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Fiduciary law necessarily raises issues of delineation and demarcation, which this paper demonstrates through examples involving common-law agents. Serving as an agent, and thus as a fiduciary, does not necessarily mean that agency law prescribes all duties that the agent owes the principal. The agent may have rights external to the relationship that the agent may exercise, distinct from the duty of loyalty owed the principal. When an agent acts outside the bounds of an agency relationship, the principal’s consent is not requisite to conduct that would constitute disloyalty within the bounds of the agency relationship. The paper illustrates the significance of this point through a series of examples drawn from a range of contexts, including auctions of art objects. Prior scholarship neglects the implications of demarcations that define the scope of an agency relationship and of fiduciary relationships more generically.
More generally or theoretically, the paper examines the qualities of fiduciary duty as a default rule, arguing that the relative “stickiness” of the default varies. Agency law contains two different kinds of altering rules—necessary and sufficient conditions to vary a default rule—consisting of agreements that define the scope of the agent’s representative role on behalf of the principal, and consent by the principal to actions by the agent within that scope that relieve the agent of liability for breach of fiduciary duty, which impose significantly different requisites. The basic distinction between agreement and consent has parallels elsewhere in agency law; for example, ratification, like consent, requires specificity because to be legally effective ratification requires that the principal know, as a matter of historical fact, what the agent has done. Agreement, on the other hand, requires less specificity, comparable to manifestations that confer actual authority on an agent which necessarily does not require that the principal foresee all actions that the agent may take that fall within the scope of the grant of authority. And ratification, like effective consent, is a matter of historical fact, not hypothesis. These implications follow because agency law, by positioning an agent as the principal’s representative for purposes of legally-salient interactions with third parties and facts about the world, frames the agent as an extension of the principal, not the principal’s substitute.
Deborah A. DeMott, Defining Agency and its Scope (II), in Comparative Contract Law: A Tale of Two Legal Systems 396-413 (Martin Hogg & Larry A. DiMatteo eds., 2016)
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