Limited liability companies (“LLCs”) have become a popular business entity for individuals in Kentucky. One of the main reasons that Kentucky small business owners choose the LLC is because of the protection offered by Kentucky Revised Statute 275.150 – “no member…of a limited liability company…shall be personally liable by reason of being a member…for a debt, obligation, or liability” of the LLC. Generally, LLC members can take business risks and creditors cannot seek their personal assets should their business ventures fail.
However, the LLC protection is not absolute. “Veil piercing” is an equitable remedy that allows a court to impose personal liability on shareholders for a corporation’s wrongful acts. In Turner v. Andrew, the Kentucky Supreme Court stated that the doctrine can also apply to LLCs.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of Kentucky clarified the test for veil piercing in Inter Tel Techs v. Linn Station, LLC. While Inter Tel Techs discusses veil piercing in the context of a corporation, Kentucky law does not distinguish between corporations and LLCs when analyzing the equitable remedy. In Inter Tel Techs, The Supreme Court stated that in its determination of whether to pierce the corporate veil, trial courts should essentially resolve two dispositive elements: (1) domination of the corporation resulting in a loss of corporate separateness and (2) circumstances under which continued recognition of the corporation would sanction fraud or promote injustice.
So how does the veil piercing doctrine affect small businesses? In Inter Tel Techs, the Court noted that in assessing the first element above, courts give the most emphasis to several factors, one of which is the egregious failure to observe legal formalities.
In my practice, piercing the corporate veil has come up most often where small businesses fail to follow the legal formalities associated with the business entity. This can include failure to hold meetings, failure to keep records of important decisions, and failure to monitor the activities of its members. To avoid personal liability, LLC members should make sure that they know the ins and outs of their LLC’s operating agreement and strictly comply with the agreement’s provisions.
Our team at Hemmer DeFrank Wessels is ready to answer any questions that you may have about your operating agreement or corporate bylaws, or how the legal doctrine of piercing the corporate veil may affect your business.
Kyle Winslow is an attorney with Hemmer DeFrank Wessels PLLC. He helps business professionals solve problems in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.
Hemmer DeFrank Wessels, PLLC serves clients throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and New York, including the cities of Cincinnati, Covington, Florence, Ft. Wright, Newport, Erlanger, Independence, Highland Heights, Park Hills; and the communities of Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Kenton County, Boone County, Campbell County, Grant County, Hamilton County, Clermont County, Warren County and Butler County.