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Pransky v. Falcon Group, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Michigan

June 18, 2015

JAIME PRANSKY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
FALCON GROUP, INC., Defendant-Appellee

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Oakland Circuit Court. LC No. 2013-134611-CK.

For JAIME PRANSKY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE: DOUGLAS G MCCLURE, ANN ARBOR, MI.

For FALCON GROUP INC, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: JAMES W ROSE, SOUTHFIELD, MI.

Before: WILDER, P.J., and OWENS and M. J. KELLY, JJ.

OPINION

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[311 Mich.App. 167] Michael J. Kelly, J.

In this dispute over the validity of a consulting agreement, plaintiff, Jaime Pransky, appeals by right the trial court's opinion and order dismissing her claims against defendant, Falcon Group, Inc., under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and MCR 2.116(C)(10).[1] She argues the trial court erred when it determined that the consulting agreement did not require Falcon Group to provide any services that would require it to be registered under Michigan's Uniform Securities Act (2002), MCL 451.2101 et seq. Contrary to the trial court's determination, Pransky maintains, the consulting agreement required Falcon Group to provide services that could only be provided by someone registered under the Securities Act and, because Falcon Group was not registered under the act, the agreement was illegal and could be rescinded. For similar reasons, she contends the trial court erred when it determined that her remaining claims were invalid. Pransky also argues that the trial court did not have the authority to order her to pay Falcon Group's attorney fees as damages under the agreement because Falcon Group did not file a counterclaim for damages. [311 Mich.App. 168] For the reasons more fully explained below, we conclude that the trial court did not err when it dismissed Pransky's claims against Falcon Group. However, we agree that the trial court did not have the authority to award Falcon Group damages under the consulting agreement because Falcon Group did not sue Pransky for breach of contract. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's opinion and order dismissing Pransky's claims, but vacate the trial court's order compelling her to pay Falcon Group's attorney fees.

I. BASIC FACTS

Pransky averred that she intended to open and operate a health and wellness spa in her home state of Vermont. She claimed that Falcon Group's principal, David Maciejewski, promised to find investors for her spa. She said Maciejewski introduced her to a potential investor, who told her that he wanted to invest $20 million in a franchised version of her spa. She felt pressured to sign a consulting agreement in order to obtain the financing.

Pransky executed the consulting agreement with Falcon Group in August 2012. As part of the agreement, Falcon Group represented that it was " in the business of providing non-legal advice and consulting services to individuals and to business entities concerning, among other matters: mergers and acquisitions, marketing techniques and ideas, business opportunities, business operations, business management, financial issues and concerns, and business assets and liabilities[.]" Falcon Group recited that it would provide consulting services to Pransky in an effort to help her " build a publicly traded franchised company . . . ." Although Falcon Group stated that it was in the business of providing advice and consultation, the agreement primarily involved [311 Mich.App. 169] compensating Falcon Group for its efforts to obtain investments or financing for Pransky's business.

As a preliminary matter, Pransky agreed to pay Falcon Group a $50,000 retainer, which was not refundable. The

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first $20,000 was due upon signing the agreement, and the remaining $30,000 was due upon receipt of the first investment. Pransky apparently added a handwritten provision that made the $30,000 payment contingent on the first investment being at least $30,000. Pransky also agreed to pay Falcon Group a " Success Fee" if she was able to sell her business through Falcon Group's efforts under the agreement. She agreed to pay a fee equal to 10% of " any monies [Falcon Group] raises or causes to be raised by [Falcon Group] or through [Falcon Group's] connections . . . ." She similarly agreed to pay Falcon Group a fee equal to 3% of any financing that Pransky might obtain through Falcon Group's " efforts or connections," which included any " line of credit or mortgage through a bank or financial institution introduced by [Falcon Group]." These fees were to be paid out of the escrowed funds at the closing of the funding or financing. Finally, according to Pransky, she hand wrote a paragraph into the agreement that specifically required Falcon Group to provide its consulting services in connection with " identifying and procuring investors and financing" for Pransky's business.

Pransky alleged that she notified Falcon Group in April 2013 that she had discovered that it was not registered as a broker-dealer under the Securities Act and, for that reason, believed it could not legally perform the services required by the consulting agreement. Pransky informed Falcon Group that she was rescinding the consulting agreement and demanded the return of her $20,000 retainer.

[311 Mich.App. 170] In June 2013, Pransky sued Falcon Group to recover the $20,000 retainer. She alleged that Falcon Group acted as a " finder" under the Securities Act and, as such, had to be registered as a " broker-dealer." Because Falcon Group was not registered under the act, the consulting agreement was illegal and void. Accordingly, she asked the trial court to rescind the agreement and order Falcon Group to return her $20,000 retainer. Pransky also alleged that Falcon Group's failure to disclose that it was not registered as a broker-dealer, as required by the Securities Act, amounted to silent fraud or misrepresentation and a breach of the Securities Act. Finally, she alleged that Falcon Group's refusal to return the $20,000 retainer that it took under the illegal agreement amounted to conversion.

In October 2013, Falcon Group moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (C)(10). Falcon Group stated that it was a business intermediary and that Pransky hired it to provide advice and consultation " to get her to the point where she, as an officer or manager of an entity (i.e. an 'issuer' under securities jargon) would be in a position to sell her own securities." It also asserted that it was undisputed that Falcon Group had provided Pransky with valuable advice on the development of her business, but she refused to follow the advice. It then argued that each of her claims must be dismissed.

Falcon Group argued that the consulting agreement did not involve any services for which it had to be registered under the Securities Act. It stated that the evidence showed that Pransky did not own a business entity that had or could issue securities and, therefore, there were no securities that Falcon Group could sell on Pransky's behalf as a broker-dealer. Falcon Group [311 Mich.App. 171] further argued that even if the " success fee" provision of the consulting agreement violated the Securities Act, the severability clause would preserve the remainder of the agreement. Because the only provisions that might arguably be invalid under the Securities Act could be severed, and Pransky did not allege that Falcon Group failed to provide her with

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consulting and advising services, Falcon Group argued that the trial court should dismiss Pransky's claims under MCR 2.116(C)(8).

Pransky argued in response to Falcon Group's motion that she was entitled to summary disposition under MCR 2.116(I)(2) because the consulting agreement on its face demonstrated that Falcon Group had to be registered under the Securities Act in order to provide the services identified in the agreement. Pransky notes in particular that the agreement included compensation for " monies" that Falcon Group " raises or causes to be raised" or raised through its " connections," which, she maintained, involved performing as a broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor under the Securities Act. She also argued that Falcon Group agreed to connect her with investors, which made it a finder under the Securities Act. Because finders must be registered as broker-dealers and it was undisputed that Falcon Group was not registered as a broker-dealer, she maintained that the consulting agreement was void as against public policy. Because the agreement was void in its entirety, the severability clause could not save the agreement and her remaining claims also remained viable.

The trial court held a hearing on Falcon Group's motion in November 2013. The trial court noted that Pransky's claims were each premised on the belief that Falcon Group had to be registered under the Securities [311 Mich.App. 172] Act in order to perform the services required by the consulting agreement. The trial court stated that the agreement unambiguously required Falcon Group to perform services that fell within the definition of a finder under the Securities Act, but determined that the Securities Act did not require finders to be registered. Moreover, because the consulting agreement did not require Falcon Group to " have any meaningful role in effecting the actual transaction," the court determined that the agreement did not require Falcon Group to act as an agent or broker-dealer. Finally, the agreement did not require Falcon Group to advise anyone to invest, purchase, or sell a security. The consulting agreement, the trial court concluded, did not on its face require Falcon Group to engage in any activity for which it would have to be registered under the Securities Act. Having determined that Falcon Group did not have to be registered under the Securities Act in order to perform the services required under the act, the trial court concluded that Pransky's claims premised on Falcon Group's failure to register necessarily failed. For that reason, it granted Falcon Group's motion for summary disposition.

In November 2013, Falcon Group moved for its costs and attorney fees, as permitted under the consulting agreement. Later that same month, the trial court granted the motion and ordered Pransky to pay more than $6,800 in attorney fees to Falcon Group.

Pransky now appeals in this Court.

II. SUMMARY DISPOSITION

A. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

On appeal, Pransky argues the trial court erred when it determined that the consulting agreement did [311 Mich.App. 173] not require Falcon Group to perform any service for which it had to be registered under the Securities Act. For that reason, she maintains, the trial court erred when it granted summary disposition in favor of Falcon Group.[2] This Court reviews de novo a

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trial court's decision on a motion for summary disposition. Barnard Mfg Co, Inc v Gates Performance Engineering, Inc, 285 Mich.App. 362, 369; 775 N.W.2d 618 (2009). This Court also reviews de novo whether the trial court " correctly selected, interpreted, and applied the relevant statutes." Kincaid v Cardwell, 300 Mich.App. 513, 522; 834 N.W.2d 122 (2013). Finally, this Court reviews de novo the trial court's construction of a contractual agreement. Rory v Continental Ins Co, 473 Mich. 457, 464; 703 N.W.2d 23 (2005).

B. THE SECURITIES ACT

Michigan's Legislature enacted the Securities Act to protect the public from fraud and deception in the issuance, sale, and exchange of securities. See Fred J. Schwaemmle Const Co v Dep't of Commerce, 420 Mich. 66, 77; 360 N.W.2d 141 (1984) (examining the prior version of the Securities Act).[3] It accomplished this in significant part by limiting the types of securities that may be offered and sold and by prohibiting certain practices involved with the offer and sale of securities. See MCL 451.2301 (prohibiting persons from offering or selling a security in Michigan unless [311 Mich.App. 174] the security meets certain criteria); MCL 451.2501 (prohibiting persons from directly or indirectly engaging in schemes or practices to defraud or making misrepresentations in connection with the offer, sale, or purchase of a security). However, it also chose to protect the public by regulating the persons who are involved with the offer and sale of securities. See MCL 451.2401 to MCL 451.2413. In particular, the Legislature prohibited a person from transacting business in this state as a broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor unless he or she is registered as a broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor under the act.[4] See MCL 451.2401(1); MCL 451.2402(1); MCL 451.2403(1).

1. BROKER-DEALERS AND FINDERS

On appeal, Pransky maintains that her consulting agreement with Falcon Group required it to perform services that fell within the definitions of " broker-dealer," " agent," or " investment advisor." She further contends that although the trial court did not err when it determined that the agreement required Falcon Group to act as a finder, it erred when it stated that finders were not required to register under the Securities Act. In her view, the Securities Act specifically contemplates that finders must register as broker-dealers.

Under the Securities Act, a broker-dealer is defined to be " a person engaged in the business of effecting transactions in securities for the account of others or [311 Mich.App. 175] for the person's own account." MCL 451.2102(d).[5] By defining a broker-dealer

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to be a person " engaged in the business of effecting transactions in securities," id., the Legislature limited the term to those persons whose business operations regularly include transactions in securities. See Heligman v Otto, 161 Mich.App. 735, 739, 741-742; 411 N.W.2d 844 (1987) (interpreting the definition of " broker-dealer" under the prior act, which defined a broker-dealer to be " any person engaged in the business of effecting transactions in securities or commodity contracts for the account of others or for his or her own account," [6] and concluding that the isolated transaction at issue did not constitute being engaged in the business of effecting transactions). Moreover, it is not enough that the person's business involves transactions in securities in any way; the person's business must be one " effecting" transactions in securities. MCL 451.2102(d). The verb " effect" suggests something stronger than tangential involvement in the transfer of securities; rather, the person's business must involve bringing about or accomplishing the transactions in securities. See 5 Oxford English Dictionary (2d ed, 1991 rev) (defining the verb to mean " [t]o bring about (an event, a result); to accomplish (an intention, a desire)" ). As one foreign court has explained,[7] a broker-dealer is a person who participates [311 Mich.App. 176] in the transaction by effectuating the trade--that is, by performing any function in connection with processing the transaction. See Overstock.com, Inc v Goldman Sachs & Co, 231 Cal.App.4th 513, 530-533; 180 Cal.Rptr.3d 269 (2014) (examining the meaning of the terms " effect" and " effecting" as used in California's securities laws and specifically referring to the definition of " broker-dealer," which is the same as this state's definition); see also Legacy Resources, Inc v Liberty Pioneer Energy Source, Inc, 2013 Utah 76, ¶ ¶ 21-28; 322 P.3d 683, 688-690 (2013) (construing the definition of " broker" under Utah's securities laws and holding that " one who is engaged in the business of 'effecting' a securities transaction is one who is involved in 'bring[ing it] about; mak[ing it] happen, caus[ing] or accomplish[ing it]'" ) (citation omitted) (alterations in original); Indus Partners, LLC v Intelligroup, Inc, 77 Mass.App. 793, 796-798; 934 N.E.2d 264 (2010) (stating that a person effects transactions in securities when he or she participates in the transaction at key points in the chain of distribution); In re Slatkin, 525 F.3d 805, 817 (CA 9, 2008) (examining federal securities law and stating that the operative term, " effecting," means to bring about or make happen). With regard to persons who find investors for securities, some courts have held that whether a person actively--as opposed to passively--solicits investors for securities is a factor to consider when determining whether that person's activities fall within the definition of a broker-dealer. See Legacy Resources, 2013 Utah 76 at ¶ 21; 322 P.3d at 688. Other courts have held that the activities of a finder fall under the definition of " broker-dealer." See Black Diamond Fund, LLLP v Joseph, 211 P.3d 727, 734 [311 Mich.App. 177] (Colo App, 2009) (" Individuals who solicit investors by phone and in person, and who distribute documents and prepare and distribute sales circulars in the hope that potential investors will deposit money in the account, are seeking to

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effect securities transactions." ). But this Court must be careful when considering whether the definition of " broker-dealer" necessarily includes the activities of finders because, unlike other jurisdictions, our Legislature has specifically addressed the activities of finders within our Securities Act.[8]

The Legislature defined a finder as a " person who, for consideration, participates in the offer to sell, sale, or purchase of securities by locating, introducing, or referring potential purchasers or sellers." MCL 451.2102(i). One might conclude that, by using the term " participates in" rather than " effecting," the Legislature intended to differentiate between participating in the offer, sale, or purchase and effecting a transaction in securities--that is, the Legislature might have intended to exclude participation in that way from the definition applicable to broker-dealers. It is notable that the Legislature did not define " broker-dealer" to specifically include finders. See MCL 451.2102(d).[9] If the Legislature understood participating in the offer to sell, the sale of, or the purchase of a [311 Mich.App. 178] security by locating, introducing, or referring potential purchasers and sellers as activities that amounted to " effecting transactions in securities," it would not have provided a separate definition for persons who engage in those activities; there would have been no need for a separate definition because those persons would fall under the definition of broker-dealer. Id. Thus, by giving the term " finder" its own definition and failing to include finders within the definition of " broker-dealer," the Legislature expressed its intent to exclude the activities of finders from the activities that fall under the definition of " broker-dealer." This is not to say that a person who acts as a finder might not also meet the definition of a broker-dealer, but in order to respect the Legislature's decision to separately define finder as a category distinct from broker-dealer, we conclude that a person who meets the definition of a finder does not constitute a broker-dealer unless his or her participation goes beyond that described in MCL 451.2102(i). See Johnson v Recca, 492 Mich. 169, 177; 821 N.W.2d 520 (2012) (stating that courts must give effect to every word, phrase, and clause in a statute and avoid an interpretation that would render any part of the statute surplusage or nugatory). And, because the Legislature did not enact any statutory provision that requires finders to register as finders, we further conclude that the Legislature intended to exempt persons who limit their activities to those described in MCL 451.2102(i) from the registration requirements. Cf. MCL 451.2406(1) (providing a method for persons to register as a broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor, but not providing any method for a person to register as a finder).

[311 Mich.App. 179] This construction is also consistent with the Legislature's overall scheme for regulating

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transactions in securities. The Legislature specifically regulated the practices of a broker-dealer or investment advisor who also provides services as a finder. See MCL 451.2413 (regulating acts by broker-dealers who act as finders); MCL 451.2502(2) (stating additional regulations that apply to investment advisors who act as a finder).[10] By imposing additional requirements on a broker-dealer or investment advisor who acts as a finder, the Legislature recognized that there was a distinction between the services provided by a broker-dealer or investment advisor and those provided by a finder. The broker-dealer plays a more active role in effecting the transaction than the finder, who might merely locate and introduce the sellers and buyers, but have no further part in the transfer of securities. This additional involvement might give rise to a conflict of interest between the broker-dealer's activities as a broker-dealer and his or her activities as a finder. Similarly, the impartiality of an investment advisor's advice might be compromised by the desire to obtain compensation for his or her finding activities. Indeed, the extra regulations for broker dealers address the potential for self-dealing that arises when a broker-dealer both solicits buyers and effects the transfer. See MCL 451.2413(a) (prohibiting a broker-dealer who acts as a finder from taking possession of the funds or securities for any transaction in which the broker-dealer received payment as a finder); MCL 451.2413(b) and (e) (imposing disclosure requirements on a broker-dealer who also acts as a finder); MCL 451.2413(d) (requiring broker-dealers who act as finders to obtain certain [311 Mich.App. 180] types of information about the securities before participating in the offer, purchase, or sale of the securities); MCL 451.2413(f) (prohibiting broker-dealers who act as finders from locating, introducing, or referring persons that the broker-dealer knows or should reasonably know are not suitable investors). The extra regulations for investment advisors who act as finders are substantially similar. See MCL 451.2502(2)(a) to (f).

On the surface, it seems possible that the Legislature intended the activities of a finder to invariably meet the definition of a broker-dealer and merely provided a separate definition for the term " finder" in order to provide a convenient means to impose additional requirements on broker-dealers or investment advisors whose activities also involve serving as a finder. But this understanding leads to the incongruous result that persons who strictly confine their activities to locating, introducing, and referring purchasers and sellers in conformity with MCL 451.2102(i)--that is, who act as finders and not as a broker-dealers or investment advisors--would nevertheless be subject to all the regulations that apply to a broker-dealer in addition to the special requirements applicable to a broker-dealer who acts as a finder. In other words, every finder would automatically be a broker-dealer and finder, but not every broker-dealer would be a finder. Under this construction, we would have to conclude that the Legislature intended to subject persons who act strictly as finders to more comprehensive regulation than it applied to persons who act strictly as broker-dealers.[11]

[311 Mich.App. 181] This construction also leads to additional difficulties. If the definition of " broker-dealer"

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necessarily includes finders, then any person acting as a finder would have to register as a broker-dealer. See MCL 451.2401(1) (prohibiting persons from transacting business as a broker-dealer without being registered as a broker-dealer). Every finder who complied with the law would therefore be a " finder registered as a broker-dealer," and for that reason, there could never be an investment advisor who acts as a finder. See MCL 451.2102a(e)( ix ) (excluding a " finder registered as a broker-dealer" from the definition of an investment advisor). Hence, the extra regulations imposed on investment advisors who act as finders would have no practical effect under this construction. Pransky in effect asks this Court to construe the definition of " broker-dealer" to always include finders so that a finder must register as a broker-dealer and fully comply with all the applicable regulations, notwithstanding that the Legislature elected to separately define " finder," chose not to include finder within the definition of " broker-dealer" (or " agent" or " investment advisor" ), and chose not to require finders to register. Because this Court must avoid a construction that renders any part of the statute surplusage or nugatory, we cannot construe the statute in this way. See Johnson, 492 Mich. at 177.

It is important to recall that, by defining a finder within the act as a person who participates in the offer to sell, the sale of, or the purchase of securities, the Legislature subjected finders to the general prohibition against the use of schemes to defraud, misstatements, and fraudulent or deceitful practices made " in connection with the offer, sale, or purchase of a security." MCL 451.2501. Accordingly, even though the Legislature did not require finders to specifically register as [311 Mich.App. 182] finders under the Securities Act, it still subjected finders to regulation under the act. See also MCL 451.2601 to MCL 451.2612. Of course, if a person's activities go beyond participating in an offer to sell or a sale of securities by locating, introducing, or referring potential purchasers and sellers of securities, MCL 451.2102(i), that person might fall within the definition of a finder in addition to that of a broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor or any combination of those categories. In that case, the person would be subject to the regulations and registration requirements imposed on broker-dealers, agents, or investment advisors, as the case may be.

Pransky nevertheless argues that the Legislature's decision to specifically exclude finders who are registered as broker-dealers from the definitions of " agent" and " investment advisor" indicates that the Legislature intended to require finders to register as broker-dealers, even though it chose not to specifically provide such a requirement in the act. Normally, this Court must assume that the Legislature acted with due deliberation when it provided a separate definition for " finder" and chose not to include finders within the definition of a broker-dealer. Similarly, it must generally conclude that the Legislature elected to forgo a statutory provision requiring finders to register as broker-dealers because it did not intend to require finders to register as broker-dealers. See Johnson, 492 Mich. at 177, 187. But even setting the canons of construction aside, there is nothing within the exceptions provided under the definition of " agent" or " investor advisor" that is inconsistent with treating finders as members of a category that is distinct from broker-dealers and whose members are exempt from registration.

[311 Mich.App. 183] 2. AGENTS AND INVESTMENT ADVISORS

The Legislature defined an agent to be " an individual other than a broker-dealer

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who represents a broker-dealer in effecting or attempting to effect purchases or sales of securities or represents an issuer in effecting or attempting to effect purchases or sales of the issuer's securities." MCL 451.2102(b). The Legislature, however, excluded from the definition of " agent" those persons who represent broker-dealers or issuers if the person was acting solely as a finder and registered as a broker-dealer: " The term [" agent" ] does not include a person acting solely as a finder and registered as a broker-dealer under this act . . . ." [12] Id.

Pransky argues that this exclusion demonstrates that the Legislature intended to require finders to register as broker-dealers. But, contrary to Pransky's suggestion, the fact that the Legislature defined an agent to be a person " other than a broker-dealer" and then provided an exception to the definition of an agent for finders who are registered as broker-dealers can best be understood as a recognition by the Legislature that some finders are not broker-dealers and that a finder need not be registered as a broker-dealer. Because an agent is broadly defined to include a person who " represents" a broker-dealer or issuer in either " effecting" or " attempting to effect" a transaction in securities, MCL 451.2102(b), a finder who serves as a representative for a broker-dealer or issuer might easily fall within the definition of an agent by going beyond the activities described in MCL 451.2102(i):[13]

[311 Mich.App. 184] The activities of a finder easily can fall within the agent definition so as to require further registration. If a finder becomes an advocate and seeks to induce a person to invest, the exemption for activities as a finder is lost. A finder operating under the Act may not actively participate in the offer and sale but rather may introduce the individual investor to the issuer or its representative. Counsel to issuers, broker-dealers, and finders should exercise caution in reviewing and directing the finders' activities. Since the statutory distinction between finders and agents is not always clear, an active participant in the transaction will likely be classified an unregistered agent and endanger an exemption from registration. [Moscow & Makens, eds, Michigan Securities Regulation (2d ed), § 4.09, p 116 (discussing the prior securities act, which contained substantially similar definitions for " finder" and " agent," see former MCL 451.801(b) and (u), as amended by 1988 PA 408) (citation omitted).][14]

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By contrast, a person acting as an independent finder, rather than as the representative of a broker-dealer or issuer, will not fall within the definition of [311 Mich.App. 185] " agent" and need not be registered as either an agent or broker-dealer. Understood in this context, the exclusion from the definition for a person acting solely as a finder, even if the finder is the representative of a broker-dealer or issuer, can best be construed as a means to avoid duplicate registration--that is, to prevent a finder whose activities rise to the level of an agent and broker-dealer from having to register as both an agent and a broker-dealer. This same logic applies to the exclusion provided for the definition of an investment advisor.

The Legislature defined an investment advisor to be a " person that, for compensation, engages in the business of advising others . . . as to the value of securities or the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities or that, for compensation and as part of a regular business, issues or promulgates analyses or reports concerning securities." MCL 451.2102a(e). The term excludes a " finder registered as a broker-dealer under this act." MCL 451.2102a(e)( ix ). Similar to the situation with agents, a finder who goes beyond acting as a mere finder, as described in MCL 451.2102(i), may fall within the definition of an investment advisor or broker-dealer or both and, as such, might have to register as both an investment advisor and a broker-dealer if there were no exceptions. The Legislature might have excluded a finder who is registered as a broker-dealer in order to avoid the duplicate registrations. In that way, a finder who registers as a broker-dealer will automatically be excluded from the definitions of both an agent and an investment advisor even if his or her activities would otherwise bring the finder within the definition of " agent" or " investment advisor."

This construction has the added benefit of giving effect to the extra regulations for investment advisors [311 Mich.App. 186] who act as finders. With this understanding, a person who qualifies as an investment advisor would be able to provide services as a finder without having to be registered as a broker-dealer, which he or she would have to do if finders invariably fell within the definition of a broker-dealer. However, an investment advisor who elects to provide services as a finder would then be subject to the additional regulations provided under MCL 451.2502(2).

On appeal, Pransky asks this Court to infer that the Legislature intended to require finders to register as broker-dealers--even if their activities do not fall within the definition of a broker-dealer--on the basis of these exclusions and in the absence of a direct statutory requirement. But, as explained, the exclusions can be understood as a means to avoid duplicate registration for persons whose activities as a finder also include activities that cause them to fall within the definition of " agent," " investment advisor," or " broker-dealer" and, for that reason, these exclusions do not give rise to an inference that the Legislature intended to require finders to register as broker-dealers. There is no reasonable interpretation of this statutory scheme that leads to the conclusion that the Legislature intended to require finders to register as broker-dealers in every case. In order to reach Pransky's desired result, we would have to assume that the Legislature intended to include finders within the definition of " broker-dealer" or intended to require finders to register as broker-dealers, but forgot to include either provision

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in the statutory scheme. We would then have to correct the Legislature's error by reading Pransky's preferred requirement into the statute, which we cannot do. See Johnson, 492 Mich. at 187 (stating that courts are not permitted to supply a provision in a statutory scheme on the assumption that the Legislature unintentionally omitted it); Book-Gilbert [311 Mich.App. 187] v Greenleaf, 302 Mich.App. 538, 547; 840 N.W.2d 743 (2013) (stating that this Court cannot read into a statute what the Legislature did not include).

Finally, Pransky also relies on agency regulations that require finders to register. This Court normally defers to an agency's interpretation of an act that it was charged to implement when the act is silent or ambiguous. Dep't of Labor and Economic Growth, Unemployment Insurance Agency v Dykstra, 283 Mich.App. 212, 223-224; 771 N.W.2d 423 (2009). It is not evident that the Securities Act contains any ambiguity, however, and the Legislature plainly made provision for the registration of persons under the act and chose not to include finders in the registration requirement. See MCL 451.2406(1). In any event, the current regulations were promulgated under the authority of the prior version of the Securities Act, which has since been repealed, see 2008 PA 551, and the specific regulation that Pransky relies on, Mich. Admin Code, R 451.803.7, has also been rescinded (although it was still in force during the events at issue). See 2014 Mich. Reg 15, pp 128, 137. Therefore, we conclude that the regulations are not entitled to any deference and, indeed, provide no guidance whatsoever.

Examining the scheme as a whole and construing it according to its plain language, we conclude that the Legislature intended to differentiate finders from broker-dealers, agents, and investment advisors. Because the Legislature chose not to include finders within the definition of a broker-dealer (or any other category) and chose not to specifically require finders to register, a finder will not have to register as long as the finder constrains his or her activities to those stated under MCL 451.2102(i). A person serving as a finder whose activities go beyond those described [311 Mich.App. 188] under MCL 451.2102(i), however, must register as an agent, broker-dealer, or investment advisor, as the case may be. Further, the finder may avoid having to register under multiple categories by registering as a broker-dealer.

C. APPLYING THE LAW

In her complaint, Pransky alleged four claims: rescission, misrepresentation/silent fraud, breach of the Securities Act, and conversion. She alleged that she was entitled to rescind the consulting agreement because the agreement required Falcon Group to provide services that it was illegal for it to provide without the requisite registration. As this Court has explained, a party may rescind an agreement made in violation of the Securities Act. Michelson v Voison, 254 Mich.App. 691, 697; 658 N.W.2d 188 (2003). If rescinded, the agreement is abrogated from the beginning and none of its provisions are applicable. Id. As for her misrepresentation and statutory claims, Pransky alleged that Falcon Group had a duty to disclose that it was illegal for it to perform the services required under the consulting agreement because it was not registered under the Securities Act, failed to inform her of that fact, and breached the Securities Act by inducing her to enter into an illegal agreement without informing her that it was unregistered. Finally, she alleged that because the consulting agreement was illegal, Falcon Group's exercise of dominion over her retainer was wrongful and amounted to a conversion.

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As can be seen, none of Pransky's claims depends on Falcon Group's actions after entering into the consulting agreement.[15] Rather, each claim involves the legality [311 Mich.App. 189] of the consulting agreement. The legality of the consulting agreement, in turn, depends on whether Falcon Group could perform the services required under the agreement without being registered as a finder, broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor. Because it is undisputed that Falcon Group is not registered under the Securities Act in any capacity and Pransky's claims do not depend on acts that it took after entering into the agreement, resolution of this case depends solely on the nature of the services that Falcon Group agreed to perform under the consulting agreement. If it could in theory perform the required services without being registered under the Securities Act, Pransky's claims must fail.[16] If, however, Falcon Group had to be registered under the Securities Act in order to provide any of the services required under the agreement, the agreement would be illegal and Pransky's claims would remain viable.

In the first eight paragraphs of the consulting agreement, the parties agreed to various recitations, which they characterized as " background" to the main provisions. Falcon Group, for example, recited that it was " engaged in the business of providing non-legal advice and consulting services to individuals and to business entities concerning, among other matters: mergers and acquisitions, marketing techniques and ideas, business opportunities, business operations, business management, financial issues and concerns, and business assets and liabilities." The parties further recited that Pransky desired to retain Falcon Group's services [311 Mich.App. 190] because she had a " need for [Falcon Group's] advice and consulting services . . . ." Finally, in this background section, Pransky agreed that she was not retaining Falcon Group to provide services as a lawyer, accountant, or real estate broker.

None of the first eight paragraphs required Falcon Group to provide illegal services. Falcon Group's statement of the services that it provides did not require it to perform any of those services and, even if it had, none of the services necessarily required that it provide advice or perform services involving securities. One can provide general advice concerning mergers and acquisitions, marketing, business opportunities and operations, business management, financing, and assets and liabilities without becoming involved in an activity regulated under the Securities Act.

In ¶ ¶ 10 through 24, the parties also agreed to several general provisions concerning the consulting agreement that did not directly involve the provision of services. Because these paragraphs did not require Falcon Group to perform a particular service, they do not implicate the Securities Act. Pransky nevertheless relies on ¶ 15 as evidence that Falcon Group agreed to provide services that require registration under that act. That paragraph requires Pransky to submit or direct " all communications regarding the financing, acquisition of, sale to and/or any transaction with or concerning [Pransky's] Business and all discussions or questions about

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the Business" to Falcon Group, rather than third parties. A plain reading of this paragraph shows that it does not require Falcon Group to do anything; it requires Pransky to submit the identified business communications to Falcon Group, presumably so it can provide her with advice or consultation on the communicated matter. Therefore, this paragraph [311 Mich.App. 191] does not implicate the Securities Act. The only paragraph in the consulting agreement that implicates the Securities Act is ¶ 9.

The majority of ¶ 9 addressed the compensation that Pransky would pay to Falcon Group for its services. Pransky first agreed to pay a " non-refundable Retainer of $50,000 . . . ." She agreed to pay $20,000 on signing and the remainder with the " first investment money received." She also agreed to pay Falcon Group " 10% of any monies" that Falcon Group " raises or causes to be raised" by Falcon Group " or through [its] connections . . . ." Pransky agreed to pay Falcon Group " 3% of the financing obtained" " as a result of [Falcon Group's] efforts or connections," including financing from " a bank or financial institution introduced by [Falcon Group]." Finally, Pransky added a handwritten provision, which she labeled " 9.e," to the paragraph on compensation. That provision required Falcon Group to " provide non-legal advice and consulting services to [Pransky] in connection with identifying and procuring investors and financing for the Business."

None of these provisions required Falcon Group to advise Pransky or anyone else on the " value of securities or the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities" or otherwise serve as a financial planner. MCL 451.2102a(e). Similarly, the parties specifically agreed in ¶ 19 that they did not intend to " create or establish an agency . . . relationship" by means of the agreement. And there is nothing in the agreement that suggests that Falcon Group would serve as a representative for a broker-dealer. Because the parties agreed that Falcon Group was not authorized to serve as Pransky's agent, even if Pransky were an " issuer" for purposes of the Securities Act, see MCL 451.2102a(g), the agreement did not require Falcon [311 Mich.App. 192] Group to represent her " in effecting or attempting to effect purchases or sales of securities," MCL 451.2102(b). Therefore, Falcon Group could perform these services consistently with the agreement without necessarily falling within the definition of an investment advisor or agent.[17]

These provisions do unambiguously provide that Falcon Group would not receive any compensation beyond the retainer unless it found investors or financing for Pransky. When read together and in light of Falcon Group's agreement to provide its service " in connection with identifying and procuring investors and financing," it is evident that Falcon Group agreed to act as a finder as that term is defined under MCL 451.2102(i). However, the provisions do not require Falcon Group to provide services beyond serving as a finder.

As we have already explained, the Legislature intended to differentiate finders from agents, investment advisors, and broker-dealers, and intended to exempt from registration persons who act solely as finders. Accordingly, because Falcon Group could perform under the consulting agreement

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as a finder without having to be registered, the consulting agreement was not on its face illegal under the Securities Act. The trial court did not err when it determined that Falcon Group could perform the consulting agreement without having to be registered under the Securities Act. Because each of Pransky's claims were premised on her belief that Falcon Group had to be registered under [311 Mich.App. 193] the act in order to perform the consulting agreement, the trial court also did not err when it concluded that those claims were not supported by the evidence and dismissed them under MCR 2.116(C)(10).

III. ATTORNEY FEES

A. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

Pransky next argues that the trial court erred when it amended the judgment in favor of Falcon Group to award Falcon Group its attorney fees. Specifically, she maintains that an award of attorney fees pursuant to a contractual provision constitutes damages, which must be asserted in a claim for breach of contract. Because Falcon Group did not assert a counterclaim, the trial court lacked the authority to award attorney fees under the agreement and any future claim is now barred by res judicata. She also argues that Falcon Group was not entitled to the award because ¶ 21, the paragraph at issue, only permits recovery if Falcon Group has to retain an attorney to " enforce" a " collection action." Because it hired its attorney to defend against Pransky's claims rather than to bring a collection action, she argues, Falcon Group did not establish its right to fees under the agreement.

This Court reviews de novo whether the trial court properly interpreted and applied the relevant statutes and court rules. Brecht v Hendry, 297 Mich.App. 732, 736; 825 N.W.2d 110 (2012). This Court also reviews de novo the proper interpretation and application of a contractual agreement. Rory, 473 Mich. at 464.

B. ANALYSIS

Michigan courts follow the American Rule with respect to the payment of attorney fees and costs. [311 Mich.App. 194] Haliw v Sterling Heights, 471 Mich. 700, 706; 691 N.W.2d 753 (2005). Under that rule, each party is responsible for his or her own attorney fees unless a statute or court rule specifically authorizes the trial court to order an award of attorney fees. Id. at 707. However, the parties to an agreement may include within the agreement a provision respecting the payment of attorney fees, which courts will enforce like any other term unless contrary to public policy. See Fleet Business Credit v Krapohl Ford Lincoln Mercury Co, 274 Mich.App. 584, 589; 735 N.W.2d 644 (2007) (stating that a contractual provision for payment of reasonable attorney fees is judicially enforceable); Wilson Leasing Co v Seaway Pharmacal Corp, 53 Mich.App. 359, 366; 220 N.W.2d 83 (1974) (opinion by R. B. BURNS, P.J.) (explaining that a contractual provision awarding attorney fees may be contrary to public policy if unrelated to the fair value of the services rendered). Because the authority to award attorney fees arises under the terms of the agreement, the attorney fees are a type of general damages. Fleet, 274 Mich.App. at 589-592 (holding that an award of attorney fees under a contractual provision constitutes general damages that need not be specifically pleaded). In order to obtain an award of attorney fees as damages under a contractual provision requiring such a payment, the party seeking payment must sue to enforce the fee-shifting provision, as it would for any other contractual term. See Wilson Leasing, 53 Mich.App. at 365 (stating

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that, in an action on a contract, the reasonable attorney fees allowed under the contract are an element of the debt owed); see also 25 CJS, Damages, § 85, pp 428-429 (" Contractual attorney's fees are recoverable only in a suit brought directly on the contract. Unlike statutorily permitted or rules-based attorney's fees, contractually based attorney's fees form part of the [311 Mich.App. 195] damages claim." ). That is, the party seeking the award of attorney fees as provided under the terms of an agreement must do so as part of a claim against the opposing party.

Falcon Group did not file a counterclaim for damages under the consulting agreement. Instead, it moved for an award of attorney fees and relied on the consulting agreement as authority for the award. However, because the award of attorney fees was not authorized by statute or court rule, but was instead part of a contractual agreement, the trial court could only award the fees as damages on a claim brought under the contract. By entering an order requiring Pransky to pay Falcon Group's attorney fees, the trial court in effect entered a judgment against Pransky on a claim that was never brought. A trial court may not enter judgment on a claim that was not brought in the original action in the guise of a postjudgment proceeding. See, e.g., Green v Ziegelman, 282 Mich.App. 292, 303-304; 767 N.W.2d 660 (2009) (holding that the trial court erred when it allowed the plaintiffs to assert a claim for piercing the corporate veil in a postjudgment proceeding because that claim had not been brought in the original action). Therefore, the trial court lacked the authority to order Pransky to pay Falcon Group's attorney fees as damages for breach of the consulting agreement.

Pransky also asks this Court to conclude that Falcon Group would be barred under the doctrine of res judicata from subsequently filing suit to recover its attorney fees under the consulting agreement. We decline to address this issue because it is premature. It is unclear whether Falcon Group will try to recover its attorney fees by filing a contract claim. Id. at 305. And should it do so, whether Falcon Group could have [311 Mich.App. 196] brought a claim for contractual damages in this litigation is a matter best addressed by the trial court at that time. See Adair v Michigan, 470 Mich. 105, 123-125; 680 N.W.2d 386 (2004) (discussing the same -transaction test for res judicata). For similar reasons, we decline to address whether Falcon Group was a " prevailing party in [a] collection action," as required under ¶ 21 of the consulting agreement. The trial court should address the proper construction of that paragraph and whether the present litigation amounted to a collection action if and when the claim is properly before it.

IV. CONCLUSION

The trial court did not err when it determined that Falcon Group could in theory perform its obligations under the consulting agreement without having to be registered as a broker-dealer, agent, or investment advisor under the Securities Act. It also did not err when it determined that the consulting agreement required Falcon Group to perform services as a finder, but that finders did not have to be registered under the Securities Act. Because Falcon Group could perform its obligations under the consulting agreement without being registered, the consulting agreement was not on its face illegal. The trial court properly dismissed under MCR 2.116(C)(10) Pransky's claims premised on the illegality of the consulting agreement. Consequently, we affirm the trial court's order dismissing Pransky's claims.

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The trial court, however, lacked the authority to award Falcon Group its attorney fees as damages under a contract claim because Falcon Group did not file a contract claim against Pransky. Accordingly, we [311 Mich.App. 197] vacate the trial court's order compelling Pransky to pay Falcon Group's attorney fees.

Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. Because neither Pransky nor Falcon Group prevailed in full, we order that neither party may tax costs. MCR 7.219(A).


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