SOLE DIRECTOR OR BOARD OF DIRECTOR OF AN S.P.A. SEIZURE OF COMPENSATION WITHOUT THE RESTRICTIONS SET BY ART. 545 OF THE CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
The Supreme Court (Joint Divisions), with judgment of 20 January 2017, no. 1545, have decided that a sole director or board of director of an S.p.A. (Italian public limited company) are both bound by a corporate relation which – considering the organic identity that occurs between the natural person and the entity, as well as the absence of a requirement of coordination – is not included among those provided under no. 3 of art. 409 c.p.c.. It follows that the compensation due to the above mentioned subjects for the functions carried out in a corporate context can be seized without the restrictions pursuant to the fourth paragraph of art. 545 c.p.c..
Following the expropriation of goods in the possession of third parties, upon commencement of such procedure by a bank against a debtor, the first instance judgment decided that the bank should be awarded the total sum set aside by the third parties by way of compensation for their activities. The debtor was a director of one of the third party companies subjected to the seizure as well as a member of the board of directors of one other of such companies. The debtor opposed the interim judgment of assignment, arguing that his activity should be qualified differently, in particular, according to the director, it should fall within the scope of application of Article 409 number 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, so that in fact a restriction to the seizure would apply (up to a fifth of the salary). The Court upheld the director’s opposition, qualifying the work carried out by the debtor as self-employed, which therefore limited to a fifth the assignment of the sums set aside by the third parties subjected to the seizure. The bank filed a petition to the Supreme Court.
The query submitted to the Joint Divisions of the Supreme Court was whether the determination of the relationship between the public limited company and its director could be qualified as self-employment or autonomous work and, consequently, whether the restrictions on the seizure of salary, equal to one fifth of that, as provided by the fourth paragraph of art. 545 c.p.c., could apply to compensation and wages of the director.
Until the decision in this case, the case law amounted to several consecutive decisions that traced their origins back to the 1980s, and from which two orientations emerged. One of these excluded that, in the context of a governance relationship, there could be an identification of two distinct centres of interest between whom there is an exchange of services, because the regime applicable to S.p.A.s is regulated in such a way as to confer on the director-representative the structural attributions of a body, thereby excluding the existence of a relationship of self-employment and upholding the so-called organic theory. A different orientation was that represented by the so-called contractual theory, which traced the disputes in question to art. 409 no. 3 c.p.c., viewing the relationship between the director and the S.p.A. as possessing the features of continuity and coordination with the activity carried out by the company, features that are required by the regulation in order to determine the jurisdiction ratione materiae of the employment law Court.
A solution to that debate was initially found by the Supreme Court (Joint Divisions) with judgment no. 10680 in 1994, a decision that favoured the qualification of the governance relationship as autonomous work, pursuant to art. 409 no. 3 of the c.p.c., on the basis that “within the corporate organization there are obligatory relations that arise from a continuous, coordinated and prevalent activity, and it is irrelevant that the director is not in a weak contractual position vis-à-vis the company”.
With the present judgment, the Supreme Court (Joint Divisions), annulled the decision appealed by the creditor and rejected the opposition filed by the debtor. The Supreme Court held that the principle stated by the Court of first instance on the restrictions applicable to the credit was wrong, and instead decided that the compensation due to the directors for the activities carried out within a corporate context can be seized in their entirety.