We noted in Duties Partners Owe Each Other of this chapter that partners have a duty to account; the corollary right is the right to access books and records, which is usually very important in determining partnership rights. Section 403(b) of RUPA provides, “A partnership shall provide partners and their agents and attorneys access to its books and records. It shall provide former partners and their agents and attorneys access to books and records pertaining to the period during which they were partners. The right of access provides the opportunity to inspect and copy books and records during ordinary business hours. A partnership may impose a reasonable charge, covering the costs of labor and material, for copies of documents furnished.” 1
Section 19 of UPA is basically in accord. This means that without demand—and for any purpose—the partnership must provide any information concerning its business and affairs reasonably required for the proper exercise of the partner’s rights and duties under the partnership agreement or the act; and on demand, it must provide any other information concerning the partnership’s business and affairs, unless the demand is unreasonable or improper. 2 Generally, the partnership agreement cannot deny the right to inspection.
The duty to account mentioned in Duties Partners Owe Each Other of this chapter normally means that the partners and the partnership should keep reasonable records so everyone can tell what is going on. A formal accounting under UPA is different.
Under UPA Section 22, any partner is entitled to a formal account (or accounting) of the partnership affairs under the following conditions:
- If he is wrongfully excluded from the partnership business or possession of its property by his copartners;
- If the right exists under the terms of any agreement;
- If a partner profits in violation of his fiduciary duty (as per UPA 22); and
- Whenever it is otherwise just and reasonable.
At common law, partners could not obtain an accounting except in the event of dissolution. But from an early date, equity courts would appoint a referee, auditor, or special master to investigate the books of a business when one of the partners had grounds to complain, and UPA broadened considerably the right to an accounting. The court has plenary power to investigate all facets of the business, evaluate claims, declare legal rights among the parties, and order money judgments against any partner in the wrong.
Under RUPA Section 405, this “accounting” business is somewhat modified. Reflecting the entity theory, the partnership can sue a partner for wrongdoing, which is not allowed under UPA. Moreover, to quote from the Official Comment, RUPA “provides that, during the term of the partnership, partners may maintain a variety of legal or equitable actions, including an action for an accounting, as well as a final action for an accounting upon dissolution and winding up. It reflects a new policy choice that partners should have access to the courts during the term of the partnership to resolve claims against the partnership and the other partners, leaving broad judicial discretion to fashion appropriate remedies[, and] an accounting is not a prerequisite to the availability of the other remedies a partner may have against the partnership or the other partners.” 3
Partners have important duties in a partnership, including (1) the duty to serve—that is, to devote herself to the work of the partnership; (2) the duty of loyalty, which is informed by the fiduciary standard: the obligation to act always in the best interest of the partnership and not in one’s own best interest; (3) the duty of care—that is, to act as a reasonably prudent partner would; (4) the duty of obedience not to breach any aspect of the agreement or act without authority; (5) the duty to inform copartners; and (6) the duty to account to the partnership.
Partners also have rights. These include the rights (1) to distributions of money, including profits (and losses), indemnification, and return of capital contribution (but not a right to compensation); (2) to management; (3) to choose copartners; (4) to property of the partnership, and no partner has any rights to specific property; (5) to assign (voluntarily or involuntarily) the partnership interest; and (6) to enforce duties and rights by suits in law or equity. (Under RUPA, a formal accounting is not first required.)
- What is the “fiduciary duty,” and why is it imposed on some partners’ actions with the partnership?
- Distinguish between ownership of partnership property under UPA as opposed to under RUPA.
- Carlos obtained a judgment against Pauline, a partner in a partnership, for negligently crashing her car into Carlos’s while she was not in the scope of partnership business. Carlos wants to satisfy the judgment from her employer. How can Carlos do that?
- What is the difference between the duty to account and a formal partnership accounting?
- What does it mean to say a partnership interest has been involuntarily assigned?