In Carpool Lane, Are Corporations 'People'?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It appears that the fight over whether corporations are people has temporarily left the courtroom and moved to the carpool lane.

Jonathan Frieman was driving in San Rafael, California, in October, when he got a ticket for driving in the carpool lane. The officer stopped him because he only saw one person in the car, but Frieman claims there were technically two people in his vehicle at the time.

Frieman's definition of who was in the car with him is a little unorthodox. In fact, he's been trying to get pulled over for the last 10 years just to make his point.

In lieu of a human passenger in the car, Frieman had incorporation documents which he showed to the officer who pulled him over, the Bay Area News Group reports. Frieman claimed that was sufficient to meet the "two persons" requirement for the HOV lane.

There is something to his argument, although it's not much.

Frieman is relying on the California Vehicle Code's definition of a person as "a natural person or corporation." In that respect, it's similar to the law in other states.

Corporations are recognized as people in several ways under the law. They can own property, engage in expressive speech, and have legal liability.

But corporate personhood is not identical to human personhood. Corporations can't vote or run for office and, most importantly, they have intangible bodies.

A corporation, according to the law, is more than its documentation, its board, or its employees. You could say that a corporation is wherever it does business, but that definition is generally only used when you are trying to sue a corporation in state court. In this instance, that probably won't help anyway.

Frieman is arguing that there are no rules about corporations because they aren't defined in the state constitution, according to his published opinion on the San Rafael Patch website. But that argument ignores a pretty big piece of law.

State law isn't just contained in a state constitution. It's also laid out in state and local regulations, and may also be controlled by federal law. Those rules are generally broader than the language of the constitution.

Of course, this isn't really about a traffic ticket. Frieman isn't a fan of the fact that corporations are considered people under the law, reports NBC News. This is his way of challenging that precedent.

It doesn't look like Frieman is going to back down from his argument, even with his shaky grasp of legal strategy. Thankfully, he already has an experienced attorney to make his argument for him in court.

Jan. 28, 2013 Editor's Note: This post was updated to correct the spelling of Jonathan Frieman's name, and to clarify that he has an attorney.

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