CLARK, Circuit Judge:
The right to maintain a private action for damages under sections 10(b), 14(a) and 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act),
As is normal to appeals at the pleading stage, the factual background is skeletal, and the principal source of the following recital is taken from the record developed in connection with the motion for injunctive relief. Leeds Shoes, Inc. (Leeds) is a Florida corporation engaged in the retail sale of shoes and related items, which has its principal office in Tampa. Leeds is the corporate successor to a partnership created by Frank Garcia and another individual. From Leeds' inception until December 1967, Garcia apparently was its driving force as president of the company, major common stockholder, and a member of the Board of Directors. Leeds became publicly owned in 1963, although Garcia continued to hold approximately 26% of the outstanding common stock through at least August 1967. At the fiscal year end April 30, 1967, Leeds' financial
After it became apparent that the August 1967 debenture prospectus contained substantial material misstatements of Leeds' financial condition, Leeds' management, the underwriters who participated in the debenture offering, Genesco (Leeds' principal supplier of shoes and only preferred shareholder), and Prudential Insurance Company of America (the major creditor of Leeds
On September 18, 1968 a letter was mailed to Leeds' shareholders and debenture holders briefly explaining the catastrophic
This action originally was brought in the Southern District of New York in May 1970. In April 1971 it was transferred to the Middle District of Florida
After hearing evidence on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court found that the requisite probability of success on the merits and threatened irreparable harm were lacking and denied preliminary relief under Count III.
Count I is based on section 10b of the Exchange Act and rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5. This count alleges that during 1966 and 1967 the defendant officers and directors of Leeds "unlawfully, willfully and knowingly or having reason to know" published or caused to be published untrue statements about the financial condition of Leeds for the fiscal year ending April 30, 1967, which misstatements included gross overstatement of earnings and assets. It alleges that Leeds' accountants "knew or had reason to know of the false statements and omissions." Similarly, it asserts that the defendants claimed to be controlling persons of Leeds "knew or had reason to know of the false statements and induced them in bad faith"; and that the defendant underwriters "knew or had reason to know by reason of their confidential relationship to Leeds of the false statements and omissions", but nevertheless consented to republication of the false information. Finally, Count I sets out that plaintiffs relied upon these false statements and omissions in purchasing Leeds' stock in 1967 and "purchased such stock in a market artificially inflated by the false statements and omissions."
Considering privity, i. e., a direct purchaser-seller relationship between plaintiffs and defendants to be an essential allegation which plaintiffs would not or could not allege, the district court dismissed Count I. On this appeal all defendants urge not only that the privity requirement was correctly applied below but that the district court erred in ruling that the cause of action was not barred by the statute of limitations. The defendant "underwriters" additionally argue that the complaint was properly
THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The federal securities laws contain no limitation period that is expressly applicable to claims under section 10(b) and rule 10b-5, nor does federal law prescribe any general statute of limitations for civil actions. Consequently, the limitation period which the forum state applies to the state remedy which bears the closest substantive resemblance to rule 10b-5 and which best effectuates its purpose is to be applied. See e. g., Azalea Meats v. Muscat, 386 F.2d 5 (5th Cir. 1967); Vanderboom v. Sexton, 422 F.2d 1233 (8th Cir.), cert. denied 400 U.S. 852, 91 S.Ct. 47, 27 L.Ed.2d 90 (1970); and International Union, United Auto., etc., Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., 383 U.S. 696, 86 S.Ct. 1107, 16 L.Ed.2d 192 (1966). However, the date when a claim accrues so as to trigger the state law limitation period is a matter of federal law, and our court-fashioned rule is that a 10b-5 claim accrues when the plaintiff actually discovers the alleged fraud. See, e. g., Hooper v. Mountain States Securities Corp., 282 F.2d 195, 200 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, 365 U.S. 814, 81 S.Ct. 695, 5 L.Ed.2d 693 (1960); and Azalea Meats v. Muscat, supra, 386 F.2d at 8.
The defendants argue that notwithstanding this court's decision in Azalea Meats v. Muscat, supra, which applied Florida's three year limitation period for common law fraud to a 10b-5 action, the limitation period that should be applied is the two-year statute applicable to the Florida blue sky laws, Fla.Stat. § 517.21, F.S.A. They assert that the plaintiff's discovery of the alleged fraudulent misstatements could have occurred no later than December 12, 1967 when the SEC suspended trading in Leeds' stock and, since this action was originally filed on May 4, 1970, it is barred under the two-year blue sky limitation period. To support this position that the blue sky limitation period is applicable, defendants rely mainly on Vanderboom v. Sexton, supra, and Parrent v. Midwest Rug Mills, 455 F.2d 123 (7th Cir. 1972);
This suit was originally filed in the Southern District of New York and transferred to the Middle District of Florida. If there had been no transfer to Florida, the six year statute of limitations held applicable to New York forum 10b-5 suits would have applied, Klein v. Auchincloss, Parker & Redpath, 436 F.2d 339 (2d Cir. 1971), and Count I, of course, would not be barred. The defendants moved to transfer this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)
Some of the defendants, however, seek to avoid this result by arguing that, as to them, venue in New York was improperly laid and as a result the transfer was necessarily a change to a proper venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
As recognized by the district court, there are three basic elements to be pled and proved in 10b-5 actions: (1) conduct by the defendants proscribed by the rule; (2) a purchase or sale of securities by the plaintiffs "in connection with" such proscribed conduct;
In Herpich v. Wallace, 430 F.2d 792 (5th Cir. 1970) this court took note of the privity requirement by pointing out
Using the guidance of our note in Herpich and the policy behind section 10(b) and rule 10b-5, we hold that a 10b-5 plaintiff does not have to allege privity or any contemporaneous market trading by the plaintiff and defendant to state a claim for relief. Initially, we would observe that a rule requiring privity in all cases would be contrary to the quoted language from Herpich. Furthermore, there are sound policy reasons for rejecting an absolute requirement of privity. The basic intent of section 10(b) and rule 10b-5 and indeed, of the Exchange Act, is to protect investors and instill confidence in the securities markets by penalizing unfair dealings. "[A] corporation's misleading material statement may injure an investor irrespective of whether the corporation itself, or those individuals managing it, are contemporaneously buying or selling the stock of the corporation." SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., supra, 401 F.2d at 861. Implementation of rule 10b-5 is dependent on private enforcement, and a requirement of privity in every instance would narrow the focus of section 10(b) and its implementing rule from the broad protection of investors to the punishment of direct buyers or sellers whose acts violated the statute and rule. The rule would be rendered useless in situations like that alleged in the instant case in which the wrongful gain from plaintiffs' purchase was incidentally derived by someone other than the wrongdoer.
The defendants also argue that even if this court rejects privity as an absolute limitation, it should be applied on a case by case basis. In this they rely on Brown v. Bullock, supra, in which the court stated that "privity is not an ultimate or operative fact. It is an evidentiary fact to be considered in conjunction with other material facts," 194 F. Supp. at 230. See also Financial Industrial Fund v. McDonald Douglas Corp., CCH Fed.Sec.Law Rep. ¶ 93,004 (D.Col.1971); Cochran v. Channing Corp. supra; and VI Loss, Securities Regulation, 3895-96 (1969 Supp.). They urge that this is an appropriate case to require privity and call our attention to the fact that any judgment against Leeds in favor of the plaintiff shareholders may bankrupt the corporation at the expense of innocent common shareholders who purchased or converted into common after December 12, 1967, remaining debenture holders, and creditors. See e. g., SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur, supra, 401 F.2d at 870 (Moore, J., dissenting).
Assuming arguendo that such a rule may be adopted after a full hearing in this or another appropriate case, its application at the pleading stage would be inappropriate. We agree with the court's conclusion in Shapiro v. Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith, 353 F.Supp. 264, 274 (S.D.N.Y.1972): "It is clear, therefore, that a lack of privity between plaintiff and defendant is not sufficient to warrant dismissal of the complaint and that causation is an independent element capable of establishment notwithstanding such lack of privity. While privity may be an indication of the required `connection' . . . it is certainly not determinative of such
Privity may be a factor in the establishment of a causal connection between the defendant's conduct which assertedly violates rule 10b-5 and the plaintiff's injury, and it may determine the availability to the plaintiff of a remedy such as recision or restitution, see Janigan v. Taylor, 344 F.2d 781 (1st Cir.) cert. denied 382 U.S. 879, 86 S.Ct. 163, 15 L.Ed.2d 120 (1965). However, the requisite causal connection can also be established by pleading and proving a nexus between plaintiff and defendant other than through privity.
In the instant case the plaintiffs have alleged actual reliance upon the defendants' assertedly fraudulent misstatements and omissions. They have also alleged that the effect of these misstatements and omissions was to inflate artifically the market in which plaintiffs purchased Leeds' stock. These pleadings are sufficient to withstand a 12(b)(6) motion.
The district court's dismissal of Count I must be reversed.
SCIENTER AND CAUSATION AS TO UNDERWRITERS
Since the only relationship of the underwriters to Count I rests upon their acting as brokers in selling Leeds' stock during the time that the alleged misstatements in Count I were published, they argue that a higher standard of scienter is required to hold them liable. They further argue that the complaint fails to state a sufficient causal relationship between their alleged misconduct and plaintiffs' injuries.
The second claim is clearly without merit. The allegation that the underwriters "consented" to the republishing of the false financial information and that the plaintiffs relied upon this is sufficient to plead causation. In support of their first argument the underwriters rely on Shemtob v. Shearson, Hammill & Co., 448 F.2d 442 (2d Cir. 1971); Segal v. Gordon, 467 F.2d 602 (2d Cir. 1972); Kohn v. American Metal Climax, Inc., 458 F.2d 255 (3d Cir. 1972); and Weber v. C.M.P. Corporation, 242 F.Supp. 321, 324 (S.D.N.Y. 1965). In Shemtob the court noted that "plaintiffs' claim is nothing more than a garden-variety customer's suit against a broker for breach of contract, which cannot be bootstrapped into an alleged violation of § 10(b) . . ., in the absence of allegation of facts amounting to scienter, intent to defraud, reckless disregard for the truth, or knowing use of a device scheme or artifice to defraud. It is insufficient to allege mere negligence." 448 F.2d at 445. Something more than ordinary negligence is required to hold anyone liable under rule 10b-5, see e. g., Globus v. Law Research Service, Inc., 418 F.2d 1276, 1290-1291 (2d Cir. 1969),
Assertedly constituting the second tier in a layered scheme of frauds, Count II is principally based upon events occurring subsequent to those complained of in Count I. Plaintiffs allege that the 1968 refinancing plan was agreed upon by its participants for the purpose of using corporate assets to compromise their individual Securities Act liabilities resulting from their involvement with the false and misleading statements in the debenture offering. This allegedly was a wrongful attempt to conceal and avoid liability for the fraudulent conduct complained of in Count I. The "refinancing plan and the acts of the defendants in carrying it out" are asserted to violate rule 10b-5 because adequate disclosure of the purposes and nature of the plan was not made to the common shareholders either in the September 18, 1968 letter or otherwise. Although plaintiffs allegedly "held" their Leeds' stock in reliance upon the "misstatements and omissions" connected with the plan, no plaintiff is alleged to have sold stock contemporaneously with it or as a part of it. Furthermore, the refinancing plan resulted in such a dilution of the plaintiffs' equity interest that their shares are now so deflated in value as to be almost worthless. The 10b-5 attack on the refinancing plan is also pleaded as a derivative claim, and Leeds is alleged to be a seller in carrying out the plan, but no corporate injury is pleaded.
Additionally, Count II avers that the September 18, 1968 letter was a solicitation of a "proxy or consent or authorization" within the meaning of section 14(a) of the Exchange Act, and that this letter violated the disclosure requirements of that section. The plaintiffs "relied on the false or misleading statements in the Leeds' solicitation (letter) and gave their consent and authorization to the refinancing plan by failing to object, dissent or to otherwise interpose any shareholder right."
Finally, Count II states that the September 18, 1968 letter amounted to a solicitation of security holders "in favor of a tender offer" under section 14(e) of the Exchange Act. It is asserted that the letter did not fully disclose the purpose and terms of the refinancing plan and thus violated 14(e)'s tender offer disclosure requirements.
The district court dismissed Count II's 10(b) claim on the basis that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue under section 10(b) and rule 10b-5 since they were not "purchasers or sellers" in connection with the events alleged as violations of 10b-5 in Count II. The derivative claim was dismissed on the basis that the relief sought by the plaintiffs was direct and not derivative in nature, and no injury to the corporation was alleged. Finally, the 14(a) and 14(e) claims were dismissed because the September 18 letter neither required nor called upon the common shareholders to do anything and thus the solicitation proscribed by the terms of 14(a) and 14(e) was lacking.
10b-5 DIRECT CLAIM
The plaintiffs argue that they have standing to sue for damages under rule 10b-5 even though none of the individual plaintiffs is alleged to have been involved in an actual purchase or sale of stock in connection with the conduct which Count II alleges violated rule 10b-5. They proceed upon two theories. First, Superintendent of Insurance v. Bankers Life and Casualty Company, 404 U.S. 6, 92 S.Ct. 165, 30 L.Ed.2d 128 (1971) and Affiliated Ute Citizens v. United States, 406 U.S. 128, 92 S.Ct. 1456, 31 L.Ed.2d 741 (1972) have in effect eliminated the requirement originally announced in 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) that only purchasers or sellers can bring a private action for damages under rule 10b-5, and have accorded standing to plaintiffs who hold stock in reliance on conduct proscribed by the statute and rule. Second, even if
We reject the first argument. The terms "purchaser" and "seller" have been broadly construed, see, e. g., Herpich v. Wallace, supra, and Hooper v. Mountain State Securities Corp., supra, but before Bankers Life and Affiliated Ute this circuit's rule had always been that only a purchaser or seller of securities "in connection with" the alleged fraud had standing to sue directly for damages under section 10(b) and rule 10b-5;
Bankers Life and Affiliated Ute both involved plaintiffs who were sellers of securities. In Bankers Life, Manhattan, the corporation represented by the plaintiff,
The plaintiffs support their position with this quotation from Bankers Life:
Of course, if we were to accept the broadest meaning of this language out of context, the underwriters offer to repurchase the debentures, or Leeds' issuance of shares in exchange for the debentures might be sufficient to allow standing for the plaintiffs. However, this language must be considered in its subject matter structure. Bankers Life focuses on the meaning of the "in connection with" clause in section 10(b) and is exclusively concerned with the relationship between Manhattan's sale and the defendant's alleged fraudulent scheme. It establishes that the defendant's fraudulent conduct need not specifically relate to the plaintiff's securities transaction as in a misrepresentation involving the value of securities purchased or sold by the plaintiff. Instead, the requisite nexus exists if such conduct merely touches upon the plaintiffs' purchase or sale. See Smallwood v. Pearl Brewing Co., 489 F.2d 579 (5th Cir. 1974). We are persuaded by this specific holding, by the Court's careful limitation of what it was deciding, and by its express footnote caveat that the purchaser-seller
We now move to the other authority relied upon. In Affiliated Ute the Court was not directly concerned with the purchaser-seller requirement, since there the plaintiffs were sellers of stock. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs rely heavily upon the Court's citation to a page of SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., supra, upon which the following quotation is found:
401 F.2d at 849. The basic holding of Affiliated Ute was that in a case involving nondisclosure, the plaintiffs had only to plead and prove that the facts withheld by the defendant were material and did not have to prove specific reliance on the part of each individual plaintiff. The citation to Texas Gulf Sulphur was not only supportive of the policy behind this principle but illustrative of the meaning of materiality. It is inapposite to single it out and suggest that it implies that a mere holder of securities could, from that time on, sue for damages under section 10(b) and rule 10b-5. Surely, a principle so widely accepted as the purchaser-seller requirement was not to be dispatched to an unmarked grave. We refuse to take this citation as implicitly rejecting the Birnbaum doctrine, especially since subsequent decisions of the Second Circuit have held that Texas Gulf Sulphur left Birnbaum intact. See, e. g., 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). To eliminate any doubt, we expressly reaffirm the vitality of the purchaser-seller requirement in this circuit, cf. Smallwood v. Pearl Brewing Co., supra.
We also reject plaintiffs' second argument — that the refinancing plan's issuance of new shares so diluted their position as to give them 10b-5 standing as "forced sellers." The forced seller doctrine originated in Vine v. Beneficial Finance Corp., supra. In Vine the second circuit held that a minority shareholder who, following a short form merger was faced with the choice of either holding stock in a nonexistent corporation or exchanging his shares for value, under the terms of the merger agreement or pursuant to state law appraisal rights, was a seller for purposes of 10b-5 standing. See also, Crane 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). That a forced seller has 10(b) standing has been recognized in this circuit. Smallwood v. Pearl Brewing Co., supra; Coffee v. Permian Corp., 434 F.2d 383 (5th Cir. 1970); and Dudley v. Southeastern Factor and Finance Corp., 446 F.2d 303 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, 404 U.S. 858, 92 S.Ct. 109, 30 L.Ed.2d 101 (1971). In both Coffee and Dudley the plaintiff was a shareholder in a corporation about to be liquidated. Since the plaintiff in each of these cases had no choice but "to surrender his interest in the corporation and to exchange his shares for cash," Coffee, supra, 434 F.2d at 386, each was held to have 10b-5 standing as a forced seller. The dicta in Coffee that plaintiff, as holder of common shares when the Knight family's stock was repurchased by the company, was "perhaps a purchaser", would lend support to the claim in the instant case that the consequent dilution of plaintiff's equity caused by Leeds' issuance of new shares under the refinancing plan made them forced sellers. However, any such argument is now foreclosed by Wolf v. Frank, 477 F.2d 467 (5th Cir. 1973). In Wolf the
10b-5 DERIVATIVE CLAIM
It is generally recognized that the issuance of stock is a sale of securities for 10b-5 purposes and that an individual shareholder although not a purchaser or seller can bring a derivative claim on behalf of a corporation which has been fraudulently induced to issue its stock. See, e. g., Herpich v. Wallace, supra; Rekant v. Desser, supra; and Hooper v. Mountain States Securities Corp., supra. However, assuming Leeds' exchange of stock for debentures, pursuant to the refinancing plan, makes it a seller, the complaint still fails to state a claim for derivative relief, since no injury or damage to Leeds is alleged.
The district court dismissed the derivative claim without prejudice because of the absence of an allegation of injury to Leeds. The plaintiffs assert that injury is alleged in Count II in that the value of Leeds' common stock held by the plaintiffs is claimed to have become worthless. Of course, a low selling price for Leeds' stock might incidentally make it difficult for the company to obtain equity capital in the future, but a depressed price is, without more, a shareholder injury. Although a principal premise of plaintiffs argument is that the refinancing plan was intended to compromise the Securities Act liabilities of certain individual defendants, two things must be recalled; first, Leeds itself had a potential liability as to the entire 1,500,000 dollars outstanding in debentures, and second, a major option extended to the debenture holders by the plan — conversion into increased numbers of shares of Leeds' common stock — did not effect a release of claims.
Section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78n provides:
The plaintiffs assert that the September 18, 1968 letter was covered by 14(a) because it was a solicitation to the common shareholders "to obtain their consent and authorization to the refinancing plan." It is alleged that because of the personal interests of Leeds' management in the plan as a vehicle to eliminate their individual liabilities and the failure to hold the 1968 annual meeting, shareholder approval of the plan was required. This being so, they say that the letter's purpose was to "lull" these holders into inaction so they would not unhorse the refinancing plan by forcing the overdue annual meeting and electing new directors, or otherwise attacking it through corporate or judicial channels. The plaintiffs then go on to argue that treating the letter as a proxy solicitation, it failed to meet the disclosure requirements of rule 14a-9, 17 C.F.R. § 240.14a-9. The defendants' main reply, which was accepted by the district court, is that the September 18 letter on its face did not solicit the common shareholders to do anything, since the letter was purely informational and called for no action on their part.
It is undisputed that Leeds' common shares are registered under section 12 of the Exchange Act, that the authors of the letter were "persons" within the meaning of that term in 14(a), and that the letter was actually mailed to the common shareholders. Thus, we must resolve two threshold issues: (1) was the September 18, 1968 letter a solicitation; and, if so, (2) was it a solicitation of a "proxy or consent or authorization?" If we cannot answer one of these two questions negatively as a matter of law, we must vacate the district court's decision and remand this case for proof on these issues and for a determination of whether plaintiffs can meet the other requirements of a private action for damages under section 14(a), including proof of a substantive violation, see rule 14a-9; causation, see J. I. Case Co. v. Borak, 377 U.S. 426, 84 S.Ct. 1555, 12 L.Ed.2d 423 (1964); and Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., 396 U.S. 375, 90 S.Ct. 616, 24 L.Ed.2d 593 (1970); the requisite standard of culpability for each defendant; and damages.
SEC rule 14a-1, 17 C.F.R. § 240.14a-1, defines a solicitation under 14(a) to encompass:
Rule 14a-1 contains the following definition of proxy:
As used in the SEC's rules, proxy is a generic term which includes the broader statutory terms "consent" and "authorization". See L. Loss, Securities Regulation at page 871 (2d ed. 1961). To fit
It is readily apparent from the complaint that this case is different from the usual proxy solicitation case, because no shareholder vote on the plan was ever sought, and there was no attempt to obtain any proxy in the narrow or common usage sense of that term. Indeed, since debenture conversion under the plan was to be into previously authorized but unissued stock, we can find no Florida statute which under normal circumstances would require shareholder approval or which would accord appraisal rights to the common shareholders. Likewise, since no stock was issued for cash, the common shareholders had no preemptive rights.
Whether or not a particular communication is a solicitation within the meaning of 14(a) is a question of fact dependent upon the nature of the communication and the circumstances under which it is transmitted. Securities Exchange Act, Release No. 7208, 29 Fed.Reg. 341 (1964). Although the September 18 letter by its terms did not specifically ask for any action or inaction on the part of its recipients, the plaintiffs have alleged that its purpose was to forestall the common shareholders from interposing obstacles in the path of the refinancing plan through the exercise of their rights as shareholders. The defendants, of course, dispute that this was the purpose of the letter. However, the letter was sent at a time coinciding with the usual proxy solicitation period when certain members of Leeds' management were allegedly not only engaged in self-dealing but also were acting in a manner that conflicted with Leeds' common shareholders' best interest. At the time of its mailing, the September 14 annual meeting required by express provision of Leeds' bylaws had not been held and was not in fact held until sometime in 1969, after the plan had gone into effect. To rely exclusively upon the informational tone of the letter itself, ignoring the circumstances surrounding its transmittal, and hold as a matter of law at the pleading stage that the September 18 letter was not a solicitation, would be to ignore our duty to interpret the securities laws according to their remedial purposes, see Tcherepnin v. Knight, 389 U.S. 332, 88 S.Ct. 548, 19 L.Ed.2d 564 (1967), and to allow defendants to do indirectly (by refusing to hold a required meeting and mollifying shareholders' reaction with a letter) what they allegedly would not do directly (hold the meeting required by Leeds' bylaws and vote on new officers, thereby subjecting the proposed plan to their scrutiny).
Similarly, we cannot hold that the inaction which the letter allegedly "solicits" is not as a matter of law at least a "consent". The word "consent" in section 14(a) is not limited by the preceding word "proxy". Dunning v. Rafton, CCH Fed.Sec.L.Rep. ¶ 91660 at 95437 (N.D.Cal.1965) and Greater Iowa Corp. v. McLendon, 378 F.2d 783 (8th Cir. 1967). "The solicitation of consent would, according to common usage, include any circularizations requesting or urging a security holder to concur in or go along with the solicitors' proposals," Dunning, supra at 95437. Because of the inclusion of "a failure to object or dissent" as a form of authorization or consent in rule 14a-1, promulgated pursuant to the express statutory authorization in section 14(a), we hold that the plaintiffs' allegation that defendants solicited nonassertion of plaintiffs' rights to block the refinancing plan through corporate or judicial action, is sufficient under Conley v. Gibson standards to plead a solicitation of an authorization or consent. Thus, we vacate the district court's dismissal of this issue and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with the opinion. Of course, in so doing we intimate no view on the ultimate merits of this issue.
SECTION 14(e) CLAIM
Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act provides:
Plaintiffs argue that the September 18, 1968 letter was a "solicitation of security holders . . . in favor of" a tender offer and that as such it violated 14(e) in failing to disclose to the shareholders inter alia the conflicting interests of the participants in the refinancing plan.
In reasoning our refusal to agree, we initially note that the letter stands on a different footing from the actual debenture offer, since the plaintiffs do not complain of misrepresentations or omissions in the actual offer to the debenture holders. Indeed, that offer discloses directly that certain of its participants may be liable under the Securities Act to the debenture holders because of misstatements in the August 1967 debenture prospectus, rather than containing, as the letter does, a reference to other documents where liabilities are discussed.
The process of analysis we follow makes it unnecessary to reach two important but unsettled issues in this field. Neither the Exchange Act nor the rules promulgated under it define the term "tender offer" as used in section 14(e). The underwriters' offer to repurchase debentures as part of the refinancing plan was registered as a tender offer under section 14(d)(1), 15 U.S.C. § 78n, rule 14d-1, 17 C.F.R. § 240.14d-1, and schedule 13D, 17 C.F.R. § 240.13d-101. Moreover, the offer's limited duration
Section 14(e) was enacted as part of the Williams Act of 1968. It was prompted by the increased use of cash tender offers as a means of obtaining corporate control and was designed to fill a gap in the securities laws which left "the cash tender offer exempt from disclosure provisions." See H.Rep.No. 1711, 90th Cong., 2d Sess. U.S.Code Cong. and Adm.News, p. 2811 at p. 2813. Such a gap existed because pre-Williams Act coverage of the securities laws depended upon the method used to obtain control.
Although section 14(e) does not expressly provide for a private right of action, courts have uniformly implied one. See Smallwood v. Pearl Brewing Co., supra, 489 F.2d at 596, n. 20. In determining who has standing to sue under 14(e), the quest has been for what will best further the objective of the statute. Consequently, the right to bring suit has not been limited to tendering offerees only but has been extended to numerous other parties who claimed to be victims of 14(e) violations. See Chris-Craft Industries, Inc. v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 480 F.2d 341 (2d Cir. 1973) (tender offeror had standing to sue target company's management and competing offeror); Electronic Specialty Company v. International Controls Corp., 409 F.2d 937 (2d Cir. 1969), (target company and target company's nontendering shareholders had standing to sue for injunctive relief); H. K. Porter, Inc. v. Nicholson File Co., 482 F.2d 421 (1st Cir. 1971) (tender offeror had standing to sue target company's management); see also Gulf and Western Industries, Inc. v. Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, 476 F.2d 687 (2d Cir. 1973); but see Washburn v. Madison Square Garden Corp., 340 F.Supp. 504 (S.D.N.Y.1972).
Assuming the September 18 letter was a solicitation, the abstract language of section 14(e) might be broad enough to encompass the plaintiffs' claim. Nevertheless, the policy behind the statute, as revealed by the legislative history, compels us to read the term "security holders" in 14(e) as those security holders to whom the offer is addressed. The evil to be remedied was inadequate disclosure to tendering security holders. Congress made it clear that the investor protection sought by 14(e) was disclosure to those who had to make the hold or sell decision. See U.S. Code Cong. and Admin.News, supra, at p. 2811 et seq.
No violation of 14(e) could be shown where the class sought to be protected has not been harmed. In the instant case the plaintiffs have not alleged any inadequacy of disclosure in the offer to the debenture holders. Plaintiffs stand in no better position than would the shareholders of a tender offeror complaining of misleading statements in a proxy solicitation involving a completely valid tender offer that required shareholder approval. Such a shareholder should not be allowed to sue under 14(e) (in addition to 14(a)) because he argues that the proxy solicitation was a
The complaint alleges various continuing violations of the securities laws by Leeds' management and mandatory and prohibitive injunctive relief was sought. After taking proof the district court found that plaintiffs had failed to show that the present Leeds' management had committed or threatened to commit any of the securities law violations alleged in Count III, or to demonstrate that any harm, let alone irreparable harm, would accrue to them, and no preliminary injunctive relief was granted. Additionally, in line with its rulings on Counts I and II and its dismissal of Count IV, the district court concluded that Count III standing alone contained insufficient allegations to support permanent injunctive relief. It, accordingly, dismissed that count also.
Our review of the exercise of discretion by the trial court in refusing preliminary injunctive relief must be closely circumscribed. It comes to us on an abbreviated development of facts. It requires a balancing of the probabilities of ultimate success on the merits with the consequences of court intervention at a preliminary stage. The prerogative to weigh the nice distinctions involved belongs to the district court, not this court. Bayless v. Martine, 430 F.2d 873 (5th Cir. 1970); Exhibitors Poster Exchange v. National Screen Service Corp., 441 F.2d 560 (5th Cir. 1971); Eli Lilly and Co. v. Generix Drug Sales, Inc., 460 F.2d 1096 (5th Cir. 1972). See also C. Wright and A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2962, p. 633-36. Nothing in the record before us demonstrates that the district court abused its discretion here. That court's determination that plaintiffs had not demonstrated the requisite probability of success appears to relate to the merits. Thus, our partial reversal of the district court's disposition of defendants' motions to dismiss would not taint its denial of preliminary injunctive relief. However, caution indicates that upon remand the district court should reconsider its denial of preliminary relief in light of the outcome of this appeal.
Since the district court's refusal of permanent injunctive relief is predicated in part upon dismissal of Counts I and II, which we have in part reversed, we vacate the dismissal of Count III and remand the issue of plaintiffs' entitlement to permanent injunctive relief for further consideration not inconsistent with this opinion. Finally, we also remit to the district court's discretion the question of whether interim attorneys' fees at this stage of the proceedings are proper. For emphasis, we again expressly disclaim all intent to indicate or intimate what the result of the exercise of that court's discretion should be.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
ON PETITION FOR REHEARING
It is ordered that the petition for rehearing filed on behalf of appellee, Clayton Burton, in the above entitled and numbered cause be and the same is hereby denied, provided however that this denial is without prejudice to the rights of Clayton B. and William M. Burton, Richard E. Hortch, and William B. Curran to present to the District Court the issue of their nonliability under Count II of the Amended Complaint.
The offer referred to was distributed only to debenture holders.
Jack Chapman, Director 1961 to present, Officer 1961 to present;
Julian Lemus, Director 1961 to present, Officer 1961 to present;
Roy Cotarelo, Director 1962-1969;
Stuart S. Golding, Director 1962-1969;
Richard Lieb, Director 1964-1969;
Ernest B. Holt, Jr., Director 1961 to present;
Earl D. Brown, Director 1969 to present;
C. Edward Britton, Director 1968-1971, Officer 1968-1971;
Clayton B. Burton, Director 1969 to present;
William M. Burton, Director 1969 to present;
Richard E. Horch, Director 1969 to present;
William H. Martin, Director 1968 to present; Officer 1968-1969;
William B. Curran, Director 1970 to present.