Defeat for Predatory Shareholders? German Federal Supreme Court Rules on Provisions Limiting the Share-Holders’ Right to Address the General Meeting and to Ask Questions: Comment on BGH, 8th February 2010, II ZR 94/08 (Eine Niederlage für Berufskläger? Zur Zulässigkeit inhaltlicher Beschränkungen des Frage-und Rederechts der Aktionäre gemäß § 131 II 2 AktG: Zugleich Besprechung von BGH, 8. 2. 2010, II ZR 94/08)
Neue Zeitschrift für Gesellschaftsrecht (NZG), p. 446, 2010
Posted: 9 May 2010 Last revised: 1 Jun 2010
Date Written: May 5, 2010
Section 131 (2) 2 of the German Stock Corporations Act (AktG) provides that companies may, in their articles of association, empower the chairperson of the general meeting to adequately limit the shareholders’ rights to address the general meeting and to ask questions. The provision aims at preventing predatory shareholders from provoking mistakes and then seeking an annulment of the decisions of the general meeting, hoping that the company will try to pay them off.
In its decision of 8th February 2010 – II ZR 94/08 – the German Federal Supreme Court has held a number of provisions in the defendant company’s articles of association that empowered the chairperson of the general meeting to limit the shareholders’ rights to be valid. It nevertheless also pointed out that the chairperson of the general meeting has to carefully exercise his discretion by assessing each situation individually. Moreover, the Federal Supreme Court obiter pointed out that a provision in the articles of association cannot exempt the chairperson’s decisions from court scrutiny by declaring that certain limitations are deemed to be adequate This article analyses the Federal Supreme Court’s decision. It concludes that while the Supreme Court’s judgment seems to help the companies to protect themselves against law suits filed by predatory shareholders, it does not entirely prevent these shareholders from engaging in blackmailing activity. By rightly requiring the chairperson to exercise due discretion and subjecting it to court scrutiny, the Federal Supreme Court left open a path to challenge decisions of the general meeting on the grounds that shareholders were given insufficient information. The article argues that courts will have to ensure that this path does not defeat the purpose of Section 131 (2) 2 AktG and suggests putting the burden of showing that the exercise of discretion by the chairperson of the general meeting was deficient on the shareholder seeking annulment of a decision of the general meeting.
Keywords: Hauptversammlung, Rede- und Fragerecht, Anfechtungskla-ge, Ermessen, Satzung, Verfassung, Beschränkung, Constitution, Right to Speak, Articles of Association, Discretion, General Meetig, Limitation, Actions for Anullment
JEL Classification: G3, G38, K2, K22, K23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation