The Court of Federal Claims recently issued an opinion that defines “unconditional ownership” of an SDVOSB in a more relaxed manner than the SBA, creating a split of authority on the issue.
The Court, rejecting SBA precedent, held that certain restrictions on ownership of an SDVOSB by a service-disabled veteran are acceptable under the SBA’s unconditional ownership regulations. In particular, the SDVOSB company can retain a right of first refusal that would allow it to purchase the shares of the veteran upon death, incompetency, or insolvency, and that right does not result in a violation of the unconditional ownership requirement.
With the Court and the SBA’s administrative judges staking out different positions, what should SDVOSBs do?
Provisions in a company’s Shareholders Agreement, requiring the service-disabled veteran to sell his shares back to the company in the event of the veteran’s death or incapacity, were contrary to the SBA’s SDVOSB regulations.
According to a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, these provisions prevented the veteran from having unconditional ownership over the company, because he could not dispose of his shares as he chose. In reaching its conclusion, SBA OHA wrote that Court of Federal Claims decisions allowing such provisions under the VA’s SDVOSB program didn’t apply to SBA–meaning that SDVOSBs verified by the VA might be ineligible for non-VA SDVOSB contracts.
What a mess.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ordered the VA to pay attorneys’ fees to Miles Construction, LLC stemming from the Court’s February decision that the company’s “right of first refusal” provision did not render it ineligible for the VA’s SDVOSB program.
In ordering the VA to pay attorneys’ fees, the Court held that the VA’s defense of its broad interpretation of “unconditional ownership” was not substantially justified–but also suggested that the Court might not reach the same result under the SBA’s SDVOSB rules.
Reacting to a February federal court decision, the VA’s Center for Veterans Enterprise has reversed its position on provisions restricting the rights of service-disabled veterans to transfer their ownership interests in their service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
Previously, the VA CVE had taken the position that any restriction on a service-disabled veteran’s right to transfer his or her interest in the company was improper. Because such transfer restrictions are commonplace, many otherwise-eligible SDVOSBs had their verification applications denied.
No more. In a newsletter to SDVOSBs issued yesterday, the VA CVE stated that it would no longer deny verification based on certain ownership transfer restrictions–and offered an expedited reconsideration process to companies previously denied on this basis.
The VA CVE’s position is welcome news, but doesn’t mean that most SDVOSBs should rush to include transfer restrictions in their bylaws or operating agreements, because the SBA may not agree with the VA CVE’s change of heart.
As many service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses have discovered, the VA CVE believes that so-called “right of first refusal” provisions prevent veterans from freely selling or transferring their ownership interests. Because such transfer restrictions are commonplace in standard corporate bylaws and operating agreements, countless SDVOSBs have been denied VA CVE verification for including them.
Those days may be over.
In a decision released to the public late last week, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims held that the VA OSDBU had erred by sustaining a SDVOSB eligibility protest on the basis of the company’s right of first refusal provision. That decision, Miles Construction, LLC v. United States, No. 12-597C (2013), also includes other important rulings on the scope of “unconditional” ownership and the VA OSDBU’s evaluation of SDVOSB eligibility protests.