On March 23, 2018,  in response to Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 6 which directed the New Jersey Department of Health (“Department”) to review New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program (the “Medical Marijuana Program” or “Program”), the Department issued  its report  focusing on how to expand the Program’s scope and patient access to medical marijuana (the “Report”).

The Report focused on the following four principal areas:

  • The rules for siting of dispensaries and cultivation facilities and the number of alternative treatment center (“ATC”);
  • The conditions for physicians participating in the Program and prescribing medical marijuana;
  • The number of medical conditions which qualify for the Program; and
  • The maximum monthly product limit, THC dosage limits and the types of medical marijuana products available for patient use.

Certain aspects of these recommendations may be affected by Department regulatory action, while others will require amendment of the existing New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (the “Act”).

In order to service the growing population of patients with conditions treatable by medical marijuana, the Department plans to amend the existing regulations to permit ATCs to dispense medical marijuana at satellite locations and permit more than one cultivation site per ATC, subject to Department approval. The Department also plans to create an endorsement system to allow ATCs to engage in some combination of production (including edibles), cultivation, and dispensing designed to increase the supply and availability of medical marijuana.  As stated in the Report, the goals of these amendments are to increase the supply and access to medical marijuana for qualifying patients. The Report also makes the statutory recommendation to amend the Act to permit the existing six (6) licensed ATCs, which are statutorily required to be non-profits, to operate as for-profit companies.

The current regulations require that a physician interested in providing care to patients who qualify for medicinal marijuana to first register with the Department, creating a limited number of doctors who can prescribe and treat qualifying patients. The Report indicates that the Department plans to eliminate the physician registry in Spring of 2018 to ensure that any and all New Jersey doctors meeting the good standing  requirements set forth in N.J.A.C. 8:64-2.5 may prescribe medicinal marijuana for patients meeting Program requirements.

Prior to March 22, 2018, the conditions that qualified for treatment by medicinal marijuana under the  Act  were limited to (i) seizer disorders, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity or glaucoma (provided that  such conditions were resistant to conventional medical therapy), (ii) HIV, acquired immune deficiency syndrome or cancer (provided that  sever or chronic pain, nausea, vomiting, cachexia or wasting syndrome resulted from such condition or treatment thereof), (iii) amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, muscular dystrophy or inflammatory bowel disease, (iv) a terminal illness (provided that a physician determined a prognosis of less than 12 months of life), or (v) other medical conditions approved by the Department by way regulation. As outlined in the Report, a final agency decision was made to effectuate the addition of the following categories to conditions qualifying for treatment by medical marijuana: chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, anxiety, chronic pain of visceral origin, and Tourette’s syndrome. The Report also recommends an amendment to the Act permitting medical marijuana to be used as a first-line treatment rather than a last resort for the illnesses described in section (i) above.

Under the current Program, physicians are limited to prescribing two ounces of medicinal marijuana to patients within a 30 day time period. According to the Department’s findings set forth in the Report, physicians should have discretion to authorize more than the Program’s current two ounce limit. As a result, the Department is recommending that the statutory limit be increased to four ounces, which aligns more with our neighboring states such as New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Act presently restricts use of edible marijuana products to qualifying patients who are minors. As stated in the Report, the ingestion of medical marijuana is healthier than smoking, the Report, therefore, also recommends amending the Act to permit the manufacture of edible and topical products and their use by patients.  The Report also provides that the Department will eliminate the regulatory dosage limit of 10% THC limit to allow for more effective treatment of the debilitating medical conditions covered under the Program.

The Report and recommended expansions to New Jersey’s Program  set forth above evidence both the Governor’s and the Department’s goal of growing all aspects of the Program related to the production of and access to medicinal marijuana.

Does your operating agreement reflect your intentions?
New Jersey’s Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (the “RULLCA”) became effective on March 18, 2013. As noted in a post we authored in 2014, although initially applicable only to limited liability companies formed after its effective date, the RULLCA now governs all New Jersey limited liability companies.

Similar to other limited liability company statutes in other states, the RULLCA provides a number of default provisions that apply if the members of a limited liability company (the “LLC”) have not adopted an operating agreement for the LLC or if the operating agreement is silent on a particular issue.  As a result, the rules that apply to New Jersey LLC’s and their members may not reflect the parties’ intentions as to certain topics, even if the parties had previously entered into an operating agreement drafted to conform to the New Jersey’s original Limited Liability Company Act (the “Original LLC Act”).

By way of example, and without limitation, in the absence of a contrary provision in an operating agreement the RULLCA provides that: (1) distributions made by an LLC to its members are to be made to the members in equal shares (in lieu of proportionate distributions based on capital contributions); (2) most decisions are made by a majority in number of the members of a member-managed LLC (rather than based upon the vote of members holding a majority of the interests in the profits of the LLC); (3) an assignment of a member’s “transferable interest” in an LLC is an assignment only of the member’s right to receive distributions from the LLC (with the transferring member retaining all voting rights of member, unless such transferring member is expelled by the unanimous consent of the remaining members following the assignment of a member’s entire “transferable interest” in the LLC).

These are just some examples to highlight the importance of  reviewing with counsel your existing operating agreements, particularly if prepared prior to the adoption of the RULLCA, to confirm that the operating agreement complies with current law and overrides any default provisions of the RULLCA that are contrary to the parties’ intended business arrangement. Further, the current law provides some other possible provisions which may be desirable and which were not available under the Original Act.   The same holds true for entities formed in other states. It is important to note that the default provisions of the RULLCA do, in certain cases, differ from the default provisions of limited liability company statutes in other states. For example, under the default provisions of the New York Limited Liability Company Law, distributions by an LLC are made to the members in proportion to their capital contributions, member voting is in proportion to the members’ respective interests in profits, and a member ceases to be a member or have any voting rights upon the transfer of all of his membership interest in the LLC.

Regardless of the state of formation, you should be certain that what your operating agreement says (and does not say) accurately reflects the parties’ business deal.

Contractors, advisers, and employees (collectively, “Service Providers”) who receive property that is non-transferrable or subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture must generally defer their income recognition until those conditions no longer apply. However, due to the potential appreciation in the property (for example, in value of start-up equity) the ordinary income ultimately recognized could be significantly greater than the initial value. The Service Provider may be able to significantly reduce their taxes, and the employer may create a significant compensation incentive, if the Service Providers make the election under Internal Revenue Code Section 83(b) to recognize the income currently, notwithstanding the forfeiture risks. Timing of this election is critical as it must be made within 30 days after the property is transferred to the Service Provider.

Under Internal Revenue Code 83(a), Service Providers who receive property (including equity interests) for their services that are non-transferrable or subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture are required to pay, at the date the interests vest, income tax on the excess of the fair market value of the property over the amount paid for the property. If the fair market value of the property increases between the grant and vesting of the interests, Service Providers will pay an income tax on the greater value, and possibly at a higher marginal rate too. A Section 83(b) election may be the perfect tool for Service Providers to convert immediate ordinary income into deferred long term capital gains.

The downside of the election is that the income is recognized even though the risk of forfeiture still exists. If the risk materializes and the property goes down in value, or becomes worthless, there is no deduction to the Service Provider. They are stuck with paying income tax on property that is potentially worthless.

These risk/reward tradeoffs highlight the advantage of using this election for compensating employees of start-up ventures, typically with equity subject to vesting. In this case, the current value of the equity is limited, so there is little or no income to report (and pay tax on) currently. If the equity goes down in value, or is forfeited, the employee has not wasted tax payments. However, if the equity increases in value, as the parties hope, then the employee will be able to report this value at the more favorable capital gains rates instead of ordinary rates. The Section 83(b) election can make a start-up equity grant a much more effective inducement to attract new employees, by putting more money into the pocket of the employee.

But remember, taking advantage of the Section 83(b) elections requires a filing by the Service Provider within 30 days after the grant of property. The law does not want to allow the Service Provider to see which way the value is moving. The election, and the commitment to property must be made up front.

Service Providers should contact an attorney or other tax professional when deciding whether or not to make a Section 83(b) election. Additionally, issuers and companies should contact Cole Schotz P.C. before granting equity or other compensation.

Delaware General Corporate Law § 226 (the “Custodian Statute”) bestows the Delaware Court of Chancery with the power to appoint a custodian for solvent companies and receivers for insolvent companies in certain circumstances. See 8 Del. C. § 226. Specifically, a custodian may be appointed where, inter alia, a company’s “stockholders are so divided that they have failed to elect successors to directors whose terms have expired”, and where the business is suffering or threatened with “irreparable injury because the directors are so divided respecting the management of affairs that the required vote for action by the board of directors cannot be obtained and the stockholders are unable to terminate this division.” 8 Del. C. § 226(a)(1), (2). Although a custodian appointed under § 226 shall “continue the business of the corporation and not . . . liquidate its affairs and distribute its assets,” the Chancery Court has wide discretion in how it addresses a deadlock, and may even authorize a custodian to sell a company. See id. The scope of the Chancery Court’s broad discretionary authority to address deadlocks under § 226 was addressed in a recent decision of the Delaware Supreme Court. See Shawe v. Elting, No. 423, 2016, 2017 WL 563963, at *1 (Del. Feb. 13, 2017). Some read that decision as expanding the power of the courts to order the sale of a solvent company’s stock over the objection of the company’s shareholders.

In response to the decision, legislation has been proposed that would restrict the Chancery Court’s ability to dissolve or sell a solvent company by requiring that “alternative remedies prove insufficient after three years”, or the “necessary parties stipulate to such a sale.” Proposed Delaware Senate Bill No. 53.  The purpose of the proposed legislation is to “ensure the continued fair and equitable treatment of corporations in Delaware” by addressing “deficien[cies] in providing fair and equitable remedies in specific regards to deadlock situations.”  Id.  The Delaware Corporate Law Section plans to oppose the bill. The full text of the case, Shawe v. Elting, can be accessed here.

 

In a recent decision of the Delaware Court of Chancery, the Court struck down a corporate bylaw provision of NutriSystem, Inc., a Delaware corporation (the “Company”), ruling the provision to be inconsistent with the Delaware General Corporation Law.  See Fretcher v. Zier, No. CV 12038-VCG, 2017 WL 345142 (Del. Ch. Jan. 24, 2017).  The Company’s bylaw provision, which had recently been adopted as an amendment to the Company’s bylaws, stated that the stockholders of the Company may remove directors, but only upon the vote of “not less than 66 and two-thirds percent…of the voting power of all outstanding shares” of Company stock.  Id. at *1.  This bylaw provision is in contravention of 8 Del. C. § 141(k) under which directors may be removed by a majority vote of corporate shares.

Plaintiff, a shareholder of the Company, brought a class action suit on behalf of the shareholders of the Company against Defendants, who were comprised of the Company and the Board of Directors of the Company.  Id.  Prior to the adoption of the subject bylaw amendment, the relevant bylaw allowed Company stockholders to remove directors only for cause and upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of all outstanding shares of Company stock (the “Removal Provision”).  Id.  On January 7, 2016, the Company filed a Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission announcing that the Board had approved an amendment to the Company’s bylaws which removed the “for cause” requirement from the Removal Provision.  Id.

The Plaintiff filed his Verified Class Action Complaint on February 24, 2016 (the “Complaint”) pleading two counts.  Id. at *2.  In Count I, the Plaintiff alleged a breach of fiduciary duty against the Defendants, contending that the directors breached the duty of loyalty by enacting an unlawful bylaw to entrench themselves in office.  Id.  In Count II, the Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that the Removal Provision violates Section 141(k).  Id.  The Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint on May 27, 2016 and the Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on Count II on August 9, 2016.

The Defendants defense was centered on two legal issues.  First, the Defendants focused their argument on 8 Del. C. § 216, which permits corporations to adopt bylaws specifying the required vote for the transaction of the business of the corporation, subject to other voting requirements necessary to take specific actions.  Id. at *3.  The Defendants conceded that the specific provisions of Section 141(k), addressing removal of directors, supersede this general permissive language, but argued that Section 141(k) “does not dictate a contrary result” because the Section “sets the rules only for the circumstances under which stockholders may remove directors without cause, and does not address the percentage of the vote that is required to remove directors.”  Id.  Second, the Defendants argued that the majority vote portion of Section 141(k) is a permissive provision, noting that Section 141(k) provides only that a majority of stockholders may remove directors, “thereby leaving the bylaws free to require a minority, a supermajority or even unanimity as a requisite for director removal.”  Id.

The Court disposed of Defendant’s arguments using a plain language reading of the statute, ruling that “[Section 141(k)] provides that holders of a majority of stock may—not must—remove directors; that is, if they so choose, the section confers that power.”  Id. at *4.  Stated otherwise, the permissive portion of Section 141(k) is whether a director is removed — not the required vote for such removal.

The Court denied Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss and granted Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Count II.  Count I was withdrawn.  Id.

This decision is a stark reminder that corporations should be mindful of statutory rules when drafting and adopting bylaws.  While corporate statutes serve as guidelines in some circumstances, careful attention must be given to those provisions of a state’s corporate law that are to be literally, not figuratively, construed.