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The hallmark of the corporate form of business enterprise is limited liability for its owners. Other features of corporations are separation of ownership and management, perpetual existence, and easy transferability of interests. In the early years of the common law, corporations were thought to be creatures of sovereign power and could be created only by state grant. But by the late nineteenth century, corporations could be formed by complying with the requirements of general corporation statutes in virtually every state. Today the standard is the Revised Model Business Corporation Act.
The corporation, as a legal entity, has many of the usual rights accorded natural persons. The principle of limited liability is broad but not absolute: when the corporation is used to commit a fraud or an injustice or when the corporation does not act as if it were one, the courts will pierce the corporate veil and pin liability on stockholders.
Besides the usual business corporation, there are other forms, including not-for-profit corporations and professional corporations. Business corporations are classified into two types: publicly held and closely held corporations.
To form a corporation, the would-be stockholders must choose the state in which they wish to incorporate. The goal of the incorporation process is issuance of a corporate charter. The charter is a contract between the state and the corporation. Although the Constitution prohibits states from impairing the obligation of contracts, states reserve the right to modify corporate charters.
The corporation is created by the incorporators (or promoters), who raise capital, enter into contracts on behalf of the corporation to be formed, and prepare the articles of incorporation. The promoters are personally liable on the contracts they enter into before the corporation is formed. Incorporators owe a fiduciary duty to each other, to investors, and to the corporation.
The articles of incorporation typically contain a number of features, including the corporate name, corporate purposes, total number of shares and classes into which they are divided, par value, and the like. The name must include one of the following words (or abbreviations): corporation, company, incorporated, or limited (Corp., Co., Inc., or Ltd.). The articles of incorporation must be filed with the secretary of state. Once they have been filed, the board of directors named in the articles must adopt bylaws, elect officers, and conduct other necessary business. The directors are empowered to alter the bylaws, subject to repeal or change by the shareholders.
Even if the formal prerequisites to incorporation are lacking, a de facto corporation will be held to have been formed if (1) a statute exists under which the corporation could have been validly incorporated, (2) the promoters made a bona fide attempt to comply with the statute, and (3) a corporate privilege was exercised. Under appropriate circumstances, a corporation will be held to exist by estoppel.
In comparing partnerships with corporations, the major factor favoring the corporate form is
A corporation with no part of its income distributable to its members, directors, or officers is called
A corporation in which stock is widely held or available through a national or regional stock exchange is called
Essential to the formation of a de facto corporation is
Even when incorporators miss important steps, it is possible to create