The McKesson HBOC securities fraud cases have generated a number of interesting legal developments over the years. The cases are based on the 1999 merger between McKesson and HBO & Co. After the merger was closed, McKesson announced that HBOC had improperly recorded certain software sales as revenues and that HBOC’s financial results would have to be restated. Several securities class actions were filed and the New York State Common Retirement Fund was eventually selected as the lead plaintiff.
In January 2001, McKesson filed a complaint and compulsory counterclaim against the Fund and former HBOC shareholders who exchanged more than 20,000 shares of HBOC stock for McKesson stock. The theory was that the investors were unjustly enriched by trading inflated HBOC shares for properly-valued McKesson shares. The district court dismissed the claim.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit weighed in on the case, holding that McKesson cannot sue its own investors on an unjust enrichment theory. First, the court held that an equitable remedy for McKesson was unnecessary given that there are legal remedies available to the company for the same alleged wrong. “McKesson has potential legal claims against any number of parties who, unlike the former shareholders, actually played a substantial role in the decision to enter the Merger Agreement; the former HBOC shareholders are not the only targets for recovery.” Second, the court declined to pierce the corporate veil to create liability for HBOC’s shareholders, noting that “there is no allegation that the HBOC shareholders exercised – or even had the ability to exercise – domination or control over HBOC.” Finally, the court concluded that the expansion of liability to the shareholders, who were unaware of the risk that they could be personally liable for corporate acts, would be unjust.