Wednesday, August 08, 2007

When Does Professional Services Corporation Act Apply? – Michigan Court of Appeals Casts Doubt On Traditional Thinking

By: Frederick F. Butters, FAIA, JD, Shareholder,
Keranen & Associates, P.C.

On May 31, 2007, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued its final opinion in Miller v Allstate Ins Co, 2007 Mich App LEXIS 1441. In sum, the Court ruled that where a professional services business can be incorporated under the Michigan Professional Services Corporation Act, it must be incorporated under that act. Contrary to the prevailing view, the Michigan Business Corporation Act does not apply to professional service businesses.

Professional Services Corporation and Business Corporation Differences

The principal difference between a corporation organized under the Michigan Business Corporation Act (the “MBCA”) and the Michigan Professional Services Corporation Act (the “MPSCA”) is the licensing of stockholders. Where a business is incorporated under the MBCA, stockholders are not required to be licensed to practice the profession in which the corporation engages. By contrast, where a business is incorporated under the MPSCA, every stockholder must hold a valid Michigan license to practice the profession in which the corporation engages.

The Traditional Thinking

Historically, only those corporations formed by medical professionals to practice endeavors regulated by the Health Code and those regulated by the Supreme Court (Attorneys), were believed to be subject to the MPSCA. Soon after the formation of the MPSCA, the Michigan Attorney General reaffirmed the belief that Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors were not required to comply with it. In an advisory opinion, he summarized: Stockholders in corporations which perform architectural, engineering or land surveying services do not have to be registered or licensed in such professions under section 1 of architects, engineers and surveyors registration act, provided the corporation is not organized under professional service corporation act. Op Atty Gen, June 26, 1968, No. 4627.

Therefore, according to the Attorney General, though an Architect, Engineer or Land Surveyor could elect to incorporate under the MPSCA, they were not required to do so. Since the MPSCA created a more restrictive structure in terms of stock ownership, most Design Professionals opted to incorporate under the MBCA. The traditional thinking was born.

The Miller v Allstate Decision

In Miller, the underlying Plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident and sought physical therapy treatment under the Michigan No-fault Act. The Defendant insurance company argued that the corporation which actually provided treatment was not incorporated under the MSPCA. Therefore, the Insurance Company argued that it was not required to pay for the treatment due to the provider’s improper corporate status, since the treatment was not “lawfully rendered” such that it qualified for payment under the Michigan No-fault Act.

In its opinion, the Court examined the language of the MBCA which provides: “A corporation may be formed under this act for any lawful purpose, except to engage in a business for which a corporation may be formed under any other statute of this state unless that statute permits formation under this act.” It is apparent that a physical therapist could incorporate under the MPSCA. Since there is no provision in the MPSCA that permits incorporation under the MBCA, the Court concluded that the therapist must incorporate under the auspices of the MPSCA. The physical therapist was therefore improperly incorporated under the MBCA.

Application to the Design Professional

The MSPCA sets out those professions to which it applies, in its definition section. That section provides; “Professional service means a type of personal service to the public that requires as a condition precedent to the rendering of the service the obtaining of a license or other legal authorization. Professional service includes, but is not limited to, services rendered by . . . architects, professional engineers, land surveyors . . .” There can be no doubt that the MPSCA applies to the design professional.

As there is no language permitting the design professional to incorporate under the MBCA, the Miller approach requires the design professional to incorporate under the MPSCA, and only the MPSCA. Under Miller, incorporating under the MBCA would be improper. Although the June 26, 1968 Attorney General’s opinion would suggest otherwise, AG opinions are advisory only and have no binding effect. As that opinion is now at odds with the express ruling in Miller, it has no further meaning or effect.

Effect of the Miller v Allstate Decision

Since Miller is an interpretation of law, it would be given full retroactive effect unless the Court included language in the opinion that provides otherwise. The Miller decision contains no language limiting its effect. Full retroactive effect must therefore be presumed.

It is apparent that, from this point forward, all new design professional businesses must incorporate under the MPSCA. In addition, given retroactive effect, the Miller decision means that all design professional businesses that were incorporated any time after the MPSCA took effect on March 28, 1963, which were not incorporated under the MPSCA, may see their structure called into question. Since all of the stock of a business incorporated under the MPSCA must be held by persons licensed to practice the profession in which the corporation engages, that would also mean that all design professional firms incorporated on or after March 28, 1963 should review not only their corporate structure but the manner in which their stock is held to ensure compliance with the law.

For More Information

Since the facts of each case are unique, this update cannot be taken as legal advice. For more information on how the Miller decision might affect your business, please feel free to call one of our attorneys: Thomas M. Keranen, PE, Frederick F. Butters, FAIA, Gary D. Quesada, Hon. Aff. AIA., Raymond J. O’Dea, Jeffery M. Gallant, Peter J. Cavanaugh, or Michael S. Burink.

1 comment:

David Mitchell said...

Miller v Allstate has been overturned! Allstate never had standing in the case.