896 F.2d 170 (5th Cir. 1990), 88-7004, MCG, Inc. v. Great Western Energy Corp.

Docket Nº:88-7004.
Citation:896 F.2d 170
Party Name:MCG, INC., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. GREAT WESTERN ENERGY CORP., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 16, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 170

896 F.2d 170 (5th Cir. 1990)

MCG, INC., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

GREAT WESTERN ENERGY CORP., et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 88-7004.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 16, 1990

Page 171

Rodney Lee Dockery, President, MCG, Inc., James Russell Tucker, J. Michael Tibbals, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Michael Keeley, Strasburger & Price, Sidney Powell, Dallas, Tex., for Great Western Energy, et al.

Vincent Walkowiak, Fulbright & Jaworski, Wm. Christopher Carmody, Dallas, Tex., for Brown, Shipley.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before GARZA, REAVLEY and POLITZ, Circuit Judges.

POLITZ, Circuit Judge:

Finding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction the district court dismissed the claims of MCG, Inc., Pelco, Inc., Heritage, Inc., Bard, Inc., and Venture, Inc. (collectively MCG), for damages arising out of alleged securities fraud. MCG timely appealed. Concluding that the federal securities laws do not extend to persons who purchase stock available only on foreign markets in a wholly foreign transaction, we affirm.

Background

All of the five plaintiffs-appellants are corporations owned and controlled by Rodney Dockery. The defendants-appellees are three Great Western companies incorporated

Page 172

in Texas or California, the London merchant bank Brown, Shipley & Co. (Brown), and four Great Western officers. The transaction out of which this dispute arose involved the sale on the London Stock Exchange of 5,000,000 shares of the common stock of Great Western Resources, Inc., a Texas corporation. MCG alleges that Great Western and Brown fraudulently induced them to purchase over $600,000 in Great Western stock when Brown took the stock public on the London Exchange in 1984.

As reflected in the prospectus prepared by Brown, the Great Western shares, as foreign securities, were not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Accordingly, they had to be offered exclusively to investors who were neither citizens, residents, nationals, nor chartered residents of the United States. To ensure compliance with these restrictions, every purchaser of the securities was required to sign a declaration attesting to compliance therewith, and the stock certificates bore a legend informing of the restrictions.

The parties dispute how MCG came to be involved with the ownership of stock that was not to be sold to American investors. Dockery asserts that in the spring of 1984 he was contacted by Daniel Pena, president of Great Western, who told of his plans to take Great Western public on the London Exchange. Pena allegedly assured Dockery that the stock's value would rapidly increase from $2.00 to $13.00 per share. Dockery further claims that Jeremy Knight, a manager at Brown, called him and touted Great Western as the best oil stock available in London. Dockery claims that Pena and Knight sent him prospectuses, statements, and telexes, and telephoned him repeatedly. Dockery concludes that because of the solicitations and representations of Pena and Knight he decided, through his corporations, to invest over $600,000 in the Great Western offering.

Shortly before the purchase was to occur, according to Dockery, Pena and Knight informed him that as American entities his corporations were ineligible to purchase the shares and directed him to make the investment through an offshore company that would purchase and hold the shares on their behalf. Dockery contends that he followed this directive and engaged the services of Dennis Doherty, a financial consultant, who in turn engaged First Financial Services Company, a Hong Kong corporation, to organize Croftby Company, Ltd., a Hong Kong shell corporation wholly owned by Dockery's companies. As a non-American entity Croftby purchased the Great Western shares on the London market and held them for the benefit of Dockery's American corporations. So says Dockery.

Pena and Brown sketch a different scene. The relationship between Dockery and Great Western, they contend, began in 1982, before the events leading to the instant litigation. At that time Venture, one of the plaintiff companies, began investing in Great Western's gas projects. The investments, as Dockery conceded, were extensive. In 1983 Dockery met Pena and the two conferred frequently in 1983 and 1984, when Dockery was soliciting investors for several oil and gas projects of his own. Pena and Brown maintain that they never solicited Dockery. To the contrary, they maintain that Dockery learned of the London offering through his frequent business dealings with Great Western, dealings which enabled him to gather sufficient inside information to decide that a quick profit could be made by investing in the London offering.

Cognizant of the restrictions on sales to American investors, Dockery allegedly solicited Doherty to arrange the Great Western purchase through Croftby without defendants' knowledge. Brown insists that it did not sell shares to any purchaser that disclosed that it was acting on behalf of Dockery or his corporations, and that there is no record of any transactions between it and MCG. Brown emphasizes that MCG has never owned any stock in Great Western.

In due course Croftby purchased the shares in the London offering. To the distress of investors, rather than increasing in value the price of the shares fell. In

Page 173

December 1986 Croftby sold its securities for $208,744.50, sustaining a loss of approximately $400,000. In July 1987 MCG filed suit alleging fraudulent misrepresentations in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 78aa, Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. 240.10b-5, the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 77v(a) and pendent state claims of negligence, intentional misrepresentations, and common law fraud under Texas and California law.

Defendants denied the allegations and moved to dismiss the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Brown urged the additional defense of lack of in personam jurisdiction. The court first denied the motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and set the in personam motion for hearing. At the hearing Dockery testified in person and Knight testified by deposition.

Dockery's testimony was impeached soundly. He had no records of the many contacts that allegedly occurred between him and Pena and Brown, offering only one telex, the recipient of which was ambiguous. Dockery's excuse was that Pena had come by his office one day and, with Dockery's permission, had taken possession of all of the records of their communications. Dockery conceded that only Croftby was shown as a purchaser of the stocks and further conceded that he could produce no records confirming the ownership by any of the plaintiff corporations of any stock in Great Western, or, for that matter, in Croftby.

At the close of the hearing Brown's attorneys again raised the issue of subject matter jurisdiction. The court took that motion under advisement and invited both sides to brief the issue. In the interim all other defendants filed motions challenging subject matter jurisdiction.

Finding that the plaintiffs had organized Croftby to facilitate their investment without the defendants' knowledge, and that the plaintiffs had never owned any Great Western stock, the district court dismissed MCG's claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court concluded that, having taken "every measure to avoid the [federal] securities laws," the plaintiffs could not now seek their protections. MCG timely appealed.

Analysis

Federal courts, both trial and appellate, have a continuing obligation to examine the basis for their jurisdiction. The issue may be raised by parties, or by the court sua sponte, at any time. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); Baker Oil Tools, Inc. v. Delta S.S. Lines, Inc., 562 F.2d 938, 940 n. 2 (5th Cir.1977); Oswalt v. Scripto, Inc., 616 F.2d 191 (5th Cir.1980).

The determination of subject matter jurisdiction turns on the facts. MCG would have us regard them as the real purchasers of the stock, thus presenting a simple scenario of one American company buying shares in another American company, with the only foreign element being the purchase of the shares on the London exchange by a Hong Kong company. That simple scenario cannot be accepted. The reality we perceive is a purchase on the London Exchange by Croftby, a Hong Kong company, of shares in a foreign offering as to which American purchasers were disqualified.

  1. Federal Jurisdiction--Foreign Transactions

    The jurisdictional provisions of the federal securities laws "furnish no specific indications of when American federal courts have jurisdiction over securities law claims arising from extraterritorial transactions." Zoelsch v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 824 F.2d 27, 30 (D.C.Cir.1987). When Congress drafted the securities laws, it did not consider the issue of extraterritorial...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP