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Schoenbaum v. Firstbrook

decided: December 30, 1968.


Lumbard, Chief Judge, Medina, Senior Circuit Judge,*fn* Waterman, Moore, Friendly, Smith, Kaufman, Hays, Anderson and Feinberg, Circuit Judges. Medina, Circuit Judge (dissenting, with whom Lumbard, Chief Judge, and Moore, Circuit Judge, concur).

Author: Hays

HAYS, Circuit Judge:

After a panel opinion in this case was issued a petition for rehearing en banc was granted. Additional briefs were submitted including an amicus brief by the Securities and Exchange Commission. On consideration by the full court the order of the district court granting summary judgment for the defendants is affirmed as to the defendant Paribas Corporation and reversed as to the other defendants.

The petition for rehearing sought reconsideration only of the issue of whether the defendants were entitled to summary judgment under Rules 12(c) and 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court en banc has not reviewed the decision announced by Chief Judge Lumbard on the issue of jurisdiction over the subject matter and that decision stands as the holding of the court.

Factual Background of the Controversy

This is a stockholder's derivative action on behalf of Banff Oil Ltd., a Canadian corporation. The corporate defendants are Aquitaine Company of Canada, Ltd., and Paribas Corporation. The individual defendants are directors of Banff. Aquitaine is a wholly owned subsidiary of a French corporation, Societe National des Petroles d'Aquitaine, which is in turn a subsidiary of an agency of the French government. Paribas is an investment banking corporation, incorporated in Delaware. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of a French banking institution.

In February, 1964, Aquitaine acquired control of Banff through a tender offer to Banff shareholders. Aquitaine thereupon designated three of its representatives to sit on Banff's eight man board of directors.

In March, 1964, Banff and Aquitaine agreed to conduct joint explorations for oil. The exploratory operations involved in the present case began toward the end of 1964. A test well struck oil on February 6, 1965 and on March 17, 1965 the well was completed.

On December 11, 1964, Banff's board of directors voted to offer 500,000 shares of Banff treasury stock to Aquitaine, its controlling shareholder, at $1.35 a share. The closing price of Banff stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange on that day was $1.31 bid and $1.37 asked. Aquitaine claims that the sale of stock was necessary in order to finance Banff's share of the expenses of exploration However it appears that Banff needed only $77,500 for this purpose, whereas the proceeds of the sale amounted to $675,000. On January 5, 1965, the president of Aquitaine wrote to Banff "on behalf of Aquitaine's members of Banff Oil Board" saying "our Chairman and Managing Director * * * has agreed to your * * * proposal." The shares were delivered to Aquitaine on March 16, 1965, the day before the completion of the first well.

In November 1965 Paribas negotiated a purchase of 270,000 shares of Banff stock at $7.30 a share, the then current price on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

During 1966, after public announcement of the oil discovery, Banff stock traded at prices as high at $18 a share.

The complaint alleges, in effect, that the defendants, knowing of the oil discoveries and the consequent increase in value of Banff stock, sold 770,000 shares of that stock to Aquitaine and Paribas at vastly inadequate prices as a result of a conspiracy among them to enrich Aquitaine's "affiliates, business associates and friends" at the expense of Banff and its shareholders other than Aquitaine.

Summary Judgment

The district court's grant of summary judgment against the plaintiff was accompanied by a refusal of his request for discovery. This court has indicated that summary judgment should rarely be granted against a plaintiff in a stockholder's derivative action especially when the plaintiff has not had an opportunity to resort to discovery procedures. See, for example, Subin v. Goldsmith, 224 F.2d 753 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 350 U.S. 883, 76 S. Ct. 136, 100 L. Ed. 779 (1955); Colby v. Klune, 178 F.2d 872 (2d Cir. 1949); Fogelson v. American Woolen Co., 170 F.2d 660 (2d Cir. 1948). The plaintiff typically has in his possession only the facts which he alleges in his complaint. Having little or no familiarity with the internal affairs of the corporation, he is faced with affidavits setting forth in great detail management's version of what actions were taken and what motives led the affiants to take these actions. Since the facts in such a case are exclusively in the possession of the defendants, summary ...

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