Henri Capitant Law Review (English)

The Legendary Destiny of the Theory of the Unicity of Patrimony

Editorial - Ph. Dupichot

This second issue of the Henri Capitant Law Review is dedicated to familiarizing our readers with the origins and history of the theory of “uniqueness of patrimony”. They will come away convinced of the continuing significance of this legendary theory in French law today.


The theory has its origins in the unparalleled and close doctrinal collaboration between Charles Aubry and Charles Rau: both born in 1803 within several kilometers of each other, the two worked together daily for some 40 years. Both taught at the Faculty of Law in Strasbourg and both were later appointed to the Court of Cassation. Reminiscent of a well-established brand name that sounds not unlike "Aubry & Rau, since 1857!", the name of these founding fathers was linked to a theory  of patrimony which spread widely throughout France and abroad. Willingly or not, every first year law student was inculcated with the three key propositions that henceforth formed the basis of the primacy of legal personality (the being) over its wealth (having): all patrimony by definition belongs to a person; every legal person has a patrimony; a person has only one patrimony that cannot be divided into distinct universalities of rights. Several of these propositions were to be enshrined as principles of private law and reiterated by the Court of Cassation without there being any corresponding statutory provision. The doctrine of Aubry and Rau for decades therefore formed the structure of a French-style garden landscape having straight and narrow pathways, and served as the expression of the civil law tradition and humanist thought reflecting the teachings of Jean Bodin: "the only wealth is man” (il n'est de richesses que d'hommes).


Probably a victim of its own success and exceptional longevity, the classical theory of patrimony, at times excessively caricatured, bore the brunt of strong criticism.


In this issue of the Review, we happily (re)discover some of the early shots fired across its bow which today take on a special meaning. Starting in 1899, François Gény wielded his pen to denounce a system that artificially vests a patrimony in someone who owns nothing for the simple reason that he has legal personality. In 1953, in the 6th edition of Aubry and Rau’s Course in French Civil Law, Paul Esmein loudly proclaimed his distancing from the classical theory: a case of parricide? Etienne Bartin had not dared to in the 5th edition in 1917. The juxtaposition of these two posthumous editions of Aubry and Rau’s treatise, both reproduced in this issue, is in that respect quite enlightening. As for Michel de Juglart, he advocated, in 1970, in the Lessons in civil law by the Mazeaud Brothers, that a business person be able to appropriate a corpus of assets to his business enterprise. The most acerbic criticisms of the theory of patrimony were thus driven from a purely economic angle of the hindrances to the freedom of enterprise. The dogma of uniqueness precluded the tradesperson from appropriating his business assets to his business liabilities and thus shielding his personal assets from seizure or attachment by his business creditors. Jean Carbonnier himself had pointedly remarked that the alleged humanism of the theory of Aubry and Rau was more akin to being "an alliance with the unsecured creditor and the Bank”.


If the dogma of uniqueness has long since folded under these assaults, it did not break down entirely until very recently.


Contrary to the received wisdom, the establishment in 1985 of the société unipersonnelle à responsabilité limitée [limited liability single member company] serves as a far better illustration of the reverential attachment which the French legislator had at that time for the theory of uniqueness:  although the limitation of liability of the sole owner was ensured, it was pursuant to a conceptual conformity with uniqueness! It was in fact deemed preferable to strike down the conceptual pillar whereby a “company” must have more than one member (alone on his island and not having any socius (1)  or companion, Robinson Crusoe has no “company”) than to take aim, albeit with a trembling hand, at this emblematic doctrine whereby a legal person (a EURL (2) or later an SASU (3), having a share capital of 1 euro) and thus a patrimony. In this fashion, appearances were maintained that the classical equation of Aubry and Rau was still intact! The expansion of the list of assets that could be declared as immune from seizure by business creditors was driven by the same spirit: the individual entrepreneur would have the tools needed to protect his personal real property from the consequences of any bankruptcy, but without creating any patrimony of appropriation as such.


Conversely, the consecration of a French-style “trust” [fiducie] since 2007, has thrown open a veritable breach in the dogma of uniqueness , offering to those practitioners who are keen on legal engineering the promising vehicle of the common law trust. Now here the settlor is able to transfer property or a totality of assets to a fiduciary via a patrimony  of appropriation that is as far separated from his own assets as are the personal patrimonial assets of the trustee [the fiduciaire], without having recourse to the classical mechanism of a limited liability company. Above all, the consecration of the enterprise individuelle à responsabilité limitée [limited liability individual enterprise] or EIRL by the Law of 15 June 2010 perturbs, if not outright overthrows, the classical doctrine. The Rubicon has been crossed by mean of the unambiguous statement whereby “any individual entrepreneur may appropriate to his business activity a patrimony that is separate from his personal patrimony without creating a legal person "(Commercial Code, Article L. 526-6, Section 1).


More than 150 years were needed for Parliament to adopt a position contrary to the School, and a law contrary to the doctrine, thereby inflicting a striking blow at the theory of the uniqueness of patrimony. Henceforth a single person can have several patrimonies. Is this a warranted return to the hierarchy of legal standards? Is it manifestation of the increasing grip of the considerations of efficiency and economic attractiveness on French private law? A legendary fate in any event for the Course in French Civil Law which has not perhaps drawn its last breath yet nor lost its explanatory value…

Marie-Elodie ANCEL

  • Job: Professeur à l’UPEC, Université Paris-Est Créteil
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris-Est Créteil

Laurent AYNES

  • Job: Professeur à l’Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I

Christine BIQUET

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université de Liège, Belgique
  • Country: Belgique
  • Address: Université de Liège, Belgique

Pascale BLOCH

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Paris 13 Nord
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris 13 Nord

Mircea BOB

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Cluj-Napoca, Roumanie
  • Country: Roumanie
  • Address: Université de Cluj-Napoca, Roumanie

Sami BOSTANJI

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit et des sciences politiques de Tunis, Tunisie
  • Country: Tunisie
  • Address: Faculté de droit et des sciences politiques de Tunis, Tunisie

Bruno CAPRILE BIERMANN

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université del Desarrollo, Chili
  • Country: Chili
  • Address: Université del Desarrollo, Chili

Philippe DELEBECQUE

  • Job: Professeur à l’Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I

José Angelo ESTRELLA FARIA

  • Job: Secrétaire général Unidroit
  • Country: Italie
  • Address: Rome, Italie

Antonio GAMBARO

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Milan, Italie
  • Country: Italie
  • Address: Université de Milan, Italie

Yves GAUDEMET

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Judith GIBSON

  • Job: Juge, district court, Nouvelle Galles du Sud, Australie
  • Country: Australie
  • Address: Nouvelle Galles du Sud, Australie

Marie GORE

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II Présidente du Cercle des Lecteurs
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Michel GRIMALDI

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Ichiro KITAMURA

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Tokyo, Japon
  • Country: Japon
  • Address: Université de Tokyo, Japon

Elena LAUROBA

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit civil de l'Université de Barcelone, Espagne
  • Country: Espagne
  • Address: Université de Barcelone, Espagne

Paul LE CANNU

  • Job: Professeur à l’Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I

Yves LEQUETTE

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Alain LEVASSEUR

  • Job: Professeur à la Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert, Louisianne
  • Country: États-Unis
  • Address: Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert, Louisianne

Philippe MALINVAUD

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Thibault MASSART

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université d’Orléans
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université d’Orléans

Igor MEDVEDEV

  • Job: Maître de conférences à l'Académie juridique de l'Etat de l'Oural, Russie
  • Country: Russie
  • Address: Académie juridique de l'Etat de l'Oural, Russie

Fernando MONTOYA

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit de l'Université Externado de Bogota, Colombie
  • Country: Colombie
  • Address: Université Externado de Bogota, Colombie

Benoît MOORE

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit de l'Université de Montréal, Canada
  • Country: Canada
  • Address: Faculté de droit de l'Université de Montréal, Canada

Ngoc Dien NGUYEN

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté d'économie et de droit de l'Université nationale du Vietnam, Hô Chi Minh Ville, Vietnam
  • Country: Viétnam
  • Address: Université nationale du Vietnam, Hô Chi Minh Ville, Vietnam

Rozen NOGUELLOU

  • Job: Professeur à l’UPEC, Université Paris-Est Créteil
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris-Est Créteil

Soo-Gon PARK

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Kyung Hee
  • Country: Corée du Sud
  • Address: Université de Kyung Hee

Paul-Gérard POUGOUE

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Yaoundé, Cameroun
  • Country: Cameroun
  • Address: Université de Yaoundé, Cameroun

Frédéric ROLIN

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense

Hans SCHULTE-NÖLKE

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université d'Osnabrück, Allemagne
  • Country: Allemagne
  • Address: Université d'Osnabrück, Allemagne

Lextenso Editions (éditeur de la Revue papier)


LexisNexis


Lexbase (ancien éditeur de la Revue numérique de 2011 à 2015)


Lamy - Wolters Kluwer France

  • Address: 1, rue Eugène et Armand Peugeot 92856 Rueil Malmaison cedex
  • Website: http://www.wkf.fr
  • Phone: 01 76 73 42 47
  • Fax: 01 76 73 48 23
  • Contact: Stéphane Valory, Directeur, Département Droit des affaires, Droit de l'immatériel et Droit fiscal, Rédacteur en chef de la Revue Juridique Personnes & Famille
  • Email: svalory@lamy.fr

Editions Dalloz (co-éditeur avec Lextenso de la Revue papier pour les numéros 1 à 4)

  • Address: 31-35 Rue Froidevaux 75685 Paris Cedex 14
  • Website: http://www. www.dalloz.fr
  • Phone: 01 40 64 54 54
  • Fax: 01 40 64 54 54
  • Contact: Marie-Hélène Tylman, Secrétariat juridique et universitaire
  • Email: mh.tylman@dalloz.fr
Haut de la page