A doctrine used by the courts to ignore the corporate status of a group of stockholders, officers, and directors of a corporation in reference to their limited liability so that they may be held personally liable for their actions when they have acted fraudulently or unjustly or when to refuse to do so would deprive an innocent victim of redress for an injury caused by them.
A corporation is considered the alter ego of its stockholders, directors, or officers when it is used merely for the transaction of their personal business for which they want IMMUNITY from individual liability. A parent corporation is the alter ego of a subsidiary corporation if it controls and directs its activities so that it will have limited liability for its wrongful acts.
The alter ego doctrine is also known as the instrumentality rule because the corporation becomes an instrument for the personal advantage of its parent corporation, stockholders, directors, or officers. When a court applies it, the court is said to pierce the corporate veil.
Courts have not traditionally applied the alter ego doctrine to other business forms, such as partnerships and limited partnerships, because partners generally do not enjoy the same form of limited liability as corporate stockholders, officers, and directors. By comparison, however, owners of limited liability companies may structure their business in a manner similar to a corporation so that members and managers are shielded from personal liability for the debts of the LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY (LLC). Several courts have determined that the alter ego doctrine may also apply to LLCs. For instance, in Kaycee Land & Livestock v. Flahive, 46 P.3d 323 (Wyo. 2002), the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the equitable doctrine of piercing the veil was an available remedy under the Wyoming Limited Liability Company Act.