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Recap: Horrors of Business Ownership Part I

Horror Stories of Owning a Business and How to Deal with Them

The seminar focused on stressful situations encountered by business owners and how to deal with them.

Horror Stories of Business Ownership: Recap of Seminar

How is the beginning of your November 2017 going? Are you scared there are only 2 months left till the end of the year? Well, speaking of frights, I did a seminar with the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii (BBB) this past Monday celebrating Hallloween. We told spooky stories, well sort of. We discussed the horrors of business ownership. Specifically, I talked about these broader topics:

  1. structure of entity – failing to plan properly;
  2. disputes with business partners and managers;
  3. government regulations – the revoking of permits and licenses; and
  4. intellectual property infringement.

Lisa Nakao,Director of Operations of the BBB, discussed the resources the BBB offers and how to deal with reviews and complaints by customers hosted on the BBB’s website (I will cover some of this in a Part II to this post). If you could not make it to this seminar do not worry. I will continue presenting seminars aimed at educating business owners about the legal issues. So be sure to check back and follow us.

Some of the Horrors of Owning a Business – Highlights

I’d like to take this time to discuss some highlights of the seminar. While, I will not cover everything from the seminar, as you will  just have to come to the next one, this post will touch upon a couple of issues. Particularly the ones that gave good discussion or attendees asked a lot of questions.

1. Managerial Authority in a LLC: Friends, Family Members, and/or Relatives of Friends as Your Manager

I’ve discussed in the past of business partner disputes, but this following scenario is derived on a similar theme. Consider the situation where many small and medium-sized business owners rely on family or friends to help run their business, including relatives of friends. This tight-knit network can be a boon or a misfortune. Especially, here in Hawaii where people tend to rely on local connections the trust and reliance can run high and sometimes too quickly. Specifically, I refer to hiring someone as a manager of your LLC or corporation and giving them access to the company’s bank account and credit cards. Then the business owner discovers the person they thought they could trust is gone the business account is empty and the credit cards are over extended. Worst yet, there is no written management agreement.

Don't lose your business account.

Be careful of giving your manager too much access to your finances.

Is there Nothing that Can be Done? 

While, legally there is a lot to do, such as suing them or attempting to report them to the police for theft – the reality is proof and evidence issues. Many times business owners in this situation rely on a handshake, only talk to their manager on the phone, and their emails and texts refer to managerial duties/obligations obliquely. There is no writing of the contract. Further, consider even if you have a good case, you have to find them and force them to give back the money, which by the time you get the the lawsuit filed, served, and litigated, they’ve probably spent it.

So again, this is an urging to slow it down and think methodically. I get it. Small business owners are trying to get help and tread water. However, consider the following ideas:

  1. conduct due diligence – find out more about them before you hire them;
  2. limit their access to the business bank account and credit cards – you do not need to give them unfettered access;
  3. if you cannot do a full-blown management agreement, then at least tackle the main terms in some of memorandum, letter, or lengthy email;
  4. as to point 3 make sure you get their signature, acknowledgment, and confirmation!

While, those things will not always save you, the point is getting you into the habit of preparing, doing your research, and record keeping when you finally decide to take an action that may be risky.

2. Shutting Down Business Operations Due to Lost of License or Permit

So I told a story during the seminar of a business owner who relied on their accountant to do the business entity’s Annual Filings with the State of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce Affairs (DCCA). Only problem with that was the accountant was not actually doing the filings; it was not a part of their services. So the DCCA administratively terminated the corporation’s existence. So leaving the account and taxation issues aside, the main focus of this section I want to focus on is government licensing and permitting. See LLCs and corporations are legal persons. They may not be a living, breathing individual like you and me, but they are persons under the law. So often time government licenses and permits, for example liquor licenses, issues to the business entity itself and not the individual owners of the business.

So when the DCCA administratively terminated this corporation the business owner also lost their government license. In this instance, they could not operate the business because it would be illegal to operate without a license. So they had to shutter their business and form a new corporation, then reapply for a completely new government license.

Did they Really have to Close Their Business?

Yes, unfortunately in this case they did. However, sometimes the government fails to follow proper procedure when revoking or suspending a business owner’s license or permit. If the government does not follow its own rules and regulations there may be opportunity to stop the government’s action. However, it depends on the type of permit or license being revoked and the applicable laws and regulations surrounding it.  In this instance, the business owner could have saved themselves by routinely checking the DCCA and communicating with their accountant. Finally, catching the administrative termination of their original corporation earlier could’ve resulted in a successful petition to reinstate it.

You should know the filings you need to make with the government and calendar them into your schedule. Further, consider an annual business checkup to assist you in navigating your business’s compliance requirements. If you are interested in an initial consult to begin the process of an annual business checkup contact us today!

Be vigilant in your compliance.

Keep your business compliant or you may be forced to shut it down by the government.

There will be a Part II to this post; it will focus on the BBB Reports and Complaints and resources/information they shared. So check back!

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

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High Profile Sexual Abuse Allegations Tied to a Longstanding Reality

Opening door.

Opening door.

Sexual Abuse Suits: A Change in Society or Exposing Institutional Problems?

Recently, there have been high profile sexual abuse lawsuits making headlines across the nation. In light of this, people often ask, “Is something happening to our society causing this increase in harm to children?” Based on statistical analysis it would seem it is more of an unmasking of longstanding problems.

For instance, in 2016, lawsuits were brought against MJJ Productions, a multimedia creation and distribution company founded by the late singer Michael Jackson. One lawsuit accuses MJJ Productions of negligence in the handling of sexual abuse allegations. While it is impossible to predict the outcome of pending litigation, the available evidence and allegations of “businesses [designed] to operate as a child sexual abuse operation, specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims” are disturbing at the very least.

More recently, lawsuits were filed against several prominent members of United States Gymnastics, as well as the governing body itself. The lawsuits allege negligence on the part of the USA Gymnastics. Specifically, it had a pattern of harboring, concealing, and promoting abusive behavior; this is in addition to other claims of action against the athletic organization. The civil action centers around the criminal prosecution of USA Gymnastics’ former team doctor, Dr. Lawrence Nassar.  He faces over 100 complaints of sexual abuse and sexual assault from the athletes that were under his care. According to one complaint, the USA Gymnastics failed to take measures to adequately protect its young athletes from him. The reason: they chose to handle the sexual abuse allegations against the doctor internally, rather than reporting these potential crimes to the appropriate authorities.

The Statistics Show that this is Not a New Problem

These headline cases should motivate people to be more sensitive and handle situations properly. Those in authority sometimes fail to properly react. They can often mismanage or mishandle reported abuse. All jurisdictions mandate reporting of potential sexual abuse of a minor to the proper authorities. The goal being to prevent persons and organizations from covering up the problem.

No one should sweep abusive conduct out of the public eye. Criminal prosecutions might initially stop a perpetrator, and civil cases might deter organizations, but public admonitions, settlements, and convictions make communities safer. This is unlike what happens when childhood sexual abuse remains hidden behind a veil of shame and secrecy.

While, headline cases might shake our belief in the people and organizations we trust, the unfortunate reality is this behavior has persisted. It lurks beneath the surface and research confirms as much. According to the National Center For Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be a victim of child sexual abuse. If that is not sobering, consider the further following statistics:

Reporting Sometimes Not Enough

Further sobering statistics highlight the realities of this problem. First, reporting the suspected abuse may not be enough. Even if holding perpetrators responsible, but not the those responsible for victims’ safety, may ultimately hide the problem. Those in power may know about patterns of abuse, but do nothing about it, or worst, turn a blind eye. News stories, reports, and studies bring light to an ongoing situation. However, the unfortunate reality is that the news does not cover less sensational stories, even while these victims’ pain is just as real.

Further Information

For more information on the cases discussed in this post you can visit:

  1. the Hollywood Reporter for updates on the MJJ Productions case; and
  2. the L.A. Times for the USA Gymnastics case.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, please seek help. You are not alone in this situation; there are people and organizations that can help. In Hawaii, there is the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center. For California, there are variety of resources, not only for sexual abuse victims, but many other kinds of problems, consider the California Victim Compensation Board’s Victim Resources page.

Lastly, if you are seeking legal representation to handle your matter, or a loved one’s matter, with diligence and compassion, please consider contacting Hew and Bordenave.  We assist clients both in Hawaii and California and diligently protect the identities of our clients.

DISCLAIMER: This post contains comments and opinions of cases in the news as well as factual data.  It does not constitute as legal advice to any particular person in any respect.  If the reader feels they have an injury or need specific advice based on the information contained in this post, then they should seek the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

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Part II, Communicating with Unpleasantness: Demand Letters

Demand letter.
Demand letter.

Demand letters are usually the start of unpleasant communications. Not the end.

What are Demand Letters for?

Usually, it is a demand on the other party take some corrective action or to stop doing something. It could be demanding payment because it is late. It could be demanding interest on top of the principal due to the lateness of the payment. Other times, if you are the customer and the service provider’s job remains undone, then you want specific performance. You are asking them to finish the job.

What about Cease and Desist Letters?

These letters are demanding that the other party stop doing something, such as Intellectual Property matters. Specifically, there is an infringing action that going on or about to happen and the owner of the IP wants the infringer informed of their rights. It could be an infringer’s use of an unauthorized copy of an image on their website and social media.

Sometimes the government uses cease and desist letters as a part of their enforcement powers. Agencies will indicate to the person that they are doing some type of illegal activity that should stop immediately. If not, and they ignore the notice of the letter, then they could face penalties, fines, or being charged with a crime.

Does it Need to be Drafted by an Attorney?

No. Attorneys don’t always draft them, but having them may help. You should consider the nature and context of the dispute. For instance, demanding a customer pay you $200.00 for kitchen supplies because the are past the due date might not be a good use of an attorney. However, if your client is not paying you $200,000.00 in consulting and construction fees and you have an obligation to continue working on the project, then are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making the demand.

Insurance Claims

Trejur will likely provide posts in the future that are more in-depth on this topic. However, for the discussion purposes of this post just know that for personal injury claims, the injured person usually starts the process by submitting a demand letter to the insurance companies. Further consider that negotiating and settling insurance claims may be aided by a lawyer’s counsel. The reason is there are certain structures and contents that go with the initial demand letter.

Examples include: describing the accident, medical treatments to treat the injured, and accompanying evidence and supplemental documents, such as police reports and medical bills. The initial demand letter is probably just the start; insurance companies tend to lowball their initial offer. A personal injury attorney’s knowledge and experience may assist in getting a higher settlement when communicating to the insurance companies.

What Goes into Demand Letters?

It depends. Every situation is unique. This includes drafting a demand letter for clients. Sometimes, short and sweet is perfect because the facts are simple, and the law is easy to understand. Other times, lengthy explanations are necessary. Such as when the legal rights and concepts are abstract. These include citing to the actual law, explaining case law, and providing some evidence to show the other side there is a provable case. At a minimum, a demand letter usually explains the situation, a view of the law that is favorable to the demanding party, and the demands. Money and/or taking an action (or stopping one) and deadlines to respond or comply.  Finally, consider lawyers communicate to other attorneys via these demand letters as well as laypeople, so they legal ethics applies.

I will say from an attorney’s perspective we, just as much as laypeople, enjoy creative demand letters. Demand letters don’t always have to be mean in tone. “Nastygrams” are not always effective. Consider many content providers realize that fans who are business owners flatter them through creative endeavors, but these actions may infringe on their copyright, trademark, and trade dress rights.

However, sometimes you do get a mean and unreasonable demand letter. The question then becomes how do you respond? Ridiculous cease and desist letters sometimes also open themselves to cheeky responses like this one.

Other than the Creative Way, How Should I Respond to One?

The opportunity to dare the writer of the demand letter to start a lawsuit by offering lollipops to the process server is not a frequent one. However, a lot of people feel that ignoring a demand letter is a reasonable response. It might not be, as sometimes silence may be viewed as an admission. The demanding party may just send another letter.

A strongly worded response letter may be able to dissuade the other side. Attorneys frequently engage in letter writing contests back-and-forth without even filing a claim because litigation can increase the costs dramatically. The hope is there is a resolution at some point, but a demand letter is not usually the end of the legal process. It starts a communication process.  So how you choose to respond sometimes requires a careful analysis of all factors:

  • What are the demands? What does it cost to comply with the demands?
  • Do you have any rights or claims?
  • What are the facts?  Are they verifiable?
  • How much would it cost to litigate? Take it through trial?
  • What are you willing to settle for?

Analyzing these factors sometimes helps clients make valuation decisions, especially for business owners. Sometimes it might be worth it to settle, other times not. The key is to understand the contents of the demand letter, and then the circumstances that surround it. It is the start of a communication process, not the end.

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in this post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.