Results tagged “Owner's Liability” from New York Business Lawyer Blog

September 13, 2012

When Is a Business Owner Liable For Her Corporation's Debts? Piercing the Corporate Veil (II)

1280219_rocks_rocks_rocks.jpgIn our last entry we discussed how piercing the corporate veil can result in the owner of a New York corporation being personally responsible for the corporation's debts and obligations. We also set out the test for piercing the corporate veil: A Plaintiff must show that the owner of the corporation exercised complete domination of the corporation in the transaction the Plaintiff has complained about; that the owner's domination was used to commit a fraud or wrong against the Plaintiff which resulted in the Plaintiff's injury, and that the owner, through her domination, abused the privilege of doing business in the corporate form to perpetrate the wrong against the Plaintiff. See Morris v. New York State Dept. of Taxation & Fin., 82 N.Y.2d 135, 141-42, 623 N.E.2d 1157, 1160-61 (1993); E. Hampton Union Free Sch. Dist. v. Sandpebble Builders, Inc., 66 A.D.3d 122, 126, 884 N.Y.S.2d 94, 98 (2nd Dept. 2009) aff'd, 16 N.Y.3d 775, 944 N.E.2d 1135 (2nd Dept. 2011); Love v. Rebecca Dev., Inc., 56 A.D.3d 733, 868 N.Y.S.2d 125 (2nd Dept. 2008).

There are some interesting cases that illustrate just how difficult it is to pierce the corporate veil. One is E. Hampton Union Free Sch. Dist. v. Sandpebble Builders, Inc., 66 A.D.3d 122, 126, 884 N.Y.S.2d 94, 98 (2nd Dept. 2009) aff'd, 16 N.Y.3d 775, 944 N.E.2d 1135 (2nd Dept. 2011). There, the Plaintiff was a Long Island school district that sued not only a construction company, Sandpebble Builders, Inc., but also its president and principal owner, for breach of contract. The School District alleged that the construction company had negotiated the terms of a construction services contract in bad faith. According to the School District, the company came to an agreement in principal with it on the terms of the contract numerous times only for the company to try to negotiate better terms, and, when it could not, the company would refuse to execute the contract. The company, according to the School District, was trying to delay the project on which it was supposed to work, by prolonging the negotiations, and using that as leverage to negotiate a better deal, one closer to a previous contract which the School District evidently canceled. That, without more, would make the dispute nothing more than another example of why it is important to spell out all of the terms of the contract in writing and to make it clear that the parties involved in a transaction do not wish to be bound unless and until there is a written, executed agreement.

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September 7, 2012

Am I Responsible For My New York Business' Debts: Piercing the Corporate Veil

1191957_grey_emblem.jpg"Piercing the Corporate Veil" is a term that may sound strange, archaic, or even intimidating; but when you dig through the lawyer-speak, it is really a simple concept. Piercing the corporate veil basically means that the owner of a corporation will be personally liable for the debts or obligations of the corporation. That is a concept with which every New York business owner should be familiar.

When people want to start a business in New York, they often form a corporation or other legal entity, such as a Limited Liability Company, to operate the business. They often will not do business under their own name, but, instead, under the corporation's name. Most people know the reason for this is to limit the owners' liability for the acts and debts of the corporation. In New York, as in most jurisdictions, a corporation is a separate legal entity that exists independently of its owners, the owners normally are not liable for the corporation's debts, and a business owner can form a corporation for the very reason that she wants to limit her liability for the corporation's debts. See Morris v. New York State Dept. of Taxation & Fin., 82 N.Y.2d 135, 140-41, 623 N.E.2d 1157, 1160 (1993); and E. Hampton Union Free Sch. Dist. v. Sandpebble Builders, Inc., 66 A.D.3d 122, 126, 884 N.Y.S.2d 94, 98 (2nd Dept. 2009) aff'd, 16 N.Y.3d 775, 944 N.E.2d 1135 (2nd Dept. 2011).

Most business owners form a corporation because they do not want to put their personal assets at risk if they do not have to. If the corporation they own incurs a bill, they intend to pay it, that is how they stay in business; but if the corporation goes out of business or does not have the money to pay the bill, they do not want to have to pay it out of their own pockets. Every New York business owner should remember, however, that this shield against personal liability is not bulletproof. There are ways to hold an owner personally liable for the corporation's debts; i.e., to pierce the corporate veil.

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