, criadora da figura do empreendedor, tem-se mostrado reticente quanto à empresa de um único proprietário (sole proprietorship), ou "someone doing business in an individual capacity and not through any type of business entity".
Que é uma general partnership?
"Is an association of two or more persons to carry on a business for profit but excluding an association formed under a non-partnership state statute"4. As desvantagens desse tipo societário, uma delas, "is that a general partner can be held responsible for all debts and liabilities of the partnership", conclui o redator inominado.
Avançando, ingressamos nas limited partnerships.
"A limited partnership is a partnership formed by two or more persons under state law having one or more general partners and one or more limited partners"5.
Para que as idéias, dentro do razoável, se tornem claras, porque o sistema norte-americano, pelo menos para este escriba, é muito mais intrincado do que o italiano, esboçamos os lineamentos diferenciais das LLCs com as LLPs.
É Komaromi quem faz a distinção:
"A limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid entity formed by one or more persons under state law. It is treated as a corporation for limited liability purposes, but is treated as a general partnership for tax purposes. The members enjoy limited personal liability for the company's liabilities. As with a partnership, there is no taxation of the business itself, but all income, deductions, credits etc., 'pass through' to the individual members and are reported by them on their individual returns. The LLC is one of the most popular entity forms for small businesses because it provides limited liability to the members, yet it may be operated with the simplicity and the tax benefits of a partnership.
A limited liability partnership (LLP) is similar to an LLC in that the LLP provides limited liability for partners and partnership tax treatment; however, unlike an LLC, the LLP is often available only for certain occupations (e.g., professional groups such as attorneys or physicians). LLCs and LLPs are appealing to equity investors who may forgo investing in a risky general partnership. Yet unlike a limited partnership, investors in an LLC and LLP may take an active role in the management of the company"6.
4 – O Professor Charles W. Murdock, que leciona na Royale University Chicago School of Law, preparou anteprojeto que resultou no Illinois Business Corporation Act, de 1983, sobre ser membro do Comitê que redigiu as modificações, no mesmo Estado, do Uniform Licential Liability Company Act. Para o Illinois Bar escreveu um ensaio com o sugestivo título "What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the Illinois Limited Liability Company Act" (em quarenta páginas, não publicado e acessível apenas aos filiados) e, com o mesmo título, com nove páginas, onde o subtítulo esclarece: "An analysis of the Illinois Limited Liability Company Act, focusing on provisions with which all Illinois Attorneys need to be familiar" (também não acessível).
Desde logo, observemos a preocupação de Murdock com liability na LLC:
"Liability. However, in an LLC, as discussed below, members are generally not personally liable for the obligations of the LLC. Nonetheless, in a member-managed organization, any member can bind the LLC, and thus it may still be a matter of concern to the members whether a transferee of a membership interest becomes a member and accordingly has such power. While the Act speaks of unanimous consent of the members being required to make a transfer a to member, the operating agreement may provide otherwise.
ILLCA explicitly provides that the liabilities of an LLC are those solely of the LLC and that a member or manager is not personally liable solely by acting in that capacity. Moreover, with respect to ‘piercing the entity veil’ liability, the Act specifically provides that failing to observe formalities is not a ground for imposing personal liability.
Thus, from a statutory standpoint, the ‘ritual’ test for imposing personal liability on the owners of an entity is ‘out’. If, however, the LLC is under capitalized, or if there is commingling of funds or other basis for piercing the entity veil, members may still be personally liable. Thus, care should be taken to insure that the LLC is a functional entity apart from its members. Notwithstanding the foregoing, all or specified members may be subject to personal liability if the articles of incorporation so provide and the member has consented in writing"7. Apenas para escrever este trecho, Murdock reportou-se, em notas de rodapé, por cinco vezes.
5 – Lin Hanson, somando-se aos que se preocupam em proteger os empresários-investidores, em dezembro de 2004, escreveu para o seu Comitê de Business Law do Illinois Bar um artigo que não poderia deixar de trazer, como subsídio adicional, neste parecer. Chamando-o de "What Series LLCs can do for you", porque é o subtítulo "series LLCs enable you to spread risk around without incurring the fees and enduring the administrative hassle of setting up multiple separate entities", prescreve que:
"LLCs have fast become the business entity of choice in Illinois. In the 10 years since the passage of the first Illinois LLC act, more than 100,000 LLCs have been formed in the state. This compares with a relatively static total of about 275,000 corporations presently doing business while being taxed as a 'pass through' entity (either sole proprietorship or partnership).
The LLC also provides protection to its owners for debts unrelated to the business in that LLC property and LLC interests themselves generally cannot be directly seized or attached by creditors of debtor members. 805 ILCS 180/30-20. Instead, such creditors are limited to a 'charging order' (analogous to a garnishment) issued by a court requiring the LLC to make payments due by the debtor member to the creditor instead.
The charging order does not provide the creditor with voting rights, such as the right to vote for a distribution. If no distributions are made to the debtor member, neither are distributions made to the creditor. It has been suggested that the creditor may even be taxable on the debtor member’s share of LLC income, but I do not subscribe to this theory. Nonetheless, the charging order is not a particularly attractive remedy for a creditor. A Colorado Bankruptcy opinion issued in 2003, In re Ashley Albright, 291 BR 538 (Bankr D Colo, April 4, 2003), suggests that the ‘charging order sole remedy’ concept may not apply in the case of a single member LLC.
Placing high-risk assets and businesses in separate entities, away from each other, and specially separate from low risk assets, is a good idea from an asset protection point of view. For example, an individual who owns a gas station (environmental issues) and a rental home (lead paint issues) should not be advised to own both in the same entity. Neither should an individual with a large amount of low risk assets like cash, securities, etc., be advised to hold these assets in the same entity as a business.
To diversify risks, someone with two-dozen rental properties might be advised to have two-dozen separate LLCs, one for each property. This isn’t always practical because of legal and accounting costs and state fees that must be paid for each LLC. Additionally, with common ownership of all the LLCs, veil piercing or cross responsibility might be more readily applied by a court"8.
6 – Em outubro de 2003, Michele M. Jochner escreveu um artigo para a newsletter da ISBA, conhecida como General Pratice, Solo & Small Firm Newsletter9.
No referido artigo, foram coligidos e aqui transcritos relevantes textos:
6.1 – "On July 1, 2003, amended Supreme Court Rule 721 and new Supreme Court Rule 722 went into effect. These changes authorize limited liability legal practice in Illinois, and protect entities providing for limited liability; and (2) maintains a specified minimum amount of malpractice insurance or other evidence of "financial responsibility". The new rules make it clear, however, that they do not affect lawyers’ ethical responsibilities. By virtue of these changes, which are the culmination of a combined effort by the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) and the Chicago Bar Association (CBA), Illinois hás become the 50th state in the nation to allow law firms to use limited liability entities to protect innocent members in case of malpractice actions filed against other lawyers in their firm. In addition, Illinois hás become the 12th state to require insurance as a condition of limited liability practice".
6.2 – "The benefits and protections of the new rules flow to both law firms and clients. The changes in the rules are intended to encourage law firms to obtain malpractice insurance or other proof of financial responsibility to provide an easily accessible source of funds to compensate clients in the event of malpractice. Clients can also continue to seek compensation from the assets of the law firm, as well as from the lawyers responsible for the malpractice. However, under the new rules, if a law firm maintains adequate insurance or other proof of financial responsibility, recourse cannot be had to the personal assets of partners in the firm who were not involved in the malpractice".
7 – Em maio de 2004, Richard M. Colombik e Randall H. Borkus, no The Counselor, também na Newsletter da ISBA, fizeram publicar pormenorizado artigo, ocupando toda a edição10.
Destacam-se estes tópicos:
7.1 – LLC basic advantages – Because of their flexibility and relative simplicity, the LLC is well suited for both start-up businesses and more mature businesses. LLCs have several advantages:
• LLCs provide greater management flexibility than corporations. For instance, corporations are required to have a formal structure with directors and corporate officers. LLCs are simply run by the members or managers.
• LLCs provide greater flexibility with regard to income distribution than do corporations. When corporations pay dividends, those profits must be distributed evenly on a dollar per share basis. LLCs may distribute income as desired.
• If a small business is interested in "pass-through" taxation, then LLCs have an advantage over S Corporations with regard to ownership flexibility. All shareholders of S Corporations must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States and there may be no more than 75 shareholders in total. LLCs do not have these restrictions, again allowing greater operating flexibility.
• Caveat: LLC distributions, unless structured properly pursuant to its operating agreement are generally subject to self-employment tax, whereas, dividends paid by S Corporations are not.
7.2 – To hold tangible personal property or intangible assets Where a corporation has many businesses and one of its businesses is a high-risk business, the corporation’s shareholders could establish an LLC to carry on the high-risk business that would otherwise have been carried on by the corporation. The corporation leases the use of its fixed assets and licenses its intangibles to the LLC at fair market value rentals and payment of license fees. In addition to the LLC receiving the rentals and license fees, the corporation could use existing contracts, inventory and outstanding accounts receivable to capitalize the LLC. The LLC thereafter generates all future income of the high-risk business that would have otherwise gone to the corporation. This structure may isolate corporate assets from potential LLC future creditors.
• Caveat: Be sure to have counsel review fraudulent conveyance and fraudulent transfer statutes prior to any such transfer.
7.3 – Using an LLC for venture capital projects and corporate joint ventures – Generally, a corporate subsidiary is the traditional business entity for a joint venture project. Two unrelated corporations join together to form a third corporation to conduct the joint venture business. This also involves appointing a third board of directors and subjects the two corporate owners to potential liability from the subsidiary. An LLC offers a structure that avoids both the need for a third board of directors and provides liability protection to the two corporate owners.
Capital Venture Projects –The LLC structure offers venture capitalists the ability to allocate profit and loss to provide different classes of ownership without compromising tax benefits or limiting liability protection for investors. Moreover, venture capitalists can use an operating agreement to provide explicitly under what circumstances changes in control can be exercised while minimizing the duties and obligations that a board of directors would have under corporate law if a corporate structure were implemented. A venture capital LLC can also be used to facilitate a public offering. The LLC can transfer its assets into a newly created corporation and shares are then sold in a public offering. This is a complex transaction that requires the guidance of security law experts as well as tax experts to avoid taxation upon the transfer and to comply with security regulations.
7.4 – Using an LLC in lieu of corporate subsidiaries – Minimizing environmental liability. Another use of the LLC to own real estate is to limit risk exposure of potential environmental liability. In a case where a parent corporation has a subsidiary that has environmental risk concerns, it must consider terminating its ownership of the subsidiary. However, the parent corporation could form an LLC and the subsidiary corporation would merge into the LLC directly. This would provide a shield against liability for the parent. An S Corporation can use an LLC as the functional equivalent of a corporate subsidiary. This structure permits the S corporation to separate its assets from the LLC’s business risk. Moreover, the desire to limit liability should constitute a valid business purpose and the S election should not be jeopardized by this strategy. Note that S Corporations have successfully been merged into LLCs without creating a taxable transaction. See PLRrivate letter ruling 130243-01.
7.5 – The LLC as an asset protection tool – An LLC is extremely advantageous in that it provides both tax flexibility as well as significant asset protection. Owner(s) of a corporation, as is commonly known, are referred to as shareholder(s). Owner(s) of LLC interests, on the other hand, are referred to as member(s). The asset protection feature for LLCs works in two regards... One regard is inside out protection, which provides the same protection as does a regular corporation in terms of preventing a creditor, inside the entity, from pursuing an owner’s personal assets to pay off business debt. The other protection is outside in protection, which prohibits any one individual owner’s personal creditors, outside the LLC, from seizing company assets inside the company, or becoming owner members of the LLC itself (against the will of the existing ownermembers). This protection is derived from and is in accord with the protection afforded limited partners in a limited partnership.
7.6 – Piercing the LLC veil Piercing the LLC veil is an area of law that is best described as murky or undefined. Moreover, there is little, if any, guidance on point in Illinois. However, a review of Illinois case law suggests that LLC members should be held liable under the common law doctrine of piercing the corporate veil. Many jurisdictions follow the "alter ego" test to determine whether to hold shareholders personally liable for the debts of the corporation.50 The alter ego test emphasizes that piercing the corporate veil is appropriate where public policy interests are best served, such as protecting private rights, and where the corporation fails to remain a separate legal entity apart from its owners, the shareholders.51 In order to pierce the corporate veil in the Illinois courts, there must be:
(1) such unity of interest that the separate identity of the corporation on one hand and the shareholder or officer on the other no longer exist; and
(2) circumstances in which adherence to the fiction of a separate corporate existence would be fraudulent, unjust, or inequitable.52 In making this determination, courts consider the following variables:
a. inadequate capitalization;
b. the failure to issue stock; and
c. to observe corporate formalities;
d. the non-payment of dividends;
e. the insolvency of the debtor corporation;
f. the non-functioning of other corporate officers or directors;
g. the absence of corporate records; and
h. the amount of control of the dominant stockholders.
7.7 – The limited case law from other in Illinois and other jurisdictions suggests the conclusion that the corporate piercing law shall be applied to Illinois LLCs. Therefore, Illinois courts will likely apply the typical "alter ego" analysis, minus the "lack of corporate formalities" factor which is statutorily provided for, in holding LLC members personally liable for the debts of the LLC.
8 – A riqueza e a prosperidade de um país estão alicerçadas no sagrado espírito de empreender, quando encontra ambiente favorável (leis bem elaboradas, eficiente e razoável custo do dinheiro, regras definidas para aplicação de capital por investidores e outros componentes que permitam trabalhar sem repentinas e sucessivas mudanças de leis, ou da vontade política do governo ou de complicada, corrupta e incompetente burocracia).
1 DANTAS, Paulo, Muralhas Cinzentas, 2ª edição, Clube do Livro, São Paulo, 1958, p. 88. A citação proveio da primeira parte do livro, na qual, como diz o autor, "o novelista está diante de si mesmo, tecendo considerações sobre o seu drama que é o drama do homem em face do irremediável" (p.24).
2 "The body of law derived from statutes rather than from constitutions or juridical decisions". Tradução livre: "corpo de lei derivado de estatutos (leis estaduais) tanto quanto de constituições ou decisões judiciais". GARNER, Bryan A. Black's law dictionary. St Paul: West Publishing Company, 7th ed., 1999, p.1421-1424.
3 Business Visions – The Newsletter of the Committee on Small Business, vol.1, n° 2, março de 2006, p. 8-9.
4 Ibidem, p.9.
5 Ibidem, p.9.
6 Ibidem, p.9.
7 Charles W. Murdock. What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the Illinois Limited Liability Company Act – An analisys of the Illinois Limited Company Act, focusing on provisions with which all Illinois attorneys need to be familiar, p.2 O autor escreveu, também, um artigo bastante fundamentado, estendendo suas opiniões, com o título Limited Liability Companies in the Decade of the 1990s: legislative and case law developments and their implications for the future, 56 Buslaw 499, 2001, p. 520-538.
8 Pesquisando sobre o tema no sentido que nos propusemos sustentar, encontramos preciosa bibliografia – que não foi lida, mas é indicada como fonte para pesquisas – Dá-se notícia destes livros, todos editados por Edward Elgar Publishing Inc. (www.e-elgar.com): a) International Handbook of Women and Small Business Entrepreneurship, por Sandra L. Fielden e Marylin J. Davidson; b) The Hidden Enterprise Culture, por Colin C. Willians; c) The New Social Entrepreneurship – What Awaits Social Entrepreneurship Ventures?, por Francesco Perrini; d) Entrepreneurship as Social Change – A Third New Movements in Entrepreneurship Book, por Chris Steyaert e Daniel Hjorth; e) New Firm Startups, por Per Davidsson; f) Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth, por Martin Carree e A. Roy Thurik.
9 Michele M. Jochner, Limited liability legal practice comes to Illinois: an overview of the changes to Supreme Court Rule 721 and New Supreme Court Rule 722, General Practice, solo a small firms.
10 Richard M. Colombik e Randall H. Borkus, Advantageous Uses of Llcs, The Counselor, May 2004, Vol. 19, nº 3, p.1/15.
*Advogado do escritório Jayme Vita Roso Advogados e Consultores Jurídicos