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Foreign LLCs and Corporations That Transact Business in Maryland But Fail to Register in Maryland Cannot File Suit Here

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

          Before transacting interstate or foreign business in Maryland, a foreign limited liability company (“LLC”) shall register to transact business with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (“SDAT”) in accordance with Md. Corp. & Ass’ns. Code Ann. § 4A-1002:

“(a) Requirement. — Before doing any interstate, intrastate, or foreign business in this State, a foreign limited liability company shall register with the Department.”

           Under § 4A-1002, a foreign LLC is required to complete an application setting forth, among other information, its name, state of organization, business purpose, and resident agent, and pay a filing fee to SDAT.

          Md. Corp. & Ass’ns. Code Ann. § 4A-1007 states that any foreign limited liability company that fails to register with the SDAT in accordance with § 4A-1002 is barred from maintaining a lawsuit in any court of this State, as follows:

“(a) Barred from maintaining suit. — If a foreign limited liability company is doing or has done any intrastate, interstate, or foreign business in this State without complying with the requirements of this subtitle, the foreign limited liability company and any person claiming under it may not maintain suit in any court of this State, unless the limited liability company shows to the satisfaction of the court that:

   (1) The foreign limited liability company or the person claiming under it has paid the penalty specified in subsection (d)(1) of this section; and

   (2) (i) The foreign limited liability company or a successor to it has complied with the requirements of this title; or

     (ii) The foreign limited liability company and any foreign limited liability company successor to it are no longer doing intrastate, interstate, or foreign business in this State.”  

In essence, Md. Corp. & Ass’ns. Code Ann. § 4A-1007 bars a foreign LLC from acting as a plaintiff in any Maryland state or federal court if the LLC is doing or has done “any intrastate, interstate, or foreign business” in Maryland without registering or qualifying with SDAT. 

Foreign corporations face nearly identical Maryland statutes.  See Md. Corp. & Ass’ns. Code Ann. §§ 7-202,  and 7-301, respectively. 

The Maryland Court of Appeals stated the following in Yangming Marine Transport Corporation v. Revon Products U.S.A., Inc., 311 Md. 496 (1988):

“As pointed out above, under § 7-301, a foreign corporation that has not complied with § 7-202 or § 7-203 is barred from suing in Maryland if the corporation “is doing . . . any intrastate, interstate, or foreign business in this State.”  …. Instead, we have held that § 7-301 embodies a test for determining whether a foreign corporation is “doing business” in Maryland. See G.E.M., Inc. v. Plough, Inc., 228 Md. 484, 486, 180 A.2d 478, 480 (1962). Under this test, § 7-301 bars an unqualified or unregistered foreign corporation from suing in Maryland courts only if the corporation is doing such a substantial amount of localized business in this State that the corporation could be deemed “present” here. See, e.g., S.A.S. Personnel Consult. v. Pat-Pan, 286 Md. 335, 339-340, 407 A.2d 1139, 1142 (1979); G.E.M., Inc. v. Plough Inc., supra, 228 Md. at 488-489, 180 A.2d at 480-481.



Current Problems with Arbitration Clauses in Franchise and Other Agreements – PART 1

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

I frequently tell my franchise and business clients to be wary of automatically including an arbitration clause in a franchise agreement or other contract they execute. Several years ago it was savvy for a business owner or franchisor to include mandatory arbitration in their agreements. Now, many of the reasons that supported the inclusion of arbitration clauses have been diminished, making the inclusion of mandatory arbitration in many contracts a questionable strategy at best. I now advise my business and franchise clients against arbitrating disputes for the following reasons:

1. Arbitrations are not “cost-savers” like they used to be thanks to the multiple fees associated with the process. Unlike judges, arbitrators are paid by the parties on an hourly basis. It is therefore in an arbitrator’s financial interest for the case to reach a hearing, regardless of the claim’s merits. In addition, many hearings go on much longer than necessary, allowing witnesses and testimony with questionable relevance to be heard. As a result, arbitrator’s fees can be quite significant for even routine business disputes. The arbitrator’s fees are of course in addition to the fees that business clients pay to their own attorneys for handling the matter, plus the hefty filing fees that many arbitration forums charge as well. For example, the American Arbitration Association, the preeminent arbitration forum in the U.S., charges filing fees ranging from $300 to $2,500.00 for commercial arbitration disputes. Contrast these expenses with trials and other court hearings, where judges have no financial interest in prolonging a case, and filing fees are minimal.

2. The distribution of who pays the arbitrator’s and other fees can disfavor the party bringing the action. The filing party, known as the Claimant, will be responsible for paying not only the arbitration filing fees, but also its portion AND the other party’s portion of the arbitrator’s fees mentioned above should the defending party, called the Respondent, refuse to pay its share of such fees. In such a case, the Claimant must pay all fees in order for the matter to go on, yet the Respondent remains entitled to participate in the arbitration process. If the Claimant fails to pay all of the fees owed to the arbitrator, the arbitrator will likely suspend or dismiss the action entirely. Because there is no incentive for a Respondent to pay its share of an arbitrator’s compensation or other fees, the absurd ersult of the Claimant paying all fees happens more than one would think. Combined with the fees a Claimant must pay to its own attorney, it is easy to see why a business owner would question the use of arbitration in the first place.

3. Arbitrators have far more discretion to rule than judges, sometimes in spite of the evidence presented. The arbitration process is much less formal than a trial. While some informality saves the parties time and expense and speeds up the process, the biggest informality can alter the entire outcome, namely, the fact that the rules of evidence do not apply to arbitration. As a result, arbitrators are free to allow documents and testimony that is questionable as to veracity and authenticity into evidence, even though such evidence would not be permitted in a court of law. In plain terms, an arbitration hearing can literally turn into a free for all, with the arbitrator allowing all kinds of testimony and documents to be factored into an award. This sort of setting can severely hurt a business client who is relying strictly on the language of documents and the actions of the parties, while in turn favoring a party hoping for chaos, basing its case on hearsay and unsupported and unreliable accusations. [Tune in to PART 2 next week]