Is it a Security?

In my ongoing quest to distinguish what’s a security and what’s not a security, a new case came down from Missouri on the topic. Disgruntled purchasers of condominiums at the Branson Landing Hilton Promenade Boutique Hotel felt they got a bad deal and sued the seller/issuer to get their money back: Obester v. Boutique Hotel (.pdf)

The owners claim the seller/issuer represented that the condominiums would be rented out and they would receive a portion of the profits, generating substantial revenue. I assume the investment did not turn out to be a financial windfall. According to the claim, the hotel rented its inventory of unsold units at a discounted rate.

Fee simple ownership of the “bricks and mortar” of real estate is not a securities transaction. “The offer of real estate as such, without any collateral arrangements with the seller or others, does not involve the offer of a security.” As you move further away from that model, you move closer and closer to the ownership a security than the ownership of real estate. The line between the two is not a bright line.

As with the Hard Rock San Diego case still working its way through the federal courts in California, combining the sale of real estate with a management agreement starts making the real estate look like a security.

In the Boutique Hotel case, the court goes back to the Howey case and uses a four part test to determine if there is an investment contract, where there is

  1. an investment of money,
  2. a common enterprise,
  3. a reasonable expectation of profits, and
  4. a reliance on the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others.

The court draws a distinction between a vertical commonality and a horizontal commonality to create a common enterprise. Vertical looks at the relationship between the seller and the purchaser. Horizontal focuses on the pooling of interests among investors. It’s an interesting way to look at the analysis, but it ends up not being decisive to the court.

What kills the securities claim is that the owners were not required to participate in the rental program. An owner could chose to not rent out its condominium or rent it out on its own. That means the business arrangement did not have a reliance on the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others.

That distinguishes the arrangement from the one being contested in the Salameh / Hard Rock San Diego case. San Diego restricted the rental program to the one run by the seller/issuer. Under San Diego zoning, the units had to be sold for non-residential use and be managed as part of the hotel.

These cases do little to help me decide when an interest in a manager-managed limited liability company is a security. But it’s clear that there is still a big gray space between what is a security and what is not a security.


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