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BRESWICK & CO. v. UNITED STATES

September 27, 1957

BRESWICK & CO., Randolph Phillips and Myron Neisloss, as common stockholders of Alleghany Corporation, individually and on behalf of all other common stockholders of Alleghany Corporation similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Interstate Commerce Commission, Alleghany Corporation, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WALSH

Plaintiffs, common stockholders of Alleghany Corporation, by this action seek review of an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission authorizing Alleghany to issue certain stock. *fn1" We had previously held that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to promulgate the order and that the issue was subject to the Investment Company Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 80a-1 et seq. The Supreme Court reversed this holding and held that the issue was subject to the Interstate Commerce Act. It remanded the case to us for consideration of plaintiffs' claim that the issue violated that Act. *fn2"

The stock in controversy consisted of 1,367,440 shares of 6% preferred stock having a par value of $ 10 to be offered ten for one in exchange for the pre-existing 5 1/2% preferred, having a par value of $ 100. It was to be convertible at the option of the holder into common stock, according to a formula which resulted in an actual conversion ratio of 4.7 shares of common for each share of new preferred, upon payment to the corporation of $ 3.75 per common share. The issue of the common stock necessary for conversion was also authorized.

 Plaintiffs contend that the Commission's findings as to the fairness of the issue are inadequate and are in conflict with undisputed facts. They claim in substance that the worth of the old preferred was overestimated by giving it a value of $ 100 par value, plus $ 5 redemption premium, plus $ 132 accumulated dividends; that it was improper to include the redemption premium and to assume that the dividends would be readily payable in cash. They suggest that the market value, which never previously exceeded 170, was more realistic and should have been used. They also claim that the value of the new preferred was underestimated; that in particular the value of the fifteen year non-call period allowed for conversion was overlooked entirely, although it became markedly apparent when, after the plan of exchange was announced, the market price of the preferred exceeded the $ 237 value assumed for purposes of the exchange, by almost fifty percent. In other words, whereas the old preferred had never sold above $ 170 prior to the announcement of the plan, its equivalent in the new preferred traded upon a 'when issued' basis rose to 352 1/2 prior to the suspension of trading. They claim that the excess of 352 1/2 over 170 represents a 'premium' to the preferred stockholders, an excessive benefit at the expense of the corporation and thus the common stockholders.

 In answer it is contended that the offer of the exchange was the only feasible way in which to get rid of the burden of accumulated dividends without requiring a large outlay of cash; that the benefits to be given the new preferred in order to make the exchange attractive was primarily a matter of business judgment; that the market action of the preferred does not indicate that an excessive premium was given it at the expense of the common because a substantial part of the increase paralleled an increase in the common into which the new preferred was convertible.

 As to these contentions of the plaintiffs, we believe that the facts disclosed to the Commission and available as matters of public knowledge were enough to put an expert body on notice of all the alleged undesirable qualities of the issue; that the questions so raised were within the range of expert judgment reserved to the Commission; that its findings thereon satisfy the statute; and that we may not substitute our views for those it expressed.

 Plaintiffs also protest that the Commission conditioned its approval upon the change in plan never ratified by the stockholders. The proposed plan had provided that the conversion ratio should be fixed as of the fifth market day following Commission approval. The Commission conditioned its approval upon modification of the exchange offer so that the conversion ratio would be fixed as of the last market day preceding its order. The Commission has power to grant the application 'upon such terms and conditions as the commission may deem necessary or appropriate in the premises'. 41 Stat. 495, 49 U.S.C.A. § 20a(3). The question whether the exchange would involve a violation of some contractual arrangement with the stockholders is not before us. This contention does not affect the validity of the Commission's order.

 As to matters of procedure, plaintiffs complain that they were entitled to an evidentiary hearing before the Commission and that they were deprived of that right. This point was raised before the Supreme Court and, if not decided adversely to them we understand the Supreme Court's statement that the point is governed by section 20a(6) of the Interstate Commerce Act, 41 Stat. 495, 49 U.S.C.A. § 20a(6), to restrict our consideration to the effect of that section. Under that section the Commission has almost free discretion as to how it may best proceed with its investigation. It was not required as a matter of law to hold evidentiary hearings to enable plaintiffs to amplify by cross-examination of corporate officers points already ascertainable from facts before it. Plaintiffs urge the admitted complexity of the plan and the heavy investment in preferred stock by the dominant officer of Alleghany just before announcement of the plan. They also show that by refusing to thus open its investigation the Commission apparently missed evidence subsequently supplied to the Securities and Exchange Commission, such as a memorandum from Alleghany's files discussing the value of the non-call period, the mimutes of the board meeting which are said to show that this feature was not in the plan when originally approved, and an analysis of the market action of earlier conversion warrants which might have foretold the market action of the preferred after the present plan closed. Loss of this type of evidence is, however, a known risk which an agency takes when it declines to open its investigation to controversy. The Commission is given that power by statute.

 There nevertheless does remain a major problem -- the need for validation of Alleghany's acquisition of the Central system as a prerequisite to the Commission's grant of the relief requested. We do not raise again the question of jurisdiction; *fn3" but we now raise the question of findings necessary as a preliminary to relief on the merits, action necessary if the order of the Commission is to conform with the Interstate Commerce Act.

 The facts now established are that Alleghany has control of the New York Central and that the Central is itself a carrier with control of a large number of other carriers. The Commission was never asked to approve Alleghany's acquisition of control over this group of carriers and has carefully refrained from so doing. *fn4"

 This problem presents two separate questions: (1) does the acquisition of an already integrated system of separately existing carriers require Commission approval under subdivision 2 of section 5; and (2) if it does, may the Commission proceed to regulatory determinations, deferring meanwhile the question of whether it will authorize the continuation of this control, upon which its jurisdiction over Alleghany depends. The second question becomes more pointed where, as here, the assumption of regulatory responsibility by the Commission shields the person guilty of the unapproved acquisition from regulation by another agency.

 With respect to the first question, until this case arose, it had been the consistent view of the Commission that its approval of such an acquisition of control and its finding of consistency with the public interest was required. Arkansas & L.M. Ry. Co. -- Control, 282 I.C.C. 254; Weinstein -- Control -- Capital Transit Co. and Montgomery, 56 M.C.C. 127; Seaboard Air Lines Ry. Co. -- Receivership, 261 I.C.C. 689. This view was well expressed by Division 4 in its opinion with respect to Alleghany's application for authority to merge one of the Central's subsidiaries, the Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge and Railroad Company, 290 I.C.C. 725, 733-4. *fn5" The full Commission departed from this position and held to the contrary. 295 I.C.C. 11. *fn6" We reversed the Commission holding *fn7" and we in turn were reversed upon other grounds. The Supreme Court left the question open. *fn8"

 Without going into the question of whether our previous determination in this regard remains the law of the case we express afresh our conclusion that such approval is required. The statute unequivocally requires Commission approval for the acquisition of two or more carriers by any person. It reads:

 'It shall be lawful, with the approval and authorization of the Commission * * * for a person which is not a carrier to acquire control of two or more carriers * * *'. § 5(2)(a).

 Its language does not suggest any exceptions and certainly none on the basis of common control by someone else having been previously authorized. It seems to us that as long as the carriers remain unmerged and unconsolidated, the Commission has full power and the duty to decide whether control of them all or any of them by the proposed new person is in the public interest. This was the unchallenged prior consistent administrative interpretation by the Commission. *fn9" The full reasons for our holding were expressed in our earlier opinion at 134 F.Supp. 132, 142, and in Appendix II to our per curiam opinion at 138 F.Supp. 123, 137. We reaffirm them. We believe our view is strengthened by the emphasis in the Supreme Court's ...


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