Corporate law

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Corporate law (also known as business law or enterprise law or sometimes company law) is the body of law governing the rights, relations, and conduct of persons, companies, organizations and businesses. It refers to the legal practice relating to, or the theory of corporations. Corporate law often describes the law relating to matters which derive directly from the life-cycle of a corporation. [1] It thus encompasses the formation, funding, governance, and death of a corporation.

Law System of rules and guidelines, generally backed by governmental authority

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined both as "the Science of Justice" and "the Art of Justice". Law is a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.

Behavior or behaviour is the range of actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with themselves or their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the (inanimate) physical environment. It is the computed response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.

Contents

While the minute nature of corporate governance as personified by share ownership, capital market, and business culture rules differ, similar legal characteristics - and legal problems - exist across many jurisdictions. Corporate law regulates how corporations, investors, shareholders, directors, employees, creditors, and other stakeholders such as consumers, the community, and the environment interact with one another. [1] Whilst the term company or business law is colloquially used interchangeably with corporate law, business law often refers to wider concepts of commercial law, that is, the law relating to commercial or business related activities. In some cases, this may include matters relating to corporate governance or financial law. When used as a substitute for corporate law, business law means the law relating to the business corporation (or business enterprises), i.e. capital raising (through equity or debt), company formation, registration, etc.

Capital market financial market for medium and long-term capital raising

A capital market is a financial market in which long-term debt or equity-backed securities are bought and sold. Capital markets channel the wealth of savers to those who can put it to long-term productive use, such as companies or governments making long-term investments. Financial regulators like the Bank of England (BoE) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) oversee capital markets to protect investors against fraud, among other duties.

An investor is a person that allocates capital with the expectation of a future financial return. Types of investments include: equity, debt securities, real estate, currency, commodity, token, derivatives such as put and call options, futures, forwards, etc. This definition makes no distinction between the investors in the primary and secondary markets. That is, someone who provides a business with capital and someone who buys a stock are both investors. An investor who owns a stock is a shareholder.

Board of directors board composed of directors

A board of directors is a group of people who jointly supervise the activities of an organization, which can be either a for-profit business, nonprofit organization, or a government agency. Such a board's powers, duties, and responsibilities are determined by government regulations and the organization's own constitution and bylaws. These authorities may specify the number of members of the board, how they are to be chosen, and how often they are to meet.

Overview

Academics identify four legal characteristics universal to business enterprises. These are:

Limited liability Business structure where shareholders cannot owe more than their stake in a venture

Limited liability is where a person's financial liability is limited to a fixed sum, most commonly the value of a person's investment in a company or partnership. If a company with limited liability is sued, then the claimants are suing the company, not its owners or investors. A shareholder in a limited company is not personally liable for any of the debts of the company, other than for the amount already invested in the company and for any unpaid amount on the shares in the company, if any. The same is true for the members of a limited liability partnership and the limited partners in a limited partnership. By contrast, sole proprietors and partners in general partnerships are each liable for all the debts of the business.

Share (finance) single unit of ownership in a corporation, mutual fund, or any other organization

In financial markets, a share is a unit used as mutual funds, limited partnerships, and real estate investment trusts. The owner of shares in the corporation/company is a shareholder of the corporation. A share is an indivisible unit of capital, expressing the ownership relationship between the company and the shareholder. The denominated value of a share is its face value, and the total of the face value of issued shares represent the capital of a company, which may not reflect the market value of those shares.

Public company Company that offers its securities for sale to the general public

A public company, publicly traded company, publicly held company, publicly listed company, or public limited company is a corporation whose ownership is dispersed among the general public in many shares of stock which are freely traded on a stock exchange or in over-the-counter markets. In some jurisdictions, public companies over a certain size must be listed on an exchange. A public company can be listed or unlisted.

A corporation may accurately be called a company; however, a company should not necessarily be called a corporation, which has distinct characteristics. In the United States, a company may or may not be a separate legal entity, and is often used synonymous with "firm" or "business." According to Black's Law Dictionary, in America a company means "a corporation — or, less commonly, an association, partnership or union — that carries on industrial enterprise." [3] Other types of business associations can include partnerships (in the UK governed by the Partnership Act 1890), or trusts (Such as a pension fund), or companies limited by guarantee (like some community organizations or charities). Corporate law deals with companies that are incorporated or registered under the corporate or company law of a sovereign state or their sub-national states.

Corporation Separate legal entity that has been incorporated through a legislative or registration process established through legislation

A corporation is an organization, usually a group of people or a company, authorized to act as a single entity and recognized as such in law. Early incorporated entities were established by charter. Most jurisdictions now allow the creation of new corporations through registration.

<i>Blacks Law Dictionary</i> law dictionary widely used in the United States

Black's Law is the most widely used law dictionary in the United States. It was founded by Henry Campbell Black (1860–1927). It is the reference of choice for terms in legal briefs and court opinions and has been cited as a secondary legal authority in many U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Partnership Arrangement in which parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests

A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. The partners in a partnership may be individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments or combinations. Organizations may partner to increase the likelihood of each achieving their mission and to amplify their reach. A partnership may result in issuing and holding equity or may be only governed by a contract.

The defining feature of a corporation is its legal independence from the shareholders that own it. Under corporate law, corporations of all sizes have separate legal personality, with limited or unlimited liability for its shareholders. Shareholders control the company through a board of directors which, in turn, typically delegates control of the corporation's day-to-day operations to a full-time executive. Shareholders' losses, in the event of liquidation, are limited to their stake in the corporation, and they are not liable for any remaining debts owed to the corporation's creditors. This rule is called limited liability, and it is why the names of corporations end with "Ltd.". or some variant such as "Inc." or "plc").

Unlimited company company where shareholders/members have unlimited legal liability

An unlimited company ("ULL") or private unlimited company is a hybrid company (corporation) incorporated with or without a share capital but where the legal liability of the members or shareholders is not limited: that is, its members or shareholders have a joint, several and non-limited obligation to meet any insufficiency in the assets of the company to enable settlement of any outstanding financial liability in the event of the company's formal liquidation. ULLs do not have to file public accounts and thus offer greater secrecy.

Incorporation (business) the forming of a new corporation

Incorporation is the formation of a new corporation. The corporation may be a business, a nonprofit organization, sports club, or a government of a new city or town.

Public limited company type of public company in the UK, some Commonwealth jurisdictions, and Ireland

A public limited company is a type of public company under United Kingdom company law, some Commonwealth jurisdictions, and the Republic of Ireland. It is a limited liability company whose shares may be freely sold and traded to the public, with a minimum share capital of £50,000 and usually with the letters PLC after its name. Similar companies in the United States are called publicly traded companies. Public limited companies will also have a separate legal identity.

Under almost all legal systems[ which? ] corporations have much the same legal rights and obligations as individuals. In some jurisdictions, this extends to allow corporations to exercise human rights against real individuals and the state, [4] and they may be responsible for human rights violations. [5] Just as they are "born" into existence through its members obtaining a certificate of incorporation, they can "die" when they lose money into insolvency. Corporations can even be convicted of criminal offences, such as corporate fraud and corporate manslaughter. [6]

Human rights Inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled

Human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law. They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being" and which are "inherent in all human beings", regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. They are regarded as requiring empathy and the rule of law and imposing an obligation on persons to respect the human rights of others, and it is generally considered that they should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances; for example, human rights may include freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture and execution.

A certificate of incorporation is a legal document relating to the formation of a company or corporation. It is a license to form a corporation issued by state government or, in some jurisdictions, by non-governmental entity/corporation. Its precise meaning depends upon the legal system in which it is used.

Insolvency is the state of being unable to pay the money owed, by a person or company, on time; those in a state of insolvency are said to be insolvent. There are two forms: cash-flow insolvency and balance-sheet insolvency.

Corporate Law Background

In order to understand the role corporate law plays within commercial law, it is useful to understand the historical development of the corporation, and the development of modern company law.

History of the Corporation

[ relevant? ]

Hogarthian image of the South Sea Bubble, by Edward Matthew Ward, Tate Gallery South Sea Bubble.jpg
Hogarthian image of the South Sea Bubble, by Edward Matthew Ward, Tate Gallery

Although some forms of companies are thought to have existed during Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, the closest recognizable ancestors of the modern company did not appear until the 16th century. With increasing international trade, Royal charters were granted in Europe (notably in England and Holland) to merchant adventurers. The Royal charters usually conferred special privileges on the trading company (including, usually, some form of monopoly). Originally, traders in these entities traded stock on their own account, but later the members came to operate on joint account and with joint stock, and the new Joint stock company was born. [7]

Early companies were purely economic ventures; it was only a belatedly established benefit of holding joint stock that the company's stock could not be seized for the debts of any individual member. [8] The development of company law in Europe was hampered by two notorious "bubbles" (the South Sea Bubble in England and the Tulip Bulb Bubble in the Dutch Republic) in the 17th century, which set the development of companies in the two leading jurisdictions back by over a century in popular estimation.

Modern company law

"Jack and the Giant Joint-Stock", a cartoon in Town Talk (1858) satirizing the 'monster' joint-stock economy that came into being after the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844. Jack and the Giant Joint-Stock.jpg
"Jack and the Giant Joint-Stock", a cartoon in Town Talk (1858) satirizing the 'monster' joint-stock economy that came into being after the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844.

Companies, almost inevitably, returned to the forefront of commerce, although in England to circumvent the Bubble Act 1720 investors had reverted to trading the stock of unincorporated associations, until it was repealed in 1825.[ relevant? ] However, the cumbersome process of obtaining Royal charters was simply insufficient to keep up with demand. In England there was a lively trade in the charters of defunct companies. However, procrastination amongst the legislature meant that in the United Kingdom it was not until the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844 that the first equivalent of modern companies, formed by registration, appeared. Soon after came the Limited Liability Act 1855, which in the event of a company's bankruptcy limited the liability of all shareholders to the amount of capital they had invested.

The beginning of modern company law came when the two pieces of legislation were codified under the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856 at the behest of the then Vice President of the Board of Trade, Mr Robert Lowe. That legislation shortly gave way to the railway boom, and from there the numbers of companies formed soared. In the later nineteenth century depression took hold, and just as company numbers had boomed, many began to implode and fall into insolvency. Much strong academic, legislative and judicial opinion was opposed to the notion that businessmen could escape accountability for their role in the failing businesses. The last significant development in the history of companies was the decision of the House of Lords in Salomon v. Salomon & Co. where the House of Lords confirmed the separate legal personality of the company, and that the liabilities of the company were separate and distinct from those of its owners.

In a December 2006 article, The Economist identified the development of the joint stock company as one of the key reasons why Western commerce moved ahead of its rivals in the Middle East in post-renaissance era. [9] [ relevant? ]

Corporate Structure

The law of business organizations originally derived from the common law of England, and has evolved significantly in the 20th century. In common law countries today, the most commonly addressed forms are:[ relevant? ]

The proprietary limited company is a statutory business form in several countries, including Australia. Many countries have forms of business entity unique to that country, although there are equivalents elsewhere. Examples are the limited liability company (LLC) and the limited liability limited partnership (LLLP) in the United States. Other types of business organizations, such as cooperatives, credit unions and publicly owned enterprises, can be established with purposes that parallel, supersede, or even replace the profit maximization mandate of business corporations.

There are various types of company that can be formed in different jurisdictions, but the most common forms of company are:

There are, however, many specific categories of corporations and other business organizations which may be formed in various countries and jurisdictions throughout the world.

One of the key legal features of corporations are their separate legal personality, also known as "personhood" or being "artificial persons". However, the separate legal personality was not confirmed under English law until 1895 by the House of Lords in Salomon v. Salomon & Co. [10] Separate legal personality often has unintended consequences, particularly in relation to smaller, family companies. In B v. B [1978] Fam 181 it was held that a discovery order obtained by a wife against her husband was not effective against the husband's company as it was not named in the order and was separate and distinct from him. [11] And in Macaura v. Northern Assurance Co Ltd [12] a claim under an insurance policy failed where the insured had transferred timber from his name into the name of a company wholly owned by him, and it was subsequently destroyed in a fire; as the property now belonged to the company and not to him, he no longer had an "insurable interest" in it and his claim failed.

Separate legal personality allows corporate groups flexibility in relation to tax planning, and management of overseas liability. For instance in Adams v. Cape Industries plc [13] it was held that victims of asbestos poisoning at the hands of an American subsidiary could not sue the English parent in tort. Whilst academic discussion highlights certain specific situations where courts are generally prepared to "pierce the corporate veil", to look directly at, and impose liability directly on the individuals behind the company; the actually practice of piercing the corporate veil is, at English law, non-existent. [14] However, the court will look beyond the corporate form where the corporation is a sham or perpetuating a fraud. The most commonly cited examples are:

Capacity and powers

Historically, because companies are artificial persons created by operation of law, the law prescribed what the company could and could not do. Usually this was an expression of the commercial purpose which the company was formed for, and came to be referred to as the company's objects, and the extent of the objects are referred to as the company's capacity. If an activity fell outside the company's capacity it was said to be ultra vires and void.

By way of distinction, the organs of the company were expressed to have various corporate powers. If the objects were the things that the company was able to do, then the powers were the means by which it could do them. Usually expressions of powers were limited to methods of raising capital, although from earlier times distinctions between objects and powers have caused lawyers difficulty. [16] Most jurisdictions have now modified the position by statute, and companies generally have capacity to do all the things that a natural person could do, and power to do it in any way that a natural person could do it.

However, references to corporate capacity and powers have not quite been consigned to the dustbin of legal history. In many jurisdictions, directors can still be liable to their shareholders if they cause the company to engage in businesses outside its objects, even if the transactions are still valid as between the company and the third party. And many jurisdictions also still permit transactions to be challenged for lack of "corporate benefit", where the relevant transaction has no prospect of being for the commercial benefit of the company or its shareholders.

As artificial persons, companies can only act through human agents. The main agent who deals with the company's management and business is the board of directors, but in many jurisdictions other officers can be appointed too. The board of directors is normally elected by the members, and the other officers are normally appointed by the board. These agents enter into contracts on behalf of the company with third parties.

Although the company's agents owe duties to the company (and, indirectly, to the shareholders) to exercise those powers for a proper purpose, generally speaking third parties' rights are not impugned if it transpires that the officers were acting improperly. Third parties are entitled to rely on the ostensible authority of agents held out by the company to act on its behalf. A line of common law cases reaching back to Royal British Bank v Turquand established in common law that third parties were entitled to assume that the internal management of the company was being conducted properly, and the rule has now been codified into statute in most countries.

Accordingly, companies will normally be liable for all the act and omissions of their officers and agents. This will include almost all torts, but the law relating to crimes committed by companies is complex, and varies significantly between countries.

Corporate crime

Corporate governance

Corporate governance is primarily the study of the power relations among a corporation's senior executives, its board of directors and those who elect them (shareholders in the "general meeting" and employees), as well as other stakeholders, such as creditors, consumers, the environment and the community at large. [17] One of the main differences between different countries in the internal form of companies is between a two-tier and a one tier board. The United Kingdom, the United States, and most Commonwealth countries have single unified boards of directors. In Germany, companies have two tiers, so that shareholders (and employees) elect a "supervisory board", and then the supervisory board chooses the "management board". There is the option to use two tiers in France, and in the new European Companies (Societas Europaea).

Recent literature, especially from the United States, has begun to discuss corporate governance in the terms of management science. While post-war discourse centred on how to achieve effective "corporate democracy" for shareholders or other stakeholders, many scholars have shifted to discussing the law in terms of principal–agent problems. On this view, the basic issue of corporate law is that when a "principal" party delegates his property (usually the shareholder's capital, but also the employee's labour) into the control of an "agent" (i.e. the director of the company) there is the possibility that the agent will act in his own interests, be "opportunistic", rather than fulfill the wishes of the principal. Reducing the risks of this opportunism, or the "agency cost", is said to be central to the goal of corporate law.


Constitution

A bond issued by the Dutch East India Company, dating from 7 November 1623, for the amount of 2,400 florins Vereinigte Ostindische Compagnie bond - Middelburg - Amsterdam - 1622.jpg
A bond issued by the Dutch East India Company, dating from 7 November 1623, for the amount of 2,400 florins

The rules for corporations derive from two sources. These are the country's statutes: in the US, usually the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL); in the UK, the Companies Act 2006 (CA 2006); in Germany, the Aktiengesetz (AktG) and the Gesetz betreffend die Gesellschaften mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH-Gesetz, GmbHG). The law will set out which rules are mandatory, and which rules can be derogated from. Examples of important rules which cannot be derogated from would usually include how to fire the board of directors, what duties directors owe to the company or when a company must be dissolved as it approaches bankruptcy. Examples of rules that members of a company would be allowed to change and choose could include, what kind of procedure general meetings should follow, when dividends get paid out, or how many members (beyond a minimum set out in the law) can amend the constitution. Usually, the statute will set out model articles, which the corporation's constitution will be assumed to have if it is silent on a bit of particular procedure.

The United States, and a few other common law countries, split the corporate constitution into two separate documents (the UK got rid of this in 2006). The memorandum of Association (or articles of incorporation) is the primary document, and will generally regulate the company's activities with the outside world. It states which objects the company is meant to follow (e.g. "this company makes automobiles") and specifies the authorised share capital of the company. The articles of association (or by-laws) is the secondary document, and will generally regulate the company's internal affairs and management, such as procedures for board meetings, dividend entitlements etc. In the event of any inconsistency, the memorandum prevails [18] and in the United States only the memorandum is publicised. In civil law jurisdictions, the company's constitution is normally consolidated into a single document, often called the charter.

It is quite common for members of a company to supplement the corporate constitution with additional arrangements, such as shareholders' agreements , whereby they agree to exercise their membership rights in a certain way. Conceptually a shareholders' agreement fulfills many of the same functions as the corporate constitution, but because it is a contract, it will not normally bind new members of the company unless they accede to it somehow. [19] One benefit of shareholders' agreement is that they will usually be confidential, as most jurisdictions do not require shareholders' agreements to be publicly filed. Another common method of supplementing the corporate constitution is by means of voting trusts , although these are relatively uncommon outside the United States and certain offshore jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions consider the company seal to be a part of the "constitution" (in the loose sense of the word) of the company, but the requirement for a seal has been abrogated by legislation in most countries.

Balance of power

Adolf Berle in The Modern Corporation and Private Property argued that the separation of control of companies from the investors who were meant to own them endangered the American economy and led to a mal-distribution of wealth. Adolf Augustus Berle NYWTS.jpg
Adolf Berle in The Modern Corporation and Private Property argued that the separation of control of companies from the investors who were meant to own them endangered the American economy and led to a mal-distribution of wealth.

The most important rules for corporate governance are those concerning the balance of power between the board of directors and the members of the company. Authority is given or "delegated" to the board to manage the company for the success of the investors. Certain specific decision rights are often reserved for shareholders, where their interests could be fundamentally affected. There are necessarily rules on when directors can be removed from office and replaced. To do that, meetings need to be called to vote on the issues. How easily the constitution can be amended and by whom necessarily affects the relations of power.

It is a principle of corporate law that the directors of a company have the right to manage. This is expressed in statute in the DGCL, where §141(a) [20] states,

(a) The business and affairs of every corporation organized under this chapter shall be managed by or under the direction of a board of directors, except as may be otherwise provided in this chapter or in its certificate of incorporation.

In Germany, §76 AktG says the same for the management board, while under §111 AktG the supervisory board's role is stated to be to "oversee" (überwachen). In the United Kingdom, the right to manage is not laid down in law, but is found in Part.2 of the Model Articles. This means it is a default rule, which companies can opt out of (s.20 CA 2006) by reserving powers to members, although companies rarely do. UK law specifically reserves shareholders right and duty to approve "substantial non cash asset transactions" (s.190 CA 2006), which means those over 10% of company value, with a minimum of £5,000 and a maximum of £100,000. [21] Similar rules, though much less stringent, exist in §271 DGCL [22] and through case law in Germany under the so-called Holzmüller-Doktrin . [23]

Probably the most fundamental guarantee that directors will act in the members' interests is that they can easily be sacked. During the Great Depression, two Harvard scholars, Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means wrote The Modern Corporation and Private Property , an attack on American law which failed to hold directors to account, and linked the growing power and autonomy of directors to the economic crisis. In the UK, the right of members to remove directors by a simple majority is assured under s.168 CA 2006 [24] Moreover, Art.21 of the Model Articles requires a third of the board to put themselves up for re-election every year (in effect creating maximum three year terms). 10% of shareholders can demand a meeting any time, and 5% can if it has been a year since the last one (s.303 CA 2006). In Germany, where employee participation creates the need for greater boardroom stability, §84(3) AktG states that management board directors can only be removed by the supervisory board for an important reason (ein wichtiger Grund) though this can include a vote of no-confidence by the shareholders. Terms last for five years, unless 75% of shareholders vote otherwise. §122 AktG lets 10% of shareholders demand a meeting. In the US, Delaware lets directors enjoy considerable autonomy. §141(k) DGCL states that directors can be removed without any cause, unless the board is "classified", meaning that directors only come up for re-appointment on different years. If the board is classified, then directors cannot be removed unless there is gross misconduct. Director's autonomy from shareholders is seen further in §216 DGCL, which allows for plurality voting and §211(d) which states shareholder meetings can only be called if the constitution allows for it. [25] The problem is that in America, directors usually choose where a company is incorporated and §242(b)(1) DGCL says any constitutional amendment requires a resolution by the directors. By contrast, constitutional amendments can be made at any time by 75% of shareholders in Germany (§179 AktG) and the UK (s.21 CA 2006). [26]

Director duties

In most jurisdictions, directors owe strict duties of good faith, as well as duties of care and skill, to safeguard the interests of the company and the members. In many developed countries outside the English speaking world, company boards are appointed as representatives of both shareholders and employees to "codetermine" company strategy. [27] Corporate law is often divided into corporate governance (which concerns the various power relations within a corporation) and corporate finance (which concerns the rules on how capital is used).

Directors also owe strict duties not to permit any conflict of interest or conflict with their duty to act in the best interests of the company. This rule is so strictly enforced that, even where the conflict of interest or conflict of duty is purely hypothetical, the directors can be forced to disgorge all personal gains arising from it. In Aberdeen Ry v. Blaikie (1854) 1 Macq HL 461 Lord Cranworth stated in his judgment that,

"A corporate body can only act by agents, and it is, of course, the duty of those agents so to act as best to promote the interests of the corporation whose affairs they are conducting. Such agents have duties to discharge of a fiduciary nature towards their principal. And it is a rule of universal application that no one, having such duties to discharge, shall be allowed to enter into engagements in which he has, or can have, a personal interest conflicting or which possibly may conflict, with the interests of those whom he is bound to protect... So strictly is this principle adhered to that no question is allowed to be raised as to the fairness or unfairness of the contract entered into..."

However, in many jurisdictions the members of the company are permitted to ratify transactions which would otherwise fall foul of this principle. [28] It is also largely accepted in most jurisdictions that this principle should be capable of being abrogated in the company's constitution.

The standard of skill and care that a director owes is usually described as acquiring and maintaining sufficient knowledge and understanding of the company's business to enable him to properly discharge his duties. This duty enables the company to seek compensation from its director if it can be proved that a director has not shown reasonable skill or care which in turn has caused the company to incur a loss. [29] In many jurisdictions, where a company continues to trade despite foreseeable bankruptcy, the directors can be forced to account for trading losses personally. Directors are also strictly charged to exercise their powers only for a proper purpose. For instance, were a director to issue a large number of new shares, not for the purposes of raising capital but in order to defeat a potential takeover bid, that would be an improper purpose. [30]

Company law theory

Ronald Coase has pointed out, all business organizations represent an attempt to avoid certain costs associated with doing business. Each is meant to facilitate the contribution of specific resources - investment capital, knowledge, relationships, and so forth - towards a venture which will prove profitable to all contributors. Except for the partnership, all business forms are designed to provide limited liability to both members of the organization and external investors. Business organizations originated with agency law, which permits an agent to act on behalf of a principal, in exchange for the principal assuming equal liability for the wrongful acts committed by the agent. For this reason, all partners in a typical general partnership may be held liable for the wrongs committed by one partner. Those forms that provide limited liability are able to do so because the state provides a mechanism by which businesses that follow certain guidelines will be able to escape the full liability imposed under agency law. The state provides these forms because it has an interest in the strength of the companies that provide jobs and services therein, but also has an interest in monitoring and regulating their behaviour.

Litigation

Members of a company generally have rights against each other and against the company, as framed under the company's constitution. However, members cannot generally claim against third parties who cause damage to the company which results in a diminution in the value of their shares or others membership interests because this is treated as "reflective loss" and the law normally regards the company as the proper claimant in such cases.

In relation to the exercise of their rights, minority shareholders usually have to accept that, because of the limits of their voting rights, they cannot direct the overall control of the company and must accept the will of the majority (often expressed as majority rule). However, majority rule can be iniquitous, particularly where there is one controlling shareholder. Accordingly, a number of exceptions have developed in law in relation to the general principle of majority rule.

Corporate finance

Through the operational life of the corporation, perhaps the most crucial aspect of corporate law relates to raising capital for the business to operate. The law, as it relates to corporate finance, not only provides the framework for which a business raises funds - but also provides a forum for principles and policies which drive the fundraising, to be taken seriously. Two primary methods of financing exists with regard to corporate financing, these are:

Each has relative advantages and disadvantages, both at law and economically. Additional methods of raising capital necessary to finance its operations is that of retained profits [32] Various combinations of financing structures have the capacity to produce fine-tuned transactions which, using the advantages of each form of financing, support the limitations of the corporate form, its industry, or economic sector. [33] . A mix of both debt and equity is crucial to the sustained health of the company, and its overall market value is independent of its capital structure. One notable difference is that interest payments to debt is tax deductible whilst payment of dividends are not, this will incentivise a company to issue debt financing rather than preferred shares in order to reduce their tax exposure.

Shares and share capital

A company limited by shares, whether public or private, must have at least one issued share; however, depending on the corporate structure, the formatting may differ. If a company wishes to raise capital through equity, it will usually be done by issuing shares. (sometimes called "stock" (not to be confused with stock-in-trade)) or warrants. In the common law, whilst a shareholder is often colloquially referred to as the owner of the company - it is clear that the shareholder is not an owner of the company but makes the shareholder a member of the company and entitles them to enforce the provisions of the company's constitution against the company and against other members. [33] [34] A share is an item of property, and can be sold or transferred. Shares also normally have a nominal or par value, which is the limit of the shareholder's liability to contribute to the debts of the company on an insolvent liquidation. Shares usually confer a number of rights on the holder. These will normally include:

Companies may issue different types of shares, called "classes" of shares, offering different rights to the shareholders depending on the underlying regulatory rules pertaining to corporate structures, taxation, and capital market rules. A company might issue both ordinary shares and preference shares, with the two types having different voting and/or economic rights. It might provide that preference shareholders shall each receive a cumulative preferred dividend of a certain amount per annum, but the ordinary shareholders shall receive everything else. Corporations will structure capital raising in this way in order to appeal to different lenders in the market by providing different incentives for investment. [33] The total value of issued shares in a company is said to represent its equity capital. Most jurisdictions regulate the minimum amount of capital which a company may have,[ citation needed ] although some jurisdictions prescribe minimum amounts of capital for companies engaging in certain types of business (e.g. banking, insurance etc.).[ citation needed ] Similarly, most jurisdictions regulate the maintenance of equity capital, and prevent companies returning funds to shareholders by way of distribution when this might leave the company financially exposed. Often this extends to prohibiting a company from providing financial assistance for the purchase of its own shares. [35]

Matters affecting the continuation of the Corporate form

Events such as mergers, acquisitions, insolvency, or the commission of a crime will adversely affect the corporation in its current form. At the end of the corporate lifecycle, a corporation may be "wound up" and enter into bankruptcy liquidation. This often arises when the corporation is unable to discharge its debts in a timely manner. Comparatively, a merger or acquisition can often mean the altering or extinguishing of the corporation. In addition to the creation of the corporation, and its financing, these events serve as a transition phase into either dissolution, or some other material shift.

Mergers and acquisitions

Corporate insolvency

Liquidation is the normal means by which a company's existence is brought to an end. It is also referred to (either alternatively or concurrently) in some jurisdictions as winding up or dissolution. Liquidations generally come in two forms — either compulsory liquidations (sometimes called creditors' liquidations) and voluntary liquidations (sometimes called members' liquidations, although a voluntary liquidation where the company is insolvent will also be controlled by the creditors, and is properly referred to as a creditors' voluntary liquidation). Where a company goes into liquidation, normally a liquidator is appointed to gather in all the company's assets and settle all claims against the company. If there is any surplus after paying off all the creditors of the company, this surplus is then distributed to the members.

As its names imply, applications for compulsory liquidation are normally made by creditors of the company when the company is unable to pay its debts. However, in some jurisdictions, regulators have the power to apply for the liquidation of the company on the grounds of public good, i.e., where the company is believed to have engaged in unlawful conduct, or conduct which is otherwise harmful to the public at large.

Voluntary liquidations occur when the company's members decide voluntarily to wind up the affairs of the company. This may be because they believe that the company will soon become insolvent, or it may be on economic grounds if they believe that the purpose for which the company was formed is now at an end, or that the company is not providing an adequate return on assets and should be broken up and sold off.

Some jurisdictions also permit companies to be wound up on "just and equitable" grounds. [36] Generally, applications for just and equitable winding-up are brought by a member of the company who alleges that the affairs of the company are being conducted in a prejudicial manner, and asking the court to bring an end to the company's existence. For obvious reasons, in most countries, the courts have been reluctant to wind up a company solely on the basis of the disappointment of one member, regardless of how well-founded that member's complaints are. Accordingly, most jurisdictions that permit just and equitable winding up also permit the court to impose other remedies, such as requiring the majority shareholder(s) to buy out the disappointed minority shareholder at a fair value.

Insider dealing

Insider trading is the trading of a corporation's stock or other securities (e.g., bonds or stock options) by individuals with potential access to non-public information about the company. In most countries, trading by corporate insiders such as officers, key employees, directors, and large shareholders may be legal if this trading is done in a way that does not take advantage of non-public information. However, the term is frequently used to refer to a practice in which an insider or a related party trades based on material non-public information obtained during the performance of the insider's duties at the corporation, or otherwise in breach of a fiduciary or other relationship of trust and confidence or where the non-public information was misappropriated from the company. [37] Illegal insider trading is believed to raise the cost of capital for securities issuers, thus decreasing overall economic growth. [38]

In the United States and several other jurisdictions, trading conducted by corporate officers, key employees, directors, or significant shareholders (in the United States, defined as beneficial owners of ten percent or more of the firm's equity securities) must be reported to the regulator or publicly disclosed, usually within a few business days of the trade. Many investors follow the summaries of these insider trades in the hope that mimicking these trades will be profitable. While "legal" insider trading cannot be based on material non-public information, some investors believe corporate insiders nonetheless may have better insights into the health of a corporation (broadly speaking) and that their trades otherwise convey important information (e.g., about the pending retirement of an important officer selling shares, greater commitment to the corporation by officers purchasing shares, etc.)

United States

In the United States, most corporations are incorporated, or organized, under the laws of a particular state. The laws of the state of incorporation normally governs a corporation's internal operations, even if the corporation's operations take place outside that state. Corporate law differs from state to state. [39] Because of these differences, some businesses will benefit from having a corporate lawyer determine the most appropriate or advantageous state in which to incorporate.

Business entities may also be regulated by federal laws [40] and in some cases by local laws and ordinances. [41]

Delaware

A majority of publicly traded companies in the U.S. are Delaware corporations. [42] Some companies choose to incorporate in Delaware because the Delaware General Corporation Law offers lower corporate taxes than many other states. [43] Many venture capitalists prefer to invest in Delaware corporations. [44] Also, the Delaware Court of Chancery is widely recognized as a good venue for the litigation of business disputes. [45]

See also

Related Research Articles

Business Organization undertaking commercial, industrial, or professional activity

Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling products. Simply put, it is "any activity or enterprise entered into for profit. It does not mean it is a company, a corporation, partnership, or have any such formal organization, but it can range from a street peddler to General Motors."

A shareholder is an individual or institution that legally owns one or more shares of stock in a public or private corporation. Shareholders may be referred to as members of a corporation. Legally, a person is not a shareholder in a corporation until their name and other details are entered in the corporation's register of shareholders or members.

Limited liability company US-specific form of a private limited company

A limited liability company (LLC) is the US-specific form of a private limited company. It is a business structure that can combine the pass-through taxation of a partnership or sole proprietorship with the limited liability of a corporation. An LLC is not a corporation under state law; it is a legal form of a company that provides limited liability to its owners in many jurisdictions. LLCs are well known for the flexibility that they provide to business owners; depending on the situation, an LLC may elect to use corporate tax rules instead of being treated as a partnership, and, under certain circumstances, LLCs may be organized as not-for-profit. In certain U.S. states, businesses that provide professional services requiring a state professional license, such as legal or medical services, may not be allowed to form an LLC but may be required to form a similar entity called a professional limited liability company (PLLC).

Joint-stock company business entity which is owned by shareholders

A joint-stock company is a business entity in which shares of the company's stock can be bought and sold by shareholders. Each shareholder owns company stock in proportion, evidenced by their shares. Shareholders are able to transfer their shares to others without any effects to the continued existence of the company.

Limited company company in which the liability of members or subscribers of the company is limited

In a limited company, the liability of members or subscribers of the company is limited to what they have invested or guaranteed to the company. Limited companies may be limited by shares or by guarantee. The former may be further divided in public companies and private companies. Who may become a member of a private limited company is restricted by law and by the company's rules. In contrast, anyone may buy shares in a public limited company.

Common stock form of corporate equity ownership, a type of security

Common stock is a form of corporate equity ownership, a type of security. The terms voting share and ordinary share are also used frequently in other parts of the world; "common stock" being primarily used in the United States. They are known as Equity shares or Ordinary shares in the UK and other Commonwealth realms. This type of share gives the stockholder the right to share in the profits of the company, and to vote on matters of corporate policy and the composition of the members of the board of directors.

Private limited company type of company used in many jurisdictions

A private limited company is a type of business entity in "private" ownership used in many jurisdictions, in contrast to "public" ownership, with some differences from country to country. Examples include LLC in the US, private company limited by shares in the UK, GmbH in Germany or společnost s ručením omezeným in the Czech Republic.

A company, abbreviated as co., is a legal entity made up of an association of people, be they natural, legal, or a mixture of both, for carrying on a commercial or industrial enterprise. Company members share a common purpose, and unite to focus their various talents and organize their collectively available skills or resources to achieve specific, declared goals. Companies take various forms, such as:

United Kingdom company law corporate law of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom company law regulates corporations formed under the Companies Act 2006. Also governed by the Insolvency Act 1986, the UK Corporate Governance Code, European Union Directives and court cases, the company is the primary legal vehicle to organise and run business. Tracing their modern history to the late Industrial Revolution, public companies now employ more people and generate more of wealth in the United Kingdom economy than any other form of organisation. The United Kingdom was the first country to draft modern corporation statutes, where through a simple registration procedure any investors could incorporate, limit liability to their commercial creditors in the event of business insolvency, and where management was delegated to a centralised board of directors. An influential model within Europe, the Commonwealth and as an international standard setter, UK law has always given people broad freedom to design the internal company rules, so long as the mandatory minimum rights of investors under its legislation are complied with.

Australian corporate law

Australian corporations law has historically borrowed heavily from UK company law. Its legal structure now consists of a single, national statute, the Corporations Act 2001. The statute is administered by a single national regulatory authority, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

United States corporate law

United States corporate law regulates the governance, finance and power of corporations in US law. Every state and territory has its own basic corporate code, while federal law creates minimum standards for trade in company shares and governance rights, found mostly in the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, as amended by laws like the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd–Frank Act of 2010. The US Constitution was interpreted by the US Supreme Court to allow corporations to incorporate in the state of their choice, regardless of where their headquarters are. Over the 20th century, most major corporations incorporated under the Delaware General Corporation Law, which offered lower corporate taxes, fewer shareholder rights against directors, and developed a specialized court and legal profession. Nevada has done the same. Twenty-four states follow the Model Business Corporation Act, while New York and California are important due to their size.

There are three types of business entity in Russia: limited liability companies (LLC), joint-stock companies (JSC), and partnerships. The first two of these are joint-stock companies and have limited liability.

Shareholders in the United Kingdom

Shareholders in the United Kingdom are people and organisations who buy shares in UK companies. In large companies, such as those on the FTSE100, shareholders are overwhelmingly large institutional investors, such as pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds or similar foreign organisations. UK shareholders have the most favourable set of rights in the world in their ability to control directors of corporations. UK company law gives shareholders the ability to,

British Virgin Islands company law

British Virgin Islands company law is primarily codified in the BVI Business Companies Act, 2004, and to a lesser extent by the Insolvency Act, 2003 and the Securities and Investment Business Act, 2010. The British Virgin Islands has approximately 30 registered companies per head of population, which is probably the highest ratio of any country in the world. Annual company registration fees provide a significant part of Government revenue in the British Virgin Islands, which accounts for the comparative lack of other taxation. Accordingly, company law forms a much more prominent part of the law of the British Virgin Islands than might otherwise be expected.

Cayman Islands company law National economic law

Cayman Islands company law is primarily codified in the Companies Law and the Limited Liability Companies Law, 2016, and to a lesser extent in the Securities and Investment Business Law. The Cayman Islands is a leading Offshore financial centre, and financial services forms a significant part of the economy of the Cayman Islands. Accordingly company law forms a much more prominent part of the law of the Cayman Islands than might otherwise be expected.

Anguillan company law is primarily codified in three principal statutes:

  1. the International Business Companies Act ;
  2. the Companies Act ; and
  3. the Limited Liability Companies Act.

References

  1. 1 2 3 John Armour, Henry Hansmann, Reinier Kraakman, Mariana Pargendler "What is Corporate Law?" in The Anatomy of Corporate Law: A Comparative and Functional Approach(Eds Reinier Kraakman, John Armour, Paul Davies, Luca Enriques, Henry Hansmann, Gerard Hertig, Klaus Hopt, Hideki Kanda, Mariana Pargendler, Wolf-Georg Ringe, and Edward Rock, Oxford University Press 2017)1.1
  2. RC Clark, Corporate Law (Aspen 1986) 2; H Hansmann et al, Anatomy of Corporate Law (2004) ch 1 set out similar criteria, and in addition state modern companies involve shareholder ownership. However this latter feature is not the case in many European jurisdictions, where employees participate in their companies.
  3. Black's Law Dictionary, 8th edition (2004), ISBN   0-314-15199-0
  4. e.g. South African Constitution Art.8, especially Art.(4)
  5. Phillip I. Blumberg, The Multinational Challenge to Corporation Law: The Search for a New Corporate Personality, (1993) has a very good discussion of the controversial nature of additional rights being granted to corporations.
  6. e.g. Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
  7. In England the first joint stock company was the East India Company, which received its charter in 1600. The Dutch East India Company received its charter in 1602, but is generally recognized as the first company in the world to issue joint stock. Not coincidentally, the two companies were competitors.
  8. In England, see Edmunds v Brown Tillard (1668) 1 Lev 237 and Salmon v The Hamborough Co (1671) 1 Ch Cas 204
  9. "Long ago, the region's failure to develop joint-stock companies was one reason why it fell behind the West." from "Think local". The Economist.
  10. Salomon v. Salomon & Co. [1897] AC 22.
  11. Although it did attach to documents within the husband's custody or control.
  12. Macaura v. Northern Assurance Co Ltd [1925] AC 619
  13. Adams v. Cape Industries plc [1990] Ch 433
  14. Goode Principles of Corporate Insolvency Law (3rd Edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2013)
  15. Williams v Natural Life [1998] 1 WLR 830
  16. See the frustration expressed by the House of Lords in Cotman v. Brougham [1918] AC 514
  17. Lin, Tom C. W., Incorporating Social Activism (December 1, 2018). 98 Boston University Law Review 1535 (2018)
  18. Ashbury v. Watson (1885) 30 Ch D 376
  19. Shalfoon v Cheddar Valley [1924] NZLR 561
  20. "TITLE 8 - CHAPTER 1. GENERAL CORPORATION LAW - Subchapter IV. Directors and Officers". delcode.delaware.gov.
  21. See also, Listing Rule 10 for public companies, setting out a scale of transactions requiring shareholder approval and disclosure.
  22. Shareholders must approve sale of "all or substantially all assets", held in Gimbel (1974) to be those "qualitatively vital to the existence and purpose" of the corporation; which in Katz v. Bregman (1981) was held to include assets under 50% of the company's value
  23. The Bundesgerichtshof held that shareholders must approve a sale of assets amounting to 80% of the company's value
  24. c.f. Bushell v. Faith , and query whether the decision would still be decided the same way.
  25. See also, SEC 13d-5, dating from times when groups of investors were considered potential cartels, saying any 5% shareholder voting block must register with the Federal financial authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  26. Though the Constitution may allow particular provisions to be further "entrenched", s.22; Furthermore, Art.3 of the Model Articles allows 75% of members in general meeting to give the directors specific instructions.
  27. Hans-Joachim Mertens; Erich Schanze (1979). "The German Codetermination Act OF 1976" (PDF). Journal of Comparative Corporate Law and Securities Regulation. North-Holland Publishing Company. 2: 75–88.
  28. Goode Corporate Insolvency Law (3rd Edn Sweet & Maxwell, 2013) 214
  29. Multinational Gas and Petrochemical Co v Multinational Gas and Petrochemical Services Ltd [1983] Ch 258
  30. Harlowe's Nominees Pty v. Woodside (1968) 121 CLR 483 (Aust HC)
  31. Foss v Harbottle (1843) 2 Hare 461
  32. Gullifer and Payne Corporate Finance Law: Principles and Policy (2nd Edn Hart Publishing, 2015) 5-41
  33. 1 2 3 Gullifer and Payne Corporate Finance Law: Principles and Policy (2nd Edn Hart Publishing, 2015) 38
  34. Salomon v Salomon
  35. Janet Dine, Marios Koutsias Company Law(Macmillan International Higher Education 2014), 77
  36. In England, see Ebrahimi v Westbourne Galleries [1973] AC 360
  37. Insider Trading U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, accessed May 7, 2008
  38. "The World Price of Insider Trading" by Utpal Bhattacharya and Hazem Daouk in the Journal of Finance, Vol. LVII, No. 1 (Feb. 2002)
  39. Larson, Aaron (20 July 2016). "Where To Incorporate Your Business". ExpertLaw.com. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  40. "Corporations". Wex. Cornell Law School. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  41. Salkin, Patricia E. (2008). "Municipal Regulation of Formula Businesses". Case Western Reserve Law Review. 58 (4): 1251. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  42. "About the Division of Corporations". Delaware Division of Corporations. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  43. Tarver, Evan (2015-09-25). "4 Reasons Why Delaware Is Considered a Tax Shelter". Investopedia. Retrieved 2017-08-19.
  44. Feldman, Sandra (17 May 2017). "Choice of Entity for Startups Seeking Venture Capital". Wolters Kluwer. CT Corporation System.
  45. Quillen, William T.; Hanrahan, Michael (1992). "A Short History of the Court of Chancery". Delaware Court of Chancery. Retrieved 3 April 2018.