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Sloan v. New York Stock Exchange Inc.

decided: December 11, 1973.


Appeal from denial of preliminary injunctive relief sought against New York Stock Exchange disciplinary proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Morris E. Lasker, Judge.

Smith, Feinberg and Oakes, Circuit Judges.

Author: Smith

SMITH, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from a decision of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, Morris E. Lasker, Judge, 348 F. Supp. 1185, October 3, 1972, as amended March 15, 1973,*fn1 367 F. Supp. 1124, denying appellants' motions for preliminary injunctive relief. We affirm.

Until 1970, appellants John J. Villani, Donald Eucker and Fergus M. Sloan were partners in Orvis, a member firm of the New York Stock Exchange (Exchange). In the summer of that year, the Exchange ordered the liquidation of Orvis because the firm was in severe financial difficulty. During the Orvis liquidation, the Exchange determined that Orvis had a deficit of five million dollars, and pursuant to an agreement signed by the Orvis partners the Exchange began paying that money to creditor Orvis customers from the Exchange's Special Trust Fund.

The Exchange next began an investigation of the Orvis collapse, which ended in charges being brought against the Orvis partners, including appellants. Appellants denied any guilt and asked to see all documents in the possession of the Exchange relating to their case. The Exchange refused to give them access to documents other than those which the Exchange planned to use against appellants.

One week after it brought charges against appellants, the Exchange commenced a civil suit against the Orvis partners to recover the five million dollars it had paid from its fund. The claims of misconduct in that civil suit are essentially the same as those directed against appellants in the disciplinary proceeding. Appellant Sloan and several other partners counterclaimed in the civil suit, alleging misconduct by the Exchange and Exchange liability to the extent of two million dollars.

After appellants began the instant legal action and before the court below rendered its decision, the Exchange amended its disciplinary rules, establishing a Hearing Panel of three persons, two who are Exchange members but not also members of the Exchange Board of Directors and a presiding Hearing Officer who is a member of the Exchange staff but who is unrelated to the prior proceedings or investigation. Two votes are necessary for disciplinary action, and any party can appeal the decision of the panel to the Exchange Board of Directors.

Appellants seek to halt the disciplinary proceeding because it is not impartial, gain access to documents in the possession of the Exchange, use Orvis assets now in the control of the liquidator for purposes of defending themselves in court, and obtain an order directing the Exchange to approve their applications for managerial positions with member firms. We agree substantially with Judge Lasker's disposition of these claims, reported at 348 F. Supp. 1185, as amended re discovery, see n. 1, supra.

Appellants' first contention is that the Exchange disciplinary proceeding must be halted because the panel is biased. The essence of this claim is that since the Exchange and appellants oppose one another in a separate civil action in which the charges brought in the disciplinary proceeding are material, the Exchange cannot render an impartial judgment as to those charges.

A combination of factors convinces us that this argument should be rejected. First, appellants are challenging a condition inherent in the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. While that statute guarantees parties subject to disciplinary proceedings the rudiments of fairness, Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, 373 U.S. 341, 10 L. Ed. 2d 389, 83 S. Ct. 1246 (1963), Congress clearly intended that exchanges function as self-regulatory bodies. If disciplinary proceedings were to come to a halt whenever an exchange sought relief in a civil suit and the defendant counterclaimed, this regulatory framework would be undermined. Second, when appellants became members of the Exchange they consented, quite knowingly and intelligently to disciplinary procedures less generous than those they now challenge. Third and most significant, the interests of the panel members are sufficiently attenuated from the outcome of the proceeding to make the possibility of partiality quite remote. The panel sits in a representative capacity, and the outcome of the proceeding will of course not be admitted as evidence in the civil suit. Cf. Hyatt v. United Aircraft Corp., 50 F.R.D. 242, 246-47, n. 4 (D. Conn. 1970).

Appellants also contend that the appeal procedure is biased. We agree with Judge Lasker that while this issue is troublesome, it is raised prematurely.

Appellants' third argument is that the Orvis liquidator should be directed to allow appellants to use remaining Orvis assets to pay attorney's fees incurred in appellants' defense of the civil action. The court below rejected this claim, holding that the liquidation agreement signed by appellants provided otherwise. Appellants argue that principles of equity govern, not the agreement. However, the money appellants seek would come out of the pockets of disappointed Orvis customers, not from Exchange members. An argument based on principles of equity which reaches such a result must fail.

We must also reject appellants' contention that the Exchange should be enjoined from denying appellants' applications for managerial positions with member firms. Judge Lasker weighed the interests at stake, public and private, and found the balance to tip sharply ...

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