Frequently Asked Questions regarding Corporate and Business Law
Business law encompasses the many rules, statutes, codes, and regulations that are established which govern commercial relationships and provide a legal framework within which businesses may be conducted and managed. Business law is highly diverse and includes areas such as:
- Business formation and organization.
- Transactional business law (contracts).
- Business planning.
- Business negotiations.
- Mergers and acquisition.
Personal liability arising from business obligations can devastate the accumulated wealth of a lifetime of work. Personal liability may extend to business losses, but other obligations may also reach individuals, including:
- Damage awards in lawsuits.
- Tax penalties.
- Back wages and benefit payments.
Limited liability offered by corporations and other business entities shelters business owners from personal liability. Nonetheless, if an owner or director performs certain personal acts, behaves illegally, or fails to uphold statutory requirements for corporate status, he or she may face personal liability despite the corporate shelter.
The Internal Revenue Code allows for two different levels of corporate tax treatment. Subchapters C and S of the code define the rules for applying corporate taxes.
Subchapter C corporations include most large, publicly held businesses. These corporations face double taxation on their profits if they pay dividends: C corporations file their own tax returns and pay taxes on profits before paying dividends to shareholders, which are subsequently taxed on the shareholders’ individual returns.
Subchapter S corporations meet certain requirements that allow the business to insulate shareholders from corporate debts but avoid the double taxation imposed by subchapter C. In order to qualify for subchapter S treatment, corporations must meet the following criteria:
- Must be domestic.
- Must not be affiliated with a larger corporate group.
- Must have no more than one hundred shareholders.
- Must have only one class of stock.
- Must not have any corporate or partnership shareholders.
- Must not have any nonresident alien shareholders.
Additionally, after a business is incorporated, all shareholders must agree to subchapter S treatment prior to electing that option with the Internal Revenue Service.
Sometimes, courts will allow plaintiffs and creditors to receive compensation from corporate officers, directors, or shareholders for damages rather than limiting recovery to corporate assets. This procedure bypasses the usual corporate immunity for organizational wrongdoing, and may be imposed in a variety of situations. The specific criteria for piercing the corporate veil vary somewhat from state to state and may include the following:
- Courts may not allow owners to benefit from a corporation’s limited liability if the underlying business is indistinguishable from its owners.
- If a corporation is formed for fraudulent purposes.
- Courts may impose liability on the individuals controlling the business if a business fails to follow certain corporate formalities in areas such as record keeping.
Joint ventures and partnerships share certain characteristics. A joint venture is a sort of partnership where two or more entities join together for a particular “short term” purpose. In both partnerships and joint ventures, each partner has equal ability to legally bind the entire entity. A partner can represent the entire organization in the normal course of business and his or her legal actions on behalf of the joint venture or partnership create legal obligations.
The most common federal tax exemption for nonprofits comes from Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which is why nonprofits are sometimes called 501(c)(3) corporations.
Each state has its own corporate statutes that govern the procedure for mergers. Furthermore, state or federal agencies may wish to investigate the potential anticompetitive effects of a proposed merger. Because of the requirements and variables involved in merging, a corporation considering a merger should consult a lawyer who is experienced in mergers and acquisitions law.