469 F.3d 143 (1st Cir. 2006), 05-1774, Nisselson v. Lernout

Docket Nº:05-1774.
Citation:469 F.3d 143
Party Name:Alan NISSELSON, Trustee of the Dictaphone Litigation Trust, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Jo LERNOUT et al. Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:November 08, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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469 F.3d 143 (1st Cir. 2006)

Alan NISSELSON, Trustee of the Dictaphone Litigation Trust, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

Jo LERNOUT et al. Defendants, Appellees.

No. 05-1774.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 8, 2006

Heard Sept. 13, 2006.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS Hon. Patti B. Saris, U.S. District Judge

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Max Folkenflik and Regina Griffin, with whom Folkenflik & McGerity, Brauner Baron Rosenzweig & Klein, Karen D. Hurvitz, and Law Offices of Karen D. Hurvitz were on brief, for appellant.

George A. Zimmerman , with whom Matthew J. Matule and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP were on brief, for appellee SG Cowen and Company, LLC.

Janet B. Fierman, with whom Thomas W. Evans, Robert M. Cohen, and Cohen & Fierman, LLP were on brief, for appellee Mercator Assurances, S.A.

Robert J. Kaler, with whom Eric Neyman and Gadsby Hannah LLp were on brief, for appellees Flanders Language Valley Fund et al.

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Michael P. Carroll, with whom Michael S. Flynn, Sean C. Knowles, Phineas E. Leahey, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Kevin J.

Lesinski, William J. hanlon, Kristin G. McGurn, and Seyfarth Shaw LLP were on brief, for appellee KPMG LLP.

Thomas J. Gallitano, Conn, Kavanagh, Rosenthal Peisch & Ford LLP, John B. Missing, Ada Fernandez Johnson, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP on brief for appellee GIMV, N.V.

Michael J. Stone, Peabody & Arnold LLP, George A. Salter, Nicholas W.C. Corson, and Hogan & Hartson LLP on brief for appellee Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler Bedrijfsrevisoren.

Robert P. Trout, John Thorpe Richards, Jr. and Trout Cacheris, PLLC on brief for appellee Lessius Management Consulting, N.V.

Andrew Good, Good & Cormier, Roger E. Zuckerman, Steven M. Salky, P. Andrew Torrez, and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP on brief for appellee Louis-H. Verbeke.

Before Selya, Lipez and Howard, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This appeal requires us to explore an arcane corner of the world of corporate finance. In the underlying series of events, a corporate shark, using fraudulent means, induced an allegedly innocent target corporation to enter into an ill-advised merger. After both the shark and the merged entity drowned in red ink, plaintiff-appellant Alan Nisselson (the trustee), appointed by the bankruptcy court to prosecute any causes of action that the merged entity might possess, attempted to mount various claims arising out of the innocent target's legal rights. Those rights, of course, were twice removed from the damages that formed the basis of the suit: they were passed along once to the surviving corporation (at the time of the merger) and again to the trustee (during the bankruptcy proceedings).

Emphasizing this genealogy, the district court dismissed the action on two grounds; it determined that the trustee lacked standing to pursue the claims and that, in all events, the rascality of the shark was as a matter of law imputed to the surviving entity in the merger (and that, therefore, the hoary in pari delicto doctrine barred the suit). See Nisselson v. Lernout, 2004 WL 3953998, at *3, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28655, at *20-21 (D.Mass. Aug. 9, 2004). Concluding, as we do, that the second of these determinations withstands scrutiny — the trustee's claims are incurably tainted because they derive from the itself-complicit surviving corporation — we affirm the judgment below.

I. BACKGROUND

We glean the pertinent facts from the amended complaint, supplementing those facts as needed by documents fairly incorporated therein and matters susceptible to judicial notice. See Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc. v. Feliciano de Melecio, 406 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2005); In re Colonial Mortg. Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12, 15-16 (1st Cir.2003). While the scheme that lies at the center of this case comprises a complex tale of sophisticated financial chicanery, we rehearse here only those features essential to an understanding of the present proceeding. We urge the reader who thirsts for greater knowledge to consult the array of published opinions emanating from related litigation. See, e.g., Baena v. KPMG LLP, 453 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2006); Quaak v. Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler Bedrijfsrevisoren, 361 F.3d 11 (1st Cir. 2004); Bamberg v. SG Cowen, 236 F.Supp.2d 79 (D. Mass. 2002); Filler v. Lernout, 230 F.Supp.2d 152 (D. Mass. 2002);

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In re Lernout & Hauspie Sec. Litig., 208 F.Supp.2d 74 (D. Mass. 2002).

By the time the new millennium dawned, Dictaphone Corporation (Old Dictaphone), a company chartered under the laws of Delaware, had established itself as a force in the healthcare speech and language applications market. Lernout & Hauspie, N.V. (L&H), a Belgian corporation that ran its United States operations from headquarters in Massachusetts, was itself an international leader in various speech and language sectors. In hopes of swallowing up its competitor, L&H began courting Old Dictaphone; it described in glowing terms its financial stability and the profitable synergies that a merger could generate. Negotiations ensued.

Not surprisingly, Old Dictaphone conducted extensive due diligence investigations into L&H's fiscal health. During the course of that review, L&H's senior officers, investment bankers, attorneys, and auditors touted its financial prowess. Against this rose-colored backdrop, Old Dictaphone agreed to a stock-for-stock merger. The parties memorialized the terms in a merger agreement dated March 7, 2000.

The merger took place less than two months thereafter: L&H acquired all the outstanding stock of Old Dictaphone in exchange for approximately 9,400,000 shares of L&H common stock. Based on the trading price of L&H stock at the time of the closing, the exchange corresponded to a merger price of roughly $930,000,000.

As part and parcel of the transaction, Old Dictaphone merged into Dark Acquisition Corp. (Dark), a wholly-owned subsidiary of L&H created under Delaware law for the express purpose of effectuating the merger. L&H's chief executive officer, defendant-appellee Gaston Bastiaens, doubled in brass as Dark's chief executive and lone director. He also signed the merger agreement on its behalf.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, Dark inherited Old Dictaphone's assets (including any existing legal claims) and assumed Old Dictaphone's liabilities. This arrangement corresponded to the dictates of Delaware law. See Del. Code Ann. tit. 8, § 259(a). Dark survived the merger and Old Dictaphone ceased to exist. Dark then changed its name to Dictaphone Corporation (New Dictaphone).

The honeymoon was brief. Shortly after the merger had been consummated, L&H announced that the financial picture it had painted and displayed was not an accurate portrayal. As matters turned out, nearly two-thirds of L&H's reported revenue from 1998 through mid-2000 had been improperly recorded, so that an apparent $70,000,000 net profit for that period was in fact a net loss of a similar magnitude. The price of L&H shares plummeted and, on November 29, 2000, L&H and New Dictaphone filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.

We fast-forward to New Dictaphone's approved plan of reorganization. As part of that plan, the corporation conveyed its interest in any claims arising out of the merger to the Dictaphone Litigation Trust (the Trust). That assignment galvanized this suit: acting on behalf of the Trust, the trustee filed a civil action in federal district court seeking damages to compensate for the "loss or diminution of [Old Dictaphone's] value as a going concern."

The trustee's amended complaint characterizes the gross misstatments of earnings as the mainspring of a fraudulent scheme designed to inflate the value of L&H's stock. As the trustee envisions it, this scheme, which played out over a four-year period, was concocted and executed

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by the defendants in this case (who include the officers, directors, investment bankers, attorneys, and auditors of L&H, and divers entities related to them). The fallout from it rendered worthless the consideration that Old Dictaphone and its shareholders received (assumption of Old Dictaphone's debt and shares of L&H stock).

In his amended complaint, the trustee asserts federal securities and racketeering claims, see 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b), 78t(a); 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c); 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5, as well as supplemental state-law claims for fraud, unfair trade practices, negligent misrepresentation, and conspiracy. The theory underlying each and all of these initiatives is that L&H, through its senior management, knowingly engaged in a scheme to classify research and development expenditures as fictional revenue in order to inflate the value of the company's stock. Then, knowing that they were selling a lie, L&H's hierarchs flaunted the company's ever-increasing stock price and used its apocryphal earnings to persuade Old Dictaphone and its shareholders to enter into a stock-for-stock merger. L&H relied on its investment bankers, attorneys, accountants, and related entities to substantiate its false claims; those parties, the trustee contends, knew that L&H was spinning a yarn, yet assisted it in perpetrating the fraud.1

Various defendants, led by SG Cowen (an investment banking house), filed motions to dismiss. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). All of these motions argued, in relevant part, that the trustee lacked standing and that his claims were barred under the in pari delicto doctrine. Some of the motions advanced additional grounds for dismissing particular claims. The trustee vigorously opposed the...

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