Wednesday, February 26, 2014
As previously noted on this blog, 44 law professors filed an amicus brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., outlining several corporate law issues in the arts-and-craft store chain’s request for a religious exemption from complying with contraceptive requirements in the Affordable Care Act. That brief prompted several responses and sparked a corporate law debate, which is being recapped and weighed in on at Business Law Prof Blog (see earlier thoughtful posts: here, here, and here by Stefan Padfield and Haskell Murray).
So what is at stake in this case? Religious exemptions for corporations. The role of benefit corporations and other hybrid, triple bottom line entities. The classic entity theory vs. aggregate theory debate of how do we treat the legal fiction of individuals acting through businesses and businesses acting, in part, on behalf of people. The role and future of Corporate Social Responsibility generally. Corporate personhood. Corporate constitutional rights. And existential questions like can corporations pray? You know, easy stuff.
CSR. Our laws set the floor; they establish the minimum that social actors must do and that other members in our society can expect to receive. Corporate social responsibility asks companies to do more than their minimum legal obligations and to do so for a host of reasons, some of which may be religious. The owners of Hobby Lobby can elect a corporate board that will authorize the company to donate to religious charities, to reimburse employees for religious expenses, to provide paid leave for mission trip, or to not operate on Sundays. (Who here hasn’t craved a chicken biscuit on a road trip only to realize that Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sunday? Just us in the south?). Under what I will call the standard state corporate law regime, corporations can take actions like increasing their use of renewable energy sources, implementing diversity programs for women and minorities, refusing to support tobacco products and other actions that are in line with CSR. Whether for religious or environmental or other conscience-driven reasons, a corporation may take these actions and the directors of the corporation (under whose governance the acts took place) are protected by the business judgment rule in the event that any shareholder challenges the program or expenditure as a form of waste or conflict of interest.
Benefit Corporations & Hybrid Entities. For companies incorporated in states with benefit corporate statutes or laws that recognize hybrid entities interested in seeking (but not always maximizing) profits and other goals, there is even greater protection. These entities contain provisions in their charters identifying their “other” purpose, the shareholders are on notice of the dual pursuit and the corporate actions are protected by statutes recognizing this charter-based exception to profit maximization. In the event a shareholder sues for waste or conflicts of interest, not only is the business judgment rule available to protect the corporate actors, but the validity of the corporate action is strengthened by the special legislation. [This in no way captures the full scope of benefit corporation and hybrid entity legislation, but this post is about religious exemptions for corporations, so please excuse the over simplification here.]
Hobby Lobby. The owners of Hobby Lobby are not asking to do more, rather they are asking to do less. Hobby Lobby want to provide less than the standards established in the Affordable Care Act, and less than their competitors will be required to provide. Who would complain if Hobby Lobby failed to comply with the ACA? The employees without access to contraceptive medicine, and the federal government. This isn’t about the business judgment rule and whether owners, acting through boards of directors, can run companies in line with their view of religious or social or environmental consciousness. This case asks can the religious beliefs of owners of a corporation entitle that corporation to do less under the law and as compared to their competitors. On these grounds, deciding against a religious based exemption for Hobby Lobby does no harm to CSR or benefit corporations.
The Hypothetical. If the privately held religious belief of owners can change legal obligations for corporate actors, this could pose a threat to the stability, reliability and uniformity of the floor that the law sets. Poking a hole in the floor for religious exemptions based upon the owners’ religious beliefs may seem like a small concession in the Hobby Lobby case. If religion is a means to opt-out of regulations and requirements, and if doing so could lower costs, shortcut compliance obligations and otherwise provide a competitive edge there will be robust incentives for businesses to claim such an exception in a likely wide array of issues.
The Horrible. The sacred ground of religion has long been an unhappy refuge for arguments in support of racial, gender, religious and sexual-orientation discrimination. Every major social movement that I can think of has met resistance shrouded in religious beliefs. The right for women to vote (and the continuing progress towards equality), desegregating schools, the Civil Rights Acts, and our most modern example: gay rights. Consider the law that the Arizona Legislature passed last week that would exempt businesses refusing to serve same-sex couples from civil liability on the grounds of a religious exemption. Substantially similar legislation is pending in Georgia.
Religion, if we have it, should call us to do more and to be better. As individuals, we may disagree about what “more” and “better” means. I have no doubt that the owners of Hobby Lobby believe that their stance on birth control is consistent with their view of “more” and “better”. As individuals, they can express that value in many ways. As owners of a corporation they can express those values by electing directors that will govern the company and possibly pursue corporate donations to abstinence charities, promote natural family planning among employees via posters in the break room, and other avenues. The individual values of the owners should not be used to excuse the corporation from compliance with the legal standard. Individual religious views should not lower the minimum standards for corporate actions in this context, or others.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The abstract is posted below:
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) effected numerous changes in the legal regime governing health care and health insurance. Among the ACA’s more controversial provisions is the so-called contraceptive mandate, which requires employer-provided health care insurance plans to provide coverage of all FDA approved contraceptive methods.
On March 25, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases, in which the shareholders of two for-profit family-owned corporations argue that requiring them to comply with the contraception mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Forty-four law corporate law professors filed an amicus brief in these cases, arguing that the essence of a corporation is its “separateness” from its shareholders and that, on the facts of these cases, there is no reason to disregard the separateness between shareholders and the corporations they control. The Brief is replete with errors, overstated claims, or red herrings, and misdirection.
Contrary to the Brief’s arguments, basic corporate law principles strongly support the position of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. In particular, the doctrine known as reverse veil piercing provides a clear and practical vehicle for disregarding the legal separateness of those corporations from their shareholders and thus granting those shareholders standing to assert their free exercise rights.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
My co-blogger Haskell Murray recently posted “Religion, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Hobby Lobby” and asked me to respond, which I am happy to do. I will admit that I am still developing my thoughts on the issues raised by Haskell’s post, so what follows is a bit jumbled but still gives a sense of why I currently oppose for-profit corporations being permitted to evade regulation by pleading religious freedom (if you have not read Haskell’s post, please do so before proceeding):
1. Corporate power threatens democracy. Corporations and other limited liability entities have been controversial since their creation because, among other things, the combination of limited liability, immortality, asset partitioning, etc., makes them incredible wealth and power accumulation devices. Of course, on the one hand, this is precisely why we have them – so that investors are willing to contribute capital they would never contribute if they risked being personally liable as partners, and thus unique economic growth is spurred, a rising tide then lifts all ships, and so on. On the other hand, because of their unique ability to consolidate power, corporations are aptly considered by many to be one of Madison’s feared factions that threaten to undermine the very democracy that supports their creation and growth:
Besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles. The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S.
[More after the break.]
February 23, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Food and Drink, Haskell Murray, Religion, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (3)
Friday, February 21, 2014
Professor Stephen Bainbridge made me aware of Keith Paul Bishop's post entitled:
I was shocked because the [law professor] brief constitutes a frontal assault on corporate social responsibility. For example, the law professors make the following apocalyptic claim: "If this Court were to agree that, as a matter of federal law, shareholders holding a control bloc of shares in a corporation may essentially transfer their [social responsibility] beliefs to the corporation, the results could be overwhelming." Ok, I substituted “social responsibility” for “religious”. However, if the transfer of stockholder religious beliefs to the corporation would be “overwhelming”, why wouldn’t the same be true of beliefs regarding climate change, the environment, or other beliefs animating the corporate social responsibility movement?
Two of my co-bloggers signed the law professor brief in the Hobby Lobby case that Bishop discusses, so they are probably better suited to respond, but I will provide a few thoughts.
One distinction, between the Hobby Lobby case and CSR, that may be quickly raised is addressed in section II.C of the law professor brief. Hobby Lobby is attempting to use religion to avoid legal obligations. There may be situations where companies argue they should be able to avoid legal obligations because of "beliefs regarding climate change, the environment, or other beliefs animating the corporate social responsibility movement" but none spring immediately to mind.
While the parade of horribles in the second section of the law professor brief might prove compelling, the entire first section (over half of the argument) would be seriously damaged if Hobby Lobby's articles of incorporation were amended to express the religious stance of the company. The first section of the brief focuses on treating the corporation as a separate entity, distinct from its owners. It seems, however, that Hobby Lobby's owners could amend the corporation's articles to endow the corporation with its own, separate and distinct, religious views.
As I have previously mentioned, Hobby Lobby could have helped its chances in this case by converting to some form of for-profit benefit corporation and being specific about its religious views in its articles of incorporation. The Delaware Public Benefit Corporation ("PBC") statute makes the ability to maintain a religious purpose in a PBC explicit when it defines "public benefit" as "a positive effect (or reduction of negative effects) on 1 or more categories of persons, entities, communities or interests (other than stockholders in their capacities as stockholders) including, but not limited to, effects of an artistic, charitable, cultural, economic, educational, environmental, literary, medical, religious, scientific or technological nature." (emphasis added) According to Delaware's PBC law, each PBC must include at least one "specific public benefit" within its statement of purpose.
I am interested in any additional thoughts on this topic, and am eagerly awaiting Professor Bainbridge's promised full response to the law professor brief (and any responses to his response).
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Professor Caroline Mala Corbin from University of Miami has written an interesting article on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialites Corp. cases before the Supreme Court. Her abstract is below:
Do for-profit corporations have a right to religious liberty? This question is front and center in two cases before the Supreme Court challenging the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.” Whether for-profit corporations are entitled to religious exemptions is a question of first impression. Most scholars writing on this issue argue that for-profit corporations do have the right to religious liberty, especially after the Supreme Court recognized that for-profit corporations have the right to free speech in Citizens United.
This essay argues that for-profit corporations should not – and do not – have religious liberty rights. First, there is no principled basis for granting religious liberty exemptions to for-profit corporations. For-profit corporations do not possess the inherently human characteristics that justify religious exemptions for individuals. For-profit corporations also lack the unique qualities that justify exemptions for churches. Citizens United fails to provide a justification as its protection for corporate speech is based on the rights of audiences and not the rights of corporate speakers. Second, as a matter of current law, neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Religious Freedom Restoration Act recognizes the religious rights of for-profit corporations. Finally, corporate religious liberty risks trampling on the employment rights and religious liberty of individual employees.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Today marks the 4 year anniversary of the Citizens United decision and tomorrow marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Corporations, the First Amendment, and Reproductive choice/freedom may have seemed like odd bed-fellows, but all three issues come together in the upcoming Hobby Lobby case challenging the application of access to birth control required under the health care law to a corporation whose owners oppose the extension on the grounds of religious freedom.
Consider this a teaser on the issues offered up in the Hobby Lobby case. Law professors are filing amicus briefs on this case coming down on either side of the issue. One group arguing that religious views of the owners should not protect the corporation from complying and another arguing that the religious views of the owners can be imputed to the corporation and thus exempt it from compliance. This is set to be a fantastically interesting issue, and hopefully one that will generate some healthy debate on this blog. There will be more to come from me on this issue, but for now...consider this a teaser (or a place holder).
And if you crave more substance and internet sleuthing this afternoon, let me refer you to a list of 7 charts that is making its rounds in the blogosphere today. These charts detail the consequences of Citizens United in the last four years. The results are not surprising and include:increased outside spending, conservative spending outpacing liberal spending 2:1, more political ads and occurring earlier, and decreased disclosures. You can see the version posted by the Washington Post here.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
My Akron colleague Will Huhn just posted “2013-2014 Supreme Court Term: Court's Decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, No. 11-965: Implications for the Birth Control Mandate Cases?” over at his blog wilsonhuhn.com. Here is a brief excerpt, but you should go read the entire post:
On January 14, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its decision in favor of Daimler AG (the maker of Mercedes-Benz), ruling that the federal courts in California lacked personal jurisdiction over Daimler to adjudicate claims for human rights violations arising in Argentina. The ruling of the Court may have implications for the birth control mandate cases pending before the Court in Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties…. In those cases the owners of two private, for-profit business corporations contend that their individual rights to freedom of religion "pass through" to the corporation -- that the corporations are in effect the "agents" of the principal shareholders, and that this is why the corporations have the right to deny their employees health insurance coverage for birth control. In Daimler the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had held that MBUSA was the "agent" of Daimler AG, and that the substantial business presence of MBUSA in California could be imputed to Daimler AG. The Supreme Court was not persuaded by this agency analysis…. It would be anomalous for the Court to adhere to corporate identity for purposes of personal jurisdiction and liability for tort, and yet to ignore corporate identity to give effect to the personal religious choices of stockholders.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Schragger & Schwartzman argue that “debates about the ontological status of group or corporate entities are largely irrelevant.”
Richard Schragger & Micah Schwartzman have posted “Some Realism about Corporate Rights” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Can we meaningfully speak of a church’s right to conscience or a corporation’s right to religious liberty? One way to approach this question is by inquiring into the nature of churches and corporations, asking whether these are the kinds of entities that can or should have rights. We have recently seen this kind of reasoning in public debates over whether corporations have free speech rights, and, relatedly, in arguments about the religious free exercise rights of churches, non-profits, and for-profit corporations. Those in favor of such rights sometimes argue that corporations and churches are moral agents, capable of exercising rights separate and apart from the rights and interests of their members; whereas, those opposed tend to argue that churches, corporations or groups are mere aggregations of individuals, or else artificial persons created or recognized by the state to advance the interests of those who compose them.
In this paper, we argue that this form of argument is mistaken and that debates about the ontological status of group or corporate entities are largely irrelevant. One does not need a particular theory of a corporation, organization, or group’s metaphysical status in order to determine its legal rights. To defend this claim, we first consider and reject H.L.A. Hart's semantic critique of corporate personality theories. Instead we follow John Dewey's realist argument against corporate metaphysics. We develop that argument and apply it to current litigation over whether for-profit corporations can assert rights of religious free exercise against the requirement that they provide health insurance coverage for contraception.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
- Matteo Tonello on “The Separation of Ownership from Ownership”
The increase in institutional ownership of corporate stock has led to questions about the role of financial intermediaries in the corporate governance process. This post focuses on the issues associated with the so-called “separation of ownership from ownership,” arising from the growth of three types of institutional investors, pensions, mutual funds, and hedge funds.
- Frank Reynolds: “Delaware must fix state takeover law now, law professor warns”
Originally, the anti-takeover law passed its court challenges because the judges accepted faulty data that showed investors could acquire at least 85 percent of the target corporation and satisfy the Williams Act, Subramanian said. But none of the cases used to support the anti-takeover law actually allowed hostile suitors to acquire a controlling 85 percent of a target company, he said, and plaintiffs using research from new studies would be able to convince a judge that the statute is unconstitutionally restrictive.
- Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry: “Let’s Listen to Pope Francis on Economics”
For me, the financial crisis was an eye-opening moment. I’ve long believed in free market economics and believed that the Church would do a lot of good in the world if it embraced it. And I still believe those things. But what the financial crisis has laid bare is that the most conventional version of free market economics was actually dead wrong.
- Martin Lipton: “Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2014”
In many respects, the relentless drive to adopt corporate governance mandates seems to have reached a plateau: essentially all of the prescribed “best practices”—including say-on-pay, the dismantling of takeover defenses, majority voting in the election of directors and the declassification of board structures—have been codified in rules and regulations or voluntarily adopted by a majority of S&P 500 companies…. In other respects, however, the corporate governance landscape continues to evolve in meaningful ways.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
A friend recently asked me to suggest some books that might help him improve his meditation practice. Operating under the assumption that if the topic is appropriate for the Wall Street Journal ("Doctor's Orders: 20 Minutes Of Meditation Twice a Day"), then it's good enough for this blog, I thought I'd pass on my suggestions to interested readers. The first 3 make up my personal list of "classics," and the last is a shameless plug for a book of edited dharma talks I wrote based on my year of studying under sensei Ji Sui Craig Horton of the Cleveland Buddhist Temple. While my suggestions all focus on Buddhist/Zen meditation, there are certainly more "generic" approaches to learning about meditation -- for example, one might visit the website for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which seeks to transform higher education "by supporting and encouraging the use of contemplative/introspective practices and perspectives to create active learning and research environments that look deeply into experience and meaning for all in service of a more just and compassionate society" (I was made aware of this source while attending a panel discussion on "Engagement, Happiness, and Meaning in Legal Education and Practice"). Regardless, here is my promised recommended reading list:
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
- Everyday Zen
- The Heart
of Buddhist Meditation
- Sun Breaks Through Gray Skies: The Dharma Lives in Cleveland