SCM : départ en retraite ne signifie pas dissolution

FlickR - Poignée de main - Alain BachellierPour ne pas divorcer (parfois dans la douleur), il suffit de ne pas se marier. Appliquée au droit des sociétés civiles, cette affirmation signifie qu’à la rigidité des structures d’exercice, il vaut mieux préférer la souplesse des structures de moyens. Malheureusement, même dans la configuration d’une société civile de moyens, la vie sociétaire des libéraux n’est pas un long fleuve tranquille. Outre l’hypothèse classique d’une querelle entre avocats, on évoquera ici le cas des médecins qui ne sont pas davantage épargnés.

La question à laquelle la Cour de cassation a été récemment confrontée fut celle de savoir si le départ à la retraite d’un médecin associé d’une société civile de moyens était une cause légale de dissolution.

Par arrêt du 27 février 2008, la cour d’appel de Toulouse avait répondu par l’affirmative. En effet, nous disait-elle, la cessation effective de toute activité médicale par l’un des associés rend la société sans objet dès lors que ce dernier consistait, non pas en l’exercice de la profession, mais en la mise en commun des moyens matériels pour l’exercer. Il ne saurait être fait application à l’espèce d’autres règles légales ou statutaires pour régir la situation. L’article 1844-5 du code civil est exclu puisqu’il vise uniquement le cas de réunion dans une même main de toutes les parts sociales, ce qui n’est pas le cas en l’espèce en l’absence de transfert de parts de l’associé sortant.

L’article 1869 du code civil et l’article 11 des statuts relatifs au droit de retrait d’un associé étaient aussi inapplicables dès lors que le départ à la retraite ne peut s’analyser juridiquement comme l’exercice de la faculté de retrait de la société, légalement et contractuellement soumise à l’accord préalable des associés. L’article 6 des statuts n’avait pas davantage vocation à s’appliquer puisqu’il visait des situations où le départ de l’associé laisse subsister la présence de deux autres associés. La dissolution de plein droit entraîne, en conséquence, la liquidation de la société.

Il ne peut être fait grief à un associé d’avoir provoqué de manière fautive la dissolution de la société civile de moyens alors que celle-ci résulte automatiquement de son départ à la retraite, événement qui est lié à son âge et à la durée d’exercice. Son co-associé ne pouvait d’ailleurs l’ignorer dans la mesure où un protocole transactionnel signé des deux associés évoquait cet événement. Le document prévoyait, compte tenu des difficultés financières rencontrées par la SCM, qu’en raison du départ à la retraite de l’associé, le poste de la secrétaire désormais inutile serait supprimé. Les incidences du départ de l’associé avait d’ailleurs été anticipées puisqu’un notaire avait rédigé un projet de délibération pour la mise en liquidation de la société.

Las, dans son arrêt du 15 septembre 2009, la Cour de cassation n’est pas de cet avis.

Pour constater la dissolution d’une société civile de moyens en raison de l’extinction de son objet, la Haute juridiction considère que l’arrêt attaqué retient que s’agissant d’une société comportant seulement deux associés, le départ à la retraite de l’un d’eux le 1er janvier 2004 avec cessation effective de toute activité médicale, l’a nécessairement rendue sans objet et que l’extinction de l’objet social s’est donc produit de plein droit à cette date.

En statuant ainsi, après avoir constaté que la société civile de moyens avait pour objet statutaire de faciliter l’exercice de la profession de ses membres par la mise en commun de tous les moyens matériels nécessaires, ce dont il résultait que la cessation d’activité de l’un de ses membres n’avait pas pour conséquence l’extinction de son objet et n’impliquait pas sa dissolution, la cour d’appel n’a pas tiré les conséquences légales de ses constatations et a violé l’article 1844-7 2° du code civil.

Les raisonnements les plus simples sont parfois les meilleurs.

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