Fourth Circuit On LLC Law And Fried Chicken And Waffles

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The Fourth Circuit doesn't get into matters of LLC law very often, but it did last week in Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown. The LLC and its members were suing their landlord for discriminating against them on the basis of race.

The LLC was operating a restaurant which served an African-American clientele. The Plaintiffs said that the Defendants became hostile to them as a result and referred to their business in a racially disparaging way and interfered with their sale of the business.

One of the comments by the Defendants, when the Plaintiffs attempted to sell their business, was whether they were going to open another "chicken and waffle shack."

Let me say that I love [fried] chicken and waffles for breakfast. If you haven't tried that dish, Dame's Chicken & Waffles, in Greensboro's Southside neighborhood, is outstanding. If you don't get the racial animus alleged to be behind that term, the dish is said to have originated with African-American southerners.

But could the LLC members, who alleged that they suffered "personal out-of-pocket losses" as a result of the Defendants' discriminatory conduct, state a claim against them?

No, said Judge Niemeyer, since they were LLC members. He held that:

[i]n advancing their arguments [the members] failed to account for the fact that they elected to conduct their business through a limited liability company ("LLC") and that, just as they received protection of their personal assets from liability in doing so, they also assumed a role as agents for the company. At bottom, they gave up standing to claim damages to the LLC, even if they also suffered personal damages as a consequence. The Supreme Court’s decision in Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470 (2006), forecloses just such claims.

Op. at 7 (emphasis added).

I wasn't familiar with the Supreme Court's decision in Domino's Pizza, but it rejected in that case a shareholder's personal claims for race discrimination, holding that they belonged solely to the corporation. Justice Scalia held there that:

it is fundamental corporation and agency law—indeed, it can be said to be the whole purpose of corporation and agency law—that the shareholder and contracting officer of a corporation has no rights and is exposed to no liability under the corporation’s contracts.

546 U.S. at 477.

I will hold off on my pizza recommendations.