(i) Corporate personality

A company incorporated under the Act is vested with a corporate personality so it redundant bears its own name, acts under name, has a seal of its own and its assets are separate and distinct from those of its members.

It is a different ‘person’ from the members who compose it. Therefore it is capable of owning property, incurring debts, borrowing money, having a bank account, employing people, entering into contracts and suing or being sued in the same manner as an individual.

Its members are its owners however they can be its creditors simultaneously.

A shareholder cannot be held liable for the acts of the company even if he holds virtually the entire share capital.

The shareholders are not the agents of the company and so they cannot bind it by their acts. The company does not hold its property as an agent or trustee for its members and they cannot sue to enforce its rights, nor can they be sued in respect of its liabilities.

Thus, ‘incorporation’ is the act of forming a legal corporation as a juristic person. A juristic person is in law also conferred with rights and obligations and is dealt with in accordance with law.

In other words, the entity acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, whose acts are processed within the ambit of law [Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee v. Shri Sam Nath Dass AIR 2000 SCW 139]

(ii) Company as an artificial person

A Company is an artificial person created by law. It is not a human being but it acts through human beings. It is considered as a legal person which can enter into contracts, possess properties in its own name, sue and can be sued by others etc.

It is called an artificial person since it is invisible, intangible, existing only in the contemplation of law. It is capable of enjoying rights and being subject to duties.

(iii) Company is not a citizen

The company, though a legal person, is not a citizen under the Citizenship Act, 1955 or the Constitution of India. In State Trading Corporation of India Ltd. v. C.T.O., A.I.R. 1963 S.C. 1811, the Supreme Court held that the State Trading Corporation though a legal person, was not a citizen and can act only through natural persons.

Nevertheless, it is to be noted that certain fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution for protection of “person”, e.g., right to equality (Article 14) etc. are also available to company. Section 2(f) of Citizenship Act, 1955 expressly excludes a company or association or body of individuals from citizenship.

(iv) Company has Nationality and Residence

Though it is established through judicial decisions that a company cannot be a citizen, yet it has nationality, domicile and residence. In Gasque v. Inland Revenue Commissioners, (1940) 2 K.B. 88, Macnaghten. J. held that a limited company is capable of having a domicile and its domicile is the place of its registration and that domicile clings to it throughout its existence.

He observed in this case:
“It was suggested that a body corporate has no domicile. It is quite true that a body corporate cannot have a domicile in the same sense as an individual. But by analogy with a natural person the attributes of residence, domicile and nationality can be given to a body corporate.”

(v) Limited Liability

“The privilege of limited liability for business debts is one of the principal advantages of doing business under the corporate form of organisation.” The company, being a separate person, is the owner of its assets and bound by its liabilities.

The liability of a member as shareholder, extends to the contribution to the capital of the company up to the nominal value of the shares held and not paid by him.

Members, even as a whole, are neither the owners of the company’s undertakings, nor liable for its debts. In other words, a shareholder is liable to pay the balance, if any, due on the shares held by him, when called upon to pay and nothing more, even if the liabilities of the company far exceed its assets.

This means that the liability of a member is limited. For example, if A holds shares of the total nominal value of `1,000 and has already paid `500/- (or 50% of the value) as part payment at the time of allotment, he cannot be called upon to pay more than ` 500/-, the amount remaining unpaid on his shares.

If he holds fully-paid shares, he has no further liability to pay even if the company is declared insolvent. In the case of a company limited by guarantee, the liability of members is limited to a specified amount of the guarantee mentioned in the memorandum.

Buckley, J. in Re. London and Globe Finance Corporation, (1903) 1 Ch.D. 728 at 731, has observed: ‘The statutes relating to limited liability have probably done more than any legislation of the last fifty years to further the commercial prosperity of the country.

They have, to the advantage of the investor as well as of the public, allowed and encouraged aggregation of small sums into large capitals which have been employed in undertakings of “great public utility largely increasing the wealth of the country”.

Exceptions to the principle of limited liability

• Where a company has been got incorporated by furnishing any false or incorrect information or representation or by suppressing any material fact or information in any of the documents or declaration

filed or made for incorporating such company or by any fraudulent action, the Tribunal may, on an application made to it, on being satisfied that the situation so warrants, direct that liability of the members of such company shall be unlimited.

• Further under section 339(1), where in the course of winding up it appears that any business of the company has been carried on with an intent to defraud creditors of the company or any other persons or for any fraudulent purpose, the Tribunal may declare the persons who were knowingly parties to the carrying on of the business in the manner aforesaid as personally liable, without limitation of liability, for all or any of the debts/liabilities of the company.

• When the company is incorporated as an Unlimited Company under Section 3(2)(c) of the Act

• Under Section 35(3), where it is proved that a prospectus has been issued with intent to defraud the applicants for the securities of a company or any other person or for any fraudulent purpose,

every person who was a director at the time of issue of the prospectus or has been named as a director in the prospectus or every person who has authorised the issue of prospectus or every promoter or a person referred to as an expert in the prospectus shall be personally

responsible, without any limitation of liability, for all or any of the losses or damages that may have been incurred by any person who subscribed to the securities on the basis of such prospectus.

• As per section 75(1), where a company fails to repay the deposit or part thereof or any interest thereon referred to in section 74 within the time specified or such further time as may be allowed by the Tribunal and it is proved that the deposits had been accepted with intent to

defraud the depositors or for any fraudulent purpose, every officer of the company who was responsible for the acceptance of such deposit shall, without prejudice to other liabilities, also be personally

responsible, without any limitation of liability, for all or any of the losses or damages that may have been incurred by the depositors.

• Section 224(5) states that where the report made by an inspector states that fraud has taken place in a company and due to such fraud any director, key managerial personnel, other officer of the company or any other person or entity, has taken undue advantage or benefit,

whether in the form of any asset,property or cash or in any other manner, the Central Government may file an application before the Tribunal for appropriate orders with regard to disgorgement of such asset, property, or cash, and also for holding such director,

key managerial personnel, officer or other person liable personally without any limitation of liability.

(vi) Perpetual Succession

An incorporated company never dies, except when it is wound up as per law. A company, being a separate legal person is unaffected by death or departure of any member and it remains the same entity, despite total change in the membership.

Perpetual succession, means that the membership of a company may keep changing from time to time, but that shall not affect its continuity.

The membership of an incorporated company may change either because one shareholder has sold/transferred his shares to another or his shares devolve on his legal representatives on his death or he ceases to be a member under some other provisions of the Companies Act.

Thus, perpetual succession denotes the ability of a company to maintain its existence by the succession of new individuals who step into the shoes of those who cease to be members of the company.

Professor L.C.B. Gower rightly mentions, “Members may come and go, but the company can go on forever. During the war all the members of one private company, while in general meeting, were killed by a bomb, but the company survived — not even a hydrogen bomb could have destroyed it”.

(vii) Separate Property

A company being a legal person and entirely distinct from its members, is capable of owning, enjoying and disposing of property in its own name.

The company is the real person in which all its property is vested, and by which it is controlled, managed and disposed off. Their Lordships of the Madras High Court in R.F. Perumal v. H. John Deavin, A.I.R. 1960 Mad. 43 held that

“no member can claim himself to be the owner of the company’s property during its existence or in its winding-up”. A member does not even have an insurable interest in the property of the company.

(viii) Transferability of Shares

The capital of a company is divided into parts, called shares. The shares are said to be movable property and, subject to certain conditions, freely transferable, so that no shareholder is permanently or necessarily wedded to a company.

When the joint stock companies were established, the object was that their shares should be capable of being easily transferred, [In Re. Balia and San Francisco Rly., (1968) L.R. 3 Q.B. 588].

Section 44 of the Companies Act, 2013 enunciates the principle by providing that the shares held by the members are movable property and can be transferred from one person to another in the manner provided by the articles.

If the articles do not provide anything for the transfer of shares and the Regulations contained in Table “F” in Schedule I to the Companies Act, 2013, are also expressly excluded, the transfer of shares will be governed by the general law relating to transfer of movable property.

A member may sell his shares in the open market and realise the money invested by him. This provides liquidity to a member (as he can freely sell his shares) and ensures stability to the company (as the member is not withdrawing his money from the company).

The Stock Exchanges provide adequate facilities for the sale and purchase of shares.

Further, as of now, in most of the listed companies, the shares are also transferable through Electronic mode i.e. through Depository Participants in dematerialised form instead of physical transfers.
However there are restrictions with respect to transferability of shares of a Private Limited Company which are dealt in chapter 2.

(ix) Capacity to Sue and Be Sued

A company being a body corporate, can sue and be sued in its own name. To sue, means to institute legal proceedings against (a person) or to bring a suit in a court of law. All legal proceedings against the company are to be instituted in its name.

Similarly, the company may bring an action against anyone in its own name. A company’s right to sue arises when some loss is caused to the company, i.e. to the property or the personality of the company.

Hence, the company is entitled to sue for damages in libel or slander as the case may be [Floating Services Ltd. v. MV San Fransceco Dipaloa (2004) 52 SCL 762 (Guj)]. A company, as a person distinct from its members, may even sue one of its own members.

A company has a right to seek damages where a defamatory material published about it, affects its business. Where video cassettes were prepared by the workmen of a company showing, their struggle against the company’s management, it was held to be not actionable unless shown that the contents of the cassette would be defamatory.

The court did not restrain the exhibition of the cassette. [TVS Employees Federation v. TVS and Sons Ltd., (1996) 87 Com Cases 37]. The company is not liable for contempt committed by its officer. [Lalit Surajmal Kanodia v. Office Tiger Database Systems India (P) Ltd., (2006) 129 Com Cases 192 Mad].

(x) Contractual Rights

A company, being a legal entity different from its members, can enter into contracts for the conduct of the business in its own name.

A shareholder cannot enforce a contract made by his company; he is neither a party to the contract, nor be entitled to the benefit derived from of it, as a company is not a trustee for its shareholders.

Likewise, a shareholder cannot be sued on contracts made by his company. The distinction between a company and its members is not confined to the rules of privity but permeates the whole law of contract.

Thus, if a director fails to disclose a breach of his duties towards his company, and in consequence a shareholder is induced to enter into a contract with the director on behalf of the company which he would not have entered into had there been disclosure, the shareholder cannot rescind the contract.

Similarly, a member of a company cannot sue in respect of torts committed against the company, nor can he be sued for torts committed by the company. [British Thomson-Houston Company v. Sterling Accessories Ltd., (1924) 2 Ch. 33].

Therefore, the company as a legal person can take action to enforce its legal rights or be sued for breach of its legal duties. Its rights and duties are distinct from those of its constituent members.

(xi) Limitation of Action

A company cannot go beyond the power stated in its Memorandum of Association. The Memorandum of Association of the company regulates the powers and fixes the objects of the company and provides the edifice upon which the entire structure of the company rests.

The actions and objects of the company are limited within the scope of its Memorandum of Association.

In order to enable it to carry out its actions without such restrictions and limitations in most cases, sufficient powers are granted in the Memorandum of Association. But once the powers have been laid down, it cannot go beyond such powers unless the Memorandum of Association, itself altered prior to doing so.

(xii) Separate Management

As already noted, the members may derive profits without being burdened with the management of the company.

They do not have effective and intimate control over its working and they elect their representatives as Directors on the Board of Directors of the company to conduct corporate functions through managerial personnel employed by them.

In other words, the company is administered and managed by its managerial personnel.

(xiii) Voluntary Association for Profit

A company is a voluntary association for profit. It is formed for the accomplishment of some stated goals and whatsoever profit is gained is divided among its shareholders or saved for the future expansion of the company. Only a Section 8 company can be formed with no profit motive.

(xiv) Termination of Existence

A company, being an artificial juridical person, does not die a natural death. It is created by law, carries on its affairs according to law throughout its life and ultimately is effaced by law.

Generally, the existence of a company is terminated by means of winding up. However, to avoid winding up, sometimes companies adopt
strategies like reorganisation, reconstruction and amalgamation.

To sum up, “a company is a voluntary association for profit with capital divisible into transferable shares with limited liability, having a distinct corporate entity and a common seal with perpetual succession”.


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