Who Is Your Co-pilot?

Or is he?
Or is he?

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

While touring about America’s roadways, it’s not unusual to see a vanity plate or bumper sticker that says “God Is My Co-Pilot”. It’s not unusual to see someone with a dog as a co-pilot. Can a corporation be your co-pilot?

We’ll soon find out thanks to Citizens United and Jonathan Frieman of San Rafael, California.  Mr. Frieman was pulled over for driving alone in the carpool lane.  He argued to the officer that he did actually have a passenger. In the form of articles of incorporation.  Upset (and reasonably so) over the Citizens United ruling, Frieman says he had been trying for years to get pulled over, ticketed and get a chance to take his argument to court that corporations and people are not the same.  His mission was accomplished in October when he was pulled over for driving alone in an HOV lane, ticketed and slapped with a $481 minimum fine.

It’s a common sense argument based in the reality that corporations are a legal fiction and not a real person. We’ve seen this argument in play here and in other media since the controversial – many if not most might say ridiculously bad – decision of Citizens United was rendered in 2010. But will it work in traffic court?

University of San Francisco law professor Robert Talbot says “A court might say, ‘Well, it says person, and a corporation is a person, so that’ll work for the carpool lane. It’s possible, but I doubt it.’” A statement I must agree with because under California law Vehicle Code § 470, a person is defined as “a natural person, firm, copartnership, association, limited liability company, or corporation.” Mr. Frieman has broken down his argument in an opinion piece posted to the San Rafael Patch site dated May 14, 2011. Will it work? It’s possible but not likely as the judge may find the the argument  steers too far from the intent of carpool lane laws. Considering how specific the language of the California Vehicle Code is though in defining corporations as people though, the argument is not without merit. We’ll find out when Mr. Frieman goes to traffic court tomorrow, Monday, January 7, 2013. Or we might not if the officer doesn’t show up for court and the ticket is dismissed. As an argument, it is an interesting play nonetheless.

Do you think the argument could work? Do you think the argument should work?

Source(s): NBC, Ca. VC § 470, San Rafael Patch

~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

43 thoughts on “Who Is Your Co-pilot?”

  1. I think having a blowup doll as a passenger, made by a corporation, would have been more fun of a protest.

  2. Perhaps the guy is barking up the wrong tree. If a corporation is a person then perhaps the corporation should be liable for some of the things that it does. Like where Blackwater kills someone in Pakistan with their drone. The Pakistani victim can sue Blackwater for its acts of killing. Sue them where they are incorporated. When Blackwater demurs and says no we didnt kill the guy the person flying the plane did. Plaintiff says: No, the plane is owned by Blackwater and you are Blackwater. A person is good for their actions. The drone plane did the bombing.

  3. If he is a one person corporation then he can still be considered wrong I would think

  4. Perhaps the traffic court will forward the ticket to the Supreme Court for payment…..

  5. The article stated that the driver was unhappy with the Supreme Courts ruling providing corporations a status that allowed them a new wrinkle to affect government. It also stated he was trying to get arrested for a trial case to be resent to a wider jurisdiction. Here is hoping he loses in traffic court and is able and willing to appeal. I too feel the Supreme Court’s ruling is malarky in the extreme and needs to be challenged over and over again. Should the body of the court change by the time this case reaches the court then maybe a more sane conclusion can be reached.

  6. Gene this is one of those “unjust circumstances” that you referred to in another thread that could use some good results.

  7. I agree with the sentiments above. He probably won’t win, but ought to. That is, unless the judge in the case is morally and legally opposed to Citizens United. If that is the case, we may be treated to the delicious circus of the State appealing and having it argued up through the appellate process.

  8. Thank Gene… I knew you knew I knew…. There are something’s I never forget….

  9. AY,

    I knew you knew the distinction. I was simply clarifying for those who might not. But “I think the Internet tax collection for business that just sell on line will open the lines to more blur.”? Yeah, that’s a can of worms for sure.

  10. That’s why I said conducts business…. Not place of business…. The lines are getting blurrier but they have to have had some presence in a state for it to be required to have a RO…..like Pete’s party store of moonshine, ky…. Would not need a RO in Texas unless it conducted busiess in Texas….. But it would if it systematically conducted some form of business…..

    I think the Internet tax collection for business that just sell on line will open the lines to more blur…..

  11. Also, if a guy has 12 corporations in his “household” he should have to provide handicapped access!

  12. Under the UCC each corporation is required to have a registered agent in the state that they conduct business in…..

  13. Give snark, get some mahtso. The article noted the challenge would likely be unsuccessful because of deviation from legislative intent vis a vis the HOV lanes.

  14. Darren,

    The registered agent for service of process need not be at the primary place of business. It can in fact be a true third party agency relationship. Consider the large number of business that incorporate in Delaware due to their favorable laws. Most of them have primary offices elsewhere and there is a tidy bit of business done in Delaware for those acting as agents for service of process.

  15. Once I secured Mr. H’s permission to research the code, I did so (albeit in a cursory manner). Based on that, I assume the violation is of Section 216555.5(B). If I am correct, I find it hard to believe Mr. Frieman will prevail, because subsection F gives the legislative intent, which is, in essence to keep cars off the road.

    But seriously, how could someone believe that the relevant provision is the definition and not the actual section violated? Both relevant? Sure, but better to be snarky than to inform I guess.

  16. This does bring to my mind a discrepancy between natural persons and corporations with regard to due process.

    There is in our state a different legal process for issuing a criminal action or punishment against a corporation than one for a natural person. The corporation receives as a result more favorable enforcement. Here is why

    A natural person may be arrested and incarcerated prior to conviction, which effectively denies the person liberty and prohibits him / her from engaging in work or other forms of income. In the case of a corporation being charged wtih a crime, codified under RCW 10.01.070 The process is for either information or indictment to be signed by a judge and a summons along with a copy of the information is then delivered by the sheriff to the corporation’s address of record. There is no suspension of the corporation’s license or curtailment of its income or operations. Natural persons do not always have that right and are subject to summary arrest and incarceration.

    Another discrepancy is that under state law, corporations cannot be jailed and if a jail sentence is imposed by statute to a natural person, state law RCW 10.01.100 fines in lieu of other punishments. (such as jail). The problem here is the fines that are codified are significantly lower than what natural persons can be fined. Corporations “shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars, if such offense is a felony; or, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars if such offense is a gross misdemeanor; or, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars if such offense is a misdemeanor.” whereas natural persons under RCW 9A.20.021 can be fined up to $50,000 for Class A Felonies, $20,000 for Class B Felonies, and $10,000 for Class C, $5,000 for Gross Misdemeanors and $1,000 for Misdemeanors. The only crimes for which the fine is equal between corporations and natural persons are Class C Felonies, the rest range from 2 to 5 times what a corporation pays.

    I wonder if it could be argued by a natural person that was sentenced to a $50,000 fine if they could claim the inequality with a corporation (now a person) being only fined $10,000 and have the sentence vacated. Any thoughts?

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