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.