France: Article 1161 Du Code Civil : Bientôt La Libération Pour Les Personnes Morales Mais Non La Fin De Son Application Aux Opérations M&A

Last Updated: 12 June 2018
Article by Julien Aucomte and Virginie Desbois
Most Read Contributor in France, July 2018

Depuis son introduction par l'ordonnance n°2016-131 du 10 février 2016 portant réforme du droit du droit des contrats, du régime général et de la preuve des obligations (« l'Ordonnance »), le champ d'application de l'article 1161 du code civil, qui interdit, à peine de nullité, la représentation par une même personne de plusieurs parties au contrat ou la conclusion d'un contrat entre un représenté et son représentant a suscité de nombreuses interrogations, s'agissant de la représentation des sociétés.

Face aux inquiétudes soulevées par les praticiens, la loi n°2018-287 du 20 avril 2018 ratifiant l'Ordonnance a modifié cet article afin de faire échapper à son champ d'application la représentation des personnes morales. Cette modification a été introduite dès la première version du projet de loi de ratification adoptée par le Sénat, les rapports parlementaires indiquant que « selon le Gouvernement, l'article 1161 a d'abord été conçu pour la protection des personnes physiques, mais ne visait pas à remettre en cause les pratiques des sociétés. »

La nouvelle version (contenant les modifications reproduites ci-dessous) s'appliquera aux actes conclus ou établis à compter du 1er octobre 2018 :

« En matière de représentation des personnes physiques, un représentant ne peut agir pour le compte de plusieurs parties au contrat en opposition d'intérêts Un représentant ne peut agir pour le compte des deux parties au contrat ni contracter pour son propre compte avec le représenté. En ces cas, l'acte accompli est nul à moins que la loi ne l'autorise ou que le représenté ne l'ait autorisé ou ratifié. »

Les enseignements suivants peuvent ainsi être tirés de la nouvelle rédaction :

  • Concernant les actes conclus ou établis à compter du 1er octobre 2018, la non-application de cet article à la représentation des personnes morales ne fait plus de doute: seules les règles spécifiques du droit des sociétés régiront leur représentation et les éventuels conflits d'intérêt (notamment celles relatives aux conventions réglementées).
  • La prohibition d'une représentation multiple continuera de concerner la représentation des personnes physiques.
  • Cependant, à compter du 1er octobre 2018, la représentation multiple de plusieurs personnes physiques sera interdite seulement si elles sont en opposition d'intérêts.
  • En tout état de cause, le représenté personne physique garde la possibilité d'autoriser ou de ratifier expressément la représentation multiple.

Faut-il pour autant en conclure que les praticiens des opérations M&A n'auront bientôt plus à se soucier de l'application de cet article? Une réponse négative s'impose.

L'application de cet article continuera en effet à se poser lorsqu'une même personne représente plusieurs personnes physiques dans un contrat, par exemple un contrat de cession (s'agissant de vendeurs personnes physiques), un pacte ou des promesses de cession de titres (s'agissant de managers personnes physiques). Pourra-t-on considérer que ces personnes poursuivent le même intérêt et peuvent par conséquent être représentées par une même personne en conformité avec la nouvelle rédaction de cet article ? Quid en cas d'insertion d'une clause désignant un mandataire commun à plusieurs parties personnes physiques pour les besoins de la mise en Suvre du contrat, par exemple la détermination définitive du prix ou le règlement des réclamations au titre d'une garantie de passif ?

En effet, l'article 1161 du code civil, tel que modifié, ne définit pas la notion d'opposition d'intérêts. Les travaux parlementaires relèvent que cette notion « est déjà connue par le code civil, en particulier dans la configuration comparable du régime des biens des mineurs ou des majeurs protégés sous tutelle ou curatelle (voir par exemple les articles 383, 387-1 ou encore 508 du code civil). » Certes, lors de la signature du contrat, l'alignement d'intérêts entre les différents vendeurs personnes physiques ou les managers semble pouvoir être établie. Pour autant, cet alignement d'intérêt sera-t-il toujours aussi évident tout au long de la vie du contrat en cas de désignation d'un mandataire commun chargé de sa gestion ? En tout état de cause, dans le doute, le représenté pourra toujours autoriser la représentation multiple dans le pouvoir ou dans la clause de désignation du mandataire commun.

Par ailleurs, le champ de l'article 1161 couvre l'exécution des contrats. Dès lors, il ne devrait pas avoir vocation à s'appliquer à la représentation en assemblées générales concernant la signature d'un procès-verbal. Cependant, dans certaines formes sociales (par exemple dans la société par actions simplifiée ou la société civile), les décisions collectives peuvent résulter du consentement de tous les associés exprimé dans un acte. Doit-on considérer que cet acte revêt une nature contractuelle et qu'ainsi l'article 1161 a vocation à s'appliquer si certains associés donnent à un même associé le pouvoir de le signer en leur nom et pour leur compte1 ?

Enfin, afin d'éviter toute confusion sur l'application de cet article à la représentation des personnes morales, il conviendra de rédiger de façon claire les délégations de pouvoirs consenties par le représentant légal. Il est en effet préférable d'indiquer expressément que le mandataire agit au nom et pour le compte de la personne morale, et non au nom et pour le compte du représentant légal (personne physique) de la société (même si ce denier donne pouvoir au mandataire en cette qualité).

Footnotes

1 En pratique, on privilégiera cependant la signature directe par chaque associé en cas de recours à ce procédé.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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