Shareholders' rights to financial information are not limited by common law or inspection statute limits. The shareholder is, however, required to exercise good faith when requesting financial information. The shareholder must also have a proper purpose for the request. When a shareholder exercises his or her inspection rights, it's a requirement that the reason for the request is presented in writing. When the reason for the request is considered proper, the information rights of the shareholder include every corporate record related to the purpose.

What the Term "Proper Request" Means

A proper purpose is the force behind a request for financial information that centers around protecting the shareholder's interest. An improper purpose is a reason that centers around damaging the corporation itself or the other shareholders in the corporation.

The statutory requirement that a shareholder has to state a proper purpose when requesting corporate financial records:

  • Doesn't mean that the shareholder has to express every reason for wanting the information
  • Doesn't mean that the stated purpose is the only purpose for wanting the information
  • Doesn't mean that there isn't also an improper purpose behind the request

Proper Requests

A corporation doesn't have to grant the request for financial information. If the request isn't proper, the corporation can easily resist sharing the information. This increases the importance of stating proper purposes when making a request for financial information. Some reasons that are considered proper in all situations include:

  • To ascertain share value
  • To determine if management is engaging in wrongdoing
  • To get shareholder information for the purpose of communication with others who hold stock in the company

Ascertaining Share Value

One of the more common reasons for shareholders to request corporate financial records it to check out the financial well-being of the company. This kind of request is proper because it is directly connected to what the shareholder receives from his or her investment in the company. Historically, courts have upheld ascertaining value as related to a shareholder's ownership in the company as a proper, legitimate reason to request the company's financial information.

Investigation of Management Wrongdoing

Common law states that the investigation of corporate wrongdoing is a proper reason for a shareholder to ask for a company's financial information. It is also considered a proper request when the shareholder has begun litigation against a corporation's directors or the corporation itself.

Enabling Communication With Other Shareholders

If a shareholder has a grievance or concern about how the corporation is being managed, seeking contact information for other shareholders is considered a proper purpose for requesting information from the company. Under the law, shareholders have the right to discuss issues that are of common interest, so requesting the names and addresses of other stockholders for the purpose of communication is acceptable. Courts typically favor stock registry requests over many other types of record requests.

When the Corporation Doesn't Want to Share Information

The one issue that comes into dispute when these cases go to court is whether the shareholder who is the plaintiff has a proper purpose. The statute that allows shareholders to inspect corporate documents also gives corporations the right to argue that the shareholder isn't acting in good faith and doesn't have a proper purpose for the record request. The corporation can argue that the request is improper because it is not related to shareholder status. The corporation can also argue that releasing the information would harm the corporation's interests.

Corporate Information That Shareholders Can Request

A shareholder can only request information for the specific reasons that relate to his or her position as a shareholder. Personal interests that are not related to owning shares in a corporation are not considered proper, and courts can even deem those requests harmful or wrongful to the corporation. Some specific items that shareholders can ask a company to share include:

  • Lists of shareholders and the company's stock ledger
  • Operational documents such as meeting minutes and records of shares being transferred
  • The financial statements classified as books and records of account

All basic financial records are included in the books and records of account category. One statement that does not require a purpose is the annual financial statement. This document must be mailed to the shareholders' homes.

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