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GREEN v. SANTA FE INDUS.

March 27, 1975

S. William Green, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Santa Fe Industries, Inc., et al., Defendants


Brieant, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRIEANT

BRIEANT, District Judge.

Plaintiffs seek to maintain this purported class action on behalf of all of the former shareholders of Kirby Lumber Corporation ("Kirby"), a Delaware corporation, who were offered or received cash for their shares when Kirby and Forest Products, Inc. ("FPI") were merged. Plaintiffs also sue derivatively to enforce the rights of Kirby as it existed prior to the merger (hereinafter "Old Kirby").

 Jurisdiction is premised on § 27 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78aa; this Court's jurisdiction depends, therefore, upon the existence of a cognizable claim under Rule 10b-5. Plaintiffs also assert that this Court has pendent jurisdiction over related claims of the defendants' breach of their fiduciary duties. The complaint asserts jurisdiction by reason of diversity of citizenship, but complete diversity does not exist, as is conceded in para. 1 of the first amended complaint.

 Defendants moved for an order pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1), and (6), F.R. Civ. P., dismissing the amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Alternatively, defendants seek dismissal of the amended complaint for failure to satisfy Rule 9(b), F.R. Civ. P., because it does not state the circumstances constituting the claimed fraud with sufficient particularity.

 The amended complaint shows that defendant Santa Fe Industries, Inc. owns all of the capital stock of Santa Fe Natural Resources, Inc., which, in turn, owned approximately 95% of the voting shares of Old Kirby. On July 11, 1974, Santa Fe Resources caused FPI to incorporate in Delaware. On July 29, 1974, FPI issued 1,000 shares of its stock to Santa Fe Resources and received in return 474,675 1/2 shares of Kirby which constituted approximately 95% of Kirby's shares, and all of those shares then owned by Santa Fe Resources. FPI also received $3,798,675.00 in cash and assumed expenses arising as a result of the contemplated merger of FPI and Kirby to form New Kirby. On July 30, 1974, the board of directors of FPI, the same persons who comprised the board of directors of Santa Fe Resources, adopted a resolution, pursuant to § 253 of the Delaware Corporation Law, that state's shortform merger statute, providing that FPI be merged into Kirby with Kirby surviving the merger. Shareholders of Old Kirby, other than FPI, would become entitled to $150.00 in cash per Kirby share held, and would cease being shareholders of Kirby effective immediately. On the next day the customary Certificate of Ownership and Merger was filed with the Secretary of State of Delaware, and the merger became effective, thereby extinguishing, or "freezing out" the minority shareholders of Kirby.

 On August 1, 1974, New Kirby mailed to each former minority shareholder a notice of merger and an information statement consisting of 33 pages and supplementary exhibits. The information statement contained the terms of the plan of merger, a statement of Kirby's income, appraisals of the value of Kirby's stock and its assets, and a history of the prior dealings between Kirby and Santa Fe Industries and its affiliates. Exhibit C attached to the information statement is a copy of a letter from defendant Morgan, Stanley & Co. in which Morgan, Stanley, after consideration of Kirby's audited financial statements for the five years ending December 31, 1973, its unaudited financial statements for the four-month period ending April 30, 1974, its five-year forecast for 1974-78, and appraisals of Kirby's properties and mineral rights, placed a value on the minority shareholders' stock at $125.00 a share, adjusting for the assumption that Kirby's shares were broadly distributed and freely traded at prices within the range of prices typical of similar publicly held companies. The information statement also advised the minority shareholders that they could elect not to accept the terms of the offer, and instead seek a judicial appraisal in Delaware of the value of their shares. The information statement clearly described the time limitations within which the dissenting shareholders were to note their objection, and the time within which the appraisal action was to be commenced; it also included the text of the Delaware appraisal statute, Del. Gen. Corp. Law, § 262.

 In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that the merger, its statutory means of effectuation and the cash exchange offered, constituted a "device, scheme or artifice to defraud" in violation of Rule 10b-5. Plaintiffs contend that, with knowledge that the $150.00 a share offer understated the value of the physical assets of Kirby and therefore did not represent the true value of Kirby shares, Kirby and the Santa Fe affiliates obtained and submitted to the minority shareholders the $125.00 a share valuation from Morgan, Stanley "in order to lull the minority stockholders into erroneously believing that defendants were generous." (Complaint, para. 9). It is alleged further that Morgan, Stanley assisted knowingly and facilitated the fraud.

 Plaintiffs' allegations have two distinct aspects. First, it is alleged that the means of effectuating this merger operated as a fraud on the minority shareholders in that the merger was consummated for the benefit of the majority shareholders, without any justifiable business purpose, except to freeze out the minority, and was effected without prior notice to the minority shareholders. Second, plaintiffs allege that the low valuation placed on their shares in the cash exchange offer segment of the merger transaction was in itself a fraud actionable under Rule 10b-5.

 Plaintiffs' attack upon the Delaware short-term merger procedure based, as it is, upon Rule 10b-5 is without merit. The General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware permits a parent corporation to merge with another corporation, 90% of whose shares are owned by the parent, by executing and filing a certificate of ownership and merger together with a copy of the resolution of the board of directors of the parent. Del. Gen. Corp. Law, § 253(a). See generally, N.Y.B.C.L., § 905 (McKinney's Supp. 1974); Stauffer v. Standard Brands Incorporated, 41 Del. Ch. 7, 187 A.2d 78 (Del. Supp. Ct. 1962). The resolution of the board of directors may provide that minority shareholders are to receive cash in payment for their shares in the subsidiary although this has the effect of causing these shareholders to make a forced sale. See Vine v. Beneficial Finance Company, 374 F.2d 627 (2d Cir. 1967). Plaintiffs did not have a vested right to remain shareholders of Kirby. Coyne v. Park & Tilford Distillers Corporation, 37 Del. Ch. 558, 146 A.2d 785 (Del. Ch. 1958), aff'd, 38 Del. Ch. 514, 154 A.2d 893 (Del. Sup. Ct. 1959); Matter of Willcox v. Stern, 18 N.Y.2d 195, 273 N.Y.S.2d 38, 219 N.E.2d 401 (1966). The corporation law of a state may permit minority shareholders to be "frozen out" or to be "frozen in." Garzo v. Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co., 303 N.Y. 516, 104 N.E.2d 882 (1952). The Delaware corporation law does not require that the merger be effected for a business purpose. The statute reflects the public policy of Delaware with respect to rights of splinter interests in corporations. The Court does not view Rule 10b-5 as requiring a federal district court to analyze the motives of corporate directors, at least not in the absence of actual fraud and deceit. See Grimes v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc., FED. SEC. L. REP., P 94,722 (N.D. Fla. 1974); cf. Bryan v. Brock & Blevins Co., Inc., 490 F.2d 563 (5th Cir. 1974). "[The] very purpose of the statute is to provide the parent corporation with a means of eliminating the minority shareholder's interest in the enterprise." Stauffer v. Standard Brands Incorporated, supra, 187 A.2d at 80. See generally Borden, "Going Private -- Old Tort, New Tort or No Tort?", 49 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 987 (1974).

 When a merger is effected under this statute and all of the subsidiary's shares are not owned by the parent corporation, the merger statute requires that the surviving corporation " within 10 days after the effective date, notify each shareholder . . . that the merger has become effective," Del. Gen. Corp. Law, § 253(d); Carl Marks & Co. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 43 Del. Ch. 391, 233 A.2d 63 (Del. Sup. Ct. 1967). It is not contended that Kirby failed to comply with this notice requirement, rather it is argued that the anti-fraud provisions of the 1934 Act require prior notice and disclosure to the minority shareholders. The primary objective of Rule 10b-5 is to impose a duty of disclosure upon a corporation and its controlling persons. Popkin v. Bishop, 464 F.2d 714 (2d Cir. 1972). That objective is to be achieved in conjunction with the state corporate law. This Court does not regard Rule 10b-5 as an omnibus federal corporation law having such broad reach as to modify the notice requirements of the Delaware merger statute, or prevent Delaware, in its legislative wisdom, from providing a means by which a majority can exclude a minority from the corporation's future affairs, so long as due process is satisfied, as it is here, by the appraisal procedures.

 Plaintiffs contend further that the corporate defendants knowingly obtained an appraisal from defendant Morgan, Stanley which undervalued the worth of their Kirby stock so drastically as to be a fraud within the purview of Rule 10b-5. Plaintiffs value their shares at a minimum of $772.00 each, basing this figure on the pro rata value of Kirby's physical assets. For purposes of this motion the Court accepts plaintiffs' claimed valuation, although the propriety of using the liquidation value of Kirby's physical assets as the sole basis for determining the true worth of the shares owned by the minority shareholders is at least questionable. See In re Olivetti Underwood Corporation, 246 A.2d 800, 803 (Del. Ch. 1968); Application of Delaware Racing Association, 42 Del. Ch. 406, 213 A.2d 203 (Del. Sup. Ct. 1965).

 Accepting plaintiffs' valuation, the amended complaint, upon its face, fails to allege a course of fraudulent conduct. *fn1" In paragraph seven of their complaint, plaintiffs acknowledge that their valuation is based upon information provided by the corporate defendants in the merger information statement. The appraisal made by defendant Morgan, Stanley details the information upon which it relied in computing the value of the minority's shares in Kirby. Among the considerations relied upon by Morgan, Stanley were the values of Kirby's physical assets provided by Appraisal Associates and Riggs and Associates. The opinions of the latter two firms were appended to the merger information statement as Exhibits D and E, and the entire report of Appraisal Associates was available for inspection of the offices to Santa Fe Resources. The appraisal opinions, and detailed financial information, were provided for the minority shareholders' use in evaluating the merits of the cash exchange offer and in determining whether to seek their appraisal rights as dissenting shareholders.

 Without passing upon the proper valuation of the Kirby shares, it is noteworthy that the information statement divulged the history of purchases of Kirby stock by the Santa Fe affiliates. Following the paradigm of "going private" transactions, an affiliate of Santa Fe made a tender offer for the shares of Kirby in 1967 and acquired 27,979 1/2 shares at $65.00 per share. In the period from 1968 through 1973, Santa Fe affiliates purchased shares at prices ranging from $65.00 to $92.50 per share. None of the Santa Fe affiliates had acquired any Kirby stock since October 1973. The history of Santa Fe's affiliates' prior purchases provided plaintiffs with another basis of comparison for evaluating the merits of the exchange offer.

 The complaint demonstrates merely that the parties to this action differ in their computation of the fair value of plaintiffs' shares. Whatever the information statement indicates about the fair value of plaintiffs' shares, the value of the physical assets "was discernible, as [plaintiffs] discerned it." Tanzer Economic Associates, Inc. v. Haynie, 388 F. Supp. 365 (S.D.N.Y. 1974). See also, Spiegler v. Wills, 60 F.R.D. 681 (S.D.N.Y. 1973). The inadequacy of the offering price, standing alone, does not demonstrate bad ...


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