A corporation may exercise two types of powers: (1) express powers, set forth by statute and in the articles of incorporation, and (2) implied powers, necessary to carry out its stated purpose. The corporation may always amend the articles of incorporation to change its purposes. Nevertheless, shareholders may enjoin their corporation from acting ultra vires, as may the state attorney general. However, an individual stockholder, director, or officer (except in rare instances under certain regulatory statutes) may not be held vicariously liable if he did not participate in the crime or tort.
Because ownership and control are separated in the modern publicly held corporation, shareholders generally do not make business decisions. Shareholders who own voting stock do retain the power to elect directors, amend the bylaws, ratify or reject certain corporate actions, and vote on certain extraordinary matters, such as whether to amend the articles of incorporation, merge, or liquidate.
In voting for directors, various voting methodologies may be used, such as cumulative voting, which provides safeguards against removal of minority-shareholder-supported directors. Shareholders may use several voting arrangements that concentrate power, including proxies, voting agreements, and voting trusts. Proxies are regulated under rules promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Corporations may deny preemptive rights—the rights of shareholders to prevent dilution of their percentage of ownership—by so stating in the articles of incorporation. Some states say that in the absence of such a provision, shareholders do have preemptive rights; others say that there are no preemptive rights unless the articles specifically include them.
Directors have the ultimate authority to run the corporation and are fiduciaries of the firm. In large corporations, directors delegate day-to-day management to salaried officers, whom they may fire, in most states, without cause. The full board of directors may, by majority, vote to delegate its authority to committees.
Directors owe the company a duty of loyalty and of care. A contract between a director and the company is voidable unless fair to the corporation or unless all details have been disclosed and the disinterested directors or shareholders have approved. Any director or officer is obligated to inform fellow directors of any corporate opportunity that affects the company and may not act personally on it unless he has received approval. The duty of care is the obligation to act “with the care an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances.” Other fiduciary duties have also been recognized, and constituency statutes permit the corporation to consider factors other than shareholders in making decisions. Shareholders may file derivative suits alleging breaches of fiduciary responsibilities. The duties have been expanded. For example, when the corporation is being sold, the directors have a duty to maximize shareholder value. Duties of oversight, good faith, and candor have been applied.
The corporation may agree, although not in every situation, to indemnify officers, directors, and employees for litigation expenses when they are made party to suits involving the corporation. The corporation may purchase insurance against legal expenses of directors and officers, but the policies do not cover acts of willful negligence and criminal conduct in which intent is a necessary element of proof. Additionally, the business judgment rule may operate to protect the decisions of the board.
The general rule is to maximize shareholder value, but over time, corporations have been permitted to consider other factors in decision making. Constituency statutes, for example, allow the board to consider factors other than maximizing shareholder value. Corporate social responsibility has increased, as firms consider things such as environmental impact and consumer perception in making decisions.
- First Corporation, a Massachusetts company, decides to expend $100,000 to publicize its support of a candidate in an upcoming presidential election. A Massachusetts statute forbids corporate expenditures for the purpose of influencing the vote in elections. Chauncey, a shareholder in First Corporation, feels that the company should support a different presidential candidate and files suit to stop the company’s publicizing efforts. What is the result? Why?
- Assume in Exercise 1 that Chauncey is both an officer and a director of First Corporation. At a duly called meeting of the board, the directors decide to dismiss Chauncey as an officer and a director. If they had no cause for this action, is the dismissal valid? Why?
- A book publisher that specializes in children’s books has decided to publish pornographic literature for adults. Amanda, a shareholder in the company, has been active for years in an antipornography campaign. When she demands access to the publisher’s books and records, the company refuses. She files suit. What arguments should Amanda raise in the litigation? Why?
- A minority shareholder brought suit against the Chicago Cubs, a Delaware corporation, and their directors on the grounds that the directors were negligent in failing to install lights in Wrigley Field. The shareholder specifically alleged that the majority owner, Philip Wrigley, failed to exercise good faith in that he personally believed that baseball was a daytime sport and felt that night games would cause the surrounding neighborhood to deteriorate. The shareholder accused Wrigley and the other directors of not acting in the best financial interests of the corporation. What counterarguments should the directors assert? Who will win? Why?
- The CEO of First Bank, without prior notice to the board, announced a merger proposal during a two-hour meeting of the directors. Under the proposal, the bank was to be sold to an acquirer at $55 per share. (At the time, the stock traded at $38 per share.) After the CEO discussed the proposal for twenty minutes, with no documentation to support the adequacy of the price, the board voted in favor of the proposal. Although senior management strongly opposed the proposal, it was eventually approved by the stockholders, with 70 percent in favor and 7 percent opposed. A group of stockholders later filed a class action, claiming that the directors were personally liable for the amount by which the fair value of the shares exceeded $55—an amount allegedly in excess of $100 million. Are the directors personally liable? Why or why not?
SELF CHECK QUESTIONS
- Acts that are outside a corporation’s lawful powers are considered
- ultra vires
- express powers
- implied powers
- none of the above
- Powers set forth by statute and in the articles of incorporation are called
- implied powers
- express powers
- ultra vires
- incorporation by estoppel
- The principle that mistakes made by directors on the basis of good-faith judgment can be forgiven
- is called the business judgment rule
- depends on whether the director has exercised due care
- involves both of the above
- involves neither of the above
- A director of a corporation owes
- a duty of loyalty
- a duty of care
- both a duty of loyalty and a duty of care
- none of the above
- A corporation may purchase indemnification insurance
- to cover acts of simple negligence
- to cover acts of willful negligence
- to cover acts of both simple and willful negligence
- to cover acts of criminal conduct