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HELI-COIL CORP. v. WEBSTER

October 24, 1963

HELI-COIL CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
Reginald WEBSTER, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: AUGELLI

This is an action by the corporate plaintiff against one of its directors to recover 'insider profits' under section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Act), 15 U.S.C.A. § 78p(b). Jurisdiction is conferred by section 27 of the Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 78aa, as amended. The matter was tried to the Court, sitting without a jury, and the following facts were stipulated by the parties:

Plaintiff Heli-Coil Corporation was incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware on October 16, 1958. Defendant Reginald Webster is a resident of New Jersey, and because a director of plaintiff on October 16, 1958, and has been such director since that time.

 On November 20, 1958, defendant purchased, at par and accrued interest, $ 60,000.00 principal amount of plaintiff's 5% Callable debentures dated November 1, 1958 and due November 1, 1973. These debentures were convertible, at the option of the holder, into common stock of plaintiff at any time prior to redemption or maturity, at the conversion price of $ 16 2/3 per share, subject to adjustment as provided in the Indenture under which the debentures were issued.

 On November 20, 1958, defendant also purchased in the open market 500 shares of plaintiff's common stock at $ 14.50 per share. At this time, such stock was not registered on a national securities exchange. On December 11, the American Stock Exchange approved an application by plaintiff for the listing of 278,000 shares of its common stock, $ 1.00 par value, and on December 17, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered the immediate registration of such stock on said Exchange.

 On March 18, 1959, defendant exercised his option to convert his debentures, and in connection therewith received 3,600 shares of plaintiff's common stock, $ 1.00 per value. Plaintiff had never called defendant's convertible debentures for redemption and such debentures were never registered on a national securities exchange, but they were traded in the over-the-counter market.

 On July 16, 1959, defendant sold 1,000 shares of the common stock of plaintiff for $ 69,470.60; on August 26, another 200 shares for $ 14,293.55; and on September 1, an additional 100 shares for $ 7,096.86.

 Section 16(b) of the Act, in pertinent part, reads as follows:

 'For the purpose of preventing the unfair use of information which may have been obtained by such beneficial owner, director, or officer by reason of his relationship to the issuer, any profit realized by him from any purchase and sale, or any sale and purchase, of any equity security of such issuer (other than an exempted security) within any period of less than six months, unless such security was acquired in good faith in connection with a debt previously contracted, shall inure to and be recoverable by the issuer, irrespective of any intention on the part of such beneficial owner, director, or officer in entering into such transaction of holding the security purchased or of not repurchasing the security sold for a period exceeding six months. Suit to recover such profit may be instituted at law or in equity in any court of competent jurisdiction by the issuer * * *.'

 Defendant has filed an answer in which he denies any liability under section 16(b) of the Act, and sets up a number of separate defenses. He contends that he acted in good faith without the use of any inside information in making the sales of common stock; that he did not realize a profit on the conversion of the debentures; that the conversion of the debentures was not a sale of equity securities; that such conversion did not result in a purchase of the 3,600 shares of common within the meaning of section 16(b); that since the debentures were not registered on a national securities exchange at any time and since plaintiff had no equity securities registered on such an exchange at the time the debentures were acquired, the conversion was not subject to section 16(b); and that defendant acquired the 3,600 shares of common stock on March 18, 1959 in good faith in connection with a debt previously contracted (the debentures), and therefore the acquisition and subsequent sale of the common stock were exempt from section 16(b).

 The basic issue in this case is whether defendant's conversion of the debentures into common stock on March 18, 1959 constituted a 'sale' of the debentures and a 'purchase' of the common stock within the meaning of section 16(b) of the Act. Both convertible debentures and common stock are unexempted 'equity securities' under section 3(a)(10), (11) and (12) of the Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 78c(a)(10), (11) and (12). Therefore, if this basic issue is resolved in plaintiff's favor, unless some exception is applicable, the purchase of the debentures on November 20, 1958 and the sales of the common stock on July 16, August 26 and September 1, 1959 would subject defendant to liability on both counts of the complaint.

 The words 'purchase' and 'sale' are both defined by the Act, in sections 3(a) (13) and (14), 15 U.S.C.A. § 78c(a)(13) and (14), to include, respectively, 'any contract to buy, purchase, or otherwise acquire' and 'any contract to sell or otherwise dispose of'. The conversion transaction in this case would appear to come within these definitions as to both the disposition made of the debentures and the acquisition of the common stock. Two cases have been called to the Court's attention which deal with the meaning of the term 'purchase' in a conversion situation. They are Park & Tilford v. Schulte, 160 F.2d 984 (2 Cir., 1947), cert. den. 332 U.S. 761, 68 S. Ct. 64, 92 L. Ed. 347, and Ferraiolo v. Newman, 259 F.2d 342 (6 Cir. 1958), cert. den. 359 U.S. 927, 79 S. Ct. 606, 3 L. Ed. 2d 629. Although these cases do not specifically involve the question of whether a conversion results in a 'sale' of the convertible security, their ratio decidendi would seem equally applicable to that issue. Logically, if converting one security into another results in a 'purchase' of the second security, it should follow that it also results in a 'sale' of the first security within the statutory definitions of 'purchase' and 'sale'. See Blau v. Lamb, 163 F.Supp. 528 (S.D.N.Y.1958).

 Both Park & Tilford and Ferraiolo involved the conversion of preferred stock into common followed by a sale of the common within six months after the conversion. In Park & Tilford the court found that the acquisition of common stock as a result of conversion was a 'purchase' within the meaning of section 16(b) of the Act, while the court in Ferraiolo reached a contrary result. From these and other cases, the following test can be said to emerge for determining whether a particular conversion transaction constitutes a 'purchase' or 'sale': was the conversion the type of transaction that could possibly have lent itself to the short-term speculation that section 16(b) seeks to prohibit? See Blau v. Lehman, 286 F.2d 786, 792 (2 Cir. 1960); Loss, Securities Regulation, pp. 1041, 1066-71 (2nd Edition 1961). The actual use or knowledge of inside information is, of course, not a necessary element in this regard. Smolowe v. Delendo Corp., 136 F.2d 231 (2 Cir. 1943); cert. den. 320 U.S. 751, 64 S. Ct. 56, 88 L. Ed. 446; Ferraiolo v. Newman, supra; Rheem Manufacturing Co. v. Rheem, 295 F.2d 473 (9 Cir. 1961). Of course, where the circumstances indicate that a conversion could not in any way have been motivated by a desire to engage in such speculation, the purpose of section 16(b) would not be served by calling the transaction a 'purchase' or 'sale' within the meaning of its language.

 Defendant contends that the case at bar is governed by Ferraiolo because in this case, as in that, convertibility was protected against dilution, and the convertible securities could be considered economic equivalents in market price to the common stock. The argument is that defendant's interest in the corporation was not materially changed by the conversion and that therefore the conversion should not be considered a 'sale' and a 'purchase' under section 16(b). While both cases do appear to have this element in common, the Court feels that it was the involuntary nature of the conversion in Ferraiolo that was a determinative factor in that case. In both Ferraiolo and Park & Tilford, the corporate plaintiffs had called the defendants' preferred stock for redemption, but in Park & Tilford the court held that the conversion was not forced because the defendants controlled the corporation which passed the redemption resolution. The conversion effected here by defendant on March 18, 1959 was not the result of a call of the debentures for redemption by plaintiff. It was completely voluntary. Defendant was under no compulsion to take any action with respect to his debentures. He could have continued to hold them, or he could have sold them and pocketed the cash, or he could have converted them into common stock. In this Court's opinion, by his voluntary act of converting, defendant brought himself within the rationale of both the Park & Tilford and Ferraiolo decisions, and engaged in a transaction which could have resulted in the short term speculation which section 16(b) is designed to prevent. Essentially, it is the same as if defendant, on March 18, 1959, sold his debentures on the open ...


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