One option is for the unhappy member to leave the LLC and allow it to fail. That's a drastic step with some down-side risk. Let's first look at potential benefits of walking. This approach can be attractive where the LLC is a service business. The main issue in service businesses is who controls the bulk of the customer contacts and new business leads? If it is the same member who is disgruntled and wishes to bolt the LLC, then it may make sense to walk and take the business with you. If the LLC owns equipment that is vital to providing the service, this becomes problematic. A member cannot walk away with key assets. That's theft.
Risks In Walking Away From LLC While Talking Lion's Share of LLC Business
- Up top has to be dealing with LLC debts for which the departing member is personally liable. Does the LLC have a lease for office space that is personally guaranteed by the members? What about equipment leases? Bank loans? Credit cards?
- As stated above, a departing member cannot bring with him or her any assets of the LLC. The LLC customer list is an asset. You should leave it with the LLC records. If the LLC has a small number of key customers, no big deal. But if the list if voluminous, you may have a difficult time recreating the customer list from secondary sources such as the Yellow Pages.
- Stealing key employees. If the LLC has employees with a written contract, legal issues arise when a former member steals an employee from the LLC (i.e., tortious interference with a contractual relationship).
- Fiduciary duties LLC members owe to one another. The extent of fiduciary duties owed by LLC members to each other varies from state to state and can often be modified by the operating agreement. A common fiduciary duty owed by LLC members to each other is one of loyalty. That means the LLC member never acts against the interest of the LLC. If a member plans on bolting the LLC and scooping up key customers / employees in the process, overt actions to further than plan should not occur while the individual is still an active member of the LLC. By "overt", I mean don't contact the customers / key employees asking them to join you in the new venture until you are already out the door. Why? Recruiting away customers and employees from the LLC to the new business could violate the duty of loyalty. See blog post from my commercial site for more info on topic.