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30.8 Summary and Exercises

Summary

The hallmark of the corporate form of business enterprise is limited liability for its owners. Other features of corporations are separation of ownership and management, perpetual existence, and easy transferability of interests. In the early years of the common law, corporations were thought to be creatures of sovereign power and could be created only by state grant. But by the late nineteenth century, corporations could be formed by complying with the requirements of general corporation statutes in virtually every state. Today the standard is the Revised Model Business Corporation Act.

The corporation, as a legal entity, has many of the usual rights accorded natural persons. The principle of limited liability is broad but not absolute: when the corporation is used to commit a fraud or an injustice or when the corporation does not act as if it were one, the courts will pierce the corporate veil and pin liability on stockholders.

Besides the usual business corporation, there are other forms, including not-for-profit corporations and professional corporations. Business corporations are classified into two types: publicly held and closely held corporations.

To form a corporation, the would-be stockholders must choose the state in which they wish to incorporate. The goal of the incorporation process is issuance of a corporate charter. The charter is a contract between the state and the corporation. Although the Constitution prohibits states from impairing the obligation of contracts, states reserve the right to modify corporate charters.

The corporation is created by the incorporators (or promoters), who raise capital, enter into contracts on behalf of the corporation to be formed, and prepare the articles of incorporation. The promoters are personally liable on the contracts they enter into before the corporation is formed. Incorporators owe a fiduciary duty to each other, to investors, and to the corporation.

The articles of incorporation typically contain a number of features, including the corporate name, corporate purposes, total number of shares and classes into which they are divided, par value, and the like. The name must include one of the following words (or abbreviations): corporation, company, incorporated, or limited (Corp., Co., Inc., or Ltd.). The articles of incorporation must be filed with the secretary of state. Once they have been filed, the board of directors named in the articles must adopt bylaws, elect officers, and conduct other necessary business. The directors are empowered to alter the bylaws, subject to repeal or change by the shareholders.

Even if the formal prerequisites to incorporation are lacking, a de facto corporation will be held to have been formed if (1) a statute exists under which the corporation could have been validly incorporated, (2) the promoters made a bona fide attempt to comply with the statute, and (3) a corporate privilege was exercised. Under appropriate circumstances, a corporation will be held to exist by estoppel.

Exercises

  1. Two young business school graduates, Laverne and Shirley, form a consulting firm. In deciding between the partnership and corporation form of organization, they are especially concerned about personal liability for giving bad advice to their clients; that is, in the event they are sued, they want to prevent plaintiffs from taking their personal assets to satisfy judgments against the firm. Which form of organization would you recommend? Why?
  2. Assume that Laverne and Shirley in Exercise 1 must negotiate a large loan from a local bank in order to finance their firm. A friend advises them that they should incorporate in order to avoid personal liability for the loan. Is this good advice? Why?
  3. Assume that Laverne and Shirley decide to form a corporation. Before the incorporation process is complete, Laverne enters into a contract on behalf of the corporation to purchase office furniture and equipment for $20,000. After the incorporation process has been completed, the corporation formally accepts the contract made by Laverne. Is Laverne personally liable on the contract before corporate acceptance? After corporate acceptance? Why?
  4. Assume that Laverne and Shirley have incorporated their business. One afternoon, an old college friend visits Shirley at the office. Shirley and her friend decide to go out for dinner to discuss old times. Shirley, being short of cash, takes money from a petty cash box to pay for dinner. (She first obtains permission from Laverne, who has done the same thing many times in the past.) Over dinner, Shirley learns that her friend is now an IRS agent and is investigating Shirley’s corporation. What problems does Shirley face in the investigation? Why?
  5. Assume that Laverne and Shirley prepare articles of incorporation but forget to send the articles to the appropriate state office. A few months after they begin to operate their consulting business as a corporation, Laverne visits a client. After her meeting, in driving out of a parking lot, Laverne inadvertently backs her car over the client, causing serious bodily harm. Is Shirley liable for the accident? Why?
  6. Ralph, a resident of Oklahoma, was injured when using a consumer product manufactured by a corporation whose principal offices were in Tulsa. Since his damages exceeded $10,000, he filed a products-liability action against the company, which was incorporated in Delaware, in federal court. Does the federal court have jurisdiction? Why?
  7. Alice is the president and only shareholder of a corporation. The IRS is investigating Alice and demands that she produce her corporate records. Alice refuses, pleading the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. May the IRS force Alice to turn over her corporate records? Why?

Self-Test Questions

  1. In comparing partnerships with corporations, the major factor favoring the corporate form is

    1. ease of formation
    2. flexible financing
    3. limited liability
    4. control of the business by investors
  2. A corporation with no part of its income distributable to its members, directors, or officers is called

    1. a publicly held corporation
    2. a closely held corporation
    3. a professional corporation
    4. a nonprofit corporation
  3. A corporation in which stock is widely held or available through a national or regional stock exchange is called

    1. a publicly held corporation
    2. a closely held corporation
    3. a public corporation
    4. none of the above
  4. Essential to the formation of a de facto corporation is

    1. a statute under which the corporation could have been validly incorporated
    2. promoters who make a bona fide attempt to comply with the corporation statute
    3. the use or exercise of corporate powers
    4. each of the above
  5. Even when incorporators miss important steps, it is possible to create

    1. a corporation by estoppel
    2. a de jure corporation
    3. an S corporation
    4. none of the above

Self-Test Answers

  1. c
  2. d
  3. a
  4. d
  5. a