Legal Dictionary

ultra vires

Legal Definition of ultra vires

Phrase

  1. Without authority. An act which is beyond the powers or authority of the person or organization which took it.

Definition of ultra vires

Etymology

    Latin “beyond the power”

Phrase

ultra vires

  1. (law) beyond the legal power or authority of a person or body

    * 2004, Scotland on Sunday, September 5, 2004:
    Acts of the Scottish Parliament, unlike Westminster, can be challenged in court on the basis that they relate to reserved matters and are, therefore, ultra vires.

Synonyms

  • extra vires

Further reading

Ultra vires is a Latin phrase meaning literally "beyond the powers", although its standard legal translation and substitute is "beyond power". If an act requires legal authority and it is done with such authority, it is characterised in law as intra vires (literally "within the powers"; standard legal translation and substitute, "within power"). If it is done without such authority, it is ultra vires. Acts that are intra vires may equivalently be termed "valid" and those that are ultra vires "invalid".

Corporate law

In corporate law, ultra vires describes acts attempted by a corporation that are beyond the scope of powers granted by the corporation's objects clause, articles of incorporation or in a clause in its Bylaws, in the laws authorizing a corporation's formation, or similar founding documents. Acts attempted by a corporation that are beyond the scope of its charter are void or voidable.

  1. An ultra vires transaction cannot be ratified by shareholders, even if they wish it to be ratified.
  2. The doctrine of estoppel usually precluded reliance on the defense of ultra vires where the transaction was fully performed by one party
  3. A fortiori, a transaction which was fully performed by both parties could not be attacked.
  4. If the contract was fully executory, the defense of ultra vires might be raised by either party.
  5. If the contract was partially performed, and the performance was held to be insufficient to bring the doctrine of estoppel into play, a suit for quasi-contract for recovery of benefits conferred was available.
  6. If an agent of the corporation committed a tort within the scope of his or her employment, the corporation could not defend on the ground the act was ultra vires.

Several modern developments relating to corporate formation have limited the probability that ultra vires acts will occur. Except in the case of non-profit corporations (including municipal corporations), this legal doctrine is obsolescent; within recent years, almost all business corporations are chartered to allow them to transact any lawful business. The Model Business Corporation Act of the United States states that: "The validity of corporate action may not be challenged on the ground that the corporation lacks or lacked power to act." The doctrine still has some life among non-profit corporations or state-created corporate bodies established for a specific public purpose, like universities or charities.

According to American laws, the concept of ultra vires can still arise in the following kinds of activities in some states:

  1. Charitable or political contributions
  2. Guaranty of indebtedness of another
  3. Loans to officers or directors
  4. Pensions, bonuses, stock option plans, job severance payments, and other fringe benefits
  5. The power to acquire shares of other corporations
  6. The power to enter into a partnership

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Companies Act 2006 sections 31 and 39 greatly reduced the applicability of ultra vires in corporate law, although it can still apply in relation to charities and a shareholder may apply for an injunction, in advance only, to prevent an act which is claimed to be ultra vires.

In many jurisdictions, such as Australia, legislation provides that a corporation has all the powers of a natural person plus others; also, the validity of acts which are made ultra vires is preserved.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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