Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

STOUT v. PEUGEOT MOTORS OF AMERICA

February 26, 1986

JOHN STOUT
v.
PEUGEOT MOTORS OF AMERICA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLAK

 POLLAK, J.

 Plaintiff, a Philadelphia-area Peugeot dealer, originally brought this suit alleging that Peugeot Motors of America (Peugeot), three former Peugeot Employees, and Peugeot's parent company had conspired to injure his business in violation of the Sherman Act and of state tort law. On November 26, 1984, I entered an Order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's antitrust claim, and dismissing the claims against the individual defendants for want of personal jurisdiction. On April 4, 1985, I entered an order granting the motion for summary judgment of the parent company. What remained for trial was a diversity case in which plaintiff alleged that Peugeot had tortiously interfered with plaintiff's contractual relations.

 Although plaintiff did amend his complaint early in the proceedings, he never amended it to reflect the dismissal of his antitrust claims and of all but one of the defendants. Thus, at the time of trial, the operative paragraphs of his amended complaint read as follows:

 
15. Independent of the above and in violation of the law, each defendant has conspired with the other defendants to the result that there is a tortious interference with the contractual relations of the plaintiff with the general public and potential customers.
 
16. Independent of the above and in violation of the law, the defendants have wrongfully and tortiously attempted to prevent the plaintiff from continuing as a Peugeot distributor and dealer.
 
17. Defendants have wrongfully and tortiously attempted to deprive the plaintiff of his right to earn a living as a Peugeot distributor and dealer.

 The trial was bifurcated. At the close of plaintiff's case on the issue of liability, defendant moved for a directed verdict. I denied defendant's motion; defendant then put on its case, and the jury's verdict on liability was for plaintiff. I thereupon deferred the damages phase of the trial, and requested the parties to brief the question whether the jury's verdict was supported by the evidence. I did this because (1) it seemed possible that close scrutiny of the record would establish that plaintiff had not presented sufficient evidence to support a finding of liability, and (2) I felt that until plaintiff's theory of liability, assuming it to be tenable, had been clarified, the issue of damages could not be presented to the jury in a coherent fashion. See tr. of conference in chambers, Nov. 22, 1985, at 4-8. Defendant's ensuing submission, styled a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), is now ripe for disposition.

 In Neville Chemical Company v. Union Carbide Corp., 422 F.2d 1205, 1210 n.5 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 826, 27 L. Ed. 2d 55, 91 S. Ct. 51 (1970), the Third Circuit noted that the standard for evaluating a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is the same as that for evaluating a motion for a directed verdict. The court reaffirmed this holding in Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. v. Videfreeze Corp., 540 F.2d 1171, 1177 n.5 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1053, 97 S. Ct. 767, 50 L. Ed. 2d 770 (1977). Relying on Fireman's Fund, the court recently restated the well-settled standard:

 
[A] district court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, give the plaintiff the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, and then determine whether there is insufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. v. Videfreeze Corp., 540 F.2d 1171, 1177-78 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1053, 97 S. Ct. 767, 50 L. Ed. 2d 770 (1977).

 Rippee v. Grand Valley Mfg. Co., 762 F.2d 25, 26 (3d Cir. 1985). See also Hahn v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 625 F.2d 1095, 1099 (3d Cir. 1980) (stating standard for judgment notwithstanding the verdict); Kademenos v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc., 513 F.2d 1073, 1074 (3d Cir. 1975) (same).

 Plaintiff's claim against Peugeot for tortious interference with contractual relations arose out of a transaction between Stout and several other entities, including Yellow Cab Owners and Drivers Association (Yellow Cab). Stout entered into an agreement that apparently had the following elements: Stout was to sell Peugeot taxi cabs to Term Leasing Company; Term Leasing would then lease the cabs to Metro Transportation Company; and Metro Transportation would in turn sublease the cars to Yellow Cab. Although the arrangements between the parties contemplated the purchase of up to 144 cabs, only 62 cabs were in fact sold to Term Leasing. Stout contends that both (1) Peugeot's failure to deliver enough cabs to him, and (2) Peugeot's interference with Yellow Cab's business decisions, constituted tortious conduct resulting in Stout's inability to sell the other 82 cabs to Term Leasing.

 In its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, defendant argues that none of the evidence presented regarding Peugeot's failure to deliver enough cabs to Stout was relevant to an action sounding in tort, because Stout cannot sue in tort for defendant's failure to deliver enough cabs to him. In Peugeot's view, whatever obligation it was under to deliver cabs to Stout sprang from and was governed by the franchise agreement between the parties. Thus, as Peugeot sees it, any injury to plaintiff that may have resulted from defendant's failure to abide by the terms of that agreement is actionable only in contract, not in tort.

 Stout responds that "tort actions are certainly viable between contracting parties where the independent elements of the tort can be proved to the satisfaction of the factfinder." Plaintiff's brief at 6.

 While it is true that the mere existence of a contract between parties does not foreclose the possibility of a tort action arising between them, it does not follow that a plaintiff should be allowed to sue in tort for damages arising out of a breach of contract. To hold otherwise would be to blur one reasonably bright line between contract and tort, and hence introduce needless confusion into the judicial process, a step that Pennsylvania's state and federal courts alike have refused to take. See, e.g. Standard Pipeline Coating Co. v. Solomon & Teslovich, Inc., 344 Pa. Super. 367, 496 A.2d 840, 843-44 (1985); Glazer v. Chandler, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.