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FOX v. PRUDENT RESOURCES TRUST

September 19, 1974

HAROLD FOX, plaintiff, for himself and on behalf of all others similarly situate
v.
PRUDENT RESOURCES TRUST, ESTATE OF I. THEODORE LEADER, MILTON G. GERSHENSON, HERBERT SELTZER, HAROLD SETH LEADER, M.D., SIMON KAPLAN, ABRAHAM SANDERS, ESTATE OF BENJAMIN ROSENBERG, BRUCE GENE LEADER and BGL OIL COMPANY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

 Plaintiff, Harold Fox, a limited partner in Prudent Resources Oil and Gas Program (Program), a New York limited partnership, brings this action against defendant Prudent Resources Trust (Prudent), a New York business trust which is a general partner in the Program, and various named individuals also instrumental in running the Program, alleging acts of securities fraud, corporate mismanagement and breach of fiduciary duty. Specifically, Fox' complaint alleges violations of § 10 (b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b), more particularly, Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5, promulgated thereunder; § 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. § 77q (a); various sections of the Investment Company and Investment Advisors Acts, 15 U.S.C. § 80a-1 et seq.; and the applicable provisions of Pennsylvania corporation law. Federal jurisdiction is predicated upon § 27 of the 1934 Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78aa; §§ 17 and 22 of the 1933 Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 77q and 77v; § 44 of the Investment Company Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80a-43, and diversity of citizenship.

 Defendants Prudent Resources Trust, Milton G. Gershenson, Simon Kaplan, Abraham Sanders and the Estate of Benjamin Rosenberg (sometimes hereinafter collectively referred to as Prudent) have filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. F.R.C.P. 12(b) (6). Defendant Harold Seth Leader has joined in that motion. An answer was filed on behalf of the Estate of I. Theodore Leader, Bruce G. Leader, and BGL Oil Company. Thereafter, Bruce G. Leader and BGL Oil Company moved to dismiss and for summary judgment for lack of jurisdiction and improper venue. That motion is denied for reasons stated from the bench at oral argument. Before the court is Prudent's (and by joinder, Harold Seth Leader's) motion to dismiss. *fn1"

 On a motion to dismiss, of course, all well pleaded facts in the complaint must be accepted and the complaint must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The complaint may not be dismissed unless it appears certain that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any state of facts which could be proven in support of his claim, e.g., Frederick Hart & Co. v. Recordgraph Corp., 169 F.2d 580 (3d Cir. 1948); Melo-Sonics Corp. v. Cropp, 342 F.2d 856 (3d Cir. 1965). Read in this light, the complaint alleges the following: The Program was instituted in late January 1969, with Prudent becoming its general partner on April 30, 1969. Soon afterward, Prudent and the Program, by means of a written prospectus placed in interstate commerce, invited the general public to purchase shares in the newly created limited partnership. The prospectus informed the public that the Program would be a partnership lasting for ten years and that management and control of the business would reside exclusively with Prudent, the Program's only general partner. The investments made by the limited partners would be used to finance the acquisition of oil and gas company leases and royalties therein, and for the acquisition of acreage on which the Program would test for and ultimately drill and develop oil wells. The prospectus stated further that Prudent would not charge the Program for indirect costs or administrative expenses and that each limited partner would have an undivided interest in the Program's properties proportionate to the capital investments made. It also contained assurances that the Program would not buy property from the trustees, officers, or employees of Prudent; that if Prudent sold property to the Program it would sell only "oil and gas" leases or producing properties and that it would not profit on the transaction, receiving in return only its cost plus reimbursement for direct expenses; and that Prudent was obligated to deal fairly and in good faith with its limited partners and all investment decisions would be made consistent with these duties, rather than with Prudent's self-interest. *fn2" Relying on the representations in the prospectus, Fox bought ten limited partnership units at a price of $5,000 per unit for a total investment of $50,000. Altogether, as a result of the public offering, 636 limited partnership units were sold by the Program and Prudent to 150 individuals for a total of $3,180,000.

 The complaint further alleges that, despite the terms of the prospectus, even while the offer to the public remained outstanding, Prudent and the other defendants embarked upon a course of self-dealing which operated as a fraud on the prospective limited partners. Plaintiff also alleges that Prudent profited handsomely from the sale of properties to the Program, despite the prohibition against this in the prospectus; that Prudent also charged indirect costs and administrative expenses to the Program; that Prudent knowingly purchased properties from officers, trustees and employees of the Program, blatant acts of self-dealing in flat contravention of the guarantees of the prospectus; that this course of conduct which began in April 1969 continued until well into 1972, and resulted in the enrichment of the general partner and certain named individuals, and the simultaneous attrition in worth of the investment of plaintiff and the other limited partners; and that the defendants concealed their actions from the limited partners by means of a series of misleading communications describing the Program's investments.

 In offering their 12(b) motion to dismiss, Prudent and the individual defendants contend that the actions complained of, even if true, do not constitute violations of Rule 10b-5 or § 17(a) of the 1933 Act; that Prudent is neither an investment company nor advisor under the provisions of the Investment Company or Investment Advisors Acts and that, barring these bases of federal jurisdiction, this action should be consigned to state court because there is no diversity of citizenship between the parties on which to premise federal jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Movants also argue that while the complaint alleges fraud, the allegations of fraud have not been set forth with the particularity required by F.R.C.P. 9(b). These contentions will be considered seriatim.

 I. 10b-5 Claims.

 A. Purchase of Limited Partnership Units by Fox.

 In this claim, Fox alleges that he purchased his limited partnership units in the Program as a result of misrepresentations in the prospectus through which the public offering was made. Read liberally, the complaint alleges that defendants had already begun to engage in transactions which constituted self-dealing while the prospectus was still being considered by the public. At the very least, the complaint alleges that defendants' plan to enrich themselves at the expense of the enterprise was already formulated at the time the partnership units were being offered to the public through the prospectus.

 In my view, these facts, if proven, would constitute a 10b-5 violation. It is alleged that defendants, for the purpose of inducing investors to purchase shares in their business, intentionally misrepresented material facts concerning the way the Program would be operated. Whereas the prospectus pictured the embryonic enterprise as being run for the benefit of all investors, and made guarantees to that effect, plaintiff charges that actually plans were afoot to run it as a vehicle to enrich a privileged few "inside" investors at the expense of the limited partners. A misleading prospectus can play a part in a scheme which violates Rule 10b-5, see, e.g., Green v. Wolf Corp., 406 F.2d 291 (2d Cir. 1968), whenever the misrepresentation is "of a sort that would cause reasonable investors to rely thereon, and, in connection therewith, so relying, cause them to purchase or sell a corporation's securities." Gottlieb v. Sandia American Corp., 452 F.2d 510, 516 (3d Cir. 1971), quoting SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., 401 F.2d 833, 860 (2d Cir. 1968). The assurances in the prospectus that the Program would not purchase property from its trustees or employees would be "material," List v. Fashion Park, Inc., 340 F.2d 457, 462 (2d Cir. 1965), to an investor of any experience, because the liquid and readily negotiable nature of the assets of investment trust companies have traditionally "offered many opportunities for exploitation by unscrupulous management." L. Loss, Securities Regulation, vol. 1, p. 146 (2 ed. 1961). The basic purpose of 10b-5 -- to safeguard investors by policing devices inimical to "the climate of fair dealing" -- dictates the conclusion that these allegations state a claim under Rule 10b-5.

 Defendants' argument that no 10b-5 claim is stated relies almost exclusively on Lester v. Preco Industries, Inc., 282 F. Supp. 459 (S.D.N.Y. 1965). In that case, the court considered the question "whether allegations of evil intent, purportedly entertained when the registration statement was filed but not carried out until a subsequent time, are sufficient to convert what would otherwise be a stockholders derivative suit into a suit for violation of the 1934 Act." 282 F. Supp. at 462. In concluding that a federal claim was not stated, the court stated:

 
"If such a complaint sets forth a cause of action under the Security Laws, by merely adding the allegation that defendants intended so to spend money at the time of a registration statement, any stockholders of any corporation who are unhappy about any expenditure of corporate funds can obtain federal jurisdiction over their complaint by merely alleging that any given expenditure was not fully disclosed in the last registration statement on file for that company." 282 F. Supp. at 464. (On Motion to Reargue)

 The Lester ruling is not persuasive in this case. Lester reflects a judicial view of 10b-5 which has since been discredited. The court was strongly influenced by Birnbaum v. Newport Steel Corp., 193 F.2d 461 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 343 U.S. 956, 96 L. Ed. 1356, 72 S. Ct. 1051 (1952), and what has been described as Birnbaum's "extraordinary restraint" that 10b-5 is not aimed at " 'fraudulent mismanagement of corporate affairs. '" Bromberg, supra, at 84.15. But "little of the Birnbaum rationale -- of excluding fiduciary breach from the scope of 10b-5 -- survived the decisions of the 1960's. . . ." Bromberg, supra, at 84.18. Rule 10b-5 projects into the realm of more general corporate management to reach " all fraudulent schemes in connection with the purchase or sale of securities, whether . . a garden variety type of fraud, or . . a unique form of deception." A. T. Brod & Co. v. Perlow, 375 F.2d 393, 397 (2d Cir. 1967). Where 10b-5 properly extends, it will be applied regardless of any cause of action that may exist under state law. Popkin v. Bishop, 464 F.2d 714 (2d Cir. 1972); cf. Superintendent of Insurance v. Banker's Life and Casualty Co., 404 U.S. 6, 30 L. Ed. 2d 128, 92 S. Ct. 165 (1971). To deny that plaintiffs have stated a cause of action under Rule 10b-5, defendants must take the position that they may concoct a plan to defraud investors, issue a prospectus to attract investment to that plan and thereafter carry out their fraudulent scheme and yet avoid 10b-5 liability so long as they waited until the public offer was complete before breaching the promises made in the prospectus. So stated, this view of Rule 10b-5 falls of its own weight.

 Of course, plaintiff has the heavy burden of showing either that transactions which were in violation of the prospectus occurred while the prospectus was before the public, or if self-dealing took place only after the public offering was complete, that defendants intended to defraud their purchasers at the time they issued the prospectus, but problems of proof concerning the merits of the case cannot effect the result at this point. Fox' allegations of fraud in ...


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