from defendant's trolley. The trial court granted defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that plaintiff had signed a release, although plaintiff argued that the release was procured by fraud. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the plaintiff pleaded fraud sufficiently to withstand defendant's motion in that she alleged that she signed the release on a representation by defendant's agent that if her injury became worse, she would not be barred from opening the case. Her injury did become worse, yet defendant said that the release precluded liability. This case too must be distinguished from the case at bar. No representations were made by defendant as to the contents of either the lease agreement or the termination agreement.
When the defense of fraud is employed, it is used in one of three ways: fraud in the inducement, fraud in the execution, or fraud in the consideration. Plaintiff here asserts fraud in the inducement. The court in McDonald v. Central R. Co., 89 N.J.L. 251, 98 Atl. 391 (Ct. Err. & App. 1916) discussed the meaning of each of the three types of fraud. Plaintiff in that case allegedly signed a release after defendant's agent represented that the paper to be signed provided for plaintiff's future employment and that defendant would pay the compensation provided for by the Workmen's Compensation Act. Because the action was not brought upon the release, the case was found not to fall within the cases permitting fraud in the consideration to be alleged. "Fraud in the consideration," it continued, "means fraud in the inducement (in a legal sense) to the contract." Id. at 392. There must be a claim, therefore, that the consideration was misrepresented. A misrepresentation of the contents of a release is the typical case of fraud in the execution. According to the court "it is a case where the defrauded party may properly say, 'I never agreed to that, and hence the document is not my deed.'" Id. It concluded that there was evidence of fraud in the execution and that the case should have been submitted to the jury.
In Heuter v. Coastal Air Lines, Inc., 12 N.J. Super. 490, 79 A.2d 880 (App. Div. 1951), the appellate court again reversed the trial court, when it granted defendant's motion for summary judgment in a case of alleged fraud in the inducement. Plaintiff, who had sustained injuries as a result of an airplane crash, brought suit against defendant airlines for negligently operating the airplane. Defendant's summary judgment motion was granted based on plaintiff's execution of a general release. Plaintiff asserted that the release was obtained by fraud, misrepresentation and undue influence. Plaintiff was an uneducated Puerto Rican who did not read, write or understand English. He was bandaged and in bed in Savannah, Georgia where he was visited daily by several unknown men who were engaged by defendant to effect a settlement. They took him from the hospital dressed in bathrobe and slippers, clothed him, gave him $316 in cash and brought him back to the hospital where he signed an X mark on a paper they gave him. The Appellate Division found that while agents of defendant had refrained from making an affirmative misstatement "their conduct . . . was nevertheless such as to warrant submission to the jury of the issue as to whether there had been 'imposition practiced upon the signer with intent to deceive him as to the purport of the paper signed.'" Id. at 497 (citing Evangelista v. Public Service Coordinated Transport, supra.). Willful silence, where the circumstances clearly give rise to a duty to speak and explain, may not be differentiated from willful misstatement, the court held.
I find that the case at bar is clearly distinguishable from Heuter. There is nothing submitted by plaintiff which indicated a duty on the part of Shell Oil or Mr. Lucas to "speak and explain." Van Houten was told that his lease was to be terminated. That fact was the last bit of information he received before the papers were brought to him. He deposed that he read the caption on the termination agreement and release. He never stated that he did not know or understand the contents or meaning of the release. See Mr. Van Houten's Deposition at 489.
And in Mannion v. Hudson & M.R. Co., 125 N.J.L. 606, 17 A.2d 546, affirmed, 127 N.J.L. 230, 21 A.2d 735 (Ct. Err. & App. 1941), the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the trial judge properly submitted the case to the jury on the issue of the release in question. Plaintiff, a 73 year-old woman, was injured when the subway door snapped shut on her arm. The next day, while at the same station, she became ill. Upon explaining the facts to a subway policeman, she was told to go home whereupon a representative of defendant company came to her home and suggested she see a company doctor. After seeing the doctor she was taken to the claims office where she was given $50 and told that everything possible would be done for her. She was given the release which she signed although she did not read it as she did not have her glasses with her. The court found that because the evidence was conflicting, it was the function of the jury to determine where the truth lay.
Plaintiff in its brief states that because fraud is given an expansive definition in New Jersey, it should be permitted to present its proofs on the issue of fraud to the jury. Plaintiff relies on the definition given in Wiley v. Wirbelauer, 116 N.J. Eq. 391, 396, 174 Atl. 20 (Ch. 1934) to support its position:
As a general rule, fraud consists in anything calculated to deceive, whether by single act or combination, or by suppression of truth, or a suggestion of what is false, whether it be direct falsehood or by innuendo, by speech or silence, word of mouth or look or gesture. It is any artifice by which a person is deceived to his disadvantage.
Id. at 23. The court continues by stating that to establish fraud, the proof must be clear and convincing. Id.
The factual situations discussed above indicate the traditional application of the defense of fraud. An intent to deceive was clearly shown by each set of facts. That is not the case here. Plaintiff has indicated neither an intent to deceive nor an act of deception on the part of the defendant. The facts do not show a misrepresentation or a duty to speak. Plaintiff argues that where fraud in the execution or consideration of a release is in dispute, it is generally a question for the jury. However, it should be kept in mind, as this court stated in Dworman v. Mayor and Bd. of Aldermen, 370 F. Supp. at 1065-66 (D.N.J. 1974), "'the showing of a genuine issue for trial is predicated upon the existence of a legal theory which remains viable under the asserted version of the facts and which would entitle the party opposing the motion . . . to a judgment as a matter of law.' Bushie v. Stenocord Corp., 460 F.2d 116, 119 (9th Cir. 1972); McGuire v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 399 F.2d 902, 905 (9th Cir. 1968)." See also Bilotti v. Accurate Forming Corp., 39 N.J. 184, 188 A.2d 24 (1963).
I find that plaintiff has not sustained its burden of showing a prima facie case of fraud or the suggestion of fraud. Mr. Van Houten in his deposition, and plaintiff in its complaint, indicated that Mr. Van Houten was told on several occasions that the franchise would be terminated unless plaintiff immediately paid its overdue bill. Mr. Van Houten testified that Mr. Lucas was his friend, and had been such through much of the period of the franchise. He was told by Lucas that the franchise was to be terminated, subject only to a 15-day extension. Mr. Van Houten admits he has on a prior occasion read and signed both a termination agreement and a release. His only basis for the allegation of fraud is that Lucas allegedly stated: "I'll see what I can do." This by itself and in the instant factual situation is insufficient to establish the existence of fraud with respect to the release. Plaintiff fails anywhere to allege that Lucas, as defendant's agent, misrepresented or stated falsely any fact material to the termination agreement or release. Van Houten, as stated in plaintiff's brief at 21, may not have known or intended that the termination agreement presented to him would end his franchise and bar his suit, but that lack of knowledge or intent under the facts of this case, as plaintiff presents them, does not constitute fraud on the part of the defendant.
A statement is also made in plaintiff's brief at 22 that "Mr. Lucas may be found to be Van Houten's fiduciary with the attendant responsibilities that entails." This is, however, never mentioned in the complaint or in Van Houten's deposition and is supported by no facts or law. Counsel's statement is not evidence and cannot, therefore, be used to create an issue of fact. Bolt Associates, Inc. v. Alpine Geophysical Associates, Inc., 365 F.2d 742, 747 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1966); Proctor v. Sagamore Big Game Club, 265 F.2d 196, 198-99 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 361 U.S. 831, 4 L. Ed. 2d 73, 80 S. Ct. 81 (1959); James v. H.M.S. Port Lyttleton Port Line Limited, 51 F.R.D. 216, 218 (E.D. Pa. 1971).
The second issue concerning the release presented to the court is whether the release was intended to and did include all of the claims in the suit. The Third Circuit in Three Rivers, supra, at 894-97, found the release in that case unambiguous on its face and comprehensive as to the antitrust claims in that action. The parties, it held, intended that the release settle all accounts, known or unknown. I find the release in the present case similarly unambiguous. The release explicitly includes "all claims which each now has against the other (whether or not known to either) . . ."
In Novak v. General Electric Corp., 282 F. Supp. 1010 (E.D. Pa. 1967), the district court applied New Jersey law to the interpretation of a release finding that the scope of the release was not readily ascertainable on a motion for summary judgment but should be determined by the trier of fact after a full hearing. Id. at 1023. In a footnote, however, the court went on to say:
Mere shorthand references such as "general release" are not in themselves sufficient. Nor do I think that ritualistic incantations such as the italicized portions of the release . . . are sufficient to deprive one of unknown antitrust claims. It is not too much to require the conspicuous insertion of a phrase stating that the release covers, for example, "all claims, whether presently known, or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, arising out of the same or of different product lines as are here involved and whether related or unrelated to the present dispute as to law or facts or both," before we hold that as a matter of law, the parties must have intended to cover a prior unknown and unrelated claim.
Id. at n. 44.*The release in Van Houten includes most of the required portion mentioned above.
A general release, not restricted by its terms to particular claims or demands, ordinarily covers all claims and demands due at the time of execution. Bilotti v. Accurate Forming Corp., 39 N.J. 184, 204, 188 A.2d 24 (App. Div. 1963). See also Virginia Impression Products Co. v. SCM Corp., 448 F.2d 262, 265 (4th Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 405 U.S. 936, 30 L. Ed. 2d 811, 92 S. Ct. 945 (1972); Jackson v. Marathon Oil Co., 441 F.2d 511, 512 (5th Cir. 1971); Dura Electric Lamp Co. v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 249 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1957).
I find that the claims asserted in each of the six counts of the complaint are encompassed within the language of the release. The release signed by Raymond Van Houten will be given full effect and the present suit is thus barred. I will, therefore, not reach the merits of any of the other arguments raised by defendant on this motion. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.
Submit an appropriate order.