Foss v Harbottle
Foss v Harbottle (1843) 67 ER 189 is a leading English precedent in corporate law. In any action in which a wrong is alleged to have been done to a company, the proper claimant is the company itself. This is known as "the rule in Foss v Harbottle", and the several important exceptions that have been developed are often described as "exceptions to the rule in Foss v Harbottle". Amongst these is the 'derivative action', which allows a minority shareholder to bring a claim on behalf of the company. This applies in situations of 'wrongdoer control' and is, in reality, the only true exception to the rule. The rule in Foss v Harbottle is best seen as the starting point for minority shareholder remedies. -------------------------------------------------
Richard Foss and Edward Starkie Turton were two minority shareholders in the "Victoria Park Company". The company had been set up in September 1835 to buy 180 acres (0.73 km2) of land near Manchester and, according to the report, "enclosing and planting the same in an ornamental and park-like manner, and erecting houses thereon with attached gardens and pleasure-grounds, and selling, letting or otherwise disposing thereof". This became Victoria Park, Manchester. Subsequently, an Act of Parliament incorporated the company. The claimants alleged that property of the company had been misapplied and wasted and various mortgages were given improperly over the company's property. They asked that the guilty parties be held accountable to the company and that a receiver be appointed. The defendants were the five company directors (Thomas Harbottle, Joseph Adshead, Henry Byrom, John Westhead, Richard Bealey) and the solicitors and architect (Joseph Denison, Thomas Bunting and Richard Lane); and also H Rotton, E Lloyd, T Peet, J Biggs and S Brooks, the several assignees of Byrom, Adshead and Westhead, who had become bankrupts. -------------------------------------------------
The court dismissed the claim and held that when a company is wronged by its directors it is only the company that has standing to sue. In effect the court established two rules. Firstly, the "proper plaintiff rule" is that a wrong done to the company may be vindicated by the company alone. Secondly, the "majority rule principle" states that if the alleged wrong can be confirmed or ratified by a simple majority[disambiguation needed] of members in a general meeting, then the court will not interfere, cadit quaestio. “| The Victoria Park Company is an incorporated body, and the conduct with which the Defendants are charged in this suit is an injury not to the Plaintiffs exclusively; it is an injury to the whole corporation by individuals whom the corporation entrusted with powers to be exercised only for the good of the corporation. And from the case of The Attorney-General v Wilson (1840) Cr & Ph 1 (without going further) it may be stated as undoubted law that a bill or information by a corporation will lie to be relieved in respect of injuries which the corporation has suffered at the hands of persons standing in the situation of the directors upon this record. This bill, however, differs from that in The Attorney-General v Wilson in this—that, instead of the corporation being formally represented as Plaintiffs, the bill in this case is brought by two individual corporators, professedly on behalf of themselves and all the other members of the corporation, except those who committed the injuries complained of—the Plaintiffs assuming to themselves the right and power in that manner to sue on behalf of and represent the corporation itself.It was not, nor could it successfully be, argued that it was a matter of course for any individual members of a corporation thus to assume to themselves the right of suing in the name of the corporation. In law the corporation and the aggregate members of the corporation are not the same...