Appeal from the Judgment Entered October 7, 1987, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, at No. GD 84-20975
Michael J. Betts, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Charles P. Falk, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Rowley, Del Sole and Montgomery, JJ.
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This appeal arises from a judgment entered after a jury verdict which awarded the Plaintiff-Appellee, Jeannette Paper Company, the sum of $244,000.00 in compensatory damages and $500,000.00 in punitive damages, against the Defendant-Appellant, Longview Fibre Company. This verdict was based upon claims of breach of contract and tortious interference with contractual relations asserted by Jeannette against Longview. Numerous arguments are raised on this appeal by Longview.
Longview contends, on several grounds, that the trial court erred in not granting it judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Further, the Appellant maintains that the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to grant it a new trial. It is well-established that on an appeal from the refusal of the trial court to enter judgment for the appellant non obstante veredicto, the sole duty of the appellate court is to decide whether there was sufficient competent evidence to sustain the verdict, granting the verdict winner the benefit of every favorable inference reasonably to be drawn from the evidence. Mike v. Borough of Aliquippa, 279 Pa. Super. 382, 421 A.2d 251 (1980). A judgment notwithstanding the verdict may be entered only in a clear case. Sperrazza v. Cambridge Mutual Fire Insurance Company, 313 Pa. Super. 60, 459 A.2d 409 (1983). Further, a judgment n.o.v. should not be entered in cases where evidence is conflicting upon a material fact, Burg v. Aberman, 183 Pa. Super. 1, 128 A.2d 179 (1956), and is proper only in circumstances where the facts are such that no two reasonable persons would fail to agree that the verdict was improper. Buck v. Scott Township, 325 Pa. Super. 148, 472 A.2d 691 (1984). The appellate court, in considering a motion for judgment n.o.v., is required to consider the evidence, together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the verdict winner. Claytor v. Durham, 273 Pa. Super. 571, 417 A.2d 1196 (1980). In
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such a review, all testimony and inferences unfavorable to the verdict winner must be rejected. Smith v. Kravitz, 173 Pa. Super. 11, 93 A.2d 889 (1953). With regard to an appeal challenging the grant or refusal of a new trial, the appellate court will not reverse the trial court's action in the absence of an abuse of discretion or an error of law which controlled the outcome of the case. Allison v. Snelling & Snelling, Inc., 425 Pa. 519, 229 A.2d 861 (1967). Mindful of such standards, we must review the pertinent facts established by the record in this case.
The record establishes that as of 1983, Plaintiff Jeannette Paper Company had been a broker of various types of industrial paper, for over 30 years. The principal product it brokered was a particular type of paper known as interleaving paper. Jeannette's most significant customer for such paper, for approximately 20 years, had been Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation. Allegheny Ludlum, a stainless steel producer headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, maintained a facility at West Leechburg, Pennsylvania, which used the interleaving paper to protect stainless steel coils from abrasion. Over the years prior to 1983, Allegheny Ludlum had secured so-called "southern" interleaving paper for use at that facility by purchases through Jeannette, which acted as the broker for several different manufacturers of that type of paper.
None of the paper manufacturers who supplied such a product to Allegheny Ludlum through Jeannette had any written brokerage contracts with Jeannette, and none had ever attempted to sell directly to Allegheny Ludlum. Each had paid Jeannette a 5% commission on sales to Allegheny Ludlum, and Jeannette presented evidence that a 5% commission was the standard in the industry for such brokerage arrangements for such products. At the time of the matters complained of in this action, Jeannette was the broker for the manufacturers providing all of the interleaving paper purchased by Allegheny Ludlum.
Allegheny Ludlum had not expressed dissatisfaction with the services provided by Jeannette, but had problems with
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the southern interleaving paper produced by one of the manufacturers for which Jeannette was serving as a broker. Accordingly, Jeannette deemed it appropriate to begin to search for another supplier of such interleaving paper.
On October 13, 1983, Norman Berger, the President of Jeannette, wrote to the Defendant-Appellant, Longview Fibre Company, to inquire about Longview's interest in producing this type of interleaving paper, and identified Jeannette as a broker in the sales of such a product to customers in the stainless steel and aluminum industries. In the letter, which was addressed to R.P. Wollenberg, President of Longview, Berger detailed Jeannette's long experience as a broker for such interleaving paper. By letter dated April 18, 1983, Longview advised Jeannette that Longview's Vice-President of Paper Sales, Donald C. Stibich, would be in touch with Jeannette in due course in response to its October 13, 1983 letter.
Later in October, 1983, Stibich telephoned Jeannette and spoke with Mr. Berger. During that telephone conversation, Stibich expressed an interest in producing and marketing the interleaving paper. Berger asked whether Longview would be agreeable to using it as a broker in order to market the product. Stibich confirmed that Longview had marketed its products through brokers in the past and said that employment of Jeannette as a broker would depend on what Jeannette could "bring to the party." In response, Berger told Stibich that Jeannette could provide numerous services and benefits to Longview in such a brokerage arrangement. Among the advantages expressed by Berger included Jeannette's extensive experience in the supply of such paper to the stainless steel industries, Jeannette's extensive knowledge of the requirements and specifications of the paper required by that industry, its awareness of industry customers, their personnel and procedures, Jeannette's ability to respond to and resolve complaints raised by customers, without the need for intercession by the manufacturer or its technical staff, Jeannette's unlimited line of credit and ability to discount suppliers' bills, and
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Jeannette's willingness to pay Longview's bill when the interleaving product would be shipped, regardless of the time when the product was received or paid for by the customer.
At the conclusion of this recitation of benefits which Jeannette could provide, Stibich, according to testimony by Berger, responded, "It's very impressive. What you offer is impressive, and I would say we have a fit." Berger then stated that he was pleased that there was a "fit", and that there was a "deal" between the parties. He then advised Stibich that the first account that would be approached, which was the largest, and the one he thought they could sell Longview interleaving paper to first, would be Allegheny Ludlum. He then turned the telephone over to Peter Neft, the Vice-President of Jeannette. Neft supplied Stibich with detailed information concerning interleaving in general, Allegheny Ludlum's particular requirements for this product, names of competitors, pricing information, and more about Jeannette's functions as a broker. They specifically discussed Jeannette acting as a broker for interleaving paper for Allegheny Ludlum, which would be produced by Longview. At the conclusion of the discussion, Stibich expressed that the ...