Legal Memorandum: Alter Ego Doctrine in WI

Issue: Under Wisconsin law, how is the alter ego doctrine employed to pierce the corporate veil to reach the assets of a controlled entity?

Area of Law: Business Organizations & Contracts, Corporate & Securities
Keywords: The alter ego doctrine; Pierce the corporate veil; Controlled entity
Jurisdiction: Wisconsin
Cited Cases: 142 Wis. 2d 465
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 06/01/2015

Typically, the alter ego doctrine is “employed to pierce the corporate veil of a controlled entity to reach the assets of the controlling party.” Olen v. Phelps,200 Wis. 2d 155, 163 (Wis. Ct. App. 1996). However, Wisconsin recognizes the flip side of the alter ego doctrine—a “reverse” alter ego doctrine—in certain cases:

[T]he doctrine can also be applied in reverse to reach the assets of a controlled entity. It is particularly appropriate to apply the alter ego doctrine in “reverse” when the controlling party uses the controlled entity to hide assets or secretly to conduct business to avoid the pre-existing liability of the controlling party.

200 Wis. 2d at 163.

The elements of the alter ego or instrumentality doctrine which must be proven include:

(1) Control, not mere majority or complete stock control, but complete domination, not only of finances but of policy and business practice in respect to the transaction attacked so that the corporate entity as to this transaction had at the time no separate mind, will or existence of its own; and

(2) Such control must have been used by the defendant to commit fraud or wrong, to perpetrate the violation of a statutory or other positive legal duty, or dishonest and unjust act in contravention of plaintiff’s legal rights; and

(3) The aforesaid control and breach of duty must proximately cause the injury or unjust loss complained of.

Consumer’s Co-op v. Olsen,