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Dillon v. Berg

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


decided: August 8, 1973.

LEN J. DILLON, HAROLD GRAY AND FRED R. DAVIS, APPELLANTS
v.
F. STEVEN BERG, WILLIAM LERNER, GEORGE K. BISSELL, ERNEST SUMMERS AND SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY LEN J. DILLON, HAROLD GRAY AND FRED R. DAVIS V. F. STEVEN BERG, WILLIAM LERNER, GEORGE K. BISSELL, ERNEST SUMMERS AND SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY F. STEVEN BERG, WILLIAM LERNER, GEORGE K. BISSELL, ERNEST SUMMERS, APPELLANTS LEN J. DILLON, HAROLD GRAY AND FRED R. DAVIS V. F. STEVEN BERG, WILLIAM LERNER, GEORGE K. BISSELL, ERNEST SUMMERS AND SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY, APPELLANT LEN J. DILLON AND FRED R. DAVIS, APPELLANTS V. SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY, WILLIAM M. PRIFTI AND S. GEYER BEAN LEN J. DILLON AND FRED R. DAVIS V. SCOTTEN,DILLON COMPANY, WILLIAM M. PRIFTI AND S. GEYER BEAN SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY, APPELLANT LEN J. DILLON AND FRED R. DAVIS V. SCOTTEN, DILLON COMPANY, WILLIAM M. PRIFTI AND S. GEYER BEAN WILLIAM M. PRIFTI AND S. GEYER BEAN, APPELLANTS

(D.C. Civil Action No. 3967). (D.C. Civil Action No. 4182).

Van Dusen, Aldisert and Adams, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen

Opinion OF THE COURT

VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs, who shall be referred to as the Dillon faction, and defendants, the Berg faction, both appeal from the district court order of November 29, 1972 awarding counsel fees to plaintiffs. As explained in the district court's opinion, reported at 351 F. Supp. 584 (D. Del. 1972), the district court awarded to plaintiffs a portion of the amount they had requested as reasonable attorneys' fees for the prosecution of two earlier lawsuits, Dillon v. Berg, 326 F. Supp. 1214 (D. Del.), aff'd, 453 F.2d 876 (3rd Cir. 1971), and Dillon v. Scotten, Dillon Co., 335 F. Supp. 566 (D. Del. 1971).*fn1 We are reluctant to disturb the award of the district court, especially since, having sat on the two earlier cases, it was in an excellent position to evaluate the lawyers' services. We have, however, concluded that the district court erred in failing to make a specific finding whether the fees claimed were reasonable, possibly because of an inadequate record.

Because the proceedings in the two earlier cases were extensively set out in the decisions just referred to and were summarized in the district court opinion in this case, it is unnecessary now to go into a detailed discussion of the background facts. Briefly, the Dillon faction has been battling with the Berg faction for control of Scotten, Dillon Co. In Dillon v. Berg, 326 F. Supp. 1214, the Dillon faction was successful in establishing that proxy materials sent out by the Berg faction in the name of the company contained numerous material misstatements. The principal misstatements derived from the invalidity of the removal of one Powers from Scotten, Dillon's board of directors and of his replacement by one Summers. The court held that the proxy materials were in violation of section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78n(a) (1970), and Rules 14a-3 and 14a-9, 17 C.F.R. § 240.14a-3, 240.14a-9 (1972). To remedy these violations the court declared that the 1970 Annual Stockholders' Meeting held in August 1970 was illegal and ordered that a new meeting be convened.

In Dillon v. Scotten, Dillon Co., 335 F. Supp. 566, the Dillon faction was again successful in proving proxy solicitation materials to be misleading. This time success came easily. The materials in question were prepared for the 1971 meeting and had been sent out prior to the decision in Dillon v. Berg, supra. The falsity of the major misstatements -- once again, the precise membership of the board of directors -- was a direct consequence of that decision. The court did not declare illegal the entire 1971 meeting, but did void the purported election at that meeting of two persons to the board.

The Dillon faction based its request for attorneys' fees on Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite, 396 U.S. 375, 24 L. Ed. 2d 593, 90 S. Ct. 616 (1970). In Mills, the Court held that when a plaintiff proves that proxy materials violated the federal securities laws, he confers a substantial benefit on all shareholders and that therefore all shareholders, through the corporation, should bear the legal expense he has incurred. See 396 U.S. at 389-97. Having established such violations here, the Dillon faction submitted a request for attorneys' fees of $250,000.00 and out-of-pocket expenses of $7,714.66.*fn2 According to their complaint, their two law firms together worked for about 1,760 hours on Dillon v. Berg and about 100 hours on Dillon v. Scotten, Dillon Co.; they ask for $200,000. for the former case and $50,000. for the latter. App. 136-38. Supporting affidavits of members of the two firms verify the total time figures and enumerate the various activities at which time was spent, but fail to state how much time was spent at such various activities and by whom. App. 139-62.

Without making a specific finding as to the reasonability of the amounts requested,*fn3 the district court proceeded to multiply them by 10% to represent that part of the lawyers' efforts that benefited the shareholders generally, stating that 90% of the legal services were for the sole benefit of the Dillon faction. Hence, the court made its final award of $25,000. attorneys' fees and $771.46 expenses.

Since the case must be remanded to the district court*fn4 in order that it may make a finding on an adequate record*fn5 of the amount of the fee claimed by the Dillon faction which is reasonable,*fn6 we point out that the district court determination should be made in light of the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Hall v. Cole, 412 U.S. 1, 93 S. Ct. 1943, 36 L. Ed. 2d 702, 41 U.S.L.W. 4658 (1973). In Hall, the Court affirmed the award of counsel fees to a union member who vindicated the rights guaranteed him in the "Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations," Title I of Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(2) (1970). Two aspects of Hall are relevant here. First, the Supreme Court held that the district court properly exercised its discretion by considering the state of the defendant union's treasury. See 41 U.S.L.W. at 4662 n.23. This supports an action by the district court which we find was eminently reasonable, namely, the taking into account of Scotten, Dillon's financial condition.*fn7

Secondly, the Supreme Court rejected the proposition that the award of counsel fees should be diminshed because the union member was motivated by ambitions for political office in the union. As support, the Supreme Court cited the factually similar (to Hall) case of Yablonski v. UMW, 151 U.S. App. D.C. 253, 466 F.2d 424, 430-31 (1972). We find the Yablonski court's language at pages 430-31 particularly lucid:

"We turn, then, to the merits of the District Court's observation that the Yablonski lawsuits did not benefit anyone except Yablonski. Preliminarily we remark that it is not enough to say, as did the District Court, that a 'primary purpose' of the lawsuits was to facilitate Yablonski's candidacy. It is obvious in virtually all litigation of this character, in the labor field and out,*fn8 a plaintiff pursues his own interest as well as that of others. The relevant question is whether or not the trouble he takes results in the actual conferring of benefits on others than himself."

The same rationale applies here. The benefits of the two lawsuits to the Dillon faction and to all the shareholders were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

After careful consideration, we have concluded that the present record is inadequate to permit determination of whether the total fees claimed were reasonable for the legal work done on the two civil actions mentioned above, and that the district court, also, has the right to reconsider the reduction of such fees by percentage or otherwise in the light of the Hall case, supra. The district court order of November 29, 1972, will be vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Each party is to bear its own costs.


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