The plaintiff in AA Primo Builders, LLC v. Washington, No. 53983, 2010 Nev. LEXIS 55 (Nev. Dec. 30, 2010), saw its three-year-old lawsuit thrown out because it failed to pay its annual $125 fee to the Nevada Secretary of State. (“For want of a nail ….”) When the case was dismissed the LLC quickly paid the fee and filed the required annual report, but the trial court refused to allow the LLC to reinstate its lawsuit.
Many states require LLCs to file an annual report and pay an annual fee. For example, besides Nevada’s $125 fee, Delaware’s annual LLC fee is $250, and Washington’s is $69. Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (DLLCA) § 18-1107(b); Wash. Admin. Code§ 434-130-090.
Failure to pay the fee or file the annual report can result in the LLC no longer being in good standing (Delaware, DLLCA § 18-1107(h)) or being administratively dissolved (Washington, Wash. Rev. Code § 25.15.280). These are enforcement mechanisms – upon later payment of the fees and filing of the required report, the LLC can be reinstated. DLLCA § 18-1107(i); Wash. Rev. Code§ 25.15.290.
Nevada’s LLC Act provides that after an LLC has been in default of its filing and annual fee requirement for 12 months, “the charter of the company is revoked and its right to transact business is forfeited.” Nev. Rev. Stat. § 86.274(2). The LLC may then pay all the accrued fees and apply for reinstatement at any time up to five years after the initial default. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 86.276.
The trial court in AA Primo Builders apparently reasoned that if the LLC could not transact business then it could not maintain a lawsuit, and that the LLC’s reinstatement did not cure its default. On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court overruled the trial court.
The court found three reasons to allow an LLC whose charter is revoked and then reinstated to continue its litigation. AA Primo Builders, 2010 Nev. LEXIS 55, at *13-14. First, an LLC’s right to “transact business” is separate from its capacity to sue and be sued. Id. Second, the LLC’s reinstatement relates back to the date of forfeiture as if the right to transact business had at all times remained in force. Id. at *14. Third, dismissal of the suit because of forfeiture of the LLC’s charter should not be ordered without first staying the case for a brief time to allow the LLC to reinstate its charter. Id.
The court relied in part on Nev. Rev. Stat. § 86-274(5), which says that if an LLC’s charter is revoked, “the same proceedings may be had with respect to its property and assets as apply to the dissolution of a limited-liability company.” A dissolved LLC must be wound up, and the dissolution does not impair any remedy or cause of action by or against the LLC. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 86-505.
The syllogism runs as follows. Major premise: a dissolved LLC can sue and be sued. Minor premise: an LLC whose charter has been revoked for nonpayment of fees is treated like a dissolved LLC. Conclusion: An LLC whose charter has been revoked can sue and be sued. The Nevada Supreme Court accordingly reversed the trial court and remanded to allow the LLC’s lawsuit to proceed.
It happens fairly frequently that LLCs fail to file their annual report and pay their annual fees. Usually the LLC will eventually learn of the problem and reinstate itself. If a lawsuit is underway, courts in most states will generally allow the LLC to continue with its suit if it is reinstated. Nevada’s statute was not clear on the point because its terminology – revoking the LLC’s charter and forfeiting the LLC’s right to transact business – connotes permanence and a lack of power to operate.
As a policy matter, AA Primo Builders came out the right way. The fact pattern involved an LLC that was properly formed but later failed to pay a modest annual fee and make a routine, administrative annual report. The consequence, revocation its charter, is an enforcement mechanism, a spur to cause the LLC to come into compliance with its reporting and payment obligations.
To take away an LLC’s ability to sue in court because it overlooked paying a smallish annual fee, even though the LLC then pays its annual fees up to date and fills out its forms, would be more than is necessary for the state’s enforcement mechanism. It would be akin to killing the dog to eliminate its fleas.