Company Director Is a Fiduciary

Fiduciary

It is common in estate disputes to encounter a party attempting to deal inappropriately with the affairs of a limited company whose shares should be an estate asset, and when this occurs, one should look for a breach of the directors fiduciary duty owed to the company.

The fiduciary duty of a director to the company is one of loyalty ,good faith, avoidance of conflict of duty and self-interest.

 

The leading case in this area is Canadian Aero Services Ltd v O’Malley 1974 SCR 592 where the court found senior management who had left the plaintiff with confidential information were fiduciaries and that duty continued after their employment ceased.

 

 

 

25      An examination of the case law in this Court and in the Courts of other like jurisdictions on the fiduciary duties of directors and senior officers shows the pervasiveness of a strict ethic in this area of the law. In my opinion, this ethic disqualifies a director or senior officer from usurping for himself or diverting to another person or company with whom or with which he is associated a maturing business opportunity which his company is actively pursuing; he is also precluded from so acting even after his resignation where the resignation may fairly be said to have been prompted or influenced by a wish to acquire for himself the opportunity sought by the company, or where it was his position with the company rather than a fresh initiative that led him to the opportunity which he later acquired.
26      It is this fiduciary duty which is invoked by the appellant in this case and which is resisted by the respondents on the grounds that the duty as formulated is not nor should be part of our law and that, in any event, the facts of the present case do not fall within its scope.
27      This Court considered the issue of fiduciary duty of directors in Zwicker v. Stanbury1, where it found apt for the purposes of that case certain general statements of law by Viscount Sankey and by Lord Russell of Killowen in Regal (Hastings) Ltd. v. Gulliver2, at pp. 381 and 389. These statements, reflecting basic principle which is not challenged in the present case, are represented in the following passages:
28      Per Viscount Sankey:
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 to his cestui que trust. The earlier cases are concerned with trusts of specific property: Keech v. Sandford ((1726), Sel. Cas. Ch. 61) per Lord King, L.C. The rule, however, applies to agents, as, for example, solicitors and directors, when acting in a fiduciary capacity.
29      Per Lord Russell of Killowen:
In the result, I am of opinion that the directors standing in a fiduciary relationship to Regal in regard to the exercise of their powers as directors, and having obtained these shares by reason and only by reason of the fact that they were directors of Regal and in the course of the execution of that office, are accountable for the profits which they have made out of them. The equitable rule laid down in Keech v. Sandford [supra] and Ex p. James ((1803), 8 Ves. 337), and similar authorities applies … in full force. It was contended that these cases were distinguishable by reason of the fact that it was impossible for Regal to get the shares owing to lack of funds, and that the directors in taking the shares were really acting as members of the public. I cannot accept this argument. It was impossible for the cestui que trust in Keech v. Sandford to obtain the lease, nevertheless the trustee was accountable. The suggestion that the directors were applying simply as members of the public is a travesty of the facts. They could, had they wished, have protected themselves by a resolution (either antecedent or subsequent) of the Regal shareholders in general meeting. In default of such approval, the liability to account must remain.

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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