In a dispute between shareholder and director or joint venture partners, particularly of a small proprietary company, or when company affairs are in deadlock, a common method of opposition by a shareholder is to refuse to attend a shareholders’ meeting so the necessary quorum is not present and the resolutions cannot be passed. In such circumstances, court may intervene to convene a meeting and prescribe a quorum.
Section 249G of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act) provides that:
"249G – Calling of Meetings of Members by the Court
1. The Court may order a meeting of the company's members to be called if it is impracticable to call the meeting in any other way.
2. The Court may make the order on application by:
(a) any director; or
(b) any member who would be entitled to vote at the meeting.
Note: For the directions the Court may give for calling, holding or conducting a meeting it has ordered be called, see section 1319."
If a director or member of the company can establish that it is impracticable to convene a meeting in any other way for whatever reason, any director or member who would be entitled to vote at the meeting can make an application seeking order that a meeting to be convened, held and conducted in such matter as the court thinks fit, and may give such ancillary or consequential directions as it thinks fit under s 1319.
In general, impracticability will cover a wide range of circumstances including from where only directors and shareholders have been deceased to situations where it is extremely inconvenient or impracticable for a meeting to be ‘called’ (Jenashare Pty Ltd v Lemrib Pty Ltd (1993) 11 ACSR 345). However, if the company’s constitution or the Corporations Act offers a procedure for meetings to be called in the ordinary course of events, then the court ordinarily will not order that a meeting of the company’s members to be called unless there are exceptional circumstances with strong evidence.
Once impracticability is established, the court has the ultimate discretion to make or refuse the order. In Beck v Tuckey Pty Ltd (2004) 22 ACLC 633; 49 ACSR 555;  NSWSC 357, Austin J referred to the following relevant considerations:
• whether the company had failed to comply with its statutory requirements;
• whether the company’s management was deadlocked; and
• whether the inconvenience was caused by the applicant.
It should be noted that:
• the court’s discretion under section 249G of the Corporations Act can be used to enable the appointment of an effective board of directors (Re Sticky Fingers Restaurant Ltd (1991) 10 ACLC 3011);
• however, section 249G does not allow the court a general power to give directions as to the conduct of a meeting;
• quorum requirements are not relevant to one member company. A company with only one member may pass a resolution by the member recording and signing the record (section 249B of the Corporations Act);
• for companies which elect to have replaceable rules apply as opposed to specific provisions in the constitutions, section 249T applies which provides that the quorum for a meeting of a company’s members is two members and the quorum must be present at all times during the meeting.
As demonstrated above, where there is a deadlock between shareholders which prevents the formation of a quorum at a general meeting, an application under section 249G can be made seeking the court’s intervention to call a meeting. Further, it is highly advisable to draft shareholders or joint venture agreements to manage the risk of a member bypassing the quorum requirement or the procedure and limitations where the quorum cannot be attained at a general meeting as a result of a member not attending.
Written by Victoria Cha
Written on 27 Oct 2021
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