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Debates over fiduciary status gained national prominence with the Department of Labor’s 2016 attempt to define an investment adviser fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in 2016. The DOL’s fiduciary rule, however, was vacated by the courts, leaving doubt as to whether and when an investment advisor is considered a fiduciary under ERISA. Moreover, many believe that earlier guidance from the DOL on who is an investment advisor fiduciary is too narrow to protect retirement investors. What is less well known is that many of the debates in ERISA over investment advisor fiduciaries track larger debates in the common law regarding fiduciary status. This chapter explores three parallels between the common law and ERISA in determining fiduciary status. The first is the structure of fiduciary categories and the division between categorical and ad hoc fiduciaries. The second is the tendency to look to whether one person has discretionary authority to determine whether the first person is a fiduciary. The third is the challenge raised by advice giving. Both common law courts and ERISA jurisprudence struggle to determine whether and when advisors, who lack discretionary authority, should be considered fiduciaries. The chapter concludes that trust can serve as a foundation for an advisor’s fiduciary status both in the common law and under ERISA.
This introduction traces aspects of the history of fiduciary duties in business law and scholarship. Despite fiduciary law’s centrality to business law, the chapter describes how the contractarian revolution of the 1980s contributed to the marginalization of fiduciary duties, both in theory and doctrine. However, subsequent developments, both in case law and in scholarship, have questioned some of the core assumptions of the early wave of contractarian theory. The introduction outlines three critiques that scholars have levied against the early contractarians’ view of fiduciary duties, and connects these critiques to the eighteen chapters in the volume. The introduction also provides a roadmap of our contributors’ arguments.
The scholarship on fiduciary duties in business organizations is often pulled in two directions. While most observers would agree that business organizations are one of the key contexts for the application of the fiduciary obligation, corporate law theorists have often expressed disdain for the role of fiduciary duties, with the result that fiduciary law and theory have been out of step with the business world. This volume aims to rectify this situation by bringing together a range of scholars to analyze fiduciary relationships and the fiduciary obligation in the business context. Contributing authors examine fiduciary obligations in fields ranging from entity structure to bankruptcy to investment regulation. The volume demonstrates that fiduciary law can inform pressing corporate governance debates, including discussions over stakeholder models of the corporation that move beyond shareholder interests.
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