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AT COMMON LAW, PRE-INCORPORATION CONTRACT IS NULL – HOWEVER

Dictum

At common law a company before its incorporation has no capacity to contract. Consequently, nobody can contract for it as Agent nor can a pre-incorporation contract be ratified by the company after its incorporation -Transbridge Co. Ltd. v. Survey International Co. Ltd. (1986) 17 NSCC 1084; (1986) 4 NWLR (Pt. 37) 576; Edokpolo & Co. Ltd. v. Sem-EdoWire Industries Ltd. & Ors. (1984) 7 SC 119; Sparks Electrics (Nig.) Ltd. v. Ponmile (1986) 2 NWLR 579; Enahoro v.I.B.WA. Ltd. (1971) 1 NCLR 180; Kelner v. Baxter (1867) LR 2CP 174; Natal Land and Colonisation Co. v. Pauline Syndicate (1904) AC 120. The rationale for this rule was stated at page 183 of the report by Erle, C.J. in Kelner v. Baxter in these words: “………………….as there was no company in existence at the time, the agreement would be wholly inoperative unless it were held to be binding on the defendants personally. The cases referred to in the course of the argument fully bear out the proposition that, where a contract is signed by one who professes to be signing ‘as agent’, but who has no principal existing at the time, and the contract would be altogether inoperative unless binding upon the person who signed it, he is bound thereby: and a stranger cannot by a subsequent ratification relieve him from that responsibility. When the company came afterwards into existence it was a totally new creature, having rights and obligations from that time, but no rights or obligations by reason of anything which might have been done before.” The company can, however, after its incorporation, enter into a new contract to put into effect the terms of the pre-incorporation contract – Touche v. Metropolitan Railway Warehousing Co. (1871) 6 Ch. App 671; Howard v. Patent Ivory Manufacturing Co. (1888) 38 Ch D 156.

— Ogundare, JSC. Societe Favouriser v. Societe Generale (1997) – SC.126/1994

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WHO MAY SUE FOR INJURIES DONE TO THE COMPANY

Jenkins, L.J. in Edwards Vs Halliwell (1950) 2 ALL ER 1084 @ 1066, where His Lordship held inter alia: “The rule in Foss Vs Harbottle, as I understand it, comes to no more than this. First, the proper plaintiff in an action in respect of a wrong alleged to be done to a company or association of persons is prima facie the company or the association of persons itself. Secondly, where the alleged wrong is a transaction which might be made binding on the company or association and or all its members by a simple majority of the members, no individual member of the company is allowed to maintain an action in respect of that matter for the simple reason that if a mere majority of the company or association is in favour of what has been done, then cadit quaestio. Thus, the company or association is the proper plaintiff in all actions in respect of injuries done to it. No individual will be allowed to bring actions in respect of acts done to the company which could be ratified by a simple majority of its members. Hence the rule does not apply where the act complained of was ultra vires the company, or illegal or constituted a fraud on the minority and the wrongdoers are in the majority and in control of the company.”

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A COMPANY IN WINDING UP IS NOT DEAD YET; A COMPANY IS DEAD UPON DISSOLUTION

In Progress Bank of Nigeria Plc. V.O.K. Contact Point Holdings Limited (CA 3) (2008) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1069) 514, the Respondent obtained judgment against the appellant (a wound-up bank). The Appellant sought to appeal the decision but the Respondent filed an objection to the capacity of the Appellant to file a Notice of Appeal on the ground that, it was dead and that only its liquidator could file such appeal on its behalf. The Court of Appeal held thus:- “l must say straight away that, there is a world of difference between the winding-up of a company and the dissolution of a company. Under the provisions of Section 454 (1) and (2) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990, a company dies once the Court orders the dissolution of the company. The revocation of the company/bank and order of Court winding – up same does not indicate its death. The appointment of a liquidator is for the purpose of ensuring the smooth burial of the company. See Nzom v. Jinadu (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 51) 553; CCB (Nig.) Ltd V. Onwuchekwa (2000) 3 NWLR (Pt. 647) 65. There is nothing before us to show that Progress Bank of Nigeria Plc has been dissolved. It is so clear that the said bank is under a winding-up proceedings. In such a state, the bank is seriously ill, but not dead. That is the support of Section 417 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990. My Lords, a company/bank is certified dead on its dissolution, but where the bank as in this case is under winding up proceeding it has not died. It is gravely ill, it can sue and maintain an action in Court, but no action or proceeding can be brought against it except with the leave of the Court. In CCB (Nig) Ltd v. Onwuchekwa (2000) 3 NWLR (Pt. 647) page 65 at 75 the Court of Appeal said: “A company under winding up proceedings has not died. It is still alive but perhaps sick.”

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NON-REGISTRATION OF COMPANY CHARGES VOIDS IT

The effect of non-compliance with the provisions of section 94 is quite grave. Non-registration at the Companies Registry of charges created by the company, as opposed to existing charges acquired by the company, destroys the validity of the charge. Unless the prescribed particulars are delivered to the Registrar within 30 days of the creation of the charge, it will, so far as any security on the company’s assets is conferred thereby, “be void against the liquidator and any creditor of the company”. But this is “without prejudice to any contract or obligation for repayment of the money thereby secured, and when a charge becomes void under this section the money secured thereby shall immediately become payable”.

– Augie JSC. Bank v. TEE (2003)

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A COMPANY’S LEGAL PERSONALITY DIES AT THE DEATH OF THE COMPANY

A company is a legal person with legal capacity to sue or be sued. That legal personality and capacity continues until the company dies a legal death in the process, and as a result of winding up and dissolution.

– Oputa, JSC. Intercontractors v. National Provident (1988)

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A COMPANY IS NOT BOUND BY A PRE-INCORPORATION CONTRACT

It is now a settled principle of company law that a company is not bound by a preincorporation contract being a contract entered into by parties when it was not in existence. No one can contract as agent of such a proposed company there being no principal in existence to bind. It is also settled that after incorporation a company cannot ratify such a contract purported to be made on its behalf before incorporation … But there is nothing preventing the company after incorporation from entering into a new contract to put into effect the terms of the preincorporation contract. This new contract can be in express terms or can be implied from the acts of the company after incorporation as well as from the minutes of its general meetings and board meetings.

— Nnamani, JSC. Edokpolo v. Sem-Edo & Ors. (1984) – SC.89/1983

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RATIONALE FOR PRE-INCORPORATION CONTRACT NOT BINDING AT COMMON LAW

At Common Law, a pre-incorporation contract was not binding on the company because there was no principal on behalf of whom an agent could have contracted. The company was not permitted to ratify or adopt it, and it could not, after incorporation, enforce the contract, nor sue, e.g. for damages for breach of contract – Natal Land etc Co. Ltd. v. Pauline Colliery Syndicate Ltd. (1904) AC 120. These common law rules were a source of considerable inconvenience for the promotion of business.

— U. Mohammed, JSC. Societe Favouriser v. Societe Generale (1997) – SC.126/1994

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