Abstract of research研究摘要
This dissertation focuses on shareholder’s derivative litigation under Hong Kong Company Ordinance. The whole study is divided into six sections so as to develop the main opinions in detail. The first section introduce the reason and significance of this study. The second section is an overview of derivative litigation in Hong Kong. The third section refers to derivative litigation in the common law and highlights its historical background. The forth section discusses criticism and reform of derivative litigation under Company Ordinance in Hong Kong. In fifth section, this study intends to make assessments and suggestions to derivative litigation. Finally it draws conclusion of the whole study.
Derivative action is one of the most extraordinary reforms of modern company law. This dissertation aims to conduct a critical analysis on the statutory of derivative action under Hong Kong Company Ordinance 2014, trying to put forward suggestions to improve the remedy, and make it more effective and flexible.
In the modern world, derivative action is one of the major reliefs to protect the shareholder’s interests, especially minority shareholders. In case Foss v. Harbottle, some important concepts such as “fraud on the minority” and “wrongdoer control” had already defined. It is so important to protect shareholder’s interests, therefore derivative action is an integral part of company law. However, the debates about minimum interference with management and appropriate investor protection attract a lot of attention in the historical development of modern company law. Just as Reisberg (2007) says, derivative action cannot avoid the challenges, that are, a middle course between excessive reliance on a litigation remedy and judicial recourse for the shareholders, and unreasonable interference in the management affairs of the company.
In different jurisdictions, the requirements to shareholder to initiate a derivative litigation are various. I have researched on some typical jurisdictions so as to make a solid theoretical foundation of this study. In the United States, corporate laws of states are different, and some of these states, such as California, Delaware, Nevada have instituted a lot of barriers to derivative litigation. American Bar Association set up complicated procedures for derivative litigation. Under the procedure, shareholders must file a demand on the board. Only when shareholders’ demand has been rejected, shareholders can file suit to the court. In the United Kingdom, it sets pre-existing rules. And according to corporate law in the United Kingdom, the purpose of derivative litigation is not to protect the shareholders, but to protect the corporation itself. In Europe, the derivative litigation are extremely rare. In many European countries, a minimum share is required to file a derivative litigation, and laws tend to prevent small shareholders from bringing lawsuits at the beginning. In New Zealand, it requires that the benefits to company must outweigh the costs of taking derivative action. And in India, under the clauses of oppression and mismanagement, derivative litigation can be brought out.
It is a must to reach a balance between minority shareholders’ protection and company governance. In the UK, the Law Commission suggests to simplify and modernize the law. Scholars also have their own concerns. They thought two much derivative actions would potentially increase the claims against directors, and that might cause another problem that overusing the derivative action may also increase the litigation cost and resources. As a way of shareholder remedy, derivative action is an effective approach to protect shareholder’s interests, we cannot ignore the weakness of derivative action. To be short, derivative action cannot prevent shareholders from abusing it, the the misuse of this action will definitely influence the business and management of companies. Therefore, under Hong Kong Company Ordinance, the key points of this dissertation is: how to achieve a balance between management freedom and shareholder protection?
2. Literature Review
In this dissertation, it will introduce the concept, features, as well as the major functions of derivative litigation.
2.1 Concept of derivative litigation
As a special system, the concept of derivative action first emerged in the countries of common law. Alan Dignam and John Lowrys (2006) suggests, when the controlling shareholders, senior managers and directors hurt company interests, the rest shareholders, especially minority shareholders, are entitled to file litigation against the wrongdoers on behalf of companies to protect company interests.
As an important concept in modern company law, derivative litigation was derived in Britain in 1843 from case Foss V. Harbottle. In Foss V. Harbottle case, directors sold land which are owned by company at a high price, however the minority shareholders are not happy with the selling decision because they thought it damaged the company interests. Two of the shareholders filed litigation against the inappropriate actions of directors, but their appeal was rejected by the court. In the viewpoint of the court, the selling decision was appropriate because it was supported, accepted and affirmed by most of shareholders. To some extent, rules set up by the case Foss v. Harbottle were reasonable, to some extent, such rules are good to company management. However, it also revealed a fatal weakness of company governance, that is, if a small number of directors, senior managers and shareholders are in complete control of companies and majority shareholders, who and how to protect the legal interests of minority shareholders？
In the United States in 1975, derivative litigation was first termed in case Wallersteiner v Moir. In this case, it told the difference between derivative litigation and representative litigation. As Alan Dignam & John Lowrys (2006), in derivative litigation, wrongdoers may have the power and the chance to prevent companies from suing. This case also told the difference between derivative litigation and general civil litigation. In the former litigation, a pre-litigation procedure is a must so as to prevent the abusing of derivative litigation which might lead to necessary judicial cost. It is acceptable that cautious attitude, and the exhausted of internal relief are the premises of derivative litigation.
2.2 Features of derivative litigation
Normally, companies are entitled to initiate derivative litigation by themselves as independent entities. But if the wrongdoers are in the controlling position of companies, they may not want to exercise their rights positively. Under the circumstances, shareholders who think their legal rights are damaged can exercise their subrogation rights to file the litigation as as to protect their own rights. It’s worth to point out, derivative litigation are initiated on behalf of the companies’ interests, so as to further protect minority shareholders’ interests. In different countries, requirements of plaintiffs in derivative litigation are different. In the United States, the major concern is to own shares of the company; while in Japan, it has some restrictions, that are, the plaintiffs numbers and the exhaustion of internal remedies.
In derivative litigation, shareholders files lawsuit against wrongdoers on behalf of the company. Even the shareholders win the lawsuit, they cannot enjoy the compensations because the compensations are supposed to belong to company. Only within the scope of their shareholding proportions they can get their benefits. Also, since there are possibilities that minority shareholders of company are complicit to pursue private interests, a number of restrictions are set by many countries to prevent the malicious litigation, including cost of commitment, eligibility parties, and so on. (Tony J. Boyle, 1997)
2.3 Functions of derivative litigation
To provide remedy to company when the company is suffering from wrongdoers with controlling position is a major function of derivative litigation. Directors, senior managers might damage the company interests, under that circumstances, they will not want to initiate any actions against themselves. So the court allows other shareholders to file litigation to protect company interests, as well as the interests of shareholders. (Andrew Keay, 2006) The rights exercised by shareholders in derivative litigation derived from companies.