Parent-Child Exclusion From Property Tax Reassessment

California provides various exclusions from reassessment of property tax when a “change of ownership” occurs.  One of the most common exclusions is used to prevent reassessment for transfers from a parent to a child or from a grandparent to a grandchild (often referred to as the “parent-child exclusion”).  However, it is important to understand when a “change in ownership” occurs and how long you have to apply for an exclusion from property tax reassessment.

“Change of Ownership”

Generally, Revenue & Taxation Code Sections 60 through 62 define the events (i.e., the sales and transfers) that trigger property tax reassessments under provisions of the California Constitution, commonly known as Proposition 13.  These trigger events are known as a change of ownership.  Generally, whenever a change of ownership occurs that is not subject to an exclusion provided under the Revenue and Taxation Code, the transferee must file a change in ownership statement in the county where the real property is located. Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 480(a).

Revenue and Taxation Code section 60 defines a “change in ownership” as “a transfer of a present interest in real property, including the beneficial use thereof, the value of which is substantially equal to the value of the fee interest.”  The transfer of a fee interest is commonly accomplished via a sale from one person or entity to another.

Transfers can also be through legal trusts.  In fact, transfers between parents and children typically take place through trusts that are set up by the parent(s) for the benefit of the child after the parent passes away.   The Revenue and Taxation Code also provides that circumstances constituting a “change in ownership” occur when any interests in real property which vest in persons other than the trustor (i.e., the trust creator) or when a revocable trust becomes irrevocable (such as the parent/trustor passing away).

Thus, there is a change of ownership when the children receive the full present interest in real property, even when the property remains in the trust.  Luckily an exclusion is available to prevent a costly property tax reassessment, but must be timely claimed.

The Parent-Child Exclusion

Certain constitutional initiatives (including Propositions 13, 58, and 193) were passed that provide for exclusions to reassessment when the transfer is from a parent to a child or from a grandparent to a grandchild.  Those initiatives were codified in the California Revenue & Taxation Code, which states (in relevant part) that “a change in ownership shall not include the purchase or transfer of real property . . . between parents and their children.”  Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 63.1.

But, in order to avoid reassessment under the parent-child exclusions described above, once there is a change in ownership a claim for the exclusion must be filed within three (3) years after the date of the purchase or transfer of real property, or prior to transfer of the real property to a third party (whichever is earlier).  If no claim for a parent-child exclusion is filed within the three (3) year period, then it may be filed within six months from the date of mailing of a notice of supplemental or escape assessment that was issued as a result of the purchase or transfer of the real property.  Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 63.1.

Doing Business in California: Failing to Obtain a Certificate of Qualification

Doing Business in CaliforniaAs we discussed in our blog last week, a foreign corporation or other business entity transacting business within California must comply with the certification requirements of Corporations Code § 2105 and obtain a Certificate of Qualification.  As set forth in the following list, the consequences for failing to comply with the California Corporations Code (the “Code”) can be harsh.

  • A foreign entity is not permitted to maintain an action or proceeding within California regarding business transacted intrastate until it comes within compliance of the Code.

  • Transacting unauthorized intrastate business is deemed as consenting to the jurisdiction of California courts in any civil action arising in California in which the entity is named as a defendant.

  • The entity may be subject to a per diem (per day) penalty of $20.00 for each day that unauthorized intrastate business is transacted.

  • Prosecution may be brought by the California Attorney General and an additional money penalty may be sought against the entity.

The harsh consequences described above can be avoided by obtaining a Certificate of Qualification.  Under Corporations Code § 2105, in order to obtain that certificate a foreign corporation or other business entity must file a form prescribed by the Secretary of State that is signed by a corporate officer or a trustee stating, among other things:

  • Its name and the state or place of its incorporation or organization.

  • The street address of its principal executive office.

  • The street address of its principal office within California, if any.

  • The name of an agent for service of legal process located within California.

  • Irrevocable consent to service of process directed to it upon the California agent designated

  • Affirmation of compliance with certain insurance requirements, if applicable.

Once the foreign entity makes all appropriate filings and pays the associated filing fees it receives a Certificate of Qualification from the Secretary of State.

The corporation may then maintain or refile a case that had been dismissed because of its non-compliance.  However, and importantly, the corporation must be cognizant of the otherwise applicable statute of limitations and refile promptly if necessary.  If refiling an action that had previously been dismissed, the entity must file receipts and evidence of compliance (such as the Certificate of Qualification) with the clerk of the court.

Doing Business in California: “Transacting Intrastate Business”

We have previously written about doing business in California, and how the California Corporations Code uses a “transacting intrastate business” test.  Importantly, if a corporation or other entity is deemed to be doing business in California under the “transacting intrastate business” test, that entity must obtain a “Certificate of Qualification” under Corporations Code § 2105.  This post will look at what will and will not constitute “transacting intrastate business.”

Transacting Intrastate Business

Transacting intrastate business means that the entity or some part thereof enters into or conducts repeated and successive business transactions (sales, deals, etc.) in California.  Like many legal tests, certain factors will be weighed to determine whether or not the test is satisfied.  To assist courts and businesses in determining what may or may not qualify as transacting intrastate business, Corporations Code § 191 sets out what activities will not be considered to be transacting intrastate business, although a listed activity may be taken with other activities that, taken together, constitutes transacting intrastate business.  Some of the protected activities include:

(1) Maintaining or defending any action or suit or any administrative or arbitration proceeding, or effecting the settlement thereof or the settlement of claims or disputes.

(2) Holding meetings of its board or shareholders or carrying on other activities concerning its internal affairs.

(3) Maintaining bank accounts.

(4) Maintaining offices or agencies for the transfer, exchange, and registration of its securities or depositaries with relation to its securities.

(5) Effecting sales through independent contractors.

(6) Soliciting or procuring orders, whether by mail or through employees or agents or otherwise, where those orders require acceptance outside this state before becoming binding contracts.

(7) Creating evidences of debt or mortgages, liens or security interests on real or personal property.

(8) Conducting an isolated transaction completed within a period of 180 days and not in the course of a number of repeated transactions of like nature.

Likewise, a foreign corporation will not be considered to be transacting intrastate business solely because one of its subsidiaries transacts intrastate business.  A foreign corporation or other entity  will also not be considered to be transacting intrastate business solely because of its status as any one or more of the following:

(1) It is a shareholder of a domestic corporation.

(2) It is a shareholder of a foreign corporation transacting intrastate business.

(3) It is a limited partner of a domestic limited partnership.

(4) It is a limited partner of a foreign limited partnership transacting intrastate business.

(5) It is a member or manager of a domestic limited liability company.

(6) It is a member or manager of a foreign limited liability company transacting intrastate business.

In addition to the above, it is important to note that, in the digital age, an entity conducting significant business over the internet may have sufficient contacts with California to allow a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the entity.  Furthermore, California law permits a plaintiff to conduct initial discovery against a defendant corporation or other entity to determine whether or not the corporation has been doing business within the state.

Ninth Circuit: Section 16600 Applies to Settlements

Section 16600 of the California Business and Professions Code prohibits contracts from restraining individuals “from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind.”  While the reach of Section 16600 is broad (recently reaching as far as the  Delaware Court of Chancery), it has traditionally been applied only to employment contracts or agreements that contain non-competition or non-compete clauses where the former employee is prevented from working with a competitor.

But what about a settlement agreement that prohibits employment with a former employer, i.e., an agreement that a former employee can only work for competitors?  Last week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed that very issue in Golden v. California Emergency Physicians Medical Group, No. 12-16514, 2015 WL 1543049 (Apr. 8, 2015).

In that case, Donald Golden (“Golden”), an emergency room doctor, sued his former employer, California Emergency Physicians Medical Group (“CEP”), and others alleging various causes of action including racial discrimination.  In open court CEP agreed to pay a “substantial monetary amount” to Golden, and Golden agreed to withdraw his claims against CEP and “waive any and all rights to employment with CEP or at any facility that CEP may own” now and in the future.  (Notably, CEP is a consortium of more than 1,000 physicians and staffs and manages emergency rooms and inpatient centers throughout California.) 

Golden later refused to sign the settlement agreement.  The district court ultimately granted a motion by Golden’s former counsel to intervene and ordered that the settlement agreement be enforced. Golden appealed to the 9th Circuit on the single issue that the settlement agreement was void under Section 16600.

After addressing the issue of ripeness, the majority began by noting that the California Supreme Court had not ruled on whether Section 16600 applies outside of “typical so-called ‘non-compete covenants,’” and specifically “whether a contract can impermissibly restrain professional practice, within the meaning of the statute, if it does not prevent a former employee from seeking work with a competitor and if it does not penalize him should he do so.”

The majority found that the breadth of the statute meant that Section 16600 was not so limited and that the district court improperly determined that the settlement agreement need not comply with Section 16600.  As the court noted, Section 16600 prohibits “every contract” (not specifically excepted by another statute) that “restrain[s]” someone “from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business.”  Therefore, Section 16600 applies to all such restrictions “no matter [their] form or scope.”  The case was reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

Notably, former 9th Circuit chief justice Alex Kozinski filed  a dissenting opinion accusing the majority of ruling on the case despite the fact that, according to him, “the settlement agreement does not limit Dr. Golden’s ability to practice his profession at this time—except to the extent that he can’t work for CEP.”  In his opinion, the majority misconstrued Section 16600 and allowed it to preserve “an unfettered right to employment in all future circumstances, no matter how remote or contingent.”  Judge Kozinski would have dismissed the case for lack of standing until Golden had actually been fired or denied a position due to the settlement agreement. 

California’s Presumption Against Non-Compete Agreements Recognized in Delaware

Terms of Employment ContractPreviously on the blog we discussed how non-compete agreements in California are presumed void unless they meet one of two very narrow statutory exceptions. A recent decision from the  Delaware Court of Chancery further emphasized the reach and effect of this presumption by upholding a California employee’s right to contract despite a non-compete agreement in an employment contract governed by Delaware law.

Specifically, in  Ascension Insurance Holdings, LLC v. Underwood et al., the Delaware Court addressed the issue of whether a non-compete provision governed by Delaware law could be enforced against a California-based employee competing against his California-based employer. Ascension Insurance Holdings, LLC v. Underwood et al., C.A. 9897-VCG (Del Ch. January 28, 2015). 

Ascension is a limited liability company incorporated in Delaware, but its principal place of business is in California.  Ascension acquired the assets of another company and as part of the acquisition Underwood entered into agreements not-to-compete with Ascension or its subsidiary Alliant Insurance Services, Inc. (“AIS”), where Underwood had been previously employed.

Underwood allegedly began competing in violation of the agreement’s non-compete, and Ascension sought an injunction seeking to enforce the non-compete against Underwood. The defendants argued that the covenant was not enforceable as it was against the public policy of California. However, Ascension argued that the covenant not-to-compete signed by Underwood contained a Delaware choice of law provision, and therefore the covenant was enforceable.

The Delaware Court of Chancery concluded that California law, not Delaware law, applied. Despite the fact that the employment agreement contained a Delaware choice-of-law provision, the court did not enforce the non-compete agreement and denied the request for an injunction. The court noted that it does not have to automatically defer to the parties’ choice of law selection, but rather examined whether enforcement of the non-compete would conflict with California’s strong statutory policy against non-compete agreements.  In fact, the court found that such a conflict did exist, and it also found that California’s interest in upholding its policy against the enforcement of non-competes outweighed Delaware’s interest in enforcing the non-compete agreement.

The impact of this case is significant in light of the fact that many companies chose to incorporate in Delaware but principally operate in California, and that those companies may also choose to apply Delaware law to their contractual agreements.  A recent report found that out of 211,929 observed businesses nationwide, 54.57% incorporated in Delaware. The next biggest state is New York with 5.15%, followed by California with 4.38%.  The top 10 states make up over 80% of all corporations.

If you have any questions about on-compete clauses, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you.

What is a Change Order in a Construction Contract?

“No prudent individual would make a contract for the construction of a building of any magnitude without incorporating a provision somewhere making specific and definite arrangements concerning extra work.” City Street Improvement Company v. Kroh, 158 Cal. 308, 321 (1910).

Previously on our blog, we discussed how changes to construction contracts are often unavoidable, but that there are limitations to how much a construction contract can change. In this article, we will discuss the proper tool for acceptable change requests: the “change order.”

A change order is essentially an amendment to a construction contract. It represents the mutual consensus between the parties on a change to the schedule, price, work, or other contract term.  Like any other contract amendment, a change order has to meet the requirements of valid contract formation (offer, acceptance, reasonable identification of changed terms, exchange of consideration, and be signed by both parties).

A change order should always be accompanied by documentation, such as original contract documents, emails discussing the change, revised plans and specifications, meeting minutes, and any other reports that might be related to the change order.  Change orders and associated documents should be kept on file with all other project records.  Moreover, since the statute of limitations for most construction claims is ten years, every contract, change order, and supporting document for a change order should be kept at least that long. Finally, it is especially important to determine and document the cost of a change order.

If you have questions about construction contract claims, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

What is a B Corporation?

A “B” Corporation is an unofficial designation for socially responsible businesses.  It can also be referred to as a B Corp, Benefit Corp, or B Corp Certification. The 501(c)3 nonprofit, B Lab, determines and designates B Corporations. There are over 1,000 Certified B Corps in more than 60 industries.  Companies that have obtained B Corp designation include Etsy, Method, Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, and Patagonia.

There are many benefits associated with B Corporation status. Designation as a B Corporation can make your business more attractive to the growing number of socially conscious consumers, and consumers generally who already largely align their purchases with their values. Also, some companies offer discounted products and services to B Corp Certified businesses. For example, Intuit offers B Corporations QuickBooks for free.

In order to obtain B Corporation designation, a business has to pass rigorous standards of environmental and social performance, as well as committing to fostering open communication and transparency.  The first step is completing a “B Impact Assessment.”  A passing score on this assessment is 80 out of 200 points. The assessment examines the overall impact  a company has on its stakeholders, and will vary depending on the company’s size, sector, and location. Afterwards, a company will have to submit supporting documentation and complete a disclosure questionnaire.  Additionally, every year, ten percent of Certified B Corporations are randomly selected for an on-site review.  The purpose of these random audits is to verify the accuracy of all affirmative responses in the company’s B Impact Assessment.

Once a business has met all of these requirements,  it will be able to sign the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence and Term Sheet, making its status as a B Corp official.

If you have any questions about having your business designated as a B Corporation, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your real estate, business, or contract law needs.

How to Modify a Contract

Varying circumstances may require parties to a contract to modify their original agreement.  For example, contract modification may be necessary if parties want to extend a contract, change its duration, alter the quantity of goods to be sold or delivered, change a delivery time or place, or change a payment amount or type.

Parties typically can modify a contract at any time, as long as all the parties agree to the changes.  Minor changes in a contract can often be handwritten into the original document, and then signed or initialed by the parties. For example, a purchase order may be modified to provide for additional items and initialed and signed by the seller and buyer evidencing an agreement to the modification.

Major changes to a contract will often have to be re-negotiated and added to the agreement as an addendum.  Oftentimes, a well drafted contract will outline terms explaining how a modification may be effected. Typical terms include that the contract may only be modified in a writing that is signed and executed by all parties. Valid contract modifications will be enforced and are binding on the parties.

It is always best to ensure that all contract terms are accurate before the agreement is signed. Sometimes, modifying a contract after it has been signed can be complicated or impractical, particularly if one or both parties have already begun performing their contractual duties.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and  businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

Intellectual Property Basics for Businesses

Intellectual Property Basics

It is important to protect the intellectual property and proprietary aspects of any businesses’ goods and/or services.  There are a variety of different ways to go about protecting your intellectual property, and it is important to determine what method will accomplish your goals effectively. It is therefore important to develop an understanding of the different intellectual property protection options. Depending on your company’s needs, you may want to consider either a patent, trademark, trade secret, or copyrights.

What is a Patent?

patent is a property right. Upon successful application, a patent is granted by the federal government to an inventor. The purpose is “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” This protection is given to an inventor for a limited time in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

What is a Trademark?

A patent is very different from a trademark.  A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design (or a combination of these), that identifies and distinguishes the source of one’s goods from others.  A “service mark” is like a trademark, but it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service instead of goods.  Like a patent, a trademark is also granted by the government and entitles the holder of the mark to protect their marks from other competitors.

What is a Trade Secret?

When determining whether a patent is feasible for you, you should also take timing into consideration. For example, if your idea is for something that would be part of fast-moving industries, a patent might not be viable. Technology often moves faster than the patent application process, so it might be better to keep your idea a trade secret, i.e., information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors.  Protecting trade secrets often involves contractual protections and state unfair competition laws, among others.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a form of protection offered to authors of “original works of authorship,” such as music, books, and plays. Copyrights are available for published and unpublished works and are given copyright protection after the copyright is registered through the Federal Government.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

 

The Difference Between a Merger and an Acquisition

What is the difference between a merger and an acquisition?  The terms “merger” and “acquisition” are common business terms, but they are often inappropriately used interchangeably, when in fact the two transactions are rather different. If you are planning to combine or purchase assets from another company it is imperative that  you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Merger

In a merger, usually two or more businesses wind down as separate entities, and then a new entity is formed – that is, two entities merge into one new entity. The assets and liabilities of both the original businesses are often carried over to the new company.

Recently, mergers have been especially prevalent in the healthcare and airline industries. For example, one of the biggest mergers has been American Airlines and U.S. Airways. Final steps of the 2010 merger, such as a single reservation system and consolidating frequent flyer programs, are still not complete because of the size of this operation.

Acquisition

In an acquisition, usually one business purchases all or part of another business. As in a merger, most acquisitions involve lengthy negotiations, due diligence, and portfolio transfers. In addition, sellers are generally required to provide information about its’ or their finances, personnel, business opportunities, marketing practices, insurance, and legal status.

Acquisitions are unique and fact-specific.  For example, a seller may finance part of the sale in one transaction, or complete an acquisition using a transfer of stock or cash or both.

Examples of major acquisitions just this year include AT&T’s $69.8 billion purchase of DirectTV and Comcast’s $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

If you are considering an acquisition or merger it is always best to consult with an attorney who can help find the most advantageous transaction in light of all the factors and issues in your particular case.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law concerns.