Sunday, September 20, 2009
Is the Validity of an Arbitration Agreement Affected by Corporate Reorganization and Name Change?
DOES CORPORATE REORGANIZATION (change of corporate name and charter) RENDER EXISTING ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS WITH EMPLOYEES UNENFORCEABLE UNLESS RENEWED? The Eight Court of Appeals of Texas in El Paso recently examined the proposition as a matter of first impression and concluded that an existing arbitration agreement governing claims of injury in the workplace was not affected by the employer's name & charter change as the changes merely involved "rebranding" rather than termination of a corporation and creation of a new one. Therefore, it was not necessary for a new arbitration agreement to be entered between the employee and the successor corporation, which also retained the same filing number with the Texas Secretary of State. From the Opinion: In the present case the Real Party makes the novel argument that because NCED is now ReadyOne and because ReadyOne (formerly NCED) has amended and restated its certificate of formation, the Agreement in not enforceable. The crux of this argument is that when a business entity substantially changes its character, and the changes fall short of ending or making a new corporate existence, prior obligations with contracting parties are void or nullified, because the new party was not a signatory to prior obligations. For this to be true, it must be shown that ReadyOne is not merely rebranded but is a new entity under Texas law. Texas has already tackled the impact of a name change on an arbitration agreement. The H&R Block court found "[u]nder ordinary legal principles, a contracting party that has merely changed its name is still a contracting party." In re H & R Block Financial Advisors, Inc., 235 S.W.3d 177, 178 (Tex. 2007) (citing, e.g., Coulson v. Lake LBJ Mun. Util. Dist., 781 S.W.2d 594, 595 (Tex. 1989); Texas Co. v. Lee, 138 Tex. 167, 157 S.W.2d 628, 630 (1941)). "Accordingly, the company's change of name does not prevent it from invoking its own arbitration agreements." Id.; see also Contec Corp. v. Remote Solution, Co., 398 F.3d 205, 207 (2d Cir. 2005); Sunkist Soft Drinks, Inc. v. Sunkist Growers, Inc., 10 F.3d 753, 757 (11th Cir. 1993). It is clear that in Texas a corporate name change does not affect the contractual obligations of parties existing prior to the name change, so a business entity with a new name may invoke an arbitration agreement that was signed by the same company prior to the name change. No clear authority exists on what impact a restated corporate purpose or other amendments to the certificate of formation has on contractual obligations in existence at the time of the changes. In Contec the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that even when there had been corporate name and form changes, the surviving entity should be permitted to enforce the agreement. Contec Corp., 398 F.3d at 210. The rationale of H&R Block and Contec thus suggests that name changes do not eliminate contractual obligation in place before these changes. NCED restated and made amendments to its certificate of formation. Amendments and restatements do not create a new entity. When the term amendment and restate are given their plain meanings, the terms do not mean to "create a new." This is evidenced by two items in the Secretary of State's communications with ReadyOne and NCED. First, the Secretary of State now refers to ReadyOne as formerly: NATIONAL CENTER FOR EMPLOYMENT OF THE DISABLED. Second, in ReadyOne's certificate of filing, the filing number is 112382901; identical to NCED's certificate of filing. By referring to ReadyOne as formerly NCED and by keeping the file numbers the same, the Secretary of State is putting the public on notice that the two entities are the same under Texas law. The Texas Business Organizations Code (BOC) also supports the finding that ReadyOne is merely a rebranded NCED. First, under the BOC a corporation has a perpetual existence unless otherwise stated in the certificate of formation. Tex.Bus.Org.Code Ann. § 3.005(a)(4) (Vernon Supp. 2008). Changing a corporate name or form does not end this perpetual existence. Specifically, to terminate a corporate existence, the business entity must conduct a windup. Tex.Bus.Org.Code Ann. § 11.052. During this windup the entity must discharge its property to satisfy its obligations. Id. Most importantly, after the windup is complete, the entity must file a certificate of termination. Tex.Bus.Org.Code Ann. § 11.101. So, the corporate entity does not cease to exist until the termination is filed. Tex.Bus.Org.Code Ann. § 11.102. Based on the evidence before this Court, NCED still exists, but now it has a new operating name and restated purpose. Neither the Real Party nor Relators were able to find law indicating that a series of amendments or restaments of corporate purpose makes an entity a new company and thus relieving underlying contractual obligations. A corporation in Texas is permitted to freely restate or amend its certificate of formation. Tex.Bus.Org.Code Ann. §§ 3.056, 3.057. Absent in the Texas BOC is a provision which supports the Real Party's argument. Because no law supports the Real Party's argument that ReadyOne is nothing more than a rebranded NCED, and because NCED is still in existence in the eyes of Texas, this Court finds that the arbitration can be invoked by ReadyOne (formerly NCED). In Re ReadyOne, No. 08-08-00221-CV (Tex.App.- El Paso, Aug. 19, 2009) (mandamus compelling arbitration granted, arbitration of workplace injury claim, no waiver of right to arbitrate) Disposition of Petition for Writ of Mandamus: GRANTED Opinion by Chief Justice David Wellington Chew Other judges participating in deciding case: Justice McClure, The Honorable Gomez Appellate cause no and link to docket: 08-08-00221-CV Case style in the Court of Appeals: In Re: ReadyOne Industries, Inc. and Amalia Lopez From the Recitation of Facts in the Opinion: On February 23, 2005, Torres signed an arbitration agreement (Agreement) with her employer, the National Center for Employment of the Disabled (NCED). This Agreement requires that both Torres and her employer arbitrate "[a]ny injury suffered by Claimant while in the Course and Scope of Claimant's employment with Company, including but not limited to, claims for negligence, gross negligence, and all claims for personal injuries . . . ." In NCED's Restated Certificate of Formation with New Amendments, it simultaneously adopted the Texas Business Organizations Code and changed its name to ReadyOne Industries, Inc. (formerly National Center for Employment of the Disabled). Along with this name change, ReadyOne Industries, Inc. (ReadyOne) also amended Articles 1-7 and added Articles 8-9 to its certificate of formation. Specifically, the following changes were made: (i) change the filing entity's name; (ii) update the registered agent and office; (iii) update the provisions regarding the board of directors; (iv) provide that the filing entity has no members; (v) restate the filing entity's purposes; (vi) restate the method of asset distribution upon the dissolution of the filing entity; (vii) restate the prohibitions on certain activities; (viii) provide for limitation of the liability of the directors and officers of the filing entity under certain circumstances; (ix) eliminate the express period of duration of the filing entity; and (x) eliminate the name and address of the organizer.