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VAN HOUTEN SERV. v. SHELL OIL CO.

December 17, 1975

Van Houten Service, Inc.
v.
Shell Oil Co.


Lacey, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LACEY

This matter is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(b), Fed. R. Civ. P. The court, having heard oral argument and having considered the said motion together with the points and authorities, affidavits, depositions and other documents filed with respect to the motion, renders this opinion.

 Plaintiff Van Houten Service, Inc. ("Company") charges defendant Shell Oil Co., in its amended complaint, with violations of N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 56:10-1 et seq., the Franchise Practices Act, in that it allegedly terminated plaintiff's franchise without explanation, coerced Raymond Van Houten ("Van Houten"), plaintiff's principal owner and president, *fn1" into signing, on plaintiff's behalf, "a purported acquiescence in a release of the franchise agreement" and imposed improper restraints against the alienation of plaintiff's franchise. Counts 2 and 3 charge defendant with unlawful restraints in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 56:9-1 et seq., § 1 of the Sherman Act, and §§ 1 and 3 of the Clayton Act. Count 4 claims that defendant has discriminated in price in violation of § 13 of the Robinson-Patman Act. Defendant is charged with violating the New Jersey Unfair Motor Fuels Practices Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. 56:6-22 in Count 5, and the Economic Stabilization Regulations, Title 6, Chapter 3 Part 301 of Phase III Regulations. Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs of suit.

 For the purposes of this motion, the following facts are pertinent. In July, 1970 plaintiff first became a Shell dealer after previously operating as a franchised Esso dealer for several years. In November, 1970 it became the dealer of a larger Shell station, the lease for which ended on November 30, 1973.

 In November, 1971, in association with Martin Grossbarth, plaintiff's and Van Houten's personal accountant, and Harold Hirsh, Van Houten acquired a Wynn's automotive products distributorship for central Jersey.

 On June 1, 1973 Shell instituted an allocation program to all its customers, whereby the dealer was permitted to purchase during each month of 1973 a percentage of the actual purchases made by the dealer at that location during the same month of 1972. Van Houten was not satisfied with the amount of gasoline purchases to which he was limited under the allocation program.

 Van Houten had one other business interest during the period of plaintiff's Shell franchise -- the field of private investigation.

 In early November, 1973, plaintiff owed approximately $2,835 to Shell on its Tires, Batteries and Accessories (TBA) account. Van Houten met with Jack Vaughn, Shell's sales manager, Frank Dunst, Shell's territory manager for Elizabeth, New Jersey and Bill Lucas (whom Van Houten considered a good friend), Shell's dealer representative, and a "lease package" was discussed. Then on November 12, 1973, Dunst told Van Houten that his delinquent TBA account must be made current before his lease would be renewed. Shell and Van Houten could not agree on a form of repayment.

 On November 20, 1973 Lucas went to plaintiff's station with the necessary papers which included 2 copies of an earlier lease package, a 15-day lease agreement and a mutual termination agreement. Van Houten read and signed the 15-day lease agreement. He then read the caption and signed the termination agreement which contained a general release. The release stated:

 
This Is An Agreement, dated November 15, 1973, between Shell Oil Company a Delaware corporation (herein called "Shell"), and Raymond Van Houten of 44 Lenhome Dr. South in Cranford, New Jersey (herein called "Dealer"):
 
1. Terminating, effective as of December 15, 1973, each of the following ...

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