Contracting Out of the Fiduciary Duty of Loyalty: An Empirical Analysis of Corporate Opportunity Waivers
Columbia Law Review, Forthcoming
Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 549
50 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2016 Last revised: 25 May 2017
Date Written: August 12, 2016
For centuries, the duty of loyalty has been the hallowed centerpiece of fiduciary obligation, widely considered one of the few “mandatory” rules of corporate law. That view, however, is no longer true. Beginning in 2000, Delaware dramatically departed from tradition by granting incorporated entities a statutory right to waive a crucial part of the duty of loyalty: the corporate opportunities doctrine. Other states have since followed Delaware’s lead, similarly permitting firms to execute “corporate opportunity waivers.” Surprisingly, more than fifteen years into this reform experiment, no empirical study has attempted to measure either the corporate response to these reforms, or to evaluate the implications of that response.
This Article presents the first broad empirical investigation of the area. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find that hundreds of public corporations have adopted waivers – often with capacious scope and reach. We thus establish a central empirical fact that is an important baseline for further discussion: public corporations have an enormous appetite for contracting out of the duty of loyalty when freed to do so. Our analysis further sheds light on the high-stakes normative debate around the relationship between fiduciary principles and freedom of contract. What types of corporations choose to contract around default rules? When they do so, do such measures tend to bolster or thwart shareholder welfare? We develop an efficient contracting approach to explain why corporations – and their shareholders – might favor tailoring the duty of loyalty, and provide empirical evidence that Delaware’s experiment has generally been a success.
Keywords: Fiduciary Duties, Corporate Opportunities, Duty of Loyalty, Corporate Governance
JEL Classification: K22, L22, G32, G34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation