The district court found that Loomis and Shanahan conducted business under a fictitious name without filing a fictitious name certificate with the Elko County Clerk as required by NRS 602.010. 1 The district court therefore concluded that, pursuant to NRS 602.070, they were barred from bringing an action against Whitehead because they did not file a fictitious name certificate for the 52 Cattle Company. 2
Loomis and Shanahan contend that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment because they did not enter into a contract with Whitehead under the name of the 52 Cattle Company, and they did not conduct business with Whitehead under that name. Loomis and Shanahan argue that NRS 602.070 is not applicable to their action against Whitehead because they did not mislead Whitehead into thinking that he was doing business with anyone other than them. We agree.…
When looking at a statute’s language, this court is bound to follow the statute’s plain meaning, unless the plain meaning was clearly not intended. Here, in using the phrase “under the assumed or fictitious name,” the statute clearly bars bringing an action when the claims arise from a contract, transaction, or business conducted beneath the banner of an unregistered fictitious name. However, NRS 602.070 does not apply to individual partners whose transactions or business with another party were not performed under the fictitious name.
Here, Whitehead knew that Shanahan entered into the oral contract under his own name. He initially thought that Shanahan owned the cattle and Loomis had “some type of interest.” Shanahan did not enter into the contract under the fictitious “52 Cattle Company” name. Moreover, Whitehead does not allege that he was misled by either Loomis or Shanahan in any way that would cause him to think he was doing business with the 52 Cattle Company. In fact, Whitehead did not know of the 52 Cattle Company until Shanahan mentioned it in his deposition. Under these circumstances, when there simply was no indication that Loomis and Shanahan represented that they were conducting business as the 52 Cattle Company and no reliance by Whitehead that he was doing business with the 52 Cattle Company, NRS 602.070 does not bar the suit against Whitehead.
We therefore reverse the district court’s partial summary judgment in this instance and remand for trial because, while the lawsuit between Loomis and Whitehead involved partnership business, the transaction at issue was not conducted and the subsequent suit was not maintained under the aegis of the fictitiously named partnership.
- The purpose of the fictitious name statute might well be, as the court here describes it, “to prevent fraud and to give the public information about those entities with which they conduct business.” But that’s not what the statute says; it says nobody can sue on a cause of action arising out of business conducted under a fictitious name if the name is not registered. The legislature determined the consequence of failure to register. Should the court disregard the statute’s plain, unambiguous meaning?
- That was one of two arguments by the dissent in this case. The second one was based on this problem: Shanahan and Loomis agreed that the cattle at issue were partnership cattle bearing the “52” brand. That is, the cows werenotShanahan’s; they were the partnership’s. When Whitehead moved to dismiss Shanahan’s claim—again, because the cows weren’t Shanahan’s—Shanahan conceded that but for the existence of the partnership he would have no claim against Whitehead. If there is no claim against the defendant except insofar as he harmed the partnership business (the cattle), how could the majority assert that claims against Whitehead did not arise out of “the business” conducted under 52 Cattle Company? Who has the better argument, the majority or the dissent?
- Here is another problem along the same lines but with a different set of facts and a Uniform Partnership Act (UPA) jurisdiction (i.e., pre–Revised Uniform Partnership Act [RUPA]). Suppose the plaintiffs had a partnership (as they did here), but the claim by one was that the other partner had stolen several head of cattle, and UPA was in effect so that the partnership property was owned as “tenant in partnership”—the cattle would be owned by the partners as a whole. A person who steals his own property cannot be criminally liable; therefore, a partner cannot be guilty of stealing (or misappropriating) firm property. Thus under UPA there arise anomalous cases, for example, in People v. Zinke, 555 N.E.2d 263 (N.Y. 1990), which is a criminal case, Zinke embezzled over a million dollars from his own investment firm but the prosecutor’s case against him was dismissed because, the New York court said, “partners cannot be prosecuted for stealing firm property.” If the partnership is a legal entity, as under RUPA, how is this result changed?