Here, Professor Bainbridge kindly asks for my thoughts on Keith Paul Bishop’s article Would Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Have A Stronger Case As A Flexible Purpose Corporation?
I agree with Bishop’s conclusion that the question is still open. Both the Flexible Purpose Corporation (“FPC“) and the Benefit Corporation version of social enterprise legal forms are quite new and each became available in California as of January 1, 2012. The FPC is only available in California (though Washington state’s social purpose corporation is similar in many respects) and the Benefit Corporation legislation has passed in 20 U.S. jurisdictions (19 states and Washington D.C.), starting with Maryland in 2010. As the name suggests, the FPC allows managers more flexibility in choosing their particular corporate purpose(s), whereas most of the Benefit Corporation statutes require a “general public benefit purpose” to benefit “society and the environment” when “taken as a whole” but also allow additional “specific public benefit purpose(s).” Delaware’s version of the benefit corporation law (called a “public benefit corporation”) requires the choosing of one or more specific public benefit purposes.
Converting to an FPC or a Benefit Corporation, without more, likely would not be much help to companies fighting the HHS mandate. The statutes are simply too broad, and I think courts would want more evidence regarding the corporation’s stance on the issue. Obviously, people would disagree on whether a “socially focused” corporation would oppose certain types of contraceptives. And it seems that the majority (though certainly not all) of those in the social enterprise area lean left of the political center. But, if an FPC or Benefit Corporation made its particular social/religious purpose(s) clear in its articles of incorporation, including enough information to determine a stance against certain types of contraceptives, I think the entity’s argument could be strengthened.
In some states, like Oregon and Texas, relatively recent amendments to their state corporation statutes make clear that a social purpose can be included in the articles of incorporation of a traditional corporation. In other states, whether such a social purpose would be acceptable in a traditional corporation is a debatable question, and thus social enterprise legal forms would clear the way toward including a social/religious purpose that would suggest (or clearly state) opposition to the mandate.
In short, the social enterprise forms, without customization, are likely insufficient, but use of a social enterprise form, with language in the articles of incorporation that suggest that the corporation would be opposed to the mandate, could strengthen the argument of those fighting the HHS mandate. In some states, as mentioned above, a social enterprise form would likely be unnecessary, and a traditional corporation with customized language could be used.
I think the question posed by Keith Paul Bishop and Professor Bainbridge is an interesting one and would love to hear additional thoughts from others, especially any Constitutional Law scholars.
Cross-posted at Business Law Prof Blog.