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Ziskin v. Thrall Car Mfg. Co.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. HAROLD A. SIEGAN, Judge, presiding.


Barry Ziskin (plaintiff) brought this class action against Thrall Car Manufacturing Company (Thrall), Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation (Chamberlain), and five individual directors of Chamberlain. Plaintiff sought an injunction against a proposed merger between the defendant corporations, which has since been consummated under Iowa law, and damages. Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed for failure to state a cause of action (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 45), and his motion for leave to file an amended complaint was denied. Plaintiff appeals.

In passing upon a motion to dismiss a complaint, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true. (Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School (1977), 69 Ill.2d 320, 329, 371 N.E.2d 634.) In addition, the tender offer and other pertinent exhibits were placed in the record as part of memoranda submitted to the trial court by defendants. Counsel for all parties have referred to these documents.

Plaintiff owns 150 shares in Chamberlain. When this litigation was commenced, Chamberlain was an Iowa corporation based in Elmhurst, Illinois. Chamberlain is engaged primarily in the manufacture of electronic items, forged metal, and home improvement products. Chamberlain also produces a component used in the assembly of missile warheads. Thrall is a closely held Delaware corporation based in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Thrall is engaged primarily in the manufacture, repair, and leasing of railroad freight cars.

Commencing in January of 1977 and continuing through April of 1979, Thrall made a series of purchases of Chamberlain stock. By June 30, 1979, Thrall owned 854,360 shares, or approximately 54% of the outstanding shares of Chamberlain. By July 28, 1979, Thrall was able to elect five of the 12 directors of Chamberlain.

In response to an approved plan to reincorporate Chamberlain in Delaware, on August 27, 1979, Thrall announced a tender offer for all outstanding shares of Chamberlain at $30 per share. The tender offer indicated that this price represented a premium of approximately a third over the then current market value, and approximately $4 over the estimated book value, of the Chamberlain stock.

In the statement submitted with its tender offer, Thrall indicated its intention to acquire all Chamberlain stock and the possibility that under a proposed follow-up merger, Chamberlain stock might no longer be traded on the open market, seriously limiting the liquidity and probable value of the stock owned by those shareholders not tendering their shares to Thrall. Thrall also disclosed a joint venture between Chamberlain and Mason & Hange-Silas Mason & Company for the construction of a munitions plant facility. In evaluating the potential profit of this venture, Thrall indicated:

"In the event of operation at full mobilization base capacity (which operation is unlikely unless there is a war or other major international conflict in which the United States is a participant), the Facility could generate sales in the range of $50,000,000 to $60,000,000 per month. It is estimated that production at the Facility will yield profits to the operator which on average will be at least 4% of sales. It is impossible to predict at what percentage of mobilization base capacity the Facility will operate and hence impossible to predict the profits which will be generated when the Facility becomes operative."

By this tender offer Thrall acquired 94% of all Chamberlain stock it did not previously own. Therefore, by October 19, 1979, Thrall owned 97% of all Chamberlain stock. On February 20, 1980, a Chamberlain shareholders' meeting approved Thrall's proposed follow-up merger whereby remaining Chamberlain shareholders would either tender their stock at the rate of $30 per share or invoke appraisal rights under Iowa corporation law.

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges Thrall and the five directors/defendants engaged in a "plan and scheme" to acquire Chamberlain stock at a deflated price. Plaintiff alleges the defendants purposely obscured the above mentioned joint venture, and limited dividends in order to keep the market value of Chamberlain artificially low, enabling Thrall to tender a low price for the stock. Plaintiff alleges fraud in the limitation of dividends and the nondisclosure of the "potential profitability" of the joint venture. Plaintiff further alleges the tender price was so low as to constitute fraud independently; defendants breached a fiduciary duty to the minority shareholders of Chamberlain; and the tender offer was coercive.

The basis of our evaluation of the instant complaint is found in Knox College v. Celotex Corp. (1981), 88 Ill.2d 407, 421, 430 N.E.2d 976, where the supreme court held:

"Although pleadings are to be liberally construed, and a defendant's motion to dismiss admits all facts well pleaded, nonetheless, in considering a motion to dismiss, the pleadings are to be construed strictly against the pleader."

In addition the court further pointed out (88 Ill.2d 407, 426-27):

"`the motion admits facts well pleaded, and conclusions may be proper if based on facts set forth, but the motion does not admit conclusions or inferences by the pleader, such as conclusions of law or of fact unsupported by allegations of ...

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