Sunday, February 10, 2008
Fiduciary Duties for Activist Shareholders, by IMAN ANABTAWI, University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law, and LYNN A. STOUT, University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law, was recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Corporate law and scholarship generally assume that public corporations are controlled by professional managers, while shareholders play only a weak and passive role. As a result, corporate officers and directors are understood to be subject to extensive fiduciary duties, while shareholders traditionally have been thought to have far more limited obligations. Outside the contexts of controlling shareholders and closely-held firms, many experts argue shareholders have no duties at all.
The most important trend in corporate governance today, however, is the move toward shareholder democracy. Changes in financial markets, in business practice, and in corporate law have given minority shareholders in public companies greater power than they have ever enjoyed before. Activist investors, especially rapidly-growing hedge funds, are using this new power to pressure managers into pursuing corporate transactions ranging from share repurchases, to special dividends, to the sale of assets or even the entire firm. In many cases these transactions uniquely benefit the activist while failing to benefit, or even harming, the firm and other shareholders.