dimanche 16 mars 2014

Dimanches rétro: n'est pas ultra vires des pouvoirs d'une compagnie l'acte qui vise à atteindre ses objectifs, même ancillaires

par Karim Renno
Irving Mitchell Kalichman s.e.n.c.r.l.

On droit corporatif, la théorie de l'ultra vires prévoit que certains actes qui sont complètement étrangers aux objets de la compagnie peuvent être annulés. Reste que l'acte qui est ultra vires doit être celui qui n'est pas pertinent à l'atteinte des objectifs de la compagnie, même de manière ancillaire. Cet énoncé est loin d'être nouveau puisque la Cour suprême du Canada en faisait état en 1878 dans Bickford v. Grand Junction Railway Co., ((1878) 1 SCR 696).

L'Intimée dans cette affaire est une personne morale dont les statuts indiquent qu'elle peut emprunter de l'argent, émettre des débentures, des obligations ou d'autres valeurs mobilières afin d'obtenir du financement, ainsi que le pouvoirs d'hypothéquer ses actifs.
Afin de pouvoir bâtir une route ancillaires à ses activités, l'Intimée contracte un prêt et donne comme garantie une hypothèque sur certains de ses actifs. Un litige s'engage ensuite (les faits de celui-ci n'étant pas particulièrement importants pour nos fins) et la question de savoir si l'Intimée pouvait accorder une hypothèque pour des fins autres que l'accomplissement de ses objets exprès se soulève. L'Intimée plaide en effet que l'hypothèque était ultra vires de ses propres pouvoirs.
Renversant la décision rendue par la Cour d'appel d'Ontario sur la question, la Cour suprême rejette cette prétention de l'Intimée. La Cour ajoute qu'une personne morale ne peut soulever la théorie de l'acte ultra vires pour se dégager des conséquences de ses propres gestes lorsqu'ils visent à atteindre ses objectifs, même de façon ancillaire. Ici, la construction d'une route avait pour raison d'aider la compagnie à atteindre ses objectifs: 
The next enquiry must be, if this mortgage was within the scope of the powers conferred upon the Company to construct and work a railway. In other words, was it given for a purpose tending to effect the objects for which the Company was called into existence? The iron rails, for the price of which the mortgage in question was actually given, were indispensable to enable the Company to carry out its undertaking. This iron the Company might, if they had so chosen, have purchased directly from the vendors. It was found more convenient, however, to make a contract for the construction of the railway, by which the contractor undertook to furnish the iron. There was nothing, however, in the circumstance that the construction and completion of the line of railway had been made the subject of contract, which took away from the Company the power which they originally possessed of purchasing iron, and, if they thought fit, of securing the payment of the price upon any property which, in other respects, they were free to give as security. Then, on what principle could it be suggested that having this power of purchasing iron directly and giving security for the price, the Company were disabled from mortgaging their property as a collateral security in aid of their contractor. This, it must be borne in mind, does not concern the powers of the directors merely, but it is a question of the powers of the corporation itself in its dealings with strangers. The answer to the enquiry before made seems included in this statement of the powers of the Company. They have power under the general law of corporations to mortgage for any purpose in furtherance of the object of incorporation; the object of the incorporation being the construction of a railway for which iron rails were absolutely requisite, they had power to give a mortgage to secure the price of rails, and they have done no more than that in the present case. That they have given the mortgage as sureties for the contractor, and not as the direct purchasers of the iron, can make no difference; indirectly, they having given it to secure the price of the rails, and the secondary liability, to which they have subjected their property, is as much in furtherance of their undertaking as if no contractor had been interposed between them and the Appellants; in short, the Company were, in effect, the sub-purchasers from Brooks of the iron which the latter had purchased from the Appellants, and in order to obtain the property instead of paying money, they gave the mortgage to secure the original price. 
Had the mortgage been given for any object foreign to or inconsistent with the purposes of of the incorporation, then, no doubt, it would have been ultra vires of the Company. A familiar instance of a Railway Company exceeding the limits of its undertaking, is afforded by a well known case, in which such a corporation added to its legitimate business that of a line of steamships. Had this mortgage been given in aid or furtherance of any similarly unauthorized enterprise, it would, of course, have been ultra vires, but it is manifest that such was not the case here, and that the sole object of the corporation was to attain the end for which it had been created.
Référence : [2014] ABD Rétro 11

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