« ForrigeFortsett »
Opinion of the Court.
Whatever the fact may have been, it is obvious that from such evidence as this it is not possible to determine to what, if to any substantial extent, the defendants restrained or monopolized the production of copper in the United States, much less in the world.
The evidence with respect to price control, although meagre, is more definite. The average price of copper in 1899, the year before the Amalgamated Copper Company was organized, was 17.6 per pound; in 1900 it was 16.1; in 1902, 11.6; in 1904, 12.8; in 1907, 20; in 1908, 13.2; in 1909, 12.98; 1912, 16.34; and in 1913, the last year for which the price is given, 15.26 cents.
It is obviously impossible to say that these fluctuating prices prove monopolistic control of the price of copper by the defendants.
No claim is made that the Anaconda Company restrained or restricted the production of copper, but so far as there is any evidence at all upon the subject it is to the effect that it maintained and perhaps increased the production in the Butte Camp.
Upon the case here made by the evidence it is impossible to conclude that the defendants constituted in 1911 such a combination, within the terms of the Anti-Trust Act, as would justify the granting of an injunction to the plaintiffs even under the provisions of § 16 of the Clayton Act, which we have quoted.
The decree of the lower courts as to this first claim must be affirmed.
The second contention is that the owners of less than all of the capital stock of the Alice Company could not authorize the sale of all of the property of the corporation over the protest of owners of a minority of the stock.
It is, of course, a general rule of law that, in the absence of special authority so to do, the owners of a majority of the stock of a corporation have not the power to authorize the directors to sell all of the property of the company and
Opinion of the Court.
thereby abandon the enterprise for which it was organized. But to this rule there is an exception, as well established as the rule itself, viz: that when, from any cause, the business of a corporation, not charged with duties to the public, has proved so unprofitable that there is no reasonable prospect of conducting the business in the future without loss, or when the corporation has not, and cannot obtain, the money necessary to pay its debts and to continue the business for which it was organized, even though it may not be insolvent in the commercial sense, the owners of a majority of the capital stock, in their judgment and discretion exercised in good faith, may authorize the sale of all of the property of the company for an adequate consideration, and distribute among the stockholders what remains of the proceeds after the payment of its debts, even over the objection of the owners of the minority of such stock. 3 Thompson on Corporations (2nd ed.), §§ 2424-2429; Noyes on Intercorporate Relations, § 111; 3 Cook on Corporations (7th ed.), § 670, p. 2170, note.
The rule that owners of a majority of the stock may not authorize the sale of all of the property of a going and not unprofitable company, rests upon the principle that exercise of such power would defeat the implied contract among the stockholders to pursue the purpose for which it was chartered. But this principle fails of application when a business, unsuccessful from whatever cause, is suspended without prospect of revival, and the law recognizes that under such conditions the majority stockholders have rights as well as the minority and that it should not require the former to remain powerless until the creeping paralysis of inactivity shall have destroyed the investment of both.
The case before us is a typical one for the application of this exception to the general rule. The Alice Company was organized in 1880, under the general incorporation laws of the then Territory of Utah, with authority
to buy, sell, lease, hold, own and operate mines, mining claims, etc., with many enumerated incidental powers. It acquired the mining properties in controversy in this case and conducted prosperously the mining chiefly of silver ores, until 1893, when its business ceased to be profitable and was suspended. Extensive shafts and underground workings were permitted to fill with water and for seventeen years before the sale the only business done by the company was leasing the upper workings of the old mines, and limited parts of the surface for shallow workings, to "tributors," who operated in such a small way that, although the expenses of the company, chiefly for caretakers, were very small, its income was less, so that when the sale was made an indebtedness of about $35,000 had accumulated. The stock of the company was non-assessable, it had no resources but the real estate which was sold to the Anaconda Company, and the evidence is clear that to re-open and operate the mines on its property, or to open new mines, would have been very expensive and the prospect of profitable operation of them wholly problematical. Although its properties had a large speculative value, and therefore the company cannot be said to have been insolvent, yet it must be accepted as established by the evidence that there was no reasonable prospect of the company's being able to profitably resume the mining business for which it was incorporated, and that the only way in which the stockholders could realize anything from their investment was by sale of its property. Under such circumstances as these the sale of all of the property of the company, if authorized, in good faith and for an adequate consideration, by the owners of a majority of the stock would be a valid sale, which could not be defeated or set aside by the minority stockholders.
It is next argued that the sale here in controversy is void for the reason that the Alice Company could
Opinion of the Court.
not lawfully acquire and hold title to the stock in the Anaconda Company in which the consideration for the sale was paid.
Here again the general rule is that while, under the circumstances of this case, a sale of all of the property of a corporation could be authorized by the owners of less than all of the stock for an adequate consideration, it must be for money only, for the reason that the minority stockholders may not lawfully be compelled to accept a change of investment made for them by others, or to elect between losing their interests or entering a new company.
But it has been suggested that this rule, also, should be subject to the exception that when stock which has an established market value is taken in exchange for corporation property, it should be treated as the equivalent of money and that a sale otherwise valid should be sustained. Noyes, Intercorporate Relations, § 120, and cases cited. We approve the soundness of such an exception. It would be a reproach to the law to invalidate a sale otherwise valid because not made for money, when it is made for stock which a stockholder receiving it may at once, in the New York or other general market, convert into an adequate cash consideration for what his holdings were in the corporate property.
In this case the trial judge determined without difficulty the market value of the stock received in payment for the Alice properties, and it is, of course, public knowledge that there was a wide and general market for Anaconda stock. This third contention of appellants must be denied.
Finally, it is argued that the sale of the Alice properties is void because negotiated and made by two boards of directors having a member in common and for an inadequate consideration.
John D. Ryan at the time of the sale was president and a director of the Alice Company; he was also a director
Opinion of the Court.
and general manager of the Anaconda Company and had been its president from 1903 to 1909; he was elected a director and president of the Amalgamated Copper Company in 1909, and had been a director of each of the subsidiary companies of the combination prior to that year. In 1905 he obtained an option on the majority of the Alice stock for $600,000, and carried it until it was purchased by the Butte Coalition Company, an Amalgamated subsidiary, of which he was a director, and that company voted a majority of the Alice stock in favor of the disputed sale.
The record shows beyond controversy that Ryan was the representative of the chief investors in the enterprise involved in this litigation, that he dominated the conduct of the practical administration of the affairs of the Amalgamated and Anaconda Companies, and that he very certainly was in control of the boards of directors of the companies which were parties to the sale of the Alice properties.
The relation of directors to corporations is of such a fiduciary nature that transactions between boards having common members are regarded as jealously by the law as are personal dealings between a director and his corporation, and where the fairness of such transactions is challenged the burden is upon those who would maintain them to show their entire fairness and where a sale is involved the full adequacy of the consideration. Especially is this true where a common director is dominating in influence or in character. This court has been consistently emphatic in the application of this rule, which, it has declared, is founded in soundest morality, and we now add in the soundest business policy. Twin-Lick Oil Co. v. Marbury, 91 U. S. 587, 588; Thomas v. Brownville, Kearney & Pacific R. R. Co., 109 U. S. 522; Wardell v. Railroad Co., 103 U. S. 651, 658; Corsicana National Bank v. Johnson, 251 U. S. 68, 90.