The opinion of the court was delivered by: GRIESA
This is an action under Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78p(b). Plaintiff The Reece Corporation, whose stock is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, seeks to recover alleged short-swing profits realized by defendant Walco National Corporation in connection with the latter's transactions in Reece stock.
Walco moves for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Reece cross-moves for summary judgment in its favor. Walco's motion is denied. Reece's cross-motion is granted on the issue of liability under § 16(b), subject to determination of the amount of recovery in further proceedings.
Walco is what has been referred to as an "acquisition minded" holding company with interests in diverse fields. By letter of October 13, 1966 the then president of Walco informed Franklin Reece, president of Reece, of Walco's interest in acquiring Reece. Reece made a strongly negative reply. This sequence of events was repeated in the fall of 1967, the spring of 1969, and the fall of 1977.
In July 1979 Walco commenced purchasing Reece shares on the open market. There were about 2.8 million shares outstanding. By January 30, 1980 Walco had acquired 212,100 shares of Reece, or slightly over 7.3% of the outstanding Reece stock. Particularly heavy buying occurred between January 18 and January 30, 1980, during which time 78,800 shares were purchased and the price of Reece stock rose from $ 8.75 per share to $ 10.75 per share. Walco purchased an additional 28,400 shares on February 4, 1980, bringing its holdings to a total of 240,500 shares, or 8.4% of the total outstanding. By this time Reece stock had risen to $ 12.50 per share.
On February 4, 1980 Reece commenced an action in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging various violations of the Securities Exchange Act and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. At about the same time two of Reece's shareholders brought a similar suit, which was consolidated with the Reece suit.
Reece moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent additional purchases of stock by Walco. The motion was denied on February 29, 1980. Reece noticed an appeal from this ruling, and moved for an injunction restraining further stock purchases by Walco pending resolution of the appeal. This motion was denied.
In March 1980 Walco resumed purchasing Reece stock. A purchase of 5100 shares on March 27 put Walco's holdings slightly over the 10% mark, the total Walco purchases as of that date amounting to 285,600 shares. Thereafter Walco purchased an additional 130,700 shares, at prices ranging from 8-5/8 to 10-1/2. The last Walco purchase was made on April 10. Walco then owned a total of 416,300 shares, which was 14.48% of the outstanding.
In mid-April John W. Reece, chairman of the board of Reece, met with Paul Schurgot, Jr., president of Walco. Reece proposed an arrangement, which would include a settlement of the pending litigation, under which Reece would purchase all of Walco's holdings for approximately $ 12 per share if Reece received assurance that Walco would not re-enter the market for Reece shares in the foreseeable future. Attorneys for the two sides discussed the format for such an agreement. Walco's attorney asserted that Walco would consent to such an agreement only if the transaction were divided into two parts so as to avoid § 16(b) liability. Reece's attorney stated he had no objection to such a divided sale.
From April 22, 1980 the attorneys conferred and discussed the proposed agreement in more detail. Walco's attorney suggested that the first stage consist of a sale of 170,700 shares at $ 9.25 per share, with the second stage to consist of a sale of 245,600 shares at $ 13.91 per share. The average price for all the shares would be $ 12 per share.
In subsequent negotiations, involving both principals and attorneys, the price-per-share for the first stage of the transaction was lowered to $ 8.75. The purpose of this was to make sure that Walco would go through with the second stage. In other words, in order to create the appearance of separate transactions, Walco was not to be legally bound by any express terms to carry out both stages. However, Reece wished to have Walco under economic compulsion to do so. This was the reason for lowering the share price of the first stage. As part of this strategy, the number of shares to be sold in the first stage was reduced from 170,700 to 143,275. The number of shares in the second stage was increased from 245,600 to 273,025. The revised per share price for the second stage was $ 13.70.
Two agreements were executed, dated April 29 and April 30. The first agreement was for the sale of 143,275 shares for a price of $ 1,253,656. The second agreement was for a sale of 273,025 shares for a price of $ 3,741,944. The first agreement included a clause providing for dismissal of the lawsuits. The second agreement contained a provision to the effect that Walco would not thenceforth acquire or hold any Reece stock for a period of seven years. Both agreements contained clauses whereby Reece would indemnify Walco for the cost of any litigation arising out of the execution of the agreements, with the exception of any action arising under § 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act.
Walco and Reece carried out the sale transactions of April 29 and April 30. The lawsuits were ...