My favorite multi-volume treatise is Words and Phrases. If you don’t know it, it is a super-legal dictionary that collects cases from every jurisdiction defining … well, frequently used words and phrases. Since business litigation often turns on the definition of a word or a term that the drafters left undefined, I have a thoroughly excellent time finding a definition in the cases that supports my interpretation.
Last week, in Nelson v. Alliance Hospitality Management, LLC, 2011 NCBC 42, Judge Gale tangled with a word undefined in an LLC’s Operating Agreement: "insolvency". The word was tucked away in what is probably familiar rote language to you, setting out the conditions under which an LLC member would lose his or her rights as a member. It said "[a] member shall cease to have any power as a Member or Manager, any voting rights or rights of approval hereunder upon death, bankruptcy, insolvency, dissolution, assignment for the benefit of creditors, or legal incapacity. . . ."
The Defendant, Alliance, said that Nelson didn’t have standing to sue it because he was insolvent, and he therefore had lost all rights of a member. Alliance presented evidence to Judge Gale that Nelson had several judgments and other court activity which had not gone at all in his favor. The net amount against him totaled almost $8 million. Op.¶28.
Judge Gale was unwilling to rule on a Motion to Dismiss that Nelson was insolvent even in light of the $8 million that he owed. He said that there was no evidence before the Court establishing the asset side of Nelson’s balance sheet, and nothing to demonstrate "his conclusive inability to pay his debts as they come due." Op. ¶29.
You don’t want to leave this post without knowing what Words and Phrases says about "insolvent," do you? It collects four North Carolina cases defining the term. Three of them approve a balance sheet test, which appears to be what Judge Gale used, asking whether the obligor can meet liabilities by converting all of the property owned by that person into money (e.g. Silver Valley Mining Co. v. North Carolina Smelting Co., 119 N.C. 417 (1896)).
It’s nice to have a Court assume that you might have a net worth of more than $8 million and that you therefore wouldn’t be rendered insolvent by scrambling to pay off multi-million dollar judgments. I only know a couple of people who really warrant that generous a presumption, but I’m not one of them