Throwing in the Towel: Legal Issues to Closing Your Business – Part 1

Are you a business owner thinking of closing your store, restaurant, or bar? You are not the only one who has thought about it. In fact, many already have.

In Honolulu, walk around any neighborhood whether it is Downtown, Kalihi, Haleiwa, or Mōʻiliʻili and you will see that some businesses are gone. In some cases, for good. Surveys conducted indicate that approximately 900 businesses in Honolulu have closed either permanently or temporarily since the COVID-19 pandemic has started. Additionally, we know that the pandemic is not subsiding prompting the government to step up its regulations. Just recently bars on Oahu have been forced to close for an additional three weeks due to Mayor Caldwell’s Emergency Order 2020-23.

This post is for those thinking that it might be best to get out of the business they are currently in and some of the legal issues they must consider before “throwing in the towel.”  

The decision to close your business is not something to take lightly. While, you may have been one of those people that woke up one day and said, “I’m going to start a business,” while learning how to run the business along the journey. This wisdom and experience should have also taught you that the process of closing a business is not necessarily easy or straightforward. It is a process.

The worst decision to make is running and hiding from responsibility or closing too quickly without wrapping up your duties and obligations.

What are my Duties and Obligations?

If you’ve been running a business for several years, especially one that has some physicality to it, such as a storefront, inventory, or employees that report to you, then you realize all the responsibilities you have. First, you should make a checklist of the relationships that you as the business owner and the business itself has with others. This will help you map out all the people you will need to deal with as you wind down operations and move to closing the business. Especially, if you have an LLC or corporation that exist, then understand that your limited liability protection comes from the fact these entities are separate legal persons from the owners. The entity is on the hook for some of the contractual obligations and duties set at law.

Ask yourself about these relationships and what contractual and/or legal obligations and duties you have to:

  1. Business Owners – who needs to decide to go through with closing the business? Consider business entities that require votes by the partners, members, or shareholders to formally begin the process.
  2. Customers/Clients
  3. Vendors/Suppliers
  4. Landlord
  5. Financial Institutions, Banks, and Credit Card Companies
  6. Utilities and Service Providers
  7. Other Lenders (e.g. friends and family give you a loan?)
  8. Employees and Contractors
  9. Federal, State and County Governments (e.g. your taxes, licenses, and permits)
  10. Outstanding Lawsuits (if your business is currently in a lawsuit you may have to delay your plans of closing the business till this is resolved)
  11. Business Owners (e.g. if you are Managing-Member of an LLC members group, you have certain obligations to them prior to closing the LLC)
  12. Anyone other creditors

Consider that anyone of these may have a cause of action (lawsuit) against you or the business if you do not properly deal with them. Many of them are creditors and in some instances if you don’t pay or do what you are supposed, they will sue you to attempt collect their money. Did you give your customers coupons to use? Did you buy inventory on credit? Is the credit card paid off? How long is left on the term lease? Do you have enough money to cover payroll? And so forth.

The business owner is responsible to figure out how to end these relationships and the outstanding liabilities on them. However, what you should not do is run to dissolve the business entity first just because the liabilities are so big and onerous.

Why is Proper Notice so important?

Too many times I have seen LLC members think it is a good idea to terminate their LLC when they have not notified their creditors. They don’t understand doing the “hard stuff,” that is notifying creditors is really saving them from personal liability. They have a duty to notify creditors that they are closing to limit debt, not terminate the LLC and run and hide. This latter choice creates personal liability – in effect, you are causing the business entity to cease to exist without taking proper steps, thus eliminating the limited liability shield.

Anything Else to Consider?

None of the foregoing comments and lists are exhaustive. Each business, and its owners are unique and may sometimes have special circumstances. If you have a situation that needs specific legal advice, then consult with an attorney, the sooner the better.

However, if you are still considering your options or want to learn more about how to close a business, then consider joining our upcoming webinar – Throwing in the Towel: Legal Issues to Consider for Closing Your Business on Thursday, September 3, at 12 p.m. Register here!

Also, stay tuned for our bLAWg next week, that will cover: (i) a checklist of steps to consider when closing your business; (ii) other options instead of closing your business; and (iii) what to do when the business’s debts and liabilities vastly exceed its assets.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, 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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