The LLC in In re Metcalf Associates-2000, L.L.C. v. Chambers, 213 P.3d 751 (Kan. Ct. App. 2009), owned real estate encumbered by a loan that was coming due in the near future. The real estate needed to be sold or the loan refinanced, but the LLC’s manager could not act because it was deadlocked internally. The owners of the two 50% voting blocks in the LLC were deadlocked and could not agree on a course of action. Because the LLC was in effect frozen, one group of owners petitioned the court for the dissolution of the LLC and the sale of the real estate. The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s order for dissolution of the LLC.
Many state LLC statutes provide for judicially ordered dissolution if it is not reasonably practicable to carry on the LLC’s business in conformity with the LLC’s operating agreement. E.g., Del. Code Ann. tit. 6, § 18-802. Washington’s LLC Act is similar, but adds “or other circumstances render dissolution equitable.” Wash. Rev. Code § 25.15.275. These statutes emphasize the role of the operating agreement in evaluating whether judicially ordered dissolution is appropriate.
The Kansas statute, by contrast, uses an “irreparable injury” test. Any member owning at least 25% of the outstanding interests in the LLC’s capital or profits and losses may petition the court for dissolution and sale of the LLC’s assets
[i]f the business of the limited liability company is suffering or is threatened with irreparable injury because the members of a limited liability company, or the managers of a limited liability company having more than one manager, are so deadlocked respecting the management of the affairs of the limited liability company that the requisite vote for action cannot be obtained and the members are unable to terminate such deadlock ….
Kan. Stat. Ann. § 17-76,117(b). The approach of the Kansas statute, with its emphasis on deadlock and irreparable injury, comes straight out of the corporate statutes. E.g., Wash. Rev. Code § 23B.14.300(2)(a); Model Bus. Corp. Act § 14.30(2)(i) (2008).
The defendant Michael Chambers argued that a unanimity provision in the LLC’s operating agreement precluded a finding of deadlock. Chambers argued that (a) the LLC’s purpose was to buy office buildings and sell them for a profit; (b) the operating agreement required the unanimous agreement of the members to sell the LLC’s real estate; and (c) therefore there could not be a deadlock because the members had not fulfilled the requirement for unanimous agreement that it was time to sell.
The court, however, recognized that there was a fundamental dispute between Chambers and Patrick Hayes (who controlled the other 50% of the LLC). Hayes wanted to sell the building in a short period of time, and Chambers wanted to acquire the building for himself at a price substantially below its fair market value. The court opined that the LLC’s operating agreement could have been drafted to specifically limit the situations in which the court could declare a deadlock, but held that the unanimity requirement did not preclude a finding of deadlock and application of the statutory remedy for deadlock. Metcalf, 213 P.3d at 757-58.
Chambers also argued that the LLC was not facing irreparable harm because it was a solvent, profitable company with substantial rental income. But the court noted that the LLC had no management because its sole manager was itself deadlocked, and the LLC had no way to sell or refinance its real estate because of the members’ deadlock. The statute allows for judicial dissolution when the LLC is suffering or is threatened with irreparable injury. “By including both the actual suffering of irreparable injury and the mere threat of that injury, the legislature has implicitly rejected Chambers’ argument that a company can’t be dissolved so long as it’s still solvent.” Id. at 759.
So is there any difference in outcome between the approach of the Kansas statute (deadlock plus actual or threatened irreparable harm) and that of the Delaware statute (not reasonably practicable to carry on the LLC’s business in conformity with the LLC’s operating agreement)? The Delaware approach looks to the expectations of the parties under the LLC’s operating agreement, while the Kansas test is independent of the operating agreement. Also, the Delaware approach does not require either deadlock or irreparable harm in order for dissolution to result. All that Delaware requires is that it not be reasonably practicable to carry on the LLC’s business in conformity with the LLC’s operating agreement. The cause is not specified, although in many cases it is likely to be a deadlock between the members.
In Metcalf, the result would likely have been the same under the Delaware statute, since it’s hard to see how the LLC’s business could have been carried on in any manner, let alone in conformity with the operating agreement.