The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCALERA
In March of 1967, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging the right to recover damages from defendant. In the first count of his complaint, plaintiff alleged that on October 31, 1964, defendant executed in his favor three written "Dealers Sales and Service Agreements" of indefinite duration under which he was granted the right to act as a franchised dealer selling parts and light and medium duty trucks produced by the defendant. Plaintiff also alleged that in May of 1965, he and defendant "orally entered into an additional contract making plaintiff a 'full line heavy duty truck' dealer," and that pursuant to that contract, plaintiff had ordered and received five heavy duty motor trucks. Rounding out his first count, plaintiff alleged that defendant coerced and intimidated him in a bad faith attempt to force him to accept disadvantageous business terms not normally extant between two parties of equal bargaining strength. When plaintiff refused to accept those business terms, defendant terminated plaintiff's one oral and three written franchise agreements in a manner that violated his rights under the "Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act," 70 Stat. 1125, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1221, et seq.
In his second count plaintiff repleads most of the factual allegations contained in his first count and then further alleges that defendant's conduct, as reflected by those pleadings, constitutes a breach of contract under Pennsylvania law.
On December 17, 1971, the defendant filed with this court a motion entitled "A Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings." In that motion defendant cited § 1(b) of the Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act for the proposition that the Dealers' Act affords relief only under written franchise agreements and asked this court to enter judgment in its favor with respect to the alleged oral heavy duty truck dealership agreement.
Defendant also argued that the alleged oral heavy duty truck franchise lay within the scope of the Uniform Commercial Code's Statute of Frauds controlling contracts for sale of goods, and is therefore not provable in court for any purpose.
Defendant's motion contained other challenges to other elements of plaintiff's case which are not relevant here and which will be treated fully in the disposition of the motion for summary judgment.
Oral argument was held on defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. During the argument, by agreement of counsel and pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties submitted and the court considered matters outside the pleadings, thus transforming the motion into one for summary judgment.
Specifically, the plaintiff submitted several purchase orders under which defendant allegedly delivered several heavy duty trucks and argued that those purchase orders operated as contract memoranda conferring written status upon the oral heavy duty truck agreement.
In a preliminary assessment, this court tentatively concluded that plaintiff's purchase order documents did not confer written status upon the alleged oral heavy duty truck agreement and therefore that agreement could not serve as the basis of any rights or remedies.
On March 10, 1972, while our decision on the summary judgment motion was still pending, plaintiff moved this court for permission to amend his complaint to allege violations of §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and to further allege that in January or February of 1965, plaintiff and defendant entered into a heavy duty truck franchise and that "said contract was reduced to writing by defendant, but not signed by plaintiff."
This court is of the opinion that it should not allow plaintiff to plead his Sherman Act claim now that the applicable four-year statute of limitations has run, for the reason that to allow such an amended pleading would severely prejudice the defendant. The literal thrust of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure indicates an amended complaint will relate back to the original despite the existence of an exhausted statute of limitations if "the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading." In other words, a party that has been notified of litigation arising out of a particular event or transaction has been accorded all the notice that statute of limitations are designed to afford. If an original pleading gives fair notice of the general fact situation upon which the claim is based, an amendment which merely renders more specific what has already been alleged will relate back to the time of the original pleading, even though the statute of limitations has run in the interim. 3 Moore's para. 15.15. Nonetheless, we do not find that the broad language of Rule 15(c) is without limitation. The true test underlying the words of 15(c) is one of adequate notice in order that the defendant may have a reasonable opportunity to prepare a defense. To read Rule 15(c) otherwise would frustrate the general purpose of statutes of limitation.
The original complaint in this case put the parties on notice that the circumstance surrounding the termination of the plaintiff-defendant dealership arrangements may have been a bad faith breach of contract under Pennsylvania law. In addition, the original complaint notified defendant that plaintiff had alleged a claim based on the Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act, and more specifically that defendant had used its superior bargaining strength in a coercive effort to force disadvantageous business terms, not normally existing between parties of equal strength, upon plaintiff. Both the bad faith claim and Dealers' Day in Court Act claims turn on the actions of the ...