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STRONG V. REPIDE, 213 U. S. 419 (1909)

U.S. Supreme Court

Strong v. Repide, 213 U.S. 419 (1909)

Strong v. Repide

No. 110

Argued March 10, 11, 1909

Decided May 3, 1909

213 U.S. 419


Although there is no technical finding of facts by the Court of First Instance of the Philippine Islands, if the opinion shows the facts on which the judgment is based and the courts below differ in regard thereto, they may be reviewed by this Court under § 10 of the Act of July 1, 1902, c. 1369, 32 Stat. 691. De la Rama v. De la Rama, 201 U. S. 303.

Page 213 U. S. 420

Where a sale made through an agent of the vendor has been effected by the fraud and deceit of the vendee, the sale cannot stand whether or not the vendor's agent had power to sell.

A director upon whose action the value of the shares depends cannot avail of his knowledge of what his own action will be to acquire shares from those whom he intentionally keeps in ignorance of his expected action and the resulting value of the shares.

This is a rule of common law, and also of the Spanish law before the adoption of the Philippine Civil Code; and, under §§ 1261-1269 of that code, a contract obtained under such circumstances can be avoided by the party whose consent would not have been given had he known the facts within the knowledge of the other party.

Even though a director may not be under the obligation of a fiduciary nature to disclose to a shareholder his knowledge affecting the value of the shares, that duty may exist in special cases, and did exist upon the facts in this case.

In this case, the facts clearly indicate that a director of a corporation owning friar lands in the Philippine Islands, and who controlled the action of the corporation, had so concealed his exclusive knowledge of the impending sale to the government from a shareholder from whom he purchased, through an agent, shares in the corporation, that the concealment was in violation of his duty as a director to disclose such knowledge, and amounted to deceit sufficient to avoid the sale; and, under such circumstances, it was immaterial whether the shareholder's agent did or did not have power to sell the stock.

While the method of payment cannot have induced the vendor's consent to a sale, where that method tended to conceal the identity of the purchaser and was part of a scheme to conceal facts, the knowledge of which would have resulted in vendor's refusal to sell, evidence as to the payment is admissible to show the fraudulent intent and scheme of the purchaser.

The expressed prohibitions in § 1459 of the Spanish Civil Code against directors of corporations acquiring shares of stock entrusted to them do not apply to purchases from others.

An expressed prohibition against directors acquiring shares held by themselves in a fiduciary capacity does not refer to purchases by directors of shares from others, or so limit the prohibitions against purchases of stock by directors that a sale to one cannot be avoided by his deceit in not disclosing material facts within his exclusive knowledge.

Although there may be objections to the form of judgment in the Court

Page 213 U. S. 421

of First Instance, as they are not of a material nature, this Court will follow the same course.

6 Phil. 680 reversed.

This action was commenced on the twelfth day of January, 1904, in the Court of First Instance of the City of Manila, Philippine Islands, by the plaintiffs in error, Eleanor Erica Strong and Richard P. Strong, her husband, against the defendant in error. It was brought by the plaintiff Mrs. Strong, as the owner of 800 shares of the capital stock of the Philippine Sugar Estates Development Company, Limited (the other plaintiff being added as her husband), to recover such shares from defendant (who was already the owner of 30,400 of the 42,030 shares issued by the company) on the ground that the shares had been sold and delivered by plaintiff's agent to the agent of defendant without authority from plaintiff, and also on the ground that defendant fraudulently concealed from plaintiff's agent, one F. Stuart Jones, facts affecting the value of the stock so sold and delivered. The stock was of the par value of $100 per share, Mexican currency.

The plaintiff never had any negotiations for the sale of the stock herself, and was ignorant that it was sold until some time after the sale, the negotiations for which took place between an agent of the plaintiff and an agent of defendant, the name of the defendant being undisclosed.

In addition to his ownership of almost three-fourths of the shares of the stock of the company, the defendant was one of the five directors of the company, and was elected by the board the agent and administrator general of such company, "with exclusive intervention in the management" of its general business.

The defendant put in issue the lack of authority of the agent of the plaintiff, denied all fraud, and alleged that the purchase of the stock from plaintiff's agent (which stock was payable to bearer and transferable by delivery) was made by one Albert Kauffman, who afterwards sold and conveyed the same to the

Page 213 U. S. 422

defendant, and that the defendant, prior to the commencement of the suit and prior to any demand made upon him by the plaintiff in error herein, had sold, transferred, and delivered the stock to Luis Gutierrez, a citizen and resident of Spain. (He was a brother of the defendant.)

In April, 1904, the case came on for trial in the Court of First Instance, which, on the twenty-ninth of that month, duly decided it and stated certain facts in the cause upon which it based its opinion and judgment, among which were the facts that the agent of the plaintiff had no authority to sell or transfer the shares of stock in question, and also that the transaction resulting in the delivery of the stock to the agent of the defendant was fraudulent, because the defendant concealed from the plaintiff's agent facts affecting the value of the stock which the defendant was in good faith bound to reveal, by reason of which the sale of the stock to defendant was made for the total sum of $16,000, Mexican currency, while within two months and a half the shares were worth $76,256, United States currency. Upon the findings, the court directed that the plaintiff recover from the defendant the sum found to be due by the court, which (after deducting the $16,000, Mexican currency) amounted to $138,352.71, Philippine currency, and the costs of suit, and it was ordered that the judgment might be satisfied by the delivery to the plaintiff, Mrs. Strong, of her 800 shares of stock within the time mentioned in the decree, in which event the plaintiff was to pay the defendant $16,000, Mexican currency, or its equivalent in Philippine currency. Other particulars were stated in the decree.

On May 3, 1904, a motion was made by defendant for a new trial, which, on May 9, 1904 was overruled.

A bill of exceptions was then made, and appeal filed. Subsequently and on January 18, 1906, the same was duly argued in the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands and, on April 28, 1906, a decision was rendered by the court, holding that the agent of the plaintiff had no power to sell or deliver her stock, and it affirmed the decree of the Court of First Instance

Page 213 U. S. 423

on that ground, but not on the second ground taken by that court, that the sale of the stock through the plaintiff's agent had been procured by fraud on the part of the defendant.

Subsequently to the affirmance of the judgment, the defendant, through his counsel, made a motion for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence, which consisted of a power of attorney (that had been mislaid and after the trial had been found) from Mrs. Strong to Mr. F. Stuart Jones and Mr. Robert H. Wood, which authorized both or either of them to sell or otherwise dispose of the property of the plaintiff as they or he might choose. After opposition, this motion was granted, and leave given to the parties to submit new evidence as to the nature of the authority delegated by the plaintiff in error to her agent Jones, and under that permission the newly discovered power of attorney was put in evidence. Upon that piece of evidence, the court held that the authority of the agent Jones was sufficient, and that the paper became absolutely decisive of the issues in the case, and the order affirming the judgment of the court below was therefore set aside, the judgment of the Court of First Instance reversed, and the action dismissed upon its merits. From that decree of reversal and dismissal the plaintiffs seek to bring the case here for review, and have sued out a writ of error and taken an appeal.

The facts out of which the controversy arises are in substance these:

In 1902, it was thought important for the government of the United States to secure title, if reasonably possible, to what were called the friar lands in the Philippine Islands. To that end, various inquiries were made on the part of the government, from time to time, as to the possibility of obtaining title to all those lands, and what would be the probable expense. The lands were not owned by the same people, but were divided among different and separate owners. The Philippine Sugar Estates Development Company, Limited, owned of these lands what are more particularly described as the Dominican lands,

Page 213 U. S. 424

and they were regarded as nearly one-half the value of all the friar lands.

On July 5, 1903, the Governor of the Philippine Islands, on behalf of the Philippine government, made an offer of purchase for the total sum of $6,043,219.47 in gold for all the friar lands, though owned by different owners. This offer, so far as concerned that portion of the lands owned by defendant's company, was rejected by defendant in his capacity as majority shareholder, without any consultation with the other shareholders. The representatives of all the different owners of all the lands, including defendant's company, in answer to the above offer, then fixed their selling price at $13,700,000 for all such lands. During the negotiations consequent upon these different offers, which lasted for some time after the first offer was made, an offer was finally, and towards the end of October, 1903, made by the Governor of $7,535,000. All the owners of all these friar lands, with the exception of the defendant, who represented his company, were willing and anxious to accept this offer and to convey the lands to the government at that price. He alone held out for a better offer while all the other owners were endeavoring to persuade him to accept the offer of the government. The defendant continued his refusal to accept until the other owners consented to pay to his company $335,000 of the purchase price for their land, and until the government consented that a thousand hectares should be excluded from the sale to it of the land of defendant's company. This being agreed to, the contract for the sale was finally signed by the defendant as attorney in fact for his company, December 21, 1903. The defendant, of course, as the negotiations progressed, knew that the decision of the question lay with him, and that, if he should decide to accept the last offer of the government, his decision would be the decision of his company, as he owned three-fourths of its shares, and the negotiations would then go through as all the owners of the balance of the land desired it. If the sale should not be consummated, and things should remain as they were, the defendant also knew that the

Page 213 U. S. 425

value of the lands and of the shares in the company would be almost nothing. He himself says, in speaking of these lands owned by his company, that had the government

"given the haciendas the protection which they ought to have received, they would have been worth $6,000,000 gold; but, considering the abnormal condition in which they were on account of the failure of the government to protect these haciendas, it is impossible to fix any value; they were worth nothing; they were a charge."

Also the company had paid no dividends, and only lived on its credit, and could not even pay taxes. The company had no other property of any substantial value than these lands. They were its one valuable asset.

While this state of things existed, and before the final offer had been made by the Governor, the defendant, although still holding out for a higher price for the lands, took steps, about the middle or latter part of September, 1903, to purchase the 800 shares of stock in his company owned by Mrs. Strong, which he knew were in the possession of F. Stuart Jones, as her agent. The defendant, having decided to obtain these shares, instead of seeing Jones, who had an office next door, employed one Kauffman, a connection of his by marriage, and Kauffman employed a Mr. Sloan, a broker, who had an office some distance away, to purchase the stock for him, and told Sloan that the stock was for a member of his wife's family. Sloan communicated with the husband of Mrs. Strong, and asked if she desired to sell her stock. The husband referred him to Mr. Jones for consultation, who had the stock in his possession. Sloan did not know who wanted to buy the shares, nor did Jones when he was spoken to. Jones would not have sold at the price he did had he known it was the defendant who was purchasing, because, as he said, it would show increased value, as the defendant would not be likely to purchase more stock unless the price was going up. As the articles of incorporation, by subdivision twenty, required a resolution of the general meeting of stockholders for the purpose of selling more than one hacienda, and as no such general meeting had been called at

Page 213 U. S. 426

the time of the sale of the stock, Mr. Jones might well have supposed there was no immediate prospect of a sale of the lands being made, while at the same time defendant had knowledge of the probabilities thereof which he had acquired by his conduct of the negotiations for their sale, as agent of all the shareholders, and while acting specially for them and himself.

The result of the negotiations was that Jones, on or about October 10, 1903, assuming that he had the power, and without consulting Mrs. Strong, sold the 800 shares of stock for $16,000, Mexican currency, delivering the stock to Kauffman in Sloan's office, who paid for it with the check of Rueda Hermanos for $18,000, the surplus $2,000 being arranged for, and Kauffman being paid $1,800 by defendant for his services. The defendant thus obtained the 800 shares for about one tenth of the amount they became worth by the sale of the lands between two and three months thereafter. In all the negotiations in regard to the purchase of the stock from Mrs. Strong, through her agent Jones, not one word of the facts affecting the value of this stock was made known to plaintiff's agent by defendant, but, on the contrary, perfect silence was kept. The real state of the negotiations with the government was not mentioned, nor was the fact stated that it rested chiefly with the defendant to complete the sale. The probable value of the shares in the very near future was thus unknown to anyone but defendant, while the agent of the plaintiff had no knowledge or suspicion that defendant was the one seeking to purchase the shares. The agent sold because, as he testified, he wanted to invest the money in some kind of property that would pay dividends, and he was expecting nothing from this company, as negotiations for the sale of the lands had gone on so long, and there appeared no prospect of any sale being made -- at any rate, not for a very long time.

It is undeniable that, during all this time, the subject of the sale of the friar lands was frequently mooted and its probabilities publicly discussed in a general way. Such discussion was founded upon rumors and gossip as to the condition of the

Page 213 U. S. 427

negotiations. The public press referred to it not infrequently, but the actual state of the negotiations, the actual probabilities of the sale being consummated, and the particular position of power and influence which the defendant occupied in such negotiations prior to the time of the purchase of plaintiff's stock were not accurately known by plaintiff's agent or by anyone else outside those interested in the matter as negotiators.

Page 213 U. S. 428

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