Washington’s Court of Appeals has issued another opinion dealing with the impact on litigation of the cancellation of an LLC’s certificate of formation. Metco Homes, LLC v. N.P.R. Constr., Inc., No. 64535-8-I, 2010 Wash. App. LEXIS 2428 (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 1, 2010) (unpublished).
Metco was a construction contractor and developed a condominium project in Everett. N.P.R. was Metco’s subcontractor and installed the project’s siding. The siding leaked, Metco sued N.P.R., and before trial Metco’s certificate of formation was administratively cancelled by the Washington Secretary of State. On N.P.R.’s motion the trial court dismissed Metco’s suit and awarded attorneys’ fees to N.P.R. based on the attorneys’ fees clause in their contract.
The Metco case is part of the progeny of Chadwick Farms Owners Association v. FHC, LLC, 166 Wn.2d 178, 207 P.3d 1251 (2009), which I previously reviewed, here. Chadwick Farms held that once a Washington LLC’s certificate of formation has been cancelled, it cannot sue or be sued and any pending lawsuits by or against the LLC abate.
An unusual aspect of Metco is the timing of Metco’s cancellation and the maneuvering of the trial date by N.P.R.’s counsel. Metco was administratively dissolved by the Washington Secretary of State on June 1, 2006, apparently for failing to file its annual report and pay its annual fee. Under the LLC Act then in effect, its certificate of formation was due to be cancelled two years later, on June 1, 2008. Metco’s trial date was originally set for trial on May 5, 2008, at which time its certificate of formation would not yet have been cancelled.
Metco was apparently unaware of its dissolution and impending cancellation. That’s odd, because the Secretary of State sends several notices to the registered agent of an LLC that fails to renew its annual report. But N.P.R.’s counsel was well aware of the impending cancellation.
As alleged by Metco, N.P.R.’s counsel misrepresented a scheduling conflict and successfully importuned Metco to reschedule the trial to a later date, after June 1, 2008. Simultaneously she was drafting motion papers to dismiss Metco’s suit on grounds of cancellation of its certificate of formation (which would not happen until June 1). After Metco was cancelled on June 1, she filed N.P.R.’s motion for dismissal of Metco’s lawsuit.
The Court of Appeals found the allegations regarding N.P.R.’s counsel to be disturbing, if true. Metco, 2010 Wash. App. LEXIS 2428, at *8. But even if true, said the court, reinstatement of Metco’s lawsuit would not be required.
[I]t is simply inaccurate to say the alleged deception “caused” the cancelation. Regardless of the alleged actions of NPR’s counsel, Metco could have renewed the LLC at any time in the two years after it was administratively dissolved. Under these circumstances, the trial court’s decision was neither untenable nor was it based on an incorrect standard of law. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to vacate.
Id. Because N.P.R. prevailed at trial, the trial court awarded N.P.R. its attorneys’ fees against Metco, pursuant to the attorneys’ fees clause in their contract. The Court of Appeals reversed and rather straightforwardly applied Chadwick Farms. “[A] lawsuit to enforce contractual duties owed by a LLC, including a duty to pay attorney fees and costs, cannot be maintained after the LLC has been cancelled.” Id. at *8-9.
The court’s emphasis on Metco’s ability to avoid cancellation by simply filing its annual report and paying the fees, and the court’s unwillingness to reinstate the lawsuit even if misrepresentation by the defendant’s counsel were to be established, show the draconian results of the Chadwick Farms ruling. Fortunately, the relevant provisions of Washington’s LLC Act have since been amended to eliminate the possibility of cancelling an LLC’s certificate of formation. I previously described those changes, here.