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Ruckle v. Roto American Corp.

December 4, 1964


Author: Medina

Before LUMBARD, Chief Judge, and MEDINA and MARSHALL, Circuit Judges.

MEDINA, Circuit Judge.

The complaint in this action for injunctive relief to prevent alleged violations of the provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the details of which will appear shortly, was dismissed by Judge Cooper, who also rejected as moot an application for a temporary restraining order. Plaintiffs served a notice of appeal on November 17, 1964 and the matter first came before us on a motion for injunctive relief pending the disposition of the appeal. As the circumstances of the case required prompt action, and with the consent and cooperation of the parties, we set the argument of the motion and of the appeal for the afternoon of November 18, 1964, and after oral argument and the submission of the same briefs as had been before Judge Cooper, we reserved decision. Within a few days several orders were made by us granting certain temporary injunctive relief. As we hold that the District Court erred in holding it had no subject matter jurisdiction, we reverse the order dismissing the complaint, remand the case for a prompt and expeditious trial of the issues, and continue the preliminary injunctive orders heretofore made by us until the further orders of the District Court.

The appeal presents important questions concerning the power of federal courts to adjudicate pursuant to Section 27 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78aa*fn1, claims involving possible breaches by corporate directors of their fiduciary responsibilities. For the reasons hereinafter stated, we hold that federal courts have jurisdiction over actions in which the complaint alleges that a corporation has been or may be defrauded into issuing or selling securities through the failure or refusal of some of its directors fully to disclose to the remaining directors material facts concerning the transactions or the financial condition of the corporation.

A derivative action was instituted on behalf of defendant Roto American Corporation on September 28, 1964. According to the complaint, plaintiff-appellant George A. Ruckle is a director of Roto American and owner of all but one of the 53,000 shares of plaintiff Ruckle Sales, Inc., which owns more than 77,000 of the 437,469 issued and outstanding shares of Roto American. The complaint also alleges that plaintiff Ruckle represents more than 50% of the stock entitled to vote at the 1964 annual meeting of Roto American shareholders. The defendants, in addition to Roto American, are six of its directors, who are also its president, four vice presidents, and treasurer.

The gist of the complaint is that the defendant directors sought to perpetuate their control of Roto American, first by postponing the annual stockholders' meeting despite plaintiff Ruckle's protests*fn2, and, second, by having the board of directors approve the issuance of approximately 75,000 Roto American treasury shares, which were to be resold to defendant Walton, Roto American's president, or voted as he directed. The fraudulent nature of the defendant directors' actions in approving the issuance of the 75,000 shares is alleged to derive from their withholding from the board the latest financial statements for the fiscal year ending May 31, 1964; arbitrarily ascribing a value of $3.00 per share to Roto American's stock; and approving several transactions involving the stock without disclosing the pertinent facts of these transactions to the entire board.

The basis for federal injunctive relief to prevent the consummation of these transactions and the issuance of the treasury shares was alleged to be Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b)*fn3, and Rule 10B-5, 17 CFR, Section 240.10b-5*fn4, promulgated thereunder by the Securities Exchange Commission. An additional cause of action under New York law was alleged on the theory of pendent jurisdiction. Upon motion by the defendants Judge Cooper, noting the absence of diversity of citizenship, dismissed the federal claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, relying primarily on Birnbaum v. Newport Steel Corp., 2 Cir., 1952, 193 F.2d 461, cert. denied, 343 U.S. 956, 72 S. Ct. 1051, 96 L. Ed. 1356, and O'Neill v. Maytag, S.D.N.Y., 1964, 230 F.Supp. 235, appeal pending No. 29008. The federal claim being thus disposed of, Judge Cooper also dismissed the cause of action under New York law, following the sound principle that pendent jurisdiction over a claim under state law requiring a plenary trial on the merits should not be exerted when the federal claim is dismissed prior to trial*fn5 It is our view, however, that under the circumstances alleged federal jurisdiction existed with respect to the claim under the Securities Exchange Act.

In essence, the appeal raises two somewhat interrelated issues:

1. Is the issuance by a corporation of its own stock a "sale" within Section 10 (b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10B-5 promulgated by the SEC?

2. Does the failure or refusal of a majority of a board of directors to disclose to the remaining directors information pertinent to a proposed stock issuance constitute a "fraud" upon the corporation within the meaning of the relevant statute and rule?

We answer both questions in the affirmative.


As a matter of authority and principle, the issuance by a corporation of its own shares is a "sale" to which the anti-fraud policy expressed in the federal securities laws extends. Hooper v. Mountain States Securities Corp., 5 Cir., 1960, 282 F.2d 195, 200-203, cert. denied, 1961, 365 U.S. 814, 81 S. Ct. 695, 5 L. Ed. 2d 693; Pettit v. American Stock Exchange, S.D.N.Y., 1963, 217 F.Supp. 21; see McClure v. Borne Chemical Co., 3 Cir., 1961, 292 F.2d 824 (by implication), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 939, 82 S. Ct. 382, 7 L. Ed. 2d 339. We agree with the statement by Judge Brown in the Hooper case, supra, 282 F.2d at 203, that:

"Considering the purpose of this legislation, it would be unrealistic to say that a corporation having the capacity to acquire $700,000 worth of assets for its 700,000 shares of stock has suffered no loss if what it gave up was $700,000 but what it got was zero. If - as we very much doubt - accountants would support any such contention as a consequence of the esoteric mysteries of the double entry system, Liston Zander Credit Co. v. United ...

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