Directors Liability for Actions Ouside the Company
Regal negotiated for the purchase of two cinemas in Hastings. There were five directors on the board, including Mr Gulliver, the chairman. Regal incorporated a subsidiary, Hastings Amalgamated Cinemas Ltd, with a share capital of 5,000 pounds. There were six directors on its board, who included the five directors of Regal. Regal was only prepared to subscribe 2,000 pounds. It was agreed that each of the directors of Amalgamated would themselves subscribe for 500 shares each, with the exception of Mr Gulliver. He said that he would find investors. He did so, and as a result 200 shares in Amalgamated were allotted to a Swiss company called Seguliva; 200 to a company called South Downs Land Co Ltd and 100 to a Miss Geering. Mr Gulliver himself held 85 out of 500 shares in Seguliva and 100 out of 1,000 shares in South Downs Land Co. He was a director of Seguliva and the managing director of South Downs Land Co, and signed the subscription cheques on their behalf. Miss Geering was a friend of his. The shares in Amalgamated were subsequently sold at a profit; and the court was asked whether the directors were liable to account to Regal for their profit.
Held: Directors are liable to account for activities outside the company if (i) what the directors did was so related to the affairs of the company that it can properly be said to have been done in the course of their management and in utilisation of their opportunities and special knowledge as directors and (ii) what they did resulted in profit for themselves.
Viscount Sankey said: ‘In my view, the respondents were in a fiduciary position and their liability to account does not depend upon proof of mala fides. The general rule of equity is that no one who has duties of a fiduciary nature to perform is allowed to enter into engagements in which he has or can have a personal interest conflicting with the interests of those whom he is bound to protect. If he holds any property so acquired as trustee, he is bound to account for it his cestui que trust.’
Lord Russel of the Killowen said: ‘The rule of equity which insists on those, who by use of a fiduciary position make profit, being liable to account for the profit, in no way depends on fraud, or absence of bona fides; or upon such questions or considerations as whether profit would or would otherwise have gone to the plaintiff, or whether the profiteer was under a duty to obtain the source of the profit for the plaintiff, or whether he took a risk or acted as he did for the benefit of the plaintiff, or whether the plaintiff has in fact been damaged or benefited by his action. The liability arises from the mere fact of a profit having, in the stated circumstances, been made. The profiteer, however honest and well-intentioned, cannot escape the risk of being called upon to account.’
Lord Wright said: ‘That question can be briefly stated to be whether an agent, a director, a trustee or other person in an analogous fiduciary position, when a demand is made upon him by the person to whom he stands in the fiduciary relationship to account for profits acquired by him by reason of his fiduciary position, and by reason of the opportunity and the knowledge, or either, resulting from it, is entitled to defeat the claim upon any ground save that he made profits with the knowledge and assent of the other person. The most usual and typical case of this nature is that of principal and agent. The rule in such cases is compendiously expressed to be that an agent must account for net profits secretly (that is, without the knowledge of his principal) acquired by him in the course of his agency. The authorities show how manifold and various are the applications of the rule. It does not depend on fraud or corruption.’
Lord MacMillan, Lord Russell of Killowen, Viscount Sankey Lord Wright, Lord Porter
 2 AC 134,  UKHL 1,  1 All ER 378
England and Wales
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The claimant asserted that the defendant had, having at one point been a creative director of the claimant, left to set up an alternate competing business, and diverted business from the first company to the new one. There had been disagreements . .
Cited – Bhullar and others v Bhullar and Another CA 31-Mar-2003
The claimants were 50% shareholders in a property investment company and sought relief alleging prejudicial conduct of the company’s affairs. After a falling out, two directors purchased property adjacent to a company property but in their own . .
Cited – DEG-Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH v Koshy and Other (No 3); Gwembe Valley Development Co Ltd (in receivership) v Same (No 3) CA 28-Jul-2003
The company sought to recover damages from a director who had acted dishonestly, by concealing a financial interest in a different company which had made loans to the claimant company. He replied that the claim was out of time. At first instance the . .
Cited – Horcal Ltd v Gatland ChD 1983
Directors have a positive duty to disclose breaches of fiduciary duty. A failure by a director of a company, as opposed to an employee, to disclose an earlier breach of fiduciary duty would render an agreement terminating his contract of service (on . .
Cited – Fassihim, Liddiardrams, International Ltd, Isograph Ltd v Item Software (UK) Ltd CA 30-Sep-2004
The first defendant (F) had been employed by a company involved in a distribution agreement. He had sought to set up a competing arrangement whilst a director of the claimant, and diverted a contract to his new company.
Held: A company . .
Cited – Ultraframe (UK) Ltd v Fielding and others ChD 27-Jul-2005
The parties had engaged in a bitter 95 day trial in which allegations of forgery, theft, false accounting, blackmail and arson. A company owning patents and other rights had become insolvent, and the real concern was the destination and ownership of . .
Cited – Devenish Nutrition Ltd v Sanofi-Aventis Sa (France) and others CA 14-Oct-2008
The defendant had been involved in price fixing arrangements, and the claimant sought damages for breach of its proprietary rights. The claimant appealed refusal of an award an account of profits for what was akin to a breach of statutory duty.
Cited – Jones and others v Firkin-Flood ChD 17-Oct-2008
The trustees had contracted to sell shares in a private company held within the estate. A family member now claimed that they were held in trust after a settlement of a possible challenge to the will based in lack of testamentary capacity and undue . .
Cited – O’Donnell v Shanahan and Another CA 22-Jul-2009
The claimant appealed against dismissal of her petition for an order for the defendants to purchase her shares at a fair value, saying that they had acted unfairly toward her. Her co-directors had acquired, for another company of which they were . .
Cited – FHR European Ventures Llp and Others v Cedar Capital Partners Llc SC 16-Jul-2014
Approprietary remedy against Fraudulent Agent
The Court was asked whether a bribe or secret commission received by an agent is held by the agent on trust for his principal, or whether the principal merely has a claim for equitable compensation in a sum equal to the value of the bribe or . .
Cited – Halton International Inc (Holding) and Another v Guernroy Ltd ChD 9-Sep-2005
Parties had entered into a shareholders’ agreement as to voting arrengemets within a company. Thay disputed whether votes had been used in reach of that agreement, particularly as to the issue of new shares and their allotment, but the court now . .
Cited – Halton International Inc Another v Guernroy Ltd CA 27-Jun-2006
The parties had been involved in investing in an airline to secure its future, but it was now said that one party had broken the shareholders’ or voting agreement in not allowing further investments on a pari passu basis. The defendants argued that . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.180409