Corporate Law and the Limits of Private Ordering
47 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2015 Last revised: 29 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 9, 2015
Solomon-like, the Delaware legislature in 2015 split the baby by amending the Delaware General Corporation Law to authorize forum-selection bylaws and to prohibit charter or bylaw provisions that would shift to the plaintiff defense costs incurred in connection with shareholder suits that were not successfully concluded. The legislature acted after the Boilermakers Local 154 Retirement Fund. v. Chevron Corp ATP Tour, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund, broadly empowered the board vis-à-vis the shareholders through the board’s power to amend the bylaws. Repeatedly the analysis used by each court referenced the contractual relationship the shareholders had through the articles of incorporation and the bylaws with their corporation. The action of the Delaware legislation hardly puts the important question raised by each opinion to bed: are there limits on the board of directors to act through the bylaws to alter the rights shareholders customarily enjoy? Stated differently, can the board of directors’ authority to amend the bylaws extend to changing both the procedural and substantive relationship shareholders have with the corporation. In examining this question, the article develops two broad points: the shareholder’s relationship is more than just a contract and, even if the relationship was contractual, bedrock contract law does not support the results reached in Boilermakers and ATP Tour, Inc. The article also develops two broad points: the shareholder’s relationship is more than just a contract and, even if the relationship was contractual, bedrock contract law does not support the results reached in Boilermakers and ATP Tour, Inc. In conclusion, the article also uncovers an issued overlooked in the debate over the relative prerogatives of shareholders and the board of directors, namely that bylaws proposed by the board of directors carry a strong presumption of propriety whereas those proposed by shareholders do not.
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