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Greenfield v. Villager Industries Inc.

June 21, 1973

RICHARD D. GREENFIELD AND SAMUEL MOSHINSKY, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
v.
VILLAGER INDUSTRIES, INC., NORMAN RAAB, KRISTINE RAAB, MAX L. RAAB, MARY L. RAAB, ALAN E. SALKE, WILLIAM B. EAGLESON, JR., THOMAS E. FEELEY, HERBERT J. GOODFRIEND, AND CLARENCE RAINESS & COMPANY DUPONT GLORE FORGAN INCORPORATED, ONE OF THE CLASS OF PLAINTIFFS ABOVE NAMED, APPELLANT IN NO. 72-1998 BURNHAM & COMPANY, INC., AN INTERESTED PARTY AND APPLICANT IN ITS OWN BEHALF AND IN BEHALF OF ITS CUSTOMERS AND ACCOUNTS, APPELLANT IN NO. 72-1999



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Author: Aldisert

Before VAN DUSEN, ALDISERT and ROSENN, Circuit Judges

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

This appeal presents the question whether the notice to prospective class members ordered by the district court was "the best notice practicable" under the class action rule 23(c)(2), F.R.Civ.P.

Appellants are registered owners of stock of Villager Industries, Inc., acquired during the years 1968 and 1969. Appellant Burnham is a New York investment banking and brokerage firm holding 22,972 shares of Villager common stock in street name for some 111 customers. Appellant du Pont is a brokerage corporation which, as a result of a recent merger with three other stock brokerage firms, holds 52,670 shares of Villager common stock in street names for 334 customers. Appellants were not formal parties to litigation brought by plaintiff-appellees, shareholders of Villager, against the defendant-appellees, Villager corporation and certain of its officers, directors and other shareholders. Burnham and du Pont present this appeal, contending that the district court failed to provide them with adequate notice of the hearing held on August 31, 1972, at which approval of a proposed settlement of the class action was obtained.

Plaintiffs instituted this action in federal district court, alleging that during the period January 1, 1968, to December 31, 1969, defendants violated the federal securities laws in that they failed to disclose or misrepresented facts in prospectuses, registration statements, proxy materials, periodic reports, and releases filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Plaintiffs moved for a determination that the suit be maintained as a class action. However, not until nineteen months later, following settlement negotiations, did the district court order the suit to "proceed and be maintained as a class action" for settlement purposes only. The participating litigants also presented the district court with a proposed "notice to class members," the purpose of which was to inform absentee class members of the existence of the class action and the proposed settlement.*fn1

Under the terms of the notice, "all persons who purchased shares of Villager during the period January 1, 1968, to December 31, 1969," would be deemed members of plaintiffs' class of stockholders. Membership in the class did not of itself guarantee participation in the settlement, however. In order to participate in the settlement fund, class members were required to file "a verified proof of claim with supporting documents." If such proof were not filed, or if shareholders did not exclude themselves, they were to be "barred from any future recovery on any claim." The district court ordered that notice of the hearing and proposed settlement be made "by publication... once a week during the weeks of June 19 and 26, 1972, in the national edition of the Wall Street Journal and in The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin in 1/8 of a page columns." Under the settlement plan, verified proofs or requests for exclusion were required to be filed by August 1, 1972.

On August 31, 1972, the day appointed for the hearing, Burnham appeared in court, presenting a rule to show cause why the hearing should not be adjourned until September 29, 1972, to allow Burnham "to solicit its customers and accounts... in order to determine whether such customers and accounts desire to be included in the class" or "have any objections to the proposed settlement," and to permit Burnham "for itself and the various customers and accounts on whose behalf it holds or held shares... to file verified proofs of claim and/or requests for exclusion from the class." du Pont also appeared and moved that the "period for filing verified proofs of claim be extended to September 30, 1972." The district court denied both requests and entered an order on August 31, 1972, approving the settlement.*fn2

Both appellants filed timely notices of appeal. Additionally, within the appeal period, du Pont unsuccessfully moved before the district court for a stay of the August 31, 1972, order pending appeal to this court. The settlement agreement as approved by the district court provided, in part:

11. Settlement shall not become effective, nor be consummated, until a final order has been entered pursuant to paragraph 9 hereof and until the time to appeal from such order has expired and no appeal has been taken therefrom, or if an appeal is taken until such order is finally affirmed on appeal, or the appeal is finally dismissed.

Subsequent to the filing of these appeals, and notwithstanding the above provision, on October 4, 1972, the district court ordered distribution.

I.

We swiftly dispose of appellees' contention that appellants lack standing. Appellants are record holders of the stock. They are at least nominally the legal, if not the equitable, owners of the shares. They were properly the objects of the public notice because they are "persons who purchased shares of Villager during the period January 1, 1968, to December 1, 1969." They appeared at the hearing and presented motions which were denied. They are complaining about exclusion from a class because of improper notice. They are not attempting on this appeal to object to the settlement. As record or legal shareholders they have standing on behalf of the equitable owners of the shares, asserting a wrongful denial of the opportunity to participate in the class action. See Zients v. LaMorte, 459 F.2d 628 (2d Cir. 1972); Sertic v. Carpenters District ...


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