Doctrine of Indoor Management
While the doctrine of ‘constructive notice” seeks to protect the company against the outsiders, the principal of indoor management operates to protect the outsiders against the company.
According to this doctrine, as laid down in Royal British Bank v. Turquand, (1856) 119 E.R. 886, persons dealing with a company having satisfied themselves that the proposed transaction is not in its nature inconsistent with the memorandum and articles, are not bound to inquire the regularity of any internal proceedings. In other words, while persons contracting with a company are presumed to know the provisions of the contents of the memorandum and articles, they are entitled to assume that the provisions of the articles have been observed by the officers of the company. It is no part of the duty of an outsider to see that the company carries out its own internal regulations.
Section 176 Provides for the Validity of Acts of Directors - No act done by a person as a director shall be deemed to be invalid, notwithstanding that it was subsequently noticed that his appointment was invalid by reason of any defect or disqualification or had terminated by virtue of any provision contained in this Act or in the articles of the company:
Provided that nothing in this section shall be deemed to give validity to any act done by the director after his appointment has been noticed by the company to be invalid or have been terminated.
The object of the section is to protect persons dealing with the company - outsiders as well as members by providing that the acts of a person acting as director will be treated as valid although it may afterwards be discovered that his appointment was invalid or that it had terminated under any provision of this Act or the Articles of the company [Ram Raghubir Lal v. United Refineries (Burma) Ltd., (1932) 2 Com Cases 359; AIR 1931 Rang 139].
Relation of company with members and outsiders
The validation of the acts of unqualified directors may apply to circumstances from two different angles : (1) as between outsiders, strangers and the company as in Royal British Bank v. Turquand, (1956) 5 E&B 327, British Asbestos Co. Ltd. v. Boyd. (1903) 2 Ch 439 : (1900-3) All ER Rep 323; and Ram Buran Singh v. Mufassil Bank Ltd. AIR 1925 All 206; and (2) in relation to the internal affairs of the company as in Dawson v. African Consolidated Land & Trading Co., (1898) 1 Ch 6 (CA), where calls made by unqualified directors were held valid. Even if the public documents of the company, and the facts which are apparent, would make it clear that a director was not duly qualified to act, this will not oust the effect of the Section 176 (British Asbestos case) (supra). Similarly in Boschoek Proprietary Co. Ltd., v. Fuke, (1906) 1 Ch 148, a resolution of a general meeting convened by de facto directors was upheld.
Forgery and incompetent acts
This section does not apply where the act itself is not in the competence of the Board of directors, e.g. compromising unpaid calls under the guise of forfeiture, the transaction being ultra vires and invalid [Bhagirath Spinning & Wvg. Co. v. Balaji Bhavani Pawar, AIR 1930 Bom. 267].
Directors not aware of their disqualification
The allotment and forfeiture of shares made by the directors who continued to act even after they were disqualified but were not aware of it, were saved by the Section 179. [Shiromani Sugar Mills Ltd. v. Debi Prasad, (1950) 20 Com Cases 296: AIR 1950 All 508]. Where this section does not save the situation, the company may in general meeting ratify allotment of shares even if made by de facto directors with mala fide intentions [Bamford v. Bamford, (1969) 39 Com Cases 838 : (1969) 2 WLR (1107) (CA) and an appeal (1969) : 1All ER 969].
Where the directors in question were not aware of the fact that by virtue of certain provisions in the articles, they had vacated their office, their acts in passing resolutions for starting certain business transactions were held to be valid [Seth Mohan Lal v. Grain Chambers Ltd., (1968) 38 Com Cases 543 : AIR 1968 SC 772; Shiromani Sugar Mills Ltd. v. Debi Prasad, (Supra).]
It is important to remember that the doctrine of “constructive notice”, can be invoked by the company and it does not operate against the company. It operates against the person who has failed to inquire but does not operate in his favour. But the doctrine of “indoor management” can be invoked by the person dealing with the company and cannot be invoked by the company.
An outsider is entitled to act on a certified copy of the resolution of the Board of directors delegating the powers of borrowing money to the managing director subject to the limitation mentioned therein [C.K. Siva Sankara Panicker v. Kerala State Financial Corporation, (1980) 50 Com Cases 817 (Ker.)].
Exceptions to the Doctrine of Indoor Management
The above noted ‘doctrine of indoor management’ is, however, subject to certain exceptions. In other words, relief on the ground of ‘indoor management’ cannot be claimed by an outsider dealing with the company in the following circumstances.
1. Where the outsider had knowledge of irregularity — The rule does not protect any person who has actual or even an implied notice of the lack of authority of the person acting on behalf of the company. Thus, a person knowing fully well that the directors do not have the authority to make the transaction but still enters into it, cannot seek protection under the rule of indoor management. In Howard v. Patent Ivory Co. (38 Ch. D 156), the articles of a company empowered the directors to borrow upto one thousand pounds only. They could, however, exceed the limit of one thousand pounds with the consent of the company in general meeting. Without such consent having been obtained, they borrowed 3,500 pounds from one of the directors who took debentures. The company refused to pay the amount. Held that, the debentures were good to the extent of one thousand pounds only because the director had notice or was deemed to have the notice of the internal irregularity.
2. No knowledge of memorandum and articles — Again, the rule cannot be invoked in favour of a person who did not consult the memorandum and articles and thus did not rely on them. In Rama Corporation v. Proved Tin & General Investment Co. (1952) 1All. ER 554, T was a director in the company. He, purporting to act on behalf of the company, entered into a contract with the Rama Corporation and took a cheque from the latter. The articles of the company did provide that the directors could delegate their powers to one of them. But Rama Corporation people had never read the articles. Later, it was found that the directors of the company did not delegate their powers to T. The Plaintiff relied on the rule of indoor management. Held, they could not because they even did not know that power could be delegated.
3. Forgery — The rule of indoor management does not extend to transactions involving forgery or to transactions which are otherwise void or illegal ab initio. In the case of forgery it is not that there is absence of free consent but there is no consent at all. The person whose signatures have been forged is not even aware of the transaction, and the question of his consent being free or otherwise does not arise. Consequently, it is not that the title of the person is defective but there is no title at all. Therefore, howsoever clever the forgery might have been, the personates acquire no rights at all. Thus, where the secretary of a company forged signatures of two of the directors required under the articles on a share certificate and issued certificate without authority, the applicants were refused registration as members of the company. The certificate was held to be nullity and the holder of the certificate was not allowed to take advantage of the doctrine of indoor management [Rouben v. Great Fingal Consolidated (1906) AC 439].
Forgery, in the case of a company, can take different forms. It may, besides forgery of the signatures of the authorised officials, include the execution of a document towards the personal discharge of an official’s liability instead of the liability of the company. Thus, a bill of exchange signed by the manager of a company with his own signature under words stating that he signed on behalf of the company, was held to be forgery when the bill was drawn in favour of a payee to whom the manager was personally indebted [Kreditbank Cassel v. Schenkers Ltd. (1927) 1 KB 826]. The bill in this case was held to be forged because it purported to be a different document from what it was in fact; it purported to be issued on behalf of the company in payment of its debt when in fact it was issued in payment of the manager’s own debt.
4. Negligence — The ‘doctrine of indoor management’, in no way, rewards those who behave negligently. Thus, where an officer of a company does something which shall not ordinarily be within his powers, the person dealing with him must make proper enquiries and satisfy himself as to the officer’s authority. If he fails to make an enquiry, he is estopped from relying on the Rule. In the case of Underwood v. Benkof Liverpool (1924) 1 KB 775, a person who was a sole director and principal shareholder of a company deposited into his own account cheques drawn in favour of the company. Held, that, the bank should have made inquiries as to the power of the director. The bank was put upon an enquiry and was accordingly not entitled to rely upon the ostensible authority of director.
Similarly, in the case of Anand Behari Lal v. Dinshaw & Co. (Bankers) Ltd. AIR 1942 Oudh 417, an accountant of a company transferred some property of a company in favour of Anand Behari. On an action brought by him for breach of contract, the Court held the transfer to be void. It was observed that the power of transferring immovable property of the company could not be considered within the apparent authority of an accountant.
5. Again, the doctrine of indoor management does not apply where the question is in regard to the very existence of an agency. In Varkey Souriar v. Keraleeya Banking Co. Ltd. (1957) 27 Com Cases 591 (Ker.), the Kerala High Court held that the ‘doctrine of indoor management’ cannot apply where the question is not one as to scope of the power exercised by an apparent agent of a company but is with regard to the very existence of the agency.
6. This Doctrine is also not applicable where a pre-condition is required to be fulfilled before company itself can exercise a particular power. In other words, the act done is not merely ultra vires the directors/officers but ultra vires the company itself — Pacific Coast Coal Mines v. Arbuthnot (1917) AC 607.
In the end, it is worthwhile to mention that section 6 of the Companies Act, 2013 gives overriding force and effect to the provisions of the Act, notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the memorandum or articles of a company or in any agreement executed by it or for that matter in any resolution of the company in general meeting or of its board of directors. A provision contained in the memorandum, articles, agreement or resolution to the extent to which it is repugnant to the provisions of the Act, will be regarded as void.
A corporation, organization or other entity set up to provide a legal shield for the person actually controlling the operation.
Doctrine of Alter Ego
It is used by the courts to ignore the status of shareholders, officers, and directors of a company in reference to their liability in their respective capacity so that they may be held personally liable for their actions when they have acted fraudulently or unjustly.
In Lennards Carying Co. Ltd. v. Asiatic Petroleum Co. Ltd.  AC 705, Viscount Haldane propounded the “alter ego” theory and distinguished it from vicarious liability. The House of Lords stated that the default of the managing director who is the “directing mind and will” of the company, would be attributed to him and he be held for the wrong doing of the company.