LLC members have the right to receive allocations of profits, losses, and distributions (economic rights) and to participate in the LLC’s management. The specifics are determined by the state LLC statute and the LLC agreement. See, e.g., Del. Code ann. tit. 6, §§ 18-503, 18-504, 18-402. The member can also assign its interest in the LLC, unless the LLC agreement provides otherwise. Id. § 18-702. But even if an LLC member assigns its entire interest in the LLC to a third party, the assignee will not necessarily have all the rights of the assignor.
An assignee of an LLC interest will have the economic rights of the assigning member, but the assignee will not have the right to participate in the management of the LLC or to exercise any rights or powers of a member (other than the economic rights) unless the LLC agreement so provides. That is the rule in Delaware and in most other states. See, e.g., id.; Wash. Rev. Code § 25.15.250.
In Rowe v. Voyager HospiceCare Holdings, LLC, 231 P. 3d 1085, No. 101,661, Kan. App. Unpub. LEXIS 452 (Kan. Ct. App. June 18, 2010) (unpublished, mem., per curiam), the Kansas Court of Appeals dealt with a challenge to the validity of an assignment of a member’s interest in a Delaware LLC. Mark Rowe assigned all of his LLC member interest to his wife. The LLC refused to recognize the transfer because it did not consent to Rowe’s wife becoming a member, so Rowe filed a lawsuit for a declaration that he was entitled to make the transfer.
The court noted that Delaware law applied, although the opinion never discusses the Delaware LLC Act. The court treated the dispute as one purely of contract interpretation. Because the Delaware Act’s default rules on assignment of LLC interests can all be overridden by the terms of the LLC agreement, the ruling would have been unchanged even if the court had reviewed and analyzed the Act’s provisions.
Rowe’s LLC agreement barred members from assigning or transferring their interests in the LLC without the prior consent of the LLC’s Board, except for transfers within a Family Group. Rowe’s transfer to his wife was within his Family Group and his wife had agreed in writing to be bound by the LLC agreement, as it required, so the court found that the assignment was permitted by the LLC agreement.
The LLC agreement also provided that an assignee “shall become a substituted Member entitled to all the rights of a Member if and only if the assignor gives the assignee such right and the Board has granted its prior written consent to such assignment and substitution.” The court found the requirement of Board approval to admit the transferee as a substituted member to be a separate requirement that applied even for transfers within a Family Group. Since the Board had not approved of Rowe’s assignment to his wife, she did not become a substituted member. The transfer of the economic rights of Rowe’s LLC interest was valid but did not result in his wife being admitted as a member and having the governance and other rights of a member.
The Court of Appeals concluded by affirming the trial court, holding that Rowe’s assignment of his interest in the LLC was not barred by the LLC agreement, but that his wife only succeeded to the economic rights and was not admitted as a member.
It is an odd thing, this split between economic rights on the one hand and voting, management, and other rights on the other hand. Shares of stock are not treated that way – the buyer of a share will automatically be able to vote the share. Shares of stock are presumed to be fully alienable. Corporate articles or bylaws may limit the transferability of stock, but that is uncommon.
Of course an LLC agreement could make the member interests freely transferrable, including management and voting rights, but that is rarely done. Although courts often view LLCs as similar to corporations, in this one respect the partnership heritage of LLCs looms large. In partnerships the presumption historically was that partnerships were close relationships, where partners pick their co-partners and control the admission of new partners.
That approach is reflected in the state LLC statutes. In fact, the first LLC statute for many states was based on the state’s existing limited partnership statute. I know from lawyers who were involved in the process that that was true in the case of the Washington LLC Act, RCW Chapter 25.15.