Activist Tells Court That Since Corporations Are People, He Can Drive In The Carpool Lane With Incorporation Papers

from the nice-try,-but,-no dept

I know that many people get up in arms over the concept of corporate personhood, but the reality is often a lot less problematic than many people make it out to be. It's not a concept that is free from problems, but it's not quite as silly as some argue. Still, it sometimes does lead to some amusing stunts. For example, a couple years ago, a company tried to run for President, in an effort to make a statement on the issue. Up in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) an activist has tried a similar move, arguing that he's able to drive in the carpool lane without another human passenger because he had incorporation documents for a company riding along in the passenger seat. Apparently, he's actually been doing this for about a decade, just waiting to get pulled over.

It finally happened and the driver, Jonathan Frieman, made his argument -- and the somewhat befuddled patrolman told Frieman to take it up with the court. That finally happened recently, and Frieman's lawyer actually made a fairly compelling legal argument. He noted that California Vehicle Code Section 470 specifically defines a "person" by saying it "includes a natural person, firm, copartnership, association, limited liability company, or corporation." It also discusses the carpool lane by saying, "No person shall drive a vehicle upon those lanes except in conformity with the instructions imparted by the official traffic control devices." Finally, the street signs themselves say "2 or more persons per vehicle." Thus, his lawyer argued, at the very least, this is unconstitutionally vague.
“Central here is the concept of double meaning,” Greene said in court. “Citizens should not be left to guess when he or she is in violation of the statute.”
The judge, however, did not buy it, pointing to another section of the Vehicle Code, on the purpose of the carpool lanes:
Judge Drago also referenced California Vehicle Code 21655.5, noting instead subsection F, which states “It is the intent of the Legislature, in amending this section, to stimulate and encourage the development of ways and means of relieving traffic congestion on California highways and, at the same time, to encourage individual citizens to pool their vehicular resources and thereby conserve fuel and lessen emission of air pollutants.”
He then noted that Frieman's workaround didn't match the intentions.

It seems like the judge may have gotten to the right answer, but I'd argue for the wrong reasons. First of all, while the intention of the legislature is helpful, it doesn't excuse it from poorly written legislation which could be seen as being unconstitutionally vague. However, it seems to me there's a much easier way for the judge to reach the same conclusion without going down that path: just point out that incorporation documents are not the corporation itself. That's both accurate and would solve the issue. Incorporation documents explain that a corporation has been created, but they are not "the corporation." A birth certificate may announce the arrival of a person, but the document itself is not "a baby." I'm somewhat surprised the judge didn't just go with that as an answer.

Either way, it sounds like this isn't over, as Frieman has announced his intentions to file an appeal -- which is to be expected, since much of this really appears to be a form of protest against the very concept of corporate personage.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 9:27am

    Corporations are not persons. Once the managing boards start getting sued for the corporative wrongs we'll start seeing some improvement.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:58pm

      Re:

      "Once the managing boards start getting sued for the corporative wrongs we'll start seeing some improvement."

      Sometimes they are. As a process server, I would often serve civil summons to both the corporation and the president of the corporation because both were being sued. (Which usually meant serving two identical copies of the same paper to the same guy - and getting paid for both, yay.)

      But the whole POINT of a corporation is to shield civil liability. To sue individuals inside the corporation, you need a good reason beyond simply being owed money. You also need proof that every individual you are suing is responsible - how can you be sure that a particular board member was responsible for a particular decision, especially if everyone in the corporation knows individuals are being sued and are wildly passing the buck?

       

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        Ninja (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 4:10am

        Re: Re:

        Goldman Sachs gets insurances for rotten financial products at AIG, works/sells/resells those rotten assets telling everyone they are perfectly safe and healthy, breaks financial system, breaks AIG, taxpayer funds get siphoned through and Goldman executives get away with huge bonuses.

        No, they are not punished enough. I understand the CEO can't be liable for corruption at low levels of the company but the responsible parts for frauds or whatever must be prosecuted.

         

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    Rikuo (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 2:21pm

    " Incorporation documents explain that a corporation has been created, but they are not "the corporation."

    Okay while I understand you there, then what is a corporation in the context of an entity that is considered entitled to the same rights as a human being? What defines the corporation? Would the activist have to drive with the members of the board in order to follow the law the judge cited? What about other employees of the corporation?
    Basically, what's happened here is that the corrupt ruling that corporations are people now is in conflict with other laws.

     

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      Chris Rhodes (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 2:35pm

      Re:

      Basically, what's happened here is that the corrupt ruling that corporations are people
      Exactly which ruling was that? (And be advised, if you say Citizens United I'm going to laugh at you.)

       

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        Rikuo (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 2:42pm

        Re: Re:

        How about Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania - 125 U.S. 181 (1888)

         

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        Christopher (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:05pm

        Re: Re:

        You can laugh, but it's still a corrupt decision, added onto the 1888 mining company bullshit.

         

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          Chris Rhodes (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 10:58am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The government was trying to stifle political speech about a politician close to an election. Opponents of Citizens United must take the opposite side and argue that the government can shut down such political speech.

          I mean, I'm not really a fan of the NYT, for example, but I certainly don't think it's the government's job to tell them what they can and cannot print about a politician. Do you?

           

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 4:46am

        Re: Re:

        What's really funny about the "Citizens United" ruling is that it has little to do with the citizens of this country or them being united behind anything other than opposition to the ruling.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:22pm

      Re:

      "Would the activist have to drive with the members of the board in order to follow the law the judge cited? What about other employees of the corporation?"

      If he were driving with other people, it would be a moot point since he'd be eligible for the carpool lane anyway.

      A corporation is, ironically enough, incorporeal. It can't ride along in the car with you no matter how hard you try.

       

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        Scote, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:14pm

        "A corporation is, ironically enough, incorporeal. It can't ride along in the car with you no matter how hard you try."


        Indeed. One wonders how a corporation can do *anything* given that it is incorporeal. Thus we have *people* who represent the corporation. The driver was both himself, and the corporeal representative of the corporation. So, again, two people. The articles of incorporation in the passenger seat need not enter into it.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:25pm

          Re:

          "The driver was both himself, and the corporeal representative of the corporation."

          I disagree. Perhaps he has the legal authority to act on behalf of the corporation, but he is not the corporation. If I have power of attorney over my aunt Gertrude, that does not mean that I am my aunt Gertrude (and thus eligible for the carpool lane, being both myself and Gertrude.)

           

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        James T, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:40am

        Re: Re:

        I would believe an officer of the corporation might be able to be considered "the corporation" and at the same time their own self entity. An officer can sign as if they are the corporation for example.

        Also this would get around the judges ruling because "individual citizens" would only apply to his self entity. By being an officer he is also not an individual citizen.

         

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        Jeremy Lyman (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 6:22am

        Re: Re:

        I'd argue the opposite, since the corporation is incorporeal, we ask "where does it exist?" It does not specifically not exist within a car somehow like some kind of legal vacuum. In actuality it exists within all of our cars simultaneously, whether we have the incorporation papers riding shotgun or not.

         

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      Jay (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:22pm

      Re:

      Corporations became people thanks to two things:

      1) The 14th amendment makes no difference between natural and artificial persons. In English common law, corporations are people mainly for tax purposes.

      2) Since Lewis Powell's memo gave a template for how to make the Supreme Court respond favorably to the public, you see corporate power increase. Citizens United only exacerbated an already bad situation.

       

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      Marcel de Jong (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 8:20am

      Re:

      In that case, the activist had better start driving a bus on the carpool lane.

       

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    Anonymous, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 2:44pm

    "Judge Drago"? Seriously???? Sounds like a character from "Judge Dredd" or some other sci-fi/action flick.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 2:47pm

    It does too meet the intent

    If he had fedex-ed the documents, the fedex truck would tying up the same road as him, using more fuel, etc. He's a considerate citizen to be sharing his vehicle with that other 'person'.

     

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      Chosen Reject (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:29pm

      Re: It does too meet the intent

      The judge should never have brought up intent anyway. Is it then illegal to drive in the carpool lane if the only other people (aside from the driver) are children? Or just don't have licenses? What if you are a designated driver and the others couldn't legally drive no matter their licensed status? Or what if the driver asked them to come along with the sole reason to get in the carpool lane? Should all of these situations be ticketed?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:38pm

        Re: Re: It does too meet the intent

        Intent of a law is one of the easiest ways to make a ruling on a case on. If I remember correctly the question of unclear laws are judged easiest on basis of the intent or pre-law works as opposed to interpretation of the words used in the law. While it would be amusing to see that "corporations are not physical entities" as part of the SCOTUS curriculum I think the judge is going completely by the book here.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:14pm

          Re: Re: Re: It does too meet the intent

          "If I remember correctly the question of unclear laws are judged easiest on basis of the intent or pre-law works as opposed to interpretation of the words used in the law. "

          I don't think that's appropriate here. In this case the traffic code specifically contains the definition of "person" and that definition does include corporations. I don't think judges should be interpreting the intent of laws to convict people who have not violated the letter of the law. You can't just say "We're going to ignore the definition of 'person' in this law because the lawmakers didn't MEAN it." If the letter of the law is incorrect, fix it. (Or better yet, come up with an actual good reason for convicting him, like the "incorporation papers are not the corporation itself" thing.)

          The stated intent of the law is to reduce congestion, fuel use, and emissions. That does not make every use of the carpool lane which does not do these, automatically illegal. The law actually has to state that the action is illegal.

           

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    When the heck did this corporations are people junk start? This is just non-sense.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:33pm

      Re:

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:52pm

        Re: Re:

        This holds that they can be sue and be sued like they were people not that they are people.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:08pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "This holds that they can be sue and be sued"

          Unless they say they can not.

           

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Did you even read the the wiki page?

          "Corporations as persons in the United States

          As a matter of interpretation of the word "person" in the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. courts have extended certain constitutional protections to corporations. Opponents of corporate personhood seek to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit these rights to those provided by state law and state constitutions. [3][4]

          The basis for allowing corporations to assert protection under the U.S. Constitution is that they are organizations of people, and that people should not be deprived of their constitutional rights when they act collectively. [5] In this view, treating corporations as "persons" is a convenient legal fiction that allows corporations to sue and to be sued, provides a single entity for easier taxation and regulation, simplifies complex transactions that would otherwise involve, in the case of large corporations, thousands of people, and that protects the individual rights of the shareholders as well as the right of association."

           

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:34pm

    The intent

    "He then noted that Frieman's work around didn't match the intentions."

    Neither does a mother driving her child around; since that child could not drive anyway, her use of the carpool lane does not reduce congestion or conserve fuel. Yet, nobody would try to arrest her.

    You should have to violate the wording AND intent of the law in order to be arrested. I think this is a case of a judge who had predetermined the outcome based on his idea of justice, rather than a strict interpretation of the law.

     

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      Chosen Reject (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:50pm

      Re: The intent

      I don't think the intent should play any part in convicting someone. The law as written should be the only thing able to convict.

      If intent plays any part at all, it should only be able to exculpate you. That is, if you broke the letter of the law, but followed the spirit, then perhaps intent could clear you of wrongdoing.

       

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        Mason Wheeler (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:23pm

        Re: Re: The intent

        On the contrary, intent is very important when convicting someone. Look up the concept of Mens Rea sometime.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:27pm

          Re: Re: Re: The intent

          That's the intent of the PERSON. We were talking about the intent of the LAW.

           

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          Chosen Reject (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 10:45pm

          Re: Re: Re: The intent

          Anonymous already stated it, but yes, I was referring to intent of the law or law makers. Intent of the person should definitely be considered, but not the intent of the law.

           

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            btrussell (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 1:10am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: The intent

            Intent of the law should be stated when writing laws and enforced as such. Not left to liawyers to twist meanings, depending on the case.

            Aaron Swartz and the charges against him were a good example.

             

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              Chosen Reject (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 8:30am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The intent

              Intent of the law should never be used to convict, but it can be enough to acquit. Meaning, I shouldn't have to know the intent to the law to be able to break that law, but knowing the intent should help exonerate me. If you follow the letter of the law, you should never be guilty, no matter what the intent of that law is; but if you break the letter of the law and show that you were really following the intent of it, then you should be exonerated (or at least given a reduced sentence).

               

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                btrussell (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 9:00am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The intent

                The intent of the law should be clear to those in authority before laying charges.

                 

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                  Chosen Reject (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 9:57am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The intent

                  I can agree with that. But they should not be able to use the intent of the law to convict someone, only to choose to not prosecute. The only thing prosecutors should be able to use in the court room is the law as written, not the intent. The defendant, on the other hand, should be able to bring up the intent of the law to show how [s]he wasn't breaking the intent even if they might have been breaking the letter.

                   

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:52pm

      Re: The intent

      How would you proove that the intent is to abuse the law. The way I see it, you would have to directly tell that you are only having the child in the car for it to be unintended. When the intent of the law is clear the next thing in line is the intent of the driver.
      In the case of the child it is virtually impossible to proove ill intent, while the man with his paper is knowingly choosing to use the lane without any other physical being present in the car. While it is unacceptable to have to look for intent behind a law to find out what it means, it is a fair legal interpretation.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:02pm

        Re: Re: The intent

        "In the case of the child it is virtually impossible to proove ill intent, while the man with his paper is knowingly choosing to use the lane without any other physical being present in the car."

        First, you don't have to prove ill intent for traffic violations - you will be arrested for an illegal U-turn whether or not you knew it was illegal. Second, the mother is "aware" that she is not actually reducing traffic or fuel use, which is the supposed intent of the law, just as much as the guy driving around with the papers.

        Please don't confuse intent of the law with intent of the driver. The arguments are totally separate.

         

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      danny, Oct 26th, 2013 @ 2:48pm

      Re: The intent

      very good point about the child, I'm sure the state as always will just stand behind "best intentions".

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 3:53pm

    Maybe Frieman should have driven around with an inflatable love doll. It works for Miley.

     

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    Steve, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:08pm

    Moral of the story

    The moral of the story is, corporate alibi or not, you can probably go ahead and drive in the carpool lane alone. If it takes 10 years to get caught, the cumulative time you save will probably outweight the cost of the ticket.

    (depending on your source of income...)

     

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      Vic B (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:20pm

      Re: Moral of the story

      It doesn't take 10 years to get caught, it took him 10 years to get caught.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:24pm

      Re: Moral of the story

      My friend had that sort of mentality. He figured that since he passed someone on the side of the highway that was pulled over by the police, that he'd be able to speed. He got a ticket shortly after that. He then figured since he just got a speeding ticket and the last one he got was years ago, he decided to speed again to make up for lost time, only to receive a 2nd ticket about 30 mins later.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:12pm

    I will not believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one of them.

     

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    Mantas, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 3:53am

    This reminds me of one online science-fiction story I found, Spanner, in which certain people would avoid the law completely by becoming Incorporated.

    (Unfortunately, the latest rewrite is overdosed with the author's love for TV Tropes...)

     

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    yenmor ttim, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 4:59am

    People are corporations my friend.

    Recent SCOTUS ruling states that every man, woman, child is in fact incorporated at birth and entitled to all the benefits of corporatehood. The ruling has stunned lawmakers and and job creators alike, spurring them into action. Congressional aids say this level of activity has not been seen in decades. Several members of congress have vowed to undo this ruling stating that "People are NOT corporations! If they were, who would do all the work around here?"

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 5:03am

    I used to think that comments were held for review when a link was included, I now think that a funny name will also trigger said review. Eventually everything will trigger review - because terrorism.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 7:13am

    I'll believe corporations are considered people when one has been sentenced to death.

     

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    Patent box attorney, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 9:28am

    It's encouraging when you see people looking into the case in detail, checking intentions as well as surface actions. That should be a given.

     

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    identicon
    mhab, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 10:28am

    nice try, still awesome

    Even if it doesnt work, it still made me laugh!

     

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