Limited Partnerships Must be Represented by an Attorney in State District Court

11/30/2015 / Gary A. Van Cleve

In a ruling issued November 9, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a limited partnership could not represent itself in district court without licensed counsel. Minnesota courts have previously held that corporations and limited liability companies must have licensed counsel in court, but this is the first time a Minnesota appellate court has addressed whether limited partnerships also must be represented by counsel. The case arose in Pine County District Court in the context of an eviction action.
In Hinckley Square Associates v. Cervene, Appellate No. A15-0496 (Minn. App., Nov. 9, 2015), the court of appeals ruled that unless otherwise authorized by court rule, limited partnerships must be represented by licensed attorneys in pleadings and practice in district court. Hinckley Square Associates brought an eviction action against Ms. Cervene in Pine County District Court and when the case was tried to a judge, one of Hinckley Square’s partners and its management agent appeared, without counsel, to represent the limited partnership. Cervene’s attorney objected, the judge overruled the objection and ultimately ruled that Cervene could be evicted. Cervene appealed and the court of appeals reversed because it concluded that the long-standing rule that prohibits certain business entities—corporations and limited liability companies specifically—from appearing in court, except through licensed counsel, should also apply to limited partnerships.
The court said that its authority to extend the rule arises under the Minnesota Constitution’s delegation of power to the judiciary to regulate the practice of law in Minnesota courts. The court noted that there are only two exceptions to the rule that business entities must be represented by counsel in court. First, certain rules allow a variety of business entities to appear without counsel in conciliation court proceedings. See Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 512(c) (“A corporation, partnership, limited liability company, sole proprietorship, or association may be represented in conciliation court by an officer, manager, or partner ….”). Second, the specialized housing courts in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties allow landlords to appear in these courts through lay agents. Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 601.
The remedy for the Pine County District Court’s allowing the limited partnership to appear without counsel in court was to reverse the judgment ordering the eviction: “Because the limited partnership could not appear in court without an attorney, the district court should have dismissed the action. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s judgment evicting Cervene.”
This is a lesson for owners of all business entities that unless there is an explicit rule that has been adopted by the courts allowing a company or partnership to appear in court without licensed counsel, going into district court unrepresented is not allowed and will lead to the dismissal of your lawsuit.