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decided: May 18, 1908.



Author: Holmes

[ 210 U.S. Page 209]

 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a bill in equity brought by the petitioner to rescind a sale to it of certain mining rights and land by the defendants' testator, or in the alternative to recover damages for the sale. The bill was demurred to and the demurrer was sustained. 136 Fed. Rep. 915. Then the bill was amended and again demurred to, and again the demurrer was sustained, and the bill was dismissed. This decree was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 148 Fed. Rep. 1020; 79 C.C.A. 534. The ground of the petitioner's case is that Lewisohn, the deceased, and one Bigelow, as promoters, formed the petitioner that they might sell certain properties to it at a profit, that they made their sale while they owned all the stock issued, but in contemplation of a large further issue to the public without disclosure of their profit, and that such an issue in fact was made. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has held the plaintiff entitled to recover from Bigelow upon a substantially similar bill. 188 Massachusetts, 315.

The facts alleged are as follows: The property embraced in the plan was the mining property of the Old Dominion Copper Company of Baltimore, and also the mining rights and land

[ 210 U.S. Page 210]

     now in question, the latter being held by one Keyser, for the benefit of himself and of the executors of one Simpson, who with Keyser owned the stock of the Baltimore company. Bigelow and Lewisohn, in May and June, 1895, obtained options from Simpson's executors and Keyser for the purchase of the stock and the property now in question. They also formed a syndicate to carry out their plan, with the agreement that the money subscribed by the members should be used for the purchase and the sale to a new corporation, at a large advance, and that the members, in the proportion of their subscriptions, should receive in cash or in stock of the new corporation the profit made by the sale. On May 28, 1895, Bigelow paid Simpson's executors for their stock on behalf of the syndicate, in cash and notes of himself and Lewisohn, and in June Keyser was paid in the same way.

On July 8, 1895, Bigelow and Lewisohn started the plaintiff corporation, the seven members being their nominees and tools. The next day the stock of the company was increased to 150,000 shares of twenty-five dollars each, officers were elected, and the corporation became duly organized. July 11, pursuant to instructions, some of the officers resigned, and Bigelow and Lewisohn and three other absent members of the syndicate came in. Thereupon an offer was received from the Baltimore company, the stock of which had been bought, as stated, by Bigelow and Lewisohn, to sell substantially all its property for 100,000 shares of the plaintiff company. The offer was accepted, and then Lewisohn offered to sell the real estate now in question, obtained from Keyser, for 30,000 shares, to be issued to Bigelow and himself. This also was accepted and possession of all the mining property was delivered the next day. The sales "were consummated" by delivery of deeds, and afterwards, on July 18, to raise working capital, it was voted to offer the remaining 20,000 shares to the public at par, and they were taken by subscribers who did not know of the profit made by Bigelow and Lewisohn and the syndicate. On September 18, the 100,000 and 30,000

[ 210 U.S. Page 211]

     shares were issued, and it was voted to issue the 20,000 when paid for. The bill alleges that the property of the Baltimore company was not worth more than $1,000,000, the sum paid for its stock, and the property here concerned not over $5,000, as Bigelow and Lewisohn knew. The market value of the petitioner's stock was less than par, so that the price paid was $2,500,000, it is said, for the Baltimore company's property and $750,000 for that here concerned. Whether this view of the price paid is correct, it is unnecessary to decide.

Of the stock in the petitioner received by Bigelow and Lewisohn or their Baltimore corporation, 40,000 shares went to the syndicate as profit, and the members had their choice of receiving a like additional number of shares or the repayment of their original subscription. As pretty nearly all took the stock, the syndicate received about 80,000 shares. The remaining 20,000 of the stock paid to the Baltimore company, Bigelow and Lewisohn divided, the plaintiff believes, without the knowledge of the syndicate. The 30,000 shares received for the property now in question they also divided. Thus the plans of Bigelow and Lewisohn were carried out.

The argument for the petitioner is that all would admit that the promoters (assuming the English phrase to be well applied) stood in a fiduciary relation to it, if, when the transaction took place, there were members who were not informed of the profits made and who did not acquiesce, and that the same obligation of good faith extends down to the time of the later subscriptions, which it was the promoters' plan to obtain. It is an argument that has commanded the assent of at least one court, and is stated at length in the decision. But the courts do not agree. There is no authority binding upon us and in point. The general observations in Dickerman v. Northern Trust Co., 176 U.S. 181, were obiter, and do not dispose of the case. Without spending time upon the many dicta that were quoted to us, we shall endeavor to weigh the considerations on one side and the other afresh.

The difficulty that meets the petitioner at the ...

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