By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Distinguish between a de jure and a de facto corporation.
- Define the doctrine of corporation by estoppel.
De Jure and De Facto Corporations
If promoters meet the requirements of corporate formation, a de jure corporation, considered a legal entity, is formed. Because the various steps are complex, the formal prerequisites are not always met. Suppose that a company, thinking its incorporation has taken place when in fact it hasn’t met all requirements, starts up its business. What then? Is everything it does null and void? If three conditions exist, a court might decide that a de facto corporation has been formed; that is, the business will be recognized as a corporation. The state then has the power to force the de facto corporation to correct the defect(s) so that a de jure corporation will be created.
The three traditional conditions are the following: (1) a statute must exist under which the corporation could have been validly incorporated, (2) the promoters must have made a bona fide attempt to comply with the statute, and (3) corporate powers must have been used or exercised.
A frequent cause of defective incorporation is the promoters’ failure to file the articles of incorporation in the appropriate public office. The states are split on whether a de facto corporation results if every other legal requirement is met.
Corporation by Estoppel
Even if the incorporators omit important steps, it is still possible for a court, under estoppel principles, to treat the business as a corporation. Assume that Bob, Carol, and Ted have sought to incorporate the BCT Bookstore, Inc., but have failed to file the articles of incorporation. At the initial directors’ meeting, Carol turns over to the corporation a deed to her property. A month later, Bob discovers the omission and hurriedly submits the articles of incorporation to the appropriate public office. Carol decides she wants her land back. It is clear that the corporation was not de jure at the time she surrendered her deed, and it was probably not de facto either. Can she recover the land? Under equitable principles, the answer is no. She is estopped from denying the existence of the corporation, because it would be inequitable to permit one who has conducted herself as though there were a corporation to deny its existence in order to defeat a contract into which she willingly entered. As Cranson v. International Business Machines Corp. indicates (Section 21.7.4 “De Jure and De Facto Corporations”), the doctrine of corporation by estoppel can also be used by the corporation against one of its creditors.
A court will find that a corporation might exist under fact (de facto), and not under law (de jure) if the following conditions are met: (1) a statute exists under which the corporation could have been validly incorporated, (2) the promoters must have made a bona fide attempt to comply with the statute, and (3) corporate powers must have been used or exercised. A de facto corporation may also be found when a promoter fails to file the articles of incorporation. In the alternative, the court may look to estoppel principles to find a corporation.
- What are some of the formal prerequisites to forming a de jure corporation?
- Are states in agreement over what represents a de facto corporation if a promoter fails to file the articles of incorporation?
- What is the rationale for corporation by estoppel?