Proposed Changes to Indiana LLC Statute Part 2: Charging Order Protection

UPDATE, February 19, 2013.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee amended HB1394 to remove the language discussed in this blog post — the changes to IC 23-18-6-7 that would have expressly provided that a charging order is the only right that the creditor of an LLC member has with respect to the LLC. It appears that Indiana will remain in the fourth category of states listed in the article — those in which there is no reverse veil piercing for multi-member LLCs, with the issue remaining unsettled with respect to single member LLCs. The most recent version of the bill is available here.

In my last post, I discussed HB 1394, a bill pending in the Indiana General Assembly that would make several amendments to the statute that governs Indiana limited liability companies. One of the most important changes is to strengthen the so-called “charging order” protection, which I’ll describe shortly after a brief review of some attributes of LLCs and corporations.

Recall that corporations and LLCs both have liability shields that protect the owners of the company (for a corporation, the shareholders; for a limited liability company, the members) from being personally liable for the company’s obligations. That liability shield (whether it’s for a corporation or LLC) is sometimes called a corporate veil, and in some circumstances courts will ignore the shield, or pierce the corporate veil, to allow creditors of the business to reach the personal assets of the owners. I’ve previously discussed precautions that LLC members can take to keep that from happening.

When a court allows a creditor of the business to reach the personal assets of the owners, it’s sometimes called “inside-out veil piercing,” which implies there might be something else called “outside-in veil piercing.” And there is.

Consider what happens when a shareholder of a corporation owes money to a creditor. The shareholder’s stock is just like any other asset, like a bank account, a house, or a car. And just like any other asset (well, most other assets), the stock is subject to foreclosure, which effectively means the creditor takes over ownership. The creditor, now the new shareholder, receives all the rights associated with the stock, including the economic rights (i.e., the right to receive dividends, if there are any) and the non-economic rights (including the right to vote in elections of the board of directors). That’s called “outside-in veil piercing” or sometimes “reverse veil piercing.” If the creditor takes over enough shares of stock, he or she can gain control of the company. Even if the creditor does not gain control of the company, the other shareholders may suddenly find themselves co-owners with someone they don’t even know, maybe even with someone they despise. For large, publicly traded companies with millions of shareholders, that’s no big deal. For family businesses or other businesses with only a few shareholders, it can be a very big deal.

The area of reverse veil piercing is one in which LLCs differ tremendously from corporations, at least in some states, and it is one of the reasons that I advise clients to set up LLC’s far more often than I advise them to set up corporations. When it comes to the rights of a member’s creditors, many states, including Indiana, treat the member’s economic rights and non-economic rights separately. For example, IC 23-18-6-7 allows a court to issue an order requiring a limited liability company to pay to a member’s creditors anything that the LLC would otherwise be required to pay to the member. That’s called a charging order, and it’s something like an order for the garnishment of wages, applied to a member’s right to receive LLC distributions.

The question is whether a charging order is the only remedy a creditor has against the member’s rights. If so, there is no reverse veil piercing, and a member’s creditors cannot take over control of the business or gain a seat at the table with the other members. I believe there are currently five categories of states:

  1. Those in which reverse veil piercing is not allowed for LLCs.
  2. Those in which reverse veil piercing is allowed for single-member LLCs but not for multi-member LLCs.
  3. Those in which reverse veil piercing is allowed for both single-member LLCs and multi-member LLCs (essentially treating LLCs the same as corporations).
  4. Those in which there is no reverse veil piercing for multi-member LLCs but for which the law is unresolved for single-member LLCs.
  5. Those in which the law is unresolved for reverse veil piercing both single-member and multi-member LLCs.

Until fairly recently, Indiana was in the fourth group of states. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, a 2005 decision of the Indiana Court of Appeals, Brant v. Krilich, held that there is no reverse veil-piercing for multi-member LLCs, but apparently leaving the question open for single-member LLCs.

HB 1394 would add a provision to IC 23-18-6-7 expressly stating that a charging order is the exclusive remedy for a judgment creditor of a member and that the creditor has no right to foreclose on the member’s interest. Because the bill makes no distinction between single-member and multi-member LLCs, it appears that HB 1394 would place Indiana in the first category of states — those for which reverse veil piercing is not allowed for either single-member or multi-member LLCs.

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