Memorandum of Association

The Memorandum of Association is a document which sets out the constitution of a company and is therefore the foundation on which the structure of the company is built. It defines the scope of the company’s activities and its relations with the outside world.

It is ultra vires for a company to act beyond the limits of its memorandum. Any attempted departure will be invalid and cannot be validated even if assented to by all the shareholders of the company. Ultra vires means an act or transaction of a company, which though it may not be illegal, is beyond the company’s powers by reason of not being within the objects of the memorandum of association.

Doctrine of Ultra-vires

In the case of a company whatever is not stated in the memorandum as the objects or powers is prohibited by the doctrine of ultra vires. As a result, an act which is ultra vires is void, and does not bind the company. Neither the company nor the contracting party can sue on it. Also, as stated earlier, the company cannot make it valid, even if every member assents to it.

The general rule is that an act which is ultra vires the company is incapable of ratification. An act which is intra vires the company but outside the authority of the directors may be ratified by the company in proper form [Rajendra Nath Dutta v. Shilendra Nath Mukherjee, (1982) 52 Com Cases 293 (Cal.)]. The rule is meant to protect shareholders and the creditors of the company. If the act is ultra vires (beyond the powers of) the directors only, the shareholders can ratify it. If it is ultra vires the articles of association, the company can alter its articles in the proper way.

Section 4(1)(c) of the Companies Act, 2013 provides that the objects for which the company is proposed to be incorporated and any matter considered necessary in furtherance thereof be stated in the memorandum. However, even when the matters considered necessary in furtherance of the objects are not stated, they would be allowed by the principle of reasonable construction of the memorandum.

Effects of ultra vires Transactions

  1. Void ab initio – The ultra vires acts are null and void ab initio. The company is not bound by these acts. Even the company cannot sue or be sued upon. Ultra vires contracts are void ab initio and hence cannot become intra vires by reason of estoppel or ratification.
  2. Injunction – The members can get an injunction to restrain a company wherein ultra vires act has been or is about to be undertaken.
  3. Personal liability of Directors: It is one of the duties of directors to ensure that the corporate capital is used only for the legitimate business of the company and hence if such capital is diverted to purposes alien to the company’s memorandum, the directors will be personally liable to replace it. In Jehangir R. Modi v. Shamji Ladha, [(1866-67) 4 Bom. HCR (1855)], the Bombay High Court held, “A shareholder can maintain an action against the directors to compel them to restore to the company the funds of the company that have by them been employed in transactions that they have no authority to enter into, without making the company a party to the suit”. In case of deliberate misapplication, criminal action can also be taken for fraud. However, a distinction must be drawn between transactions which are ultra vires the company and the transactions which are ultra vires the directors. Where the directors exceed their authority the same may be ratified by the general body of the shareholders. Provided the company has the capacity to do that transaction as per its memorandum of association.