Doctrine of Ultra Vires-Effects and Exceptions

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  • Topic: Corporation, Ultra vires, Corporate law
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DOCTRINE OF ULTRA VIRES-EFFECTS AND EXCEPTIONS

CONCEPT

The object clause of the Memorandum of the company contains the object for which the company is formed. An act of the company must not be beyond the objects clause, otherwise it will be ultra vires and, therefore, void and cannot be ratified even if all the members wish to ratify it. This is called the doctrine of ultra vires, which has been firmly established in the case of Ashtray Railway Carriage and Iron Company Ltd v. Riche. Thus the expression ultra vires means an act beyond the powers. Here the expression ultra vires is used to indicate an act of the company which is beyond the powers conferred on the company by the objects clause of its memorandum. An ultra vires act is void and cannot be ratified even if all the directors wish to ratify it. Sometimes the expression ultra vires is used to describe the situation when the directors of a company have exceeded the powers delegated to them. Where a company exceeds its power as conferred on it by the objects clause of its memorandum, it is not bound by it because it lacks legal capacity to incur responsibility for the action, but when the directors of a company have exceeded the powers delegated to them. This use must be avoided for it is apt to cause confusion between two entirely distinct legal principles. Consequently, here we restrict the meaning of ultra vires objects clause of the company’s memorandum. Basic principles included the following:

1. An ultra vires transaction cannot be ratified by all the shareholders, even if they wish it to be ratified. 2. The doctrine of estoppel usually precluded reliance on the defense of ultra vires where the transaction was fully performed by one party 3. A fortiori, a transaction which was fully performed by both parties could not be attacked. 4. If the contract was fully executory, the defense of ultra vires might be raised by either party. 5. If the contract was partially performed, and the performance was held to be insufficient to bring the doctrine of estoppel into play, a suit for quasi contract for recovery of benefits conferred was available. 6. If an agent of the corporation committed a tort within the scope of his or her employment, the corporation could not defend on the ground the act was ultra vires. ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT

Doctrine of ultra vires has been developed to protect the investors and creditors of the company. The doctrine of ultra vires could not be established firmly until 1875 when the Directors, &C., of the Ashbury Railway Carriage and Iron Company (Limited) v Hector Riche, (1874-75) L.R. 7 H.L. 653 was decided by the House of Lords. A company called “The Ashbury Railway Carriage and Iron Company,” was incorporated under the Companies Act, 1862. Its objects, as stated in the Memorandum of Association, were “to make, and sell, or lend on hire, railway carriages and waggons, and all kinds of railway plant, fittings, machinery, and rolling-stock; to carry on the business of mechanical engineers and general contractors ; to purchase, lease, work, and sell mines, minerals, land, and buildings; to purchase and sell, as merchants, timber, coal, metals, or other materials, and to buy and sell any such materials on commission or as agents.” The directors agreed to purchase a concession for making a railway in a foreign country, and afterwards (on account of difficulties existing by the law of that country), agreed to assign the concession to a Société Anonyme formed in that country, which société was to supply the materials for the construction of the railway, and to receive periodical payments from the English company.

The objects of this company, as stated in the Memorandum of Association, were to supply and sell the materials required to construct railways, but not to undertake their construction. The contract here was to construct a railway. That was contrary to the memorandum of association; what was done by the directors...
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