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Mills v. Electric Autolite Co.

November 25, 1968


Swygert, Fairchild and Kerner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from an interlocutory summary judgment, determining liability alone, under one of three counts of a complaint. The question of appropriate relief was reserved. The judgment was entered September 26, 1967, an opinion, 281 F. Supp. 826, and findings of fact and conclusions of law, having been filed the same day. Defendants obtained leave to appeal under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1292(b). Plaintiffs, with similar leave, cross appealed from an order entered September 28, 1967 deleting one of the conclusions of law.

The posture of the action.

Plaintiffs attacked a corporate merger whereby The Electric Autolite Company (an Ohio corporation) was to be merged with and into Mergenthaler Linotype Company. The name of the surviving corporation was changed to Eltra Corporation. The merger was approved at a stockholders' meeting of Autolite on June 27, 1963 and has been treated as effective.

Plaintiffs held stock in Autolite. They assert that this is a derivative action on behalf of Autolite, and also that it is a class action on behalf of themselves and all other minority stockholders.

Plaintiffs filed their original complaint June 26, 1963, the day before the meeting. Their amended complaint, filed February 4, 1964, set out three counts. In each they sought a declaration that the proxies solicited by management were void, orders setting aside the merger and causing the return of assets to Autolite, and an accounting to Autolite for damages. No application was made for a restraining order or temporary injunction to prevent use of the proxies or to delay consummation of the merger.

Count II predicated jurisdiction on sec. 27 of the securities exchange act of 1934.*fn1 It alleged that the proxy statement sent out by management violated sec. 14(a) of the 1934 act*fn2 and rule 14a-9, issued under the act,*fn3 by misrepresentation and nondisclosure; that the proxies obtained were void, and that accordingly the merger had failed to receive valid votes representing the required two-thirds of the Autolite shares.

On November 15, 1965, after a motion by plaintiffs for summary judgment as to count II, the district court filed a memorandum concluding as a matter of law the failure to disclose certain facts was a material omission. The court indicated doubt as to the consequences which must flow from that conclusion. On November 29, the court filed a memorandum opinion and order concluding that there should be a reference to a master under Rule 53(b), F.R.Civ.P. On February 14, 1966, the court filed a memorandum concluding that it would be necessary for the court to determine whether there was a causal connection between the violation of the disclosure requirements and the alleged injury to the plaintiffs before a master should look into appropriate remedial action.

At the time of entering the interlocutory summary judgment appealed from, the court found again that the proxy statement was false and misleading as a result of certain statements and omissions, found that the proxy statement was a cause of the merger, and directed that the master, previously designated, should proceed.

Plaintiffs argue that our present review is limited to the finding of causation, suggesting that the district court's 1965 order or ruling finding a violation of the disclosure rule has passed beyond review. We disagree. Just as defendants could have waited until final judgment and then have attacked on appeal all intermediate orders which involve the merits and necessarily affect the final judgment, so now, upon appeal from the interlocutory judgment they may have review of all prior orders which bear the same relationship to the interlocutory judgment.

Plaintiffs also contend we can not at this time review the order of reference with respect to the determination of relief. They apparently consider that the reference was made November 29, 1965, though suspended thereafter. Although it is true that the judgment entered September 26, 1967 does not expressly direct a reference, the accompanying memorandum makes it plain that the directions given November 29, 1965 were then revived. We consider that the appropriateness of a reference is also before us.

The deficiency in the proxy statement.

Before the merger, Mergenthaler owned 54% of the shares of Autolite outstanding. 46% of the shares were held by 8,987 other shareholders. Under the terms of the merger, the shares owned by Mergenthaler would be canceled. The shares held by others would become preferred stock of Eltra (Mergenthaler), at the ratio of 1.88 shares of preferred stock for each share of Autolite stock. The preferred stock had a par value of $34.50 per share, and would be convertible into common stock of Eltra, at ...

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