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Tunis Brothers Co. v. Ford Motor Co.

May 30, 1985

TUNIS BROTHERS COMPANY, INC. DE LA RIGAUDIERE, RICHARD N. AND SMITH, DAVID C., APPELLANTS,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, FORD MOTOR CREDIT COMPANY, WENNER FORD TRACTOR, INC., WENNER, JOHN S., WATSON, JOHN, CRAWFORD, DOUGLAS N., FRAHER, EUGENE W., HASEL, E. S., NICKEL, HUGH, HARRIS, KENNETH E. AND WENZEL, C. W., APPELLEES



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 82-5557).

Hunter and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges, and Debevoise, District Judge*fn*

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs in this "distributor termination" case, a franchised tractor dealership and its new owners, appeals a final order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant franchisor and other corporate and individual defendants on plaintiffs' federal antitrust claims. The appealed from order also dismissed plaintiffs' state common law breach of contract and tort claims without prejudice.

We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT RECORD

A. The Complaint and Other Pleadings

The six-count complaint filed by plaintiffs Tunis Brothers Company, Inc. ("Tunis Brothers"), Richard N. de la Rigaudiere ("de la Rigaudiere") and David C. Smith ("Smith")*fn1 on December 15, 1982 and amended July 14, 1983, includes four counts alleging violations of section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. ยง 1 (1982)*fn2 by three corporate defendants and eight individual defendants. The remaining two counts allege state common law tort and contract claims against the defendants and invoke pendent jurisdiction. The plaintiffs claim injuries to their business and property in the amount of $7,724,357 and seek treble damages from the defendants in the amount of $23,173.071. Appendix ("App.") at 11-94.

Count I alleges, inter alia, that corporate defendants Ford Motor Company ("Ford"), Ford Credit Company ("Ford Credit"), Wenner Ford Tractor, Inc. ("Wenner Ford"), and individual defendant John S. Wenner ("Wenner") conspired to terminate the authorized Ford tractor dealership of plaintiff Tunis Brothers, a Pennsylvania corporation located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Complaint P66, App. at 35.

The business of Tunis Brothers had been established in 1934 by Richard M. Tunis and his brother Robert. In 1959, Tunis Brothers entered into an agreement with Ford*fn3 and became a franchised tractor dealership owned and operated by Richard Tunis and his wife Isabelle. From 1959 until April 1981 when its Ford dealership franchise was terminated. Tunis Brothers was an authorized dealer of Ford tractors and related equipment and it sold Ford tractors, Ford accessories and non-Ford products.*fn4 On March 13, 1981,*fn5 plaintiffs de la Rigaudiere and Smith purchased the business and became the sole directors and stockholders of Tunis Brothers Company, Inc.

Count I further alleges that the defendants conspired to prevent plaintiffs de la Rigaudiere and Smith, the new owners of Tunis Brothers, from operating in Kennett Square to eliminate or substantially decrease competition with defendant Wenner Ford Tractor, Inc. Complaint P66, App. at 35-6.

Wenner Ford is a Delaware Corporation whose principal place of business prior to 1982 was Concordville, Pennsylvania, about 11 miles east of Kennett Square. Wenner Ford was the authorized Ford dealer of farm and industrial tractors, machinery, equipment and parts nearest Tunis Brothers. It is a Ford Dealer Development Company, established by Ford in November 1979, in which defendant Ford owns all of the voting stock and 79% of the equity stock. App. at 3522-37. Defendant John S. Wenner owned 21% of Wenner Ford's equity stock, app. at 3712-3883, and operated Wenner Ford as its president and chief executive officer pursuant to a Dealer Development Agreement and a Management Agreement.*fn6

App. at 3434, 3449.

It is alleged in Count 1 that, in addition to John S. Wenner, the other named individual defendants, employed by Ford in varying managerial capacities, participated in and aided and abetted the conspiracy. These individuals are: John Watson ("Watson"); Douglas N. Crawford ("Crawford"); Eugene W. Fraher ("Fraher"); E. S. Hasel ("Hasel"); Hugh Nickel ("Nickel"); Kenneth E. Harris ("Harris") and C. W. Wenzel ("Wenzel").*fn7

It is further averred in Count 1 that the conspiracy and actions of the defendants were not only in unreasonable restraint of trade but were illegal per se because they were in furtherance of an illegal horizontal territorial restriction by Ford where Ford was in both a horizontal and a vertical relationship with Tunis Brothers, as both franchisor and competitor. Complaint P74, App. at 38.

Count II alleges that the 1974 franchise agreement between Ford and Richard an Isabelle Tunis constituted a contract in unreasonable restraint of trade due to the existence of certain unlawful provisions. The individual defendants are alleged to have aided and abetted Ford in exercising its rights under the agreement in furtherance of illegal objectives. Complaint P95, App. at 38.

Count II alleges that the 1974 franchise agreement between Ford and Richard and Isabelle Tunis constituted a contract in unreasonable restraint of trade due to the existence of certain unlawful provisions. The individual defendants are alleged to have aided and abetted Ford in exercising its rights under the agreement in furtherance of illegal objectives. Complaint P95, App. at 48.

Count III alleges, inter alia, that the franchise agreement and the conspiracy included "dirty business tricks and unfair business dealing . . . in furtherance of defendants' illegal antitrust objectives and their unreasonable restraint of trade . . ." Complaint P97, App. at 49.

Count IV avers that the franchise agreement and the conspiracy, by eliminating Tunis Brothers as a competitor, eliminated intrabrand competition in the sale and service of Ford products. Because no inter-brand competition of any significance or consequence was promoted by such elimination of intrabrand competition, it is alleged that the anti-competitive effect constituted an unreasonable restraint of trade. Complaint P100, 102; App. at 50, 51.

As to the state causes of action, Count V alleges tort liability under common law based on fraud and other tortious conduct. App. at 52-9. Count VI alleges contract liability on the part of the defendants at common law. App. at 60-5.

The defendants' answers and amended answers to the amended complaint deny all material allegations.*fn8

B. Defendants' Rule 56 Motions

On November 30, 1983, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56*fn9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with supporting memoranda, affidavits, depositions and exhibits. App. at 200-900. The major argument presented by defendants was that there were no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and, on the basis of the undisputed facts, the plaintiffs not only failed to show direct evidence of a conspiracy but also failed to present facts which would permit a reasonable inference of conspiracy. Moreover, defendants argued that plaintiffs presented no facts showing an adverse impact on competition. They also asserted that there were no facts supporting plaintiffs' breach of contract claim.

In reply, the plaintiffs filed memoranda, affidavits, depositions and exhibits in opposition to defendants' summary judgment motions. App. at 900-1375. They argued in a 141-page brief that the factual record fully supported the allegations in the complaint and that there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute. The district court heard oral argument on February 8 1984. App. at 1375.

In its May 7, 1984 memorandum opinion, the district court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish a ". . . contract or conspiracy, in restraint of trade" under section 1 of the Sherman Act in two respects.

First, the district court held the plaintiffs did not satisfy their burden of producing sufficient evidence of a conspiracy to terminate Tunis Brothers and to prevent de la Rigaudiere and Smith from operating the dealership as a franchise in competition with Wenner Ford. According to the district court, "there is no evidence of a conspiracy under section 1 of the Sherman Act" and therefore, "there is no genuine issue of material fact and all defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Counts I, III, and IV". Tunis Brothers Co. v. Ford Motor Co., 587 F. Supp. 267, 274 (E.D. Pa. 1984).

Second, the district court determined that the 1974 franchise agreement, which contained provisions preventing Tunis Brothers from transferring the franchise without the approval of Ford and which gave Ford the right to terminate the agreement, was not a contract in unreasonable restraint of trade violative of section 1 of the Sherman Act. The district court also determined that "there are no facts which show that Ford improperly used the franchise agreement to deny transfer of the Ford franchise to plaintiffs de la Rigaudiere and Smith." Tunis Brothers Co., 587 F. Supp. at 275. Summary judgment as to Count II was also granted.

Having dismissed all of the federal claims before trial, the district court then exercised its discretion and dismissed the pendent claims in Counts V and VI. 587 F. Supp. at 275.

The plaintiffs noticed this appeal on June 4, 1984.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Although Tunis Brothers, de la Rigaudiere and Smith challenge the district [district] court's ruling as to the validity of the franchise agreement and the dismissal of the state claim, they have launched their major offensive against the district court's holding with respect to the entry of summary judgment on the conspiracy charge.*fn10 They strongly take issue with the district court's evaluation of the material facts and staunchly maintain that it failed to examine all of the admissible evidence, direct and circumstantial, which they presented in opposition to the defendants' Rule 56 motions. The plaintiffs contend that the district court did not properly determine what legitimate inferences could be drawn as to the ultimate facts in issue. n11 [footnote omitted] They assail the trial court's conclusions by asking: Where are the facts?

Of course, in the true nature of our adversarial process, each side has provided us with a portrayal of the evidence which, if selectively read, could be viewed as providing a solid foundation of evidentiary support. Our function on appeal, however, in regard to summary judgment, is the same as that of a trial court: it is not within our province to adjudicate genuine factual issues. We are to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the nonmoving parties, giving Tunis Brothers, de la Riguadiere [Rigaudiere] and Smith the benefit of all reasonable inferences without assessing credibility.

To determine whether the defendants have satisfied their burden under Rule 56, we must on the one hand closely scrutinize the affidavits, depositions, and exhibits submitted by the defendants, while on the other, indulgently treat those proffered by plaintiffs. 6 J. Moore, W. Taggert & J. Wicker, Moore's Federal Practice P56.15[3] (2d ed. 1985). Only if we conclude that the evidence is so one-sided that it leaves no room for any reasonable difference of opinion as to any material fact should we hold that the case should have been decided by the district court as a matter of law rather than submitted to a jury.

Although we recognize that summary judgments are somewhat disfavored in antitrust cases, especially when motive or intent is at issue, See Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, 368 U.S. 464, 473, 7 L. Ed. 2d 458, 82 S. Ct. 486 (1962); Cernuto, Inc. v. United Cabinet Corp., 595 F.2d 164, 165 (3d Cir. 1979), they are not automatically precluded in antitrust litigation, if otherwise justified. First National Bank v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290, 20 L. Ed. 2d 569, 88 S. Ct. 1575 (1968); Sound Ship Building v. Bethlehem Steel Co., 533 F.2d 96, 99-100 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 860, 50 L. Ed. 2d 137, 97 S. Ct. 161 (1976); Innovation Data Processing, Inc. v. International Business Machines Corp., 585 F. Supp. 1470, 1472 (D.N.J. 1984). Therefore, we have, with painstaking care, reviewed this massive 3,712 page record to ascertain whether it does or does not have the quantum of evidence required to sustain the district court's grant of summary judgment on behalf of the defendants as to Counts I through IV. The critical inquiry is: did the district court err in concluding that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law? Cernuto, 595 F.2d at 165.

We believe that, in evaluating the evidence contained in this veritable mountain of briefs and appendices, the trial judge, unintentionally of course, tilted the scale against plaintiffs by failing to factor into the overall conspiracy equation certain significant evidence that clearly favored the plaintiffs. Therefore, we reverse the entry of summary judgment as to Counts I, III and IV. As to Count II, we also reverse the judgment of the district court, again for the reason that evidence favoring the plaintiffs was not taken into account as to the improper use of the franchise agreement.

Our review of the dismissal of plaintiffs' pendent state claims is for an abuse of discretion. In light of our disposition of the federal claims, we reinstate Counts V and VI and remand this matter for trial.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Antitrust Claims

For activities to constitute a section 1 violation, the following four elements must be present: (1) that the defendants contracted, combined or conspired among each other; (2) that the combination or conspiracy produced adverse, anti-competitive effects within the relevant product and geographic markets; (3) that the objects of and the conduct pursuant to that contract or conspiracy were illegal; and (4) that the plaintiffs were injured as a proximate result of that conspiracy. Martin B. Glauser Dodge Co. v. Chrysler Corp., 570 F.2d 72, 81-2 (3d Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 913, 56 L. Ed. 2d 413, 98 S. Ct. 2253 (1978).

Although the literal language of section 1 declares "every" contract, combination or conspiracy in restraint of trade to be illegal, it has been been construed to proscribe only those combinations that "unduly" restrain trade. Cernuto, 595 F.2d at 166.*fn12 Thus, unless the particular restraint falls within a category that has been judicially determined to be illegal per se, the legality of a restraint challenged under section 1 of the Sherman Act must be assessed under the "rule of reason" standard.

To demonstrate an antitrust violation under the "rule of reason," plaintiffs would have to show an actual anti-competitive impact on the sale of tractors in the relevant market area. Plaintiffs allege, and may be able to prove such harmful effects, but the district court did not reach the question of adverse impact, having determined that the first element of a section 1 claim was not satisfied.*fn13 Plaintiffs' claims, however, are not entirely grounded on the "rule of reason;" in Count 1, ...


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