By Anthony J. Casey, University of Chicago Law School
Firms often separate assets into distinct entities that have their own legal identity but are commonly owned and together form a large corporate group. While the law-and-economics literature has viewed these legal partitions as either all or nothing, firms have developed sophisticated legal mechanisms to create precisely tailored partitions. The result is a complex corporate web of interconnected legal affiliates.
For example, an asset that is placed in one legal entity may serve as collateral guaranteeing the debts of another legal entity within the corporate group. The assets of the two entities are separate for some purposes but integrated for others. Conventional theories of corporate groups cannot explain the tailored partitions in this corporate web. This article develops a new theory of selective enforcement to fill that gap.
When a debtor defaults on a loan, that default may signal a failure across the entire firm or it may signal a project-specific failure. Tailored partitions provide monitoring creditors with a valuable option to choose between project-specific and firm-wide enforcement depending on the information signal provided. Thus, firm-wide risks and failures can be addressed globally while the effects of project-specific risks and failures can be locally contained when necessary.
These concepts of selective enforcement and tailored partitions reveal important implications for theory and practice. They provide a cohesive justification for the web of entity partitioning and cross liabilities that characterize much of corporate structure today and inform the analysis of holding-company equity guarantees, fraudulent transfers, and ipso facto clauses.
The full version of this article is available here.