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Barnes v. P. & D. Manufacturing Co.

Decided: September 22, 1939.

HAROLD E. BARNES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
P. & D. MANUFACTURING CO., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Supreme Court.

For the plaintiff-appellant, Joseph J. Corn.

For the defendant-respondent, Kristeller & Zucker (Lionel P. Kristeller).

Bodine

The opinion of the court was delivered by

BODINE, J. The appeal is from a judgment of nonsuit entered on the first and second counts of the complaint and a directed verdict of six cents in appellant's favor on the third count. Several phases of the case have been before the courts in Barnes v. P. & D. Manufacturing Co., 117 N.J.L. 156, and P. & D. Manufacturing Co. v. Barnes, 120 Id. 229.

Appellant in this case sought compensation for labor and the use of his alleged inventions in the manufacture of automotive accessories. The trial court granted a nonsuit on the first and second counts, holding that the proofs showed that the contract for services, the basis of those counts, was oral, and could not be performed within one year from the making thereof, and was consequently unenforceable by virtue of the statute of frauds which had been specially pleaded. He also directed a verdict on the third count for six cents damages because of lack of proof of anything greater.

The defendant was engaged in the manufacture and sale of automotive accessories in Long Island City. The appellant during the summer of 1930 showed the defendant an invention he had made. The nature of his future connection with the defendant was discussed and he was requested to submit a proposed written agreement embodying the terms thereof.

Such a contract was prepared by his patent attorney, and submitted to the defendant on or about August 1st, 1930. However, it was never executed by either party. An attempt was made to prove a parol agreement of like terms; such agreement providing for services to be rendered over a period of five years would offend the statute of frauds.

"An Act for the Prevention of Frauds and Perjuries" provides as follows: "No action shall be brought (1) * * *; or (2) * * *; or (3) * * *; or (4) * * *; or (5) upon any agreement, that is not to be performed within one year from the making thereof; unless the agreement, upon which such action shall be brought, or some memorandum or note thereof, shall be in writing, and signed by the party to be charged therewith, or some other person thereunto by him or her lawfully authorized." R.S. 25:1-5.

Mr. Justice Depue said in McElroy v. Ludlum, 32 N.J. Eq. 828, 832: "But if the evidence established the agreement set out in the bill, the complainant would, nevertheless, be debarred of the relief prayed for. The suit is in substance an action to enforce a legal demand. It must, therefore, be decided upon the legal principles by which the right of a party to recover compensation for services rendered, under a contract invalid by the statute, is determined. Performance of a contract invalid by the statute, will not validate the contract so as to enable a party to enforce it by an action upon the contract. Unless in cases specially provided for in the statute, part performance will not validate the contract at law. The dictum that part performance will make valid a contract invalid by the statute of frauds, is exclusively a creature of equity, and applies only to contracts relating to lands, and does not extend to contracts relating to other matters."

When this case was previously in this court on an appeal from the judgment striking the complaint (Barnes v. P. & D. Manufacturing Co., Inc., 117 N.J.L. 156), all that was decided was that the case was not then ripe for a decision dismissing appellant's cause of action. Mr. Justice Perskie said: "The determination of these questions ...


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