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Four Major Cases Affecting Nonprofits

Whether one is a nonprofit or for profit organization, it is important to recognize key changes that are happening in your field. This month we highlight four important cases that can effect your nonprofit.

Case #1: Transparent GMU v. George Mason University

This case is important because it affects whether a nonprofit has to disclose agreements between the nonprofit and its donors.[1] This lawsuit was filed by a George Mason University student group in response to the university receiving sizable donations to its foundation by the Charles Koch Foundation.[2] The Charles Koch Foundation had issued gifts up to 15 million USD to George Mason so that the university may rename the law school for Supreme Court Justice Scalia and allow the Charles Koch Foundation to have input on faculty staffing.[3] Transparent GMU sued George Mason University to publicize the rest of the agreement between the donors and the university with the argument that the agreements are covered by Virginia’s open record laws.[4] The Virginia Fairfax County Circuit Court held that the George Mason University Foundation was not a public body however and therefore not compelled to publicize the donation agreement due to the open record laws.[5] This case is important for nonprofits to know because after this ruling, it is unlikely that a nonprofit will have to disclose the details surrounding it’s donations even if the public demands it. This is significant in light of the typical public filings and public reporting that a nonprofit must normally do.

Case #2: Underwood v. The Donald J. Trump Foundation

This case is important because it concerns a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization misspending funds.[6] Attorney General Underwood of New York alleged the Foundation had an unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign and had several transactions to benefit the Trumps.[7] Eventually the Trump Foundation agreed to be dissolved and have its assets distributed to other charitable organizations under judicial supervision after the Foundation failed to have the case dismissed.[8] This case is important for nonprofits to consider because it shows if that nonprofits can be sued for illegal practices. As such, nonprofits must take all necessary precautions to follow the rules or face charges.

Case #3:

This case concerns how nonprofits obtain donations. Recently, there was an ongoing investigation by the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. He issued three cease and desist orders against Food For the Poor, MAP International, and Catholic Medical Mission Board.[9] These cease and desist orders stem from the three nonprofit organizations allegedly using deceptive practices in fundraising solicitations.[10] Allegedly the organizations represented program spending percentages as inaccurately high as a result of including noncash contributions.[11] The three charitable organizations are appealing the order. The group faces the possibility of having their charitable registrations revoked and fines over $1.65 million.[12] This case is important for nonprofits to note because none of the three nonprofits are based in California but simply have solicited California residents. As a result, nonprofits are on notice that the response will be swift and aggressive should it mislead the public. This is a cautionary tale to nonprofit organizations on the importance of being transparent and using honest means to solicit donations.

Case #4: Gogtay et al v. Second Chance, Inc.

This case demonstrates the importance of accurately disclosing to donors the tax deductibility of their donations. It is a class action lawsuit out of Maryland that alleged the nonprofit Second Chance mislead donors into believing they would receive significant tax refunds for donations.[13] The plaintiffs alleged hundreds of donors were deceived into donating with promises of tax refunds and were audited by the IRS that disallowed the deduction.[14] The plaintiffs allege Second Chance knew the IRS did not approve of the benefits they were promoting and that Second Chance made false representations.[15] Nonprofit organizations should be aware of this case because it demonstrates the need to make accurate disclosures or face serious ramifications.

[1] Big Donors Sometimes Mean Big Headaches: George Mason University, University of Chicago, and More, Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, (May 3, 2018) https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2018/05/big-donors-sometimes-mean-big-headaches-george-mason-university-university-of-chicago-and-more.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Sarah Larimer, George Mason University Foundation is not subject to public records laws, judge rules, Wash. Post, (July 6, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2018/07/06/george-mason-university-foundation-is-not-a-public-body-judge-rules-in-records-case/?utm_term=.7513c0cb2a4f.

[6] Attorney General Underwood Announces Lawsuit Against Donald J. Trump Foundation And Its Board of Directors For Extensive And Persistent Violations of State And Federal Law, N.Y. State Office of the Attorney General, https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/attorney-general-underwood-announces-lawsuit-against-donald-j-trump-foundation-and-its (last visited at Feb. 13, 2019).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Mark Hrywna, Charities Get Cease And Desist From California AG, The Nonprofit Times, (Mar. 22, 2018), http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/charities-get-cease-desist-california-ag/.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Lorraine Mirabella, Lawsuit says nonprofit Second Chance misled consumers, Baltimore Sun, (Oct. 12, 2017), https://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-second-chance-lawsuit-20171012-story.html.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.


International Asset Recovery

International asset recovery for stolen property is the locating and recovering of missing or stolen property, art, funds, and other items of value. People tend to seek the help of the government and attorneys to assist them in the recovery of their missing stolen assets. This article gives a general overview of what international asset recovery is, the process of recovering stolen assets and the legal key considerations the person trying to recover their stolen assets must know. When it comes to international asset recovery, hiring an international corporate attorney is vital to obtain the legal information and fully understanding the process of international asset recovery. There are numerous international, foreign and domestic laws, governments and expenses one needs to be aware of when considering moving forward with an international asset recovery case.

What is International Asset Recovery?

International asset recovery is any effort by governments, foreign or domestic, to repatriate the proceeds of corruption hidden in foreign jurisdictions. These assets may include monies in bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, arts and artifacts, and precious metals. When attempting an international asset recovery, one must understand the process and take into account key considerations.

Process for Recovery of Stolen Assets

Recovering stolen international assets is a long process that requires a great deal of cooperation from all jurisdictions involved. The process begins by collecting intelligence, evidence, and asset tracing domestically and in foreign jurisdictions using a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request. During the investigation process, proceeds and instrumentalities subject to confiscation must be secured to avoid dissipation, movement, or destruction. International cooperation is essential for the successful recovery of assets that have been transferred to or hidden in foreign jurisdictions. After the assets have been recovered, court proceedings involving criminal or civil actions may be involved. When a court has ordered the restrain, seizure, or confiscation of assets, steps must be taken to enforce the order. The order may be enforced by the authorities of the foreign jurisdiction where the assets were located and by domestic order. Lastly, the return of the assets.

Key Considerations

Initially, one must consider the legal avenues available for achieving asset recovery. The availability of these avenues, either domestically or in a foreign jurisdiction will depend on the laws and regulations in the jurisdictions involved in the investigation, as well as international or bilateral conventions and treaties. Additionally, there are legal, practical, and operational realties that will influence the avenue selected. Fully understanding the laws involved and the relationship of the jurisdictions involved will be instrumental in picking a legal avenue. Particular laws, treaties, and relationships may dictate whether or not to move forward with a recovery.

Moreover, establishing contact with foreign counterparts and assessing ability to obtain international cooperation is important. Establishing a liaison with foreign practitioners early in the case can help assess potential difficulties, build a strategy, obtain preliminary information and informal assistance, confirm requirements for MLA requests and create goodwill in the international cooperation process. Differences in legal traditions and among confiscation systems create challenges and frustrations in cooperating with foreign jurisdictions. Reasons for refusal, including essential interests, nature of penalty, ongoing proceedings in the requested jurisdiction, lack of due process in the requesting jurisdiction, and specific crimes become important. The legal obstacles pose a tremendous hurdle when the jurisdictions involved operate differently. You must consider the differences in standards of proof, evidentiary requirements, legislative provisions for asset return, statute of limitations, immunities enjoyed by officials and identifying all liable parties. Additionally, even with international cooperation from foreign authorities there must be an awareness of any potential corruption.

Lastly, you must take into consideration whether you can afford the potential litigation that may arise from an international asset recovery. A growing trend of using litigation funders has begun when claimants cannot afford litigation. Litigation funding involves a specialist funder financing some or all of a claimant’s legal fees incurred in a dispute, in exchange for a share of the damages. However, there are numerous considerations a claimant must make when deciding to work with a litigation funder. The potential funding arrangements offered for the type of claim brought must be explored. A confidentiality agreement should be signed at the outset of discussions or before confidential information is provided to the funder. Also, consider liability for adverse costs and security costs that the funder is willing to accept. The calculation of the funder’s fee can be complex, and it can be helpful to include a showing of financial outcomes for a variety of scenarios. Then who will calculate and distribute the proceeds in order of priority. Furthermore, one must discuss what happens if the recovery is unsuccessful or if there needs to be a termination of the agreement between claimant and funder. Ultimately, entering into an extensive and specific litigation funder agreement that establishes payouts, lawyer fees, termination, confidentiality and a variety of other clauses must be discussed.


1. Third party funding for international arbitration claims: key issues, Practical Law UK Checklist 3-521-2972.

2. Brun, J., Gray, L., Scott, C., & Stephenson, K. M. (2011). Asset Recovery Handbook: A Guide for Practitioners[PDF]. Washington DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank.


Incorporation 101: Five Key Decisions When Forming a Corporation

Incorporating your business is an exciting transition. Whether you are changing your business from an LLC to a corporation or setting up your business for the very first time, the decisions you make in the early stages can protect your business interests for years to come. It is crucial to invest time at this stage and evaluate whether you are making the best decisions for your commercial and personal goals. Read below to review five key decisions you will need to make when incorporating your business.

  1. Choose your incorporating state: Businesses can incorporate in one state while operating in another. Each state has its own business environment, with varying annual filing fees and requirements, income taxes, and legal proceedings. The state in which you reside and operate may not be the most favorable environment for your business goals. Consult with legal counsel to determine the optimal state of incorporation.[1]
  2. Determine how many shares you will authorize: Whether you intend for your company to be publicly traded or not, you will need to determine the number of shares you authorize when you first incorporate the company. You can authorize one share or one hundred million shares; financial implications of a higher number of shares could include a larger initial filing fee, depending on the state of incorporation.[2] Still, it could be more advantageous to authorize a larger number of shares, in the tens of thousands or even millions. This will allow you to issue more shares to employees and investors, even if each share begins at a low valuation.
  3. Issue shares among co-founders: While you must determine the total number of available shares at incorporation, you will be able to issue those shares throughout the life of the company. It is typical to issue some of these shares to the company founders at incorporation. Keep in mind that whoever has the majority stake will have control over major business decisions that require a vote by stock owners. If you and a single co-founder will be receiving stock, yet you want to retain full decision-making abilities, ensure that you have at least 51% of the company stock issued to yourself.
  4. Secure a domain name: Advertising, networking, and selling your business all require a solid online presence. This is only possible with a domain name, where you will host your company website. You will need to purchase a domain name through a web hosting service. The domain name you choose will affect your visibility on the internet. If possible, include your company’s name and location in the domain, yet be cautious of the possibility of trademark infringement! Consulting with an intellectual property attorney before selecting your domain can prevent thousands of dollars spent down the road on an infringement lawsuit.[3]
  5. Create clearly defined bylaws: The corporate bylaws will determine company procedures and responsibilities of each company officer. This will set your rules, meeting procedures, and record-keeping standards. Clear and detailed bylaws will give your corporation a structured path to begin business operations. Additionally, setting these rules and standards down in writing at the beginning of business can prevent conflicts down the road. They can be used to protect the company if any member should infringe on these rules.

Seeking qualified legal counsel as you make these decisions can greatly reduce your exposure to legal risk down the road. If you would you like additional information, contact our legal counsel for a complimentary consultation at ngonzalo@gonzalolaw.com.

[1] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/241528

[2] https://smallbusiness.chron.com/many-shares-should-authorized-incorporation-36282.html

[3] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219410


Registering A Trademark On The Supplemental Register of the USPTO

Did you know that there is a principal and supplemental registry where you can register your trademark? Registration on the Principal Register affords all rights and responsibilities available to trademark owners. However, there may be a time when an applicant may not be able to register on the Principal Register and the only option is registering on the Supplemental Register[1].

The question then becomes, what are the benefits and disadvantages of registering a trademark on the Supplemental Register with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)?  Some benefits of registering on the Supplemental Register include the ability to use indicia of registration including “Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office”, “Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM. Off.”, and the “®” symbol[2]. However, in a lawsuit, it is important to note, that no profits or damages will be recovered unless the other party attempting to use the mark (the defendant) had actual notice of the registration[3]. A mark registered on the Supplemental Register will also provide notice to people conducting trademark searches and can serve as a bar to registration of subsequent marks which may be confusingly similar[4]. If the mark has the potential to become distinctive through use in commerce, a mark registered on the Supplemental Register may apply once more for the Principal Register[5].

In the alternative, there are some disadvantages of registering a trademark on the Supplemental Register. Marks registered on the Supplemental Register do not receive the advantages of §§ 1051(b), 1052(e), 1052(f), 1057(b), 1057(c), 1062(a), 1063-1068, 1072, 1115, and 1124 of the Trademark Act[6]. This means a mark registered on the Supplemental Register may not have the power to achieve incontestability of the mark, the mark does not have the right to exclusive use of the mark, may not have the ability to cancel the registration of another mark that may be similar to it, does not have the presumption of Federal ownership, and supplemental registration provides protection for only nondistinctive trademarks. 

Once you decide to use the supplemental registry, what is the process of registering a trademark on the Supplemental Register? If the initial application to the Principal Register was denied with a “nonfinal Office action”, a trademark registration application can be amended to the Supplemental Register by filling out a “Response to Office Action” online form[7]. If the initial rejection was denied with a “final Office action”, then the “Request for Reconsideration after Final Action” online form must be used[8]. Unlike an application for the Principal Register, the mark must be in use by the time of application on the Supplemental Register. 

If you would like additional information, contact our legal counsel for a complimentary consultation at ngonzalo@gonzalolaw.com.


[1]15 U.S.C.A. § 1091(a). 

[2]15 U.S.C.A. § 1111. 


[4]15 U.S.C.A. § 1092. 

[5]15 U.S.C.A. § 1095. 

[6]15 U.S.C.A. § 1094. 

[7]How to Amend from the Principal to the Supplemental Register, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, https://www.uspto.gov/trademark/laws-regulations/how-amend-principal-supplemental-register-1 (last visited Jan. 25, 2019). 



Thinking Globally: Key Trends in International Business


Does your business have a global vision? Whether you are looking to form strategic corporate relationships overseas or cultivate an international audience for your products, it is key to stay aware of the relevant trends and changes across the world. With increased connectivity, your competitors are not only local, but also global. Information travels quickly and can be require significant review to parse through and determine what your business truly needs. A qualified international corporate attorney can help you evaluate your business priorities; whether you are based in Gainesville, London, Cleveland, Austin or Zurich, legal counsel can help ensure you are prepared for global competition. Additionally, staying aware of trends can help prepare you for your business’s next steps. Read below for three key trends that every business owner needs to know.

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Happy National Book Lover’s Day!

Our Favorite Business Books


It’s back to school for so many! For those of us no longer in the classroom, every day is an opportunity to learn and improve ourselves. In honor of national Book Lover’s Day, check out our team’s favorite business books and why they are worth a read.

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The Nonprofit Outlook: Staying Ahead of the Financial Curve


As a tax-exempt organization, your business goals are likely not profit-driven, but they are purpose-driven. That’s fantastic and truly why your organization is authentic with heart and impact! However, adopting a financially competitive mindset can lead to more and better services provided, which leads to more lives being changed. The following are key ways to stay ahead of the financial curve:
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Brexit and Your Business: The Domino Effect

How Brexit May Affect Your Company
Two years have passed since Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU), and it is creating an uncertain atmosphere in the EU as well as around the world. While a majority of the document has been agreed to by both parties, some major sections are still uncertain, which is drastically reducing the amount of investments made in the UK. The British government wishes to keep visa-free travel with other countries of the EU, yet whether this is reciprocated is unclear.
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The Play-Doh Scent is Now Trademarked, and Five More Trademark Facts that Will Surprise You


Play-Doh recently received approval for its trademark on the Play-Doh scent, a distinctive smell that brings back childhood memories for many of us. If any competitors produce a modeling clay that smells too much like Play-Doh, they could be putting themselves at risk for a lawsuit. That scent now has the full protection of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

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Subsidiary vs. Branch: Best Choice of Structure for Your Growing Business


As your company grows, the time will arrive when you need to consider the next step for the company. This could mean expanding your company to a new location. One of the first decisions you must consider is the demand you seek to fill in your target market and how you want to structure your expansion. When considering the structure, you want to consider if it would make the most sense to have a branch or a subsidiary. To make this determination, we must consider what would be the differences between the two.

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