A local business owner came to me recently in order to appeal MDOT’s denial of an application for Maryland DBE/MBE certification. Since I had never before read an MDOT denial opinion, there were several interesting issues raised by MDOT that I thought were worth discussing.
1. Ownership – The owners of the business are a husband and wife, and the wife applied as the majority owner of the business for MBE Certification. MDOT focused in part in denying the application on the fact that when the woman owner invested capital in the business at the outset, that her investment came from a credit card jointly held with her husband, and that the credit card balance was eventually paid in full from a jointly held checking account owned by her and her husband. Careful legal drafting of the Articles of Incorporation, and legal advice with regard to who funds the business and how it was funded, would have gone a long way at the outset in potentially avoiding MDOT’s rejection of this application.
2. Control – With regard to control, MDOT focused on two issues: i) the woman owner unquestionably has to be able to prove that she exercises control over the day-to-day operation and management of the company, and has an overall understanding, competence and experience in the business; and ii) the corporate documents, including the Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Shareholder Agreement or Operating Agreement cannot in any way restrict or limit the woman owner’s ability from making the business decisions of the company without the cooperation of the non-disadvantaged owner. In this instance, the company’s Bylaws gave the non-minority owner the same voting rights as the disadvantaged owner, so that she was effectively precluded from making business decisions unilaterally. Properly drafted Bylaws may have avoided this problem.
Reading the opinion as a whole, MDOT focused on several issues which, while separately may not have added up to much, when combined, raised enough questions in MDOT’s mind so as to justify the denial of the business’s DBE/MBE application. The good news is that many of these issues can be avoided with careful legal drafting at the outset.