France: Exclusion d'un associé : la Cour de cassation valide la clause des statuts écartant le vote de l'associé exclu

Last Updated: 10 April 2019
Article by Emilie Yildiz
Most Read Contributor in France, July 2019

Les décisions en matière d'exclusion d'associé sont abondantes tellement les litiges entre associés sont fréquents et l'opération d'exclusion délicate.

Si le juge veille au strict respect des conditions d'exclusion d'un associé, quelques prouesses juridiques permettent néanmoins de remédier à l'inflexibilité des règles de droit.

C'est notamment le cas dans un arrêt rendu le 24 octobre 2018 par la Cour de cassation, à l'occasion duquel la Cour a validé la clause des statuts écartant le vote de l'associé dont l'exclusion était l'objet de la décision.

Principe du maintien des associés dans la société

Le principe veut que tout associé ait le droit de rester dans la société dont il détient des titres. Autrement dit, il ne peut pas en être exclu ni être contraint de céder ses parts ou ses actions contre sa volonté. Ce principe est néanmoins tempéré par la possibilité de procéder à des exclusions légales ou conventionnelles.

En effet, la loi prévoit des cas dans lesquels un associé peut faire l'objet d'une exclusion, laquelle se traduit par un rachat forcé de ses titres.

Ces cas peuvent être d'origine légale : nullité d'une société ou d'actes fondée sur un vice du consentement ou l'incapacité de l'associé.

Ils peuvent aussi être d'origine conventionnelle, dès lors que le Code de commerce n'interdit pas la possibilité de prévoir dans les statuts de sociétés une clause permettant d'exclure l'un des associés.

Encadrement du principe d'exclusion d'un associé

Si la jurisprudence de la Chambre commerciale de la Cour de cassation en a valablement admis le principe, elle a néanmoins conditionné l'exercice du droit d'exclusion d'un associé en posant un certain nombre de règles.

Tout d'abord, les conditions de la mise en jeu de l'exclusion doivent être déterminées dans les statuts et viser notamment l'organe compétent pour prononcer l'exclusion, la procédure à respecter et les motifs, qui doivent être objectifs et conformes à l'intérêt de la société1, comme par exemple la perte d'une qualité requise ou le manquement de l'intéressé à ses obligations.

Ensuite, la clause statutaire doit avoir été adoptée de manière unanime par les associés.

Enfin, bien que la jurisprudence laisse aux associés une grande liberté pour fixer les modalités de l'exclusion, l'article 1844 alinéa 1 du Code civil dispose que « tout associé a le droit de participer aux décisions collectives » et la Cour de cassation a précisé qu'il ne peut être interdit à l'associé dont l'exclusion est envisagée de voter sur la proposition2.

Si certains rédacteurs ont tenté de contourner cette interdiction en confiant la décision d'exclusion à un organe de direction, c'était sans compter l'intervention du juge qui refuse systématiquement de valider de telles pratiques de contournement.

Apport de l'arrêt du 24 octobre 2018

Un arrêt rendu le 24 octobre 20183 vient cependant affiner l'interprétation que fait la Cour de cassation de l'article 1844 du Code civil.

En l'espèce, une société civile de moyens avait prévu dans ses statuts que l'exclusion de l'associé serait adoptée « à l'unanimité des voix moins les voix de l'associé mis en cause ». L'associé dont l'exclusion était mise au vote pouvait donc participer à la décision et même y voter. Seulement, son vote ne serait pas pris en compte dans le calcul des voix.

Si l'article 1844 du Code civil impose la participation de l'associé à la décision relative à son exclusion, en revanche il n'impose aucunement que son vote soit efficace. La Cour de cassation a donc validé la rédaction de la clause, ce qui signifie que si la voix de l'associé exclu est nécessaire pour le calcul du quorum, elle ne l'est pas pour autant s'agissant du résultat du vote.

La Cour de cassation fait ici une interprétation stricte de l'article 1844 du Code civil, laquelle peut être considérée comme malheureuse par le principal intéressé mais qui néanmoins est gage de l'accessibilité du raisonnement du juge et partant d'un surcroît de sécurité juridique pour les justiciables.

Peut-on considérer que cette décision, qui concerne une société civile de moyen mais dont l'application semble logiquement s'étendre à toutes les autres formes de sociétés, est la porte ouverte à tous les excès ? L'affaire est à suivre.

En tout état de cause, cette décision démontre l'importance de la rédaction des statuts d'une société et l'intérêt de confier cette mission à des avocats spécialisés en la matière.

Footnotes 

1 Cass. Com., 8 mars 2005, n° 02-17692

2 Cass. Com., 23 octobre 2007, arrêt d'Hem

3 https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichJuriJudi.do?oldAction=rechJuriJudi&idTexte=JURITEXT000037556279&fastReqId=1186936969&fastPos=1 

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