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ROBINSON v. FIRST NATL. CITY BANK

October 4, 1979

RICHARD S. ROBINSON, ANN NEMSER, PHILIP BARON, REBECCA LOWEY, JACOB SCHOENBACH, and LOUIS GOODKIND, Plaintiffs, against FIRST NATIONAL CITY BANK, et al., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONNER

OPINION AND ORDER

Defendants have moved to dismiss this class action on grounds of Res judicata. Named plaintiffs have not opposed the motion. For reasons stated below, the motion will be granted under Rule 56, F.R.Civ.P., with prejudice as to named plaintiffs, and without prejudice as to other members of the class.

 Background

 On May 4, 1972, plaintiffs filed this class action in the Southern District of New York on behalf of those Penn Central railroad shareholders *fn1" who participated in the 1969 merger and restructuring of the railroad into a holding company, the Penn Central Company (hereafter "PCC") and a railroad subsidiary, the Penn Central Transportation Company (hereafter "PCTC"). As a result of the merger, former Penn Central shareholders became shareholders of PCC, and PCC became the sole shareholder of PCTC. The complaint alleges that defendant banks ("banks"), *fn2" as members of a consortium providing financing to the railroad, aided and abetted railroad management in misleading shareholders as to the terms of the financing *fn3" to be provided after the 1969 restructuring, in violation of §§ 10(b), 13(a) and 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 *fn4" and of the principles of common law fraud.

 On the same date that they filed this complaint, the named plaintiffs filed a petition ("Robinson petition") in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania bankruptcy proceedings of the PCTC, the railroad subsidiary formed in the 1969 restructuring of the Penn Central. *fn5" The petition challenged the banks' claims to those PCTC assets *fn6" pledged under the 1969 financing arrangements, and asserted PCC shareholder claims for damages against the PCTC estate, by raising the same securities law and fraud claims alleged in the Southern District of New York complaint. This Court stayed the present action before any motions were filed for certification of the plaintiff class, pending completion of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania bankruptcy proceeding.

 On March 17, 1978, the Eastern District bankruptcy court approved a final reorganization plan for the PCTC. In the Matter of Penn Central Transportation Company, 458 F. Supp. 1234 (E.D.Pa.1978). This final plan was developed after an initial settlement of the banks' claims had been rejected by the bankruptcy court, In the Matter of Penn Central Transportation Company, 358 F. Supp. 154 (E.D.Pa.1973); after the issues raised by the Robinson petition had been fully litigated before the reorganization court, 358 F. Supp. at 184, although the reorganization court withheld its decision on the merits of the Robinson petition claims at the request of the parties in order to further settlement negotiations, 458 F. Supp. at 1266; *fn7" and after lengthy final negotiations had been carried out among the interested parties, including banks and the named plaintiffs in this action. The reorganization court did not specifically review the securities law claims raised in the Robinson petition in its approval of the final reorganization plan, see 458 F. Supp. at 1266-69; but defendant banks and the named plaintiffs agree that all the claims raised in the Robinson petition were compromised and settled by the reorganization court's order.

 The defendant banks have now moved to dismiss this action on Res judicata grounds, arguing that this action raises issues which were before the reorganization court and that the resolution of those issues by settlement in the formulation of the reorganization plan bars their relitigation in this proceeding. *fn8" The named plaintiffs have filed an affidavit in support of defendants' motion.

 1. Res judicata issues

 The doctrine of Res judicata bars relitigation of a cause of action if the same parties have previously raised the same claim in a proceeding which rendered a final judgment on the merits of that claim. 1B Moore's Federal Practice P 0.405(1) (1974). This doctrine balances a concern for judicial economy that matters finally resolved not be the subject of repeated litigation with a concern for due process that parties not be bound by prior judgments as to which they had no notice or opportunity to intervene. Heiser v. Woodruff, 327 U.S. 726, 733, 66 S. Ct. 853, 90 L. Ed. 970 (1946).

 Defendants' Res judicata motion raises the issue of which parties may be bound by the prior reorganization proceeding: that is, whether the named plaintiffs' compromise of shareholder claims in the reorganization negotiations can bar all members of the alleged shareholder class from litigating the securities claims in this court. The Court concludes that the prior compromise is binding only upon those shareholders who actually appeared in the reorganization court, I. e., upon named plaintiffs only.

 a. Named plaintiffs' claims

 The requirements of Res judicata outlined above are fulfilled as to named plaintiffs. Defendants and the named plaintiffs were both parties to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reorganization proceedings. Defendants contend and plaintiffs do not dispute that the securities laws and fraud claims alleged in plaintiffs' complaint in this action are identical to the claims against the banks which the named plaintiffs raised and settled in the Eastern District; after review of the complaint and the Robinson petition, the Court agrees. Since neither named plaintiffs nor defendants appealed the reorganization court's approval of the compromise of the securities law and fraud claims, the bankruptcy adjudication is a final judgment on the merits of those claims. Stoll v. Gottlieb, 305 U.S. 165, 59 S. Ct. 134, 83 L. Ed. 104 (1938); see Chicot County Drainage Dist. v. Baxter State Bank, 308 U.S. 371, 60 S. Ct. 317, 84 L. Ed. 329 (1940). *fn9" Thus, named plaintiffs' settlement in the reorganization proceeding bars relitigation of those claims in this court.

 b. Absent class members' claims

 Defendants assume and the named plaintiffs do not dispute that the Res judicata bar extends as well to unnamed members of the alleged class. This assumption is not supported by the record here. While class members who did not appear in the reorganization proceeding could have been "parties" to that proceeding under either of two theories the In rem nature of the reorganization court's order, or the named plaintiffs' representative authority to bind absent class members personally the nature of the shareholder claims in question, and the named plaintiffs' failure to meet the requirements of either Rule 23, F.R.Civ.P., or § 77 of the Bankruptcy Act ...


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