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CHRIS-CRAFT INDUS. v. PIPER AIRCRAFT CORP.

December 10, 1971

CHRIS-CRAFT INDUSTRIES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PIPER AIRCRAFT CORPORATION et al., Defendants


Pollack, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLACK

POLLACK, District Judge:

The Context of the Case

 This case and its companion cases *fn1" arise out of the unsuccessful attempt of Chris-Craft Industries, Inc. (Chris-Craft), a diversified manufacturer of recreational products, to secure control of Piper Aircraft Corporation (Piper), a leading manufacturer of light aircraft. The Chris-Craft takeover attempt was resisted by Piper and by a competitor for the control, Bangor Punta Corporation (Bangor Punta), which eventually succeeded in acquiring more than 50% of the outstanding Piper shares. The bulk of Chris-Craft's complaints is based on charges that Bangor Punta's success was achieved and Chris-Craft's failure and its asserted damages were caused by deception of the Piper shareholders and of Chris-Craft in violation of various provisions of the federal securities laws and regulations.

 Only a minor segment of the case involves charges that Chris-Craft was directly deceived by Piper. The balance of the case deals with charges of deceptions alleged to have been committed by Piper and Bangor Punta on public holders of Piper stock to induce them not to accept Chris-Craft's offers to acquire their stock by purchase or exchange. Chris-Craft claims also that Bangor Punta privately acquired three critical blocks of Piper stock during the pendency of an exchange offer in violation of an SEC Rule.

 The contest for control of Piper was sophisticated and hard fought. The contenders were men accustomed to the handling of vast sums of public capital, were assisted by skilled professionals and were themselves seasoned in corporate tactics. It is not hard to detect personal overtones which added some passion and urgency to the contest. In addition, the conduct of both sides invoked the attention of the SEC and the New York Stock Exchange.

 Thus, neither side can approximate itself to the position of an average public investor for whose express benefit, in dealing with others of superior knowledge (or the capacity to gain it), skill and resources, the law was designed. The Court does not intend to imply that contests for corporate control are to be unmediated by standards properly applicable under common law, federal legislation or regulation. However, substantial justice cannot be done by mere mechanical application of standards evolved to correct the imbalances of knowledge, skill and capacity for self-protection which so often occur in securities transactions between members of the public and professionals. Nor can the Court be indifferent to the ultimate source from which the damages are claimed, in effect. (See infra, 337-1146.

 The Major Events

 Piper stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. There were 1,641,890 shares outstanding. Chris-Craft began purchasing Piper stock just before the end of 1968. By January 21, 1969 Chris-Craft had acquired 102,600 shares of Piper stock on the New York Stock Exchange. On the next day it increased its holdings by purchasing 101,100 shares at $65 per share from Technology Fund, a midwest-based mutual fund; this made Chris-Craft's holdings total 13% of the issue. The market for the stock was then in the low fifties. On January 23, 1969, Chris-Craft announced a cash tender offer for Piper shares of $65 per share and it obtained 304,606 shares through tenders. It also bought an additional 38,000 shares approximately bringing its holdings by February 3, 1969, to 547,106 shares, a number barely short of one-third of the shares outstanding, at a cost of $34,677,000.

 The Piper management (in essence the Piper family), which held some 31% of the outstanding Piper stock, reacted to the Chris-Craft tender offer by a communication to shareholders late in January to dissuade them from accepting the Chris-Craft tender offer. One of its statements complained of by Chris-Craft was that the Piper management considered the Chris-Craft $65 tender price inadequate. Chris-Craft charges that this was a misleading statement, based on the facts that Piper's investment bankers, First Boston Corporation, had advised Piper that a $65 price was fair and, furthermore, that on January 29, Piper had announced an agreement to sell 800,000 unissued Piper shares to Grumman Aircraft Company at $65 per share. *fn2" The Grumman agreement was not consummated and the additional shares were not issued.

 On February 27, Chris-Craft filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("Commission") an S-1 registration statement as a step in a proposed offer of exchange of a Chris-Craft package of securities for Piper stock. (The statement did not become effective until May 15.)

 On March 22, Piper issued 469,199 authorized but unissued shares to acquire control of two companies, viz., Southply, Incorporated and United States Concrete Pipe Company of Florida. Apart from increasing the number of shares outstanding, these acquisitions could make Piper less attractive to Chris-Craft since the Pipe Company was not in the recreational field and ownership of Southply, a speedboad manufacturer, might bring Chris-Craft into conflict with antitrust law. However, Piper rescinded both of these acquisitions within a short time. Piper had failed to comply with its listing agreement with the New York Stock Exchange by issuing such a block of shares before seeking the approval thereof of its stockholders. This omission led the Exchange to refuse the listing of the newly issued shares, to suspend trading in all Piper shares on the Exchange and to initiate delisting proceedings.

 Following the rescission of both of these acquisitions, the Piper family revived negotiations with Bangor Punta, begun early in January, toward securing a defensive merger between Piper and Bangor Punta.

 The discussions were fruitful. The Piper family agreed to exchange its 501,090 shares for a package of Bangor Punta securities and Bangor Punta agreed to use its best efforts to acquire a majority of the outstanding Piper shares. Pursuant thereto, on May 8, 1969, Bangor Punta and Piper issued a release which made the usual joyful announcement of a fitting marriage, stating that the Piper family would receive Bangor Punta securities for their Piper shares and containing the following potent message:

 
Bangor Punta has agreed to file a registration statement with the SEC covering a proposed exchange offer for any and all of the remaining outstanding shares of Piper Aircraft for a package of Bangor Punta Securities to be valued in the judgment of The First Boston Corporation at not less than $80 per Piper share. *fn3"

 Chris-Craft has attacked this release and has attacked also the registration statement referred to in the release. We deal later with those issues.

 Bangor Punta entered the battle with several considerable advantages. It was sponsored by the management of Piper, it could look forward to the Piper family block *fn4" and, significantly, it alluded to a value figure of $80, exceeding Chris-Craft's cash tender offer and the values to be imputed to the Chris-Craft package. This was a serious blow to Chris-Craft. Accordingly, one day after Chris-Craft's exchange offer became effective, it added $10 to its package. Chris-Craft continued to acquire Piper stock until August, 1969, when it virtually ceased buying the stock. Through its succeeding exchange offers and together with its open market purchases, Chris-Craft had by then obtained 697,495 Piper shares, about 42%, while Bangor Punta, by early September, 1969, ended with slightly more than 50%. The contest for control was over except for the litigations questioning the actions of the parties along the way which has embroiled them in claims and counter-claims.

 Chris-Craft's Status Under the Securities Exchange Act

 Both sides have argued strenuously the question of Chris-Craft's standing to bring this action. Chris-Craft relies heavily on the language of the Court of Appeals in Crane Co. v. Westinghouse Air Brake Co., 419 F.2d 787 (2d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 822, 91 S. Ct. 41, 27 L. Ed. 2d 50 (1970), as precedent affording it status. Defendants rely on Birnbaum v. Newport Steel Corp., 193 F.2d 461 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 343 U.S. 956, 72 S. Ct. 1051, 96 L. Ed. 1356 (1952) and related cases for the proposition that Chris-Craft has no right to sue.

 Chris-Craft's claims fall into several categories, each requiring separate consideration of the question of standing to sue.

 (a) Chris-Craft made purchases of Piper stock and claims to have acted on statements of Piper about its important product lines. Even though its purchases were not from Piper, it has standing to assert such claims. Iroquois Industries, Inc. v. Syracuse China Corp., 417 F.2d 963, 968 (2d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 909, 90 S. Ct. 2199, 26 L. Ed. 2d 561 (1970).

 (b) Chris-Craft seeks damages from Bangor Punta claimed to have resulted from the purchase by the latter of three blocks of Piper stock, totalling 120,200 shares in May, 1969, during the pendency of their competing offers to Piper holders, in violation of SEC Rule 10b-6. Chris-Craft claims that these purchases enabled Bangor Punta to obtain majority ownership of Piper. It is held that Chris-Craft has standing to attempt to establish such a claim.

 (c) Chris-Craft claims damages from the defendants on the charges that, during the pendency of Chris-Craft's attempt to take over Piper, Piper and Bangor Punta issued improper press releases and Bangor Punta filed a registration statement with material omissions and misstatements. Chris-Craft, which neither bought nor sold on the basis of the releases or registration, premises its standing to sue thereon on two grounds; one is an exception to the Birnbaum doctrine repeated in Iroquois Industries, Inc. v. Syracuse China Corp., 417 F.2d 963 (2d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 909, 90 S. Ct. 2199, 26 L. Ed. 2d 561 (1970); the other is predicated on a recent amendment to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

 The first theory is that Chris-Craft is in the position of a "forced seller" as a result of Bangor Punta's acquisition of a majority of Piper's stock. Chris-Craft emphasizes the decision of the Court of Appeals in Crane Company v. Westinghouse Air Brake Company, 419 F.2d 787, 797-798 (1969), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 822, 91 S. Ct. 41, 27 L. Ed. 2d 50 (1970).

 In Crane the Court of Appeals distinguished Iroquois Industries, Inc. supra, (decided by the Court of Appeals five weeks prior to Crane -- with rehearing denied by the Court of Appeals on the very day on which the Crane opinion was issued) by pointing out that plaintiff in Iroquois (a disappointed contender for control) was neither a buyer nor a seller, whereas in Crane, the disappointed contender was deemed a "forced seller". Chris-Craft claims to be a locked-in buyer which could sell only at a sustantial loss, and that it could not under state law (Pennsylvania) resist a merger, should Bangor Punta as majority holder, elect to effect one.

 While the "forced sale" argument here rests on quite different grounds from those expressed by the Court of Appeals in Crane, Chris-Craft might be within the realm of reason in asserting itself to be a forced seller, should a merger of Piper be effected under Bangor Punta's control. However, no such merger has been proposed and the "forced seller" basis for standing to sue is in this case as compared with Crane of highly dubious validity. *fn5"

 The second theory on which Chris-Craft relies for standing to assert the matters relating to the press releases and registration statement is that Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act affords it a right of action. Section 14(e), 15 U.S.C. § 78n(e), provides:

 
It shall be unlawful for any person to make any untrue statement of a material fact or omit to state any material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they are made, not misleading, or to engage in any fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative acts or practices, in connection with any tender offer or request or invitation for tenders, or any solicitation of security holders in opposition to or in favor of any such offer, request, or invitation. The Commission shall, for the purposes of this subsection, by rules and regulations define, and prescribe means reasonably designed to prevent, such acts and practices as are fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative. (Emphasis supplied).

 This section was added to the '34 Act in 1968. The last sentence was added in December, 1970 (one year following the decision of the Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, in Crane).

 In Crane, the Court of Appeals commented in dictum that Section 14(e) "should serve to resolve any doubts about standing in the tender offer cases, even where an offeror is not, as is Crane, in the position of a forced seller." 419 F.2d at 798-799. This comment may find support in Electronic Specialty Co. v. International Controls Corp., 409 F.2d 937, 940 (2d Cir. 1969), where the target of a takeover bid, as well as that corporation's shareholders, were accorded standing to sue for alleged violations of § 14(e) occurring in the course of a control fight. Judge Friendly stated that the amendment which produced section 14(e), "In effect . . . applies Rule 10b-5 both to the offeror and to the opposition" and added that "except perhaps for any bearing it may have on the issue of standing, [the amendment is] only a codification of existing case law."

 The conclusions herein reached as to Chris-Craft's 10b-5 claims will be dispositive of the merits of any claim based on § 14(e). Under the circumstances, the Court finds it unnecessary to decide whether § 14(e) may be separately invoked by one competitor for corporate control against another.

 1. Piper's shareholder letter and release of January 23, 1969

 (a) One of the attacks on these communications centers on the utterance by the Piper management of its view that the $65 Chris-Craft offer was inadequate. While the offer was some $13 above the current market price, it was considerably less than a Piper holder, biding his time, could have received at later stages of the contest.

 Chris-Craft insists that the communications could not be read to refer to any inadequacy of the Chris-Craft offer other than in respect to price and -- to establish Piper's bad faith and intention to mislead -- it points out that

 (1) Piper's own bankers had advised Piper that $65 per share was a fair price and

 (2) the Grumman agreement contemplated a sale of Piper stock by Piper to Grumman at $65 per share. *fn6"

 Any Piper shareholder with a telephone or a newspaper at hand could compare the current market for Piper shares with Chris-Craft's offer. Thus, if the Piper statement of the inadequacy of the offer were intended to refer to price only it would be more fatuous than misleading. The more rational view is that the statement referred and was or should be taken to refer to other factors -- such as Piper's management's views as to company prospects or as to the quality of Chris-Craft management, should Chris-Craft acquire control.

 That Piper's management refrained in these releases from expressing fully its personal (and in all likelihood unflattering) opinions about Chris-Craft's management does not, in our opinion, fault the communications. And if the statements were intended to convey the impression that to resist Chris-Craft Piper's management would bend its efforts to procure a better alternative for Piper ...


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