original and amended complaints, and a thorough consideration of plaintiff's affidavit in opposition to these renewed motions as well as the oral argument, the court must agree with defendant. No genuine issue of material fact exists creating a jury question as to due diligence.
Originally formulated in the case of Bailey v. Glover, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 342, 22 L. Ed. 636 (1875), the doctrine of fraudulent concealment does not require active concealment by the defendant, but does place a positive duty upon the plaintiff to diligently inquire in order to discover the fraud alleged. Arneil v. Ramsey, 550 F.2d 774 (2nd Cir. 1977); Dayco Corp. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 523 F.2d 389 (6th Cir. 1975); Morgan v. Koch, 419 F.2d 993 (7th Cir. 1969); Rosenberg v. Hano, 121 F.2d 818 (3rd Cir. 1941).
The burden is on the plaintiff to show he exercised reasonable care and diligence in seeking the facts that demonstrate fraud. Brick v. Dominion Mortgage & Realty Trust, 442 F. Supp. 283, 304 (W.D.N.Y.1977); Osadchy v. Gans, 436 F. Supp. 677, 682 (D.N.J.1977); Hupp v. Gray, 500 F.2d 993, 996 (7th Cir. 1974). Furthermore, a complaint is insufficient if it merely states in conclusory fashion that due diligence was exercised; plaintiff must specifically allege what steps he took prior to the running of the limitations period to discover the facts constituting fraud. Brick v. Dominion Mortg. & Realty Trust, supra at 292; Kroungold v. Triester, 407 F. Supp. 414, 419 (E.D.Pa.1975); Dayco Corp. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., supra at 394; Hupp v. Gray, supra at 996.
In paragraph 21 of the amended complaint, plaintiff makes the same conclusory allegations of due diligence and fraudulent concealment made in paragraph 19 of the original complaint. The only substantial difference is that the new complaint incorporates by specific reference the allegations of the fraud which constitutes the substantive offenses. These allegations are virtually identical to those in the original complaint. Only where the substantive fraud includes active concealment directly thwarting diligent efforts to discover wrongdoing can that substantive fraud suffice to toll the statute of limitations. See Tomera v. Galt, 511 F.2d 504, 510 (7th Cir. 1975).
If this were not so, there would be, in effect, no statute of limitations on any fraud action.
The price of the stock and the expressions of dissatisfaction with that price at the time of the merger demonstrate that plaintiff had reasonable notice of the alleged fraud. Courts have repeatedly held that where there is any fact or circumstance which would arouse the suspicions of a reasonable person, that person has sufficient notice so that he must make inquiry. Dayco Corp. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., supra at 394; Hupp v. Gray, supra at 966; Morgan v. Koch, supra at 998. Where a plaintiff should have been aware of "at least the possibility of fraud," the limitations period begins to run. Klein v. Shields & Co., 470 F.2d 1344, 1347 (2nd Cir. 1972).
In other words, the time which the statute of limitations begins to run is not when the plaintiff becomes aware of all aspects of the fraud, but rather the time when he should have discovered the general fraudulent scheme. Berry Petroleum Co. v. Adams & Peck, 518 F.2d 402, 410 (2nd Cir. 1975); Osadchy v. Gans, supra at 682. As stated in the often-quoted case of Klein v. Bower, 421 F.2d 338, 343 (2nd Cir. 1970), the statutory period does not await plaintiff's "leisurely discovery of the full details" or "full enormity" of the fraudulent scheme.
In paragraphs 15 and 21 of the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges there was a wide disparity between the price offered the minority shareholders and the book value of the stock. As plaintiff's counsel noted in oral argument, the book value of a stock does not necessarily indicate its true value. But the difference between the price and book value should at least have alerted plaintiff to the possibility of fraud and caused him to investigate further.
Plaintiff and the potential class members originally paid $ 12.00 per share for their stock, and were offered only $ 6.50 per share under the merger proposal. This also should have caused them to inquire about the financial condition of Metals, the manner of valuation, and whether there was a misrepresentation or manipulation of the price.
Indeed, it is clear from the materials in the appendix to defendants' brief that a number of minority shareholders were highly dissatisfied at the time of the merger approval with the offered price. Many of them, including plaintiff's father, verbalized that dissatisfaction at the June 25, 1975 meeting at which the merger was ratified. Appendix, p. 53. Plaintiff was present at that meeting. Appendix, p. 57. Moreover, plaintiff's father wrote to the vice president of Metals before the meeting to express his dissatisfaction with the price offered and to threaten a class suit. This letter was written on stationery whose business letterhead includes plaintiff's name. Appendix, p. 1.
A drop in stock price contrary to a plaintiff's expectations is often held to be a circumstance which should have indicated the possibility of fraud and prompted further investigation. See Berry Petroleum Co. v. Adams & Peck, supra; Hupp v. Gray, supra; Rosenberg v. Hano, supra. Similarly, in the instant case, the suspiciously low price offered to minority shareholders like plaintiff provided sufficient notice of fraud to trigger the running of the limitations period.
In assessing a plaintiff's claim that he could not have discovered the fraud earlier, consideration of the nature of the specific fraud alleged is also appropriate. See Morgan v. Koch, supra at 997. Here, the fraud alleged is misrepresentation and omission in the proxy statement, masking acts of illegal manipulation designed to force out minority stockholders at an unreasonably low price. All the allegations derive directly from material in the proxy statement. Had plaintiff carefully reviewed it at the time of the events here at issue and conducted an investigation into the statements contained in it, this action could have been brought well within the limitations period. For instance, the complaint alleges that defendants fraudulently failed to increase dividends or publicly disseminate information concerning Metals, actions which allegedly depressed the market for its stock. Amended Complaint P 15(a). The dividend history of Metals was in the proxy statement, and was necessarily known to holders of Metals stock. The shareholders must also be charged with substantial awareness of the marketability of their stock. Similarly, another allegation is that the proxy materials failed to disclose why defendant Butcher & Singer did not use a particular method of calculating the value of plaintiff's stock. Amended Complaint P 15(d). The report of Butcher & Singer was made available to shareholders at the meeting at which the merger was approved. See Proxy Statement, appendix, p. 11. The method of valuation could have been challenged as of that time. The widespread dissatisfaction with the price makes plaintiff's failure to investigate the method employed by Butcher & Singer particular suspect.
This is not a case where the alleged fraud is the kind that only sophisticated investors would recognize. Compare Dzenits v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 494 F.2d 168 (10th Cir. 1974), where the court ruled that a jury question was created as to due diligence because the fraud alleged, "churning," is conduct with which the average investor is unfamiliar and cannot readily recognize.
Plaintiff's principal counterargument is that he was misled by the SEC into thinking there was no basis for a federal cause of action. In response to an inquiry from plaintiff's father, the SEC sent a letter, dated May 21, 1975, which stated: "It would appear that adequate disclosure was made to the shareholders of Magnetic concerning this offer." Plaintiff contends this obscured any clues of fraud that would have put him on notice of wrongdoing until the sale of the Langworthy stock. The court cannot agree. The other indicia of possible fraud were substantial enough to put plaintiff on notice despite the noncommital letter from the agency.
Plaintiff also alleges that he only learned of the fraud after employing legal counsel to investigate. But there is nothing to indicate why such an investigation could not have been undertaken at the time of the merger approval. Indeed, at oral argument, plaintiff admitted that the alleged fraud could have been uncovered in an earlier investigation. All the allegations in paragraph 15 of the complaint, particularly in regard to defendant Butcher & Singer, could have been discovered by a plaintiff exercising due diligence within the two-year period. By contrast, in Vanderboom v. Sexton, 422 F.2d 1233 (8th Cir. 1970), the court found that the complicated internal structure of the corporation and its involved accounting procedures created a jury question as to whether an accurate accounting, which plaintiffs claimed put them on belated notice of the fraud could have been made earlier. No such circumstances are alleged in the instant case to explain the delayed investigation. In fact, plaintiff and others had consulted an attorney within the two-year period. Their counsel wrote a letter, dated December 30, 1976, to the vice-president of Magmetco stating that his clients "presently contemplate legal action, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, concerning all shares of Magnetic Metals Company" and also stating "my clients further intend to assert any and all claims which may be allowed by law . . ." Appendix, p. 65.
It is clear, then, that plaintiff suspected wrongdoing well within the limitations period and before the sale of the Langworthy stock. Since plaintiff's failure to exercise due diligence in the face of indications of fraud is apparent from facts in the complaint as well as in the undisputed documents submitted in support of this motion, dismissal of the complaint is proper. See Berry Petroleum Co. v. Adams & Peck, supra at 410; Arneil v. Ramsey, supra at 781; Hupp v. Gray, supra at 997. There are no conflicting inferences relative to due diligence which justify submission of the question to the jury. See Osadchy v. Gans, supra at 683 n.4.
For the foregoing reasons, we hold there is no genuine issue of material fact as to due diligence, and the statute of limitations was not tolled. Therefore defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and the complaint is dismissed.