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Stella v. Graham-Paige Motors Corp.

March 29, 1956


Author: Frank

FRANK, C.J.: The facts are fully stated in the opinion of the district judge, reported in Stella v. Graham-Paige Motors Corporation, 132 F. Supp. 100 (see P90,713).

1. The trial judge, we think correctly, adopted the reasoning of Judge Samuel Kaufman's decision, denying a summary judgment, reported in 104 F. Supp. 957, in holding that Graham-Paige, for purposes of Section 16(b), became the "beneficial owner" of 10% of the Kaiser-Frazer stock at the very moment when Graham-Paige purchased that stock. Before Judge Kaufman, the S.E.C. filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of what became Judge Kaufman's interpretation.

2. We agree with the trial judge that the purchase of the stock occurred on February 10, 1947, and that therefore sales made before August 8, 1947, were within the statutory period. The date when a purchaser becomes a "beneficial owner" is that on which he "incurred an irrevocable liability to take and pay for the stock," when his "rights and obligations became fixed." Blau v. Ogsbury, 210 F.2d 426, 427 (C.A. 2). Here Graham-Paige was to pay, in part, $3,000,000 in cash. It did not have that sum when the contract with Kaiser-Frazer was made but in the contract agreed to use its best efforts to borrow that sum from a certain bank in accordance with a letter agreement. This letter agreement provided that the bank's obligation to make the loan was on condition that the Henry J. Kaiser Company would guaranty it. The agreement with Kaiser-Frazer provided, in effect, that, if Graham-Paige was unable to obtain the loan from the bank in accordance with the letter of agreement, Graham-Paige had the election to terminate the agreement with Kaiser-Frazer. As the trial judge said: "There is no evidence that the Henry J. Kaiser Company became bound to execute the guaranty at any time before the closing meeting on February 10, 1947, when it did so." It follows that, until that date, Graham-Paige had not incurred "an irrevocable liability to take and pay for the stock."*fn1

In Blau v. Ogsbury, supra, the question was when the holder of an option to buy stock became the "beneficial owner." We held that it was not (a) the date when he acquired the option, nor (b) the day when, having exercised it, he paid for the stock and obtained legal title to it, but (c) the day when he exercised the option with the result that he had then a fixed right and obligation under an executory contract. See also Park & Tilford v. Schulte, 160 F.2d 984, 987 (C.A. 2) where we said that, upon the exercise of an option, the optionee becomes an "insider" and thus within the Congressional purpose to "protect the outside stockholders against at least short-swing speculation by insiders with advance information."

Our reasoning was that one who holds an unexercised option is not usually in a position to obtain such information from the company. Here Graham-Paige, as long as it had an election to back out of the agreement to purchase, was not an "insider" under Section 16(b). That election continued until the Henry J. Kaiser Company signed the guaranty of the loan on February 10, 1947*fn2

3. The trial judge found - we think correctly - that Graham-Paige's statements of profit in the amount of $434,787.86 sufficed to establish a prima facie case for plaintiff. Significantly, the judge refused to make a finding, requested by defendant Graham-Paige, that there were no profits. But the judge apparently assumed that plaintiff, despite his prima facie case, continued to bear the burden of proving that there were profits and in what amount; therefore, as defendant's proof left the judge uncertain in this respect, he decided for the defendant. So we incline to understand the judge's reasoning as indicated, e.g., by his statement that, "Plaintiff's prima facie proof * * * has been shown to be unacceptable."

If so, we think the judge erred. In Gratz v. Claughton, 187 F.2d 46 (C.A. 2) we held that, under Section 16(b), a beneficial owner" who buys and sells within the statutory period is to be regarded as a fiduciary who breaches his duty of loyalty (i.e. his duty not to engage in self-dealing) and who, in such circumstances, must account for his profits. Elsewhere we have held that, once a cestui shows a breach of such a duty and prima facie proof of a maximum amount of profits made by the fiduciary, then the fiduciary has the burden of proving to what extent the profits were less than this maximum - especially where the fiduciary's breach is responsible for the difficulty or impossibility of proving the amount with certainty - and that consequently, if the fiduciary's proof leaves the amount uncertain, judgment goes against him for the maximum figure. See Perlman v. Feldman, 219 F.2d 173, 177, 178 (C.A. 2); York v. Guaranty Trust Co. of New York, 143 F.2d 503, 517 (C.A. 2); Phelan v. Middle States Oil Corp., 220 F.2d 593, 600-601, 613 (C.A. 2); President and Directors of Manhattan Company v. Kelby, 147 F.2d 465, 476 (C.A. 2); Upson v. Atis, 155 F.2d 606 (C.A. 2); cf. Bigelow v. R.K.O. Pictures, 327 U.S. 251, 265-266; Story Parchment Co. v. Paterson Parchment Co., 282 U.S. 555; Package Closure Corp. v. Seabright Corp., 141 F.2d 972, 979 (C.A. 2)*fn3

However, since it is not entirely clear what the judge would have found - as to whether Graham-Paige discharged its proof-burden - had he read the foregoing, in the interest of justice we remand with directions that he make a specific finding on that issue, in the light of what we have said above*fn4

HINCKS, C.J.: I would affirm on the ground that the defendant's purchase and sale of Kaiser-Frazer stock was a transaction not within the scope of § 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C.A. 78p(b)*fn*

Immediately prior to its purchase of 750,000 shares of this stock the defendant was the owner of only 6 1/4% of the outstanding stock.*fn** At that time, therefore, the defendant was not a "beneficial" owner within the meaning of § 16(a) of the Act wherein a "beneficial owner" is defined as a person who owns "more than 10 per centum of any class of any equity security * * *." So far there is no dispute. Section 16(b) reaches only the "profit realized by him from any purchase and sale of any equity security * * *." Since profit on purchased stock is not "realized" until its sale, this - the operative clause of the Section - standing alone might be read as applying to profit realized by a person who was a "beneficial owner" at the time of his sale, irrespective of his status as a beneficial owner at the time of his prior purchase of the stock. Apparently because it recognized that this might be taken as the meaning of the operative clause, Congress added a final sentence to § 16(b), shown in the text of the Section as printed in an earlier footnote, wherein it gave its own construction of the operative clause. It there said that the subsection "shall not be construed to cover any transaction where such beneficial owner was not such both at the time of the purchase and sale * * *." Although Congress did not supply the typographical emphasis appearing above, its language, especially when read in connection with the operative clause, plainly showed that it did in fact emphasize the very phrase that I have italicized. Thus in plain unambiguous language Congress said that the section does not apply to this defendant who though a beneficial owner at the time of sale "was not such both at the time of the purchase and sale."

I cannot go along with my brothers who adopt the reasoning and ruling of Judge Kaufman's opinion reported in 104 F. Supp. 957, which Judge Dimock took as stating the law of the case. In that opinion, it was said that "there is ambiguity" in the exclusionary sentence quoted above and, later, that the alleged ambiguity was located in the phrase "at the time." This simple phrase was thought to afford a choice between two construction, viz. : "prior to" on the one hand, or "simultaneously with" on the other hand. My brothers approve Judge Kaufman's choice of the latter "construction." On that basis they hold the transaction here involved to come within § 16(b). They thereby seem to commit the court to one or the other of these two propositions: (a) that any purchase by an outsider of a 10% interest in a stock equity gives rise to a conclusive presumption that the purchaser had inside information as to the affairs of the corporation, or (b) that a sale for profit by a "beneficial owner" of stock in his corporation may give rise to a conclusive presumption of a breach of fiduciary duty even though the seller was under no fiduciary duty at all when he had previously purchased the stock sold. Quite independent of my difficulty in believing that Congress could have intended to subject "beneficial owners" to conclusive presumptions of such drastic scope, I think that neither of the propositions posed above are tenable. For the simple language which my brothers find ambiguous is to me crystal clear. The grammar would have been better, but the meaning no clearer, if it had read "at the time both of the purchase and of the sale." Nobody points to other provisions of the statute or to anything in its legislative history which conflicts with the plain meaning.

To give any other "construction" to such language is, in my opinion, to attribute to Congress an intent at variance with that to which it gave expression. In the face of such clear language there is no need for courts to plumb the depths of the collective legislative mind and no power in the courts to adjust the expressed intent of Congress to its supposed objective. In the case of Lake County v. Rollins, 130 U.S. 662, it was said. "* * * where a law is expressed in plain and unambiguous terms, whether those terms are general or limited, the legislature should be intended to mean what they have plainly expressed, and consequently no room is left for construction." In Packard Motor Company v. Labor Board, 330 U.S. 485, the court said, "* * * it is for Congress, not for us, to create exceptions or qualifications at odds with its plain terms. * * * However we might appraise the force of these arguments as a policy matter, we are not authorized to base decision of a question of law upon them. They concern the wisdom of the legislation; they cannot alter the meaning of otherwise plain provisions." See also Ex parte Collett, 337 U.S. 55; Helvering v. City Bank Company, 296 U.S. 85; and Osaka Shosen Kaisha Line v. United States, 300 U.S. 98.

The opinion below cites United States v. C.I.O., 335 U.S. 106, wherein it was held that the word "expenditure" as used in § 304 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 should be interpreted in the light of the Congressional purpose. But that was because the word "has no definitely defined meaning." Also cited was S.E.C. v. Joiner Corp., 320 U.S. 344, for the proposition that "the purpose of Congress is a dominant factor in the determination of a statute's meaning * * * and where a choice may be made between two possible constructions, that construction should be chosen which would serve to effectuate Congressional purpose rather than defeat it." There the problem was whether the transaction in question came within the phrases "an investment contract" or "in general any interest or instrument commonly known as a security" as used in the definition of "security" in § 2(1) of the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C.A. 77b(1).The court spoke of these definitions as being "of variable character" and "descriptive terms" which required interpretation "in conformity with its [the] dominating general purpose" of the Act. That case, too, I think not apposite here. For the exclusionary sentence of § 16(b) did not provide "two possible constructions," nor were its provisions couched in "descriptive terms" of "variable character."

My brothers' "construction" is apparently chosen because thought to be more consonant with the Congressional purpose "to protect the outsider stockholders against at least short-swing speculation by insiders with advance information." Shaw v. Dreyfus, 2 Cir., 172 F.2d 140; Park & Tilford Inc. v. Schutte, 2 Cir., 160 F.2d 984. I accept, of course, this statement of the Congressional purpose. Notwithstanding, I think that the construction adopted by the ...

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