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Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp.

argued: March 28, 1977.

PAUL J. BOGOSIAN, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL THOSE SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANT,
v.
GULF OIL CORPORATION, AMERICAN OIL COMPANY, HUMBLE OIL & REFINING COMPANY, MOBIL OIL COMPANY, PHILLIPS PETROLEUM COMPANY, SHELL OIL COMPANY, SUN OIL COMPANY, TEXACO, INC., CITIES SERVICE OIL COMPANY, ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, UNION OIL COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA, UNION 76 DIVISION, AMERADA HESS CORP., HESS OIL AND PETROLEUM DIVISION, GETTY OIL COMPANY, STANDARD OIL COMPANY OF OHIO, STANDARD OIL COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA. (D.C. CIVIL NO. 71-1137, E.D. OF PA.). LOUIS J. PARISI, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANT, V. GULF OIL CORPORATION, AMERICAN OIL COMPANY, EXXON CORPORATION, MOBIL OIL COMPANY, PHILLIPS PETROLEUM COMPANY, SHELL OIL COMPANY, SUN OIL COMPANY, TEXACO, INC., CITIES SERVICE OIL COMPANY, ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, UNION OIL COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA, UNION 76 DIVISION, AMERADA HESS CORP., HESS OIL AND PETROLEUM DIVISION, GETTY OIL COMPANY, STANDARD OIL COMPANY OF OHIO, STANDARD OIL COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA, CHEVRON OIL CO. (D.C. CIVIL NO. 71-2543, E.D. OF PA.)



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Seitz, Chief Judge, Aldisert and Gibbons, Circuit Judges. Aldisert, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Seitz

SEITZ, Chief Judge.

In separate lawsuits, two independent service station dealers, Bogosian and Parisi, sued their respective lessors, Gulf and Exxon, alleging that the lease contracts imposed a tie-in in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. Each plaintiff also joined as party defendants fourteen other major oil companies whom they alleged, together with Gulf and Exxon, engaged in what they now argue was concerted action to unlawfully tie the leasing and subleasing of gas station sites to the purchase of gasoline supplied by each dealer's lessor. More specifically, plaintiffs alleged that, at least since 1957, and continuing to the present, "defendants, through a course of interdependent consciously parallel action, have required all dealers who lease, sublease, or renew such leases or subleases for one or more of defendants' service stations to:

(a) license the use of the lessor's trademark;

(b) sell only the lessor's gasoline; and

(c) not sell gasoline purchased from any other source under the licensed trademark."

Plaintiffs alleged that these restrictions forced them to buy gasoline at whatever price their lessor offered and prevented them from selling other brands of gasoline. They sought to maintain the suit on behalf of all present and former lessee gasoline dealers of the defendants.

After substantial discovery limited to the class action allegations, the district court refused to certify the class, (62 F.R.D. 124, E.D. Pa. 1973), and under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) certified as immediately appealable its order denying class action status. This court refused petitioners' application to appeal pursuant to § 1292(b). (Misc. Record No. 76-8087, April 17, 1974). In April, June and July of 1975 the district court granted motions for summary judgment made by all moving defendants which had had no business dealings with the named plaintiffs (non-lessor defendants), but refused the motions as to the lessors of the named plaintiffs. 393 F. Supp. 1046 (E.D. Pa. 1975). Prior to the grant of the motions no discovery had been taken on the issue of concerted action. Although plaintiffs moved for discovery under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f),*fn1 the court held that "because the complaint fails, as a matter of law, to state a cause of action under the Sherman Act § 1 against [nonlessor defendants], summary judgment will be granted and plaintiffs' Rule 56(f) motion will be denied." (footnote omitted). The court granted the summary judgment motion because it concluded that the allegation of "interdependent consciously parallel action" in a complaint is an insufficient statement of the concerted action necessary to state a claim under § 1.

All of the orders granting summary judgment contained an express determination that, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b), there is no just reason to delay and expressly directing entry of final judgment, although the actions were not wholly terminated by the orders. Subsequently, the district court filed a supplementary opinion expressing the reasons for its 54(b) determination. Plaintiffs timely appealed and defendants moved to dismiss the appeals contending that the entry of judgment was an abuse of discretion and should be vacated.

I. APPEALABILITY

A. Finality

Behind Rule 54(b) is the recognition that with the liberal joinder of claims and parties now permitted by the federal rules, the policy against piecemeal review implicit in the "single judicial unit" rule must be weighed against the untoward effects which can occur when decisions final as to some claims and some parties cannot be entered until the litigation is final as to all claims and all parties. The district court is not empowered to enter judgment on a decision which is not final. However, by determining that a final decision which terminates the action as to one or more but fewer than all parties or as to one or more but fewer than all claims is an appropriate judicial unit, the court can dispatch for appeal decisions which otherwise would not then be appealable because of the "single judicial unit" rule. Wetzel v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 424 U.S. 737, 47 L. Ed. 2d 435, 96 S. Ct. 1202 (1976); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 100 L. Ed. 1297, 76 S. Ct. 895 (1957). The threshold issue, therefore, is whether the order appealed from finally resolved at least one entire claim, leaving at least one separate claim unresolved or alternatively whether the order finally determined the rights and liabilities of at least one party leaving at least one other party whose rights or liability remains undetermined.

Determination of whether multiple parties are involved within the meaning of the rule is not difficult. Prior to the 1961 amendment it was thought that a complaint charging an antitrust conspiracy against several defendants stated only one claim and dismissal of the complaint as to fewer than all defendants was not appealable under Rule 54(b). E. g., Steiner v. 20th Century-Fox Film Corp., 220 F.2d 105 (9th Cir. 1955). The 1961 amendment was intended to change this result. See Advisory Committee Note to 1961 amended 54(b). In view of the purpose of the amendment, it is clear that even if the complaint states only one claim, the district court is empowered to enter judgment upon an order terminating the action as to one or more but fewer than all parties. See 6 J. Moore, Federal Practice Para. 54.34 [2.-2]. (2d ed. 1948).

The district court granted summary judgment and directed the immediate entry of judgment for all moving defendants except Gulf and Atlantic Richfield in 393 F. Supp. 1046 (Bogosian) and to all moving defendants except Exxon and Atlantic Richfield in 393 F. Supp. 1046 (Parisi); the motions for summary judgment filed by Atlantic Richfield on August 6, 1975 were denied without prejudice because they were made after plaintiffs had filed their notices of appeal. Cities Service Oil Company, a defendant in both cases, has not moved for summary judgment. Therefore, Cities Service and Atlantic Richfield remain as defendants in both cases and are not before the court on appeal. In entering judgment in favor of those defendants on this appeal other than Gulf and Exxon, the court clearly acted within its power since those defendants have been wholly terminated from both actions.

On the other hand, although Gulf has been wholly terminated in Parisi, it remains as a defendant in Bogosian, while Exxon, which is no longer a defendant in Bogosian, remains as a defendant in Parisi. If the rights and liabilities of Gulf and Exxon have not been wholly terminated then, assuming arguendo that the complaint states a single claim, the district court properly could not enter judgment for them and plaintiffs could not maintain this appeal as to them. Compare Backus Plywood Corp. v. Commercial Decal, Inc., 317 F.2d 339 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 375 U.S. 879, 84 S. Ct. 146, 11 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1963), with 6 Moore, supra, Para. 54.34 [2.-2] at 564.

If we were to view the suit brought by Parisi and that by Bogosian as a single unit, it would follow that judgment could not have been entered for Gulf because a live claim is pending against it in Parisi, nor for Exxon because a live claim is pending against it in Bogosian. The factors which militate toward this view are that both plaintiffs are represented by the same attorney, the suits are filed in the same forum, are before the same judge, and the complaints and the defendants are identical. On the other hand, the cases have not been consolidated for trial. It is therefore possible that the cases could be scheduled for trial at different times and be tried before different juries. The existence of this possibility strongly favors the construction that each civil action be regarded as a separate judicial unit for Rule 54(b) purposes. By its terms the rule is applicable when multiple claims or multiple parties are presented "in an action." We hold, therefore, that, at least absent consolidation for all purposes of cases separately filed, each civil action is to be viewed as a separate unit. Since the order granting summary judgment for Gulf in Parisi and for Exxon in Bogosian wholly terminated the defendants respectively from those cases, the court was empowered to enter judgment upon the orders. We need not consider, therefore, whether the allegations of the complaint state a single or multiple claim for Rule 54(b) purposes.

B. Abuse of Discretion

Once it is determined that the district court was empowered to enter final judgment under 54(b), its decision to do so can be set aside only for an abuse of discretion. Mackey, supra, 351 U.S. at 437. We have previously indicated that ". . . ordinarily an application for a 54(b) order requires the trial judge to exercise considered discretion, weighing the overall policy against piecemeal appeals against whatever exigencies the case at hand may present. . . ." Panichella v. Pennsylvania RR., 252 F.2d 452, 455 (3d Cir. 1958).

In this case we have the benefit of the district court's opinion explaining the basis for its particular exercise of discretion. We do not necessarily agree with all of the reasons proffered by the district court. We discuss only those which are important to our conclusion that its order was consistent with the sound exercise of discretion:

(1) No disposition of the pending claim which the district court might make could moot the issues presented by the appeal of the conspiracy claim.

(2) The questions presented by the appeal are not before the district court as to the defendants against whom live claims are pending.

We think that the question before us could be mooted by a disposition of the pending claim in the district court. As defendants argued, a resolution of the tie-in claim in favor of the lessor defendants will moot the "conspiracy claim."*fn2 In each complaint plaintiffs allege that certain provisions contained in the lease agreements between themselves and their lessors constitute an unlawful tying arrangement. They further allege that each defendant, through concerted action, imposed the same unlawful tying arrangement on its lessees. Thus, if after trial and appeal, the contractual arrangements in issue on the pending claims against the lessors were found not to amount to an unlawful tying arrangement, plaintiffs would be collaterally estopped from relitigating the lawfulness of the same contractual arrangements against the remaining defendants.*fn3

Defendants also contend that a district court decision in favor of plaintiffs would moot the claim involved in this appeal. They argue that plaintiffs can recover the full amount of their damages from the lessor defendants obviating the need to litigate against the nonlessor defendants. We cannot accept this reasoning. We know of no principle of law which would preclude suit by plaintiffs against alleged co-conspirators of defendants against whom a judgment has been obtained. The purpose of the antitrust laws would be ill-served if defendants implicated in a broad based unlawful conspiracy could avoid trial simply by pointing to the possibility of plaintiffs obtaining full monetary relief against other defendants in a related antitrust action. Moreover, eliminating the 13 nonlessor defendants from trial would preclude plaintiffs and the class from obtaining the injunctive relief sought against those defendants.

The second point we question is whether the issues before us on this appeal may again require attention by this court on a subsequent appeal. As we have indicated, two of the 15 defendants, Atlantic Richfield and Cities Service are not now before this court. A decision by this court in favor of plaintiffs on any issue would not bind the absent defendants. Nevertheless, if in that situation the district court were to decide either the summary judgment motion or class action issue against the absent defendants in a manner consistent with our decision as to the other defendants, the absent defendants could appeal that decision at the appropriate time, forcing us to consider these issues again. While we agree that such is the law, we do not agree that such an eventuality necessarily makes it inappropriate to enter final judgment without delay.

We have noted that with the advent of the 1961 amendment it is now possible in appropriate cases to enter final judgment as to some but fewer than all parties even though a single claim is involved. In that situation, it would be clear that the court of appeals might be forced to consider the same claim again as to the parties against whom no judgment had been entered at the time of the appeal. Thus, we conclude that that fact alone cannot make it inappropriate to enter final judgment as to some but fewer than all parties.

We have the benefit on this appeal of the joint brief of 13 defendants, 11 of whom are nonlessors with whom Atlantic Richfield and Cities Service are similarly situated. Although our mandate will not bind the absent defendants, we recognize, nevertheless, that the operation of stare decisis is unlikely to make full reconsideration of the issues decided on this appeal unlikely if and when those issues are tendered on a subsequent appeal.*fn4 We conclude, therefore, that the fact that absent defendants might on a subsequent appeal raise issues which must now be considered if the entry of judgment under 54(b) stands, is not a significant factor in this case.

In sum, the district court was faced with a complex antitrust case stating two theories, a conspiracy-tying allegation resolution of which was final as to 13 defendants, and a contract-tying allegation which was pending trial and involved two defendants. There is a possibility that decision on the contract theory pending trial could moot the question presented on the appeal from the conspiracy-tying theory. Nevertheless, a decision on that claim might take a number of years to reach, and, in the interim, the defendants would bear the uncertainty arising from the fact that they may be forced to defend a massive antitrust claim years in the future. More importantly, an appellate decision reversing the entry of summary judgment on the conspiracy-tying claim might necessitate a second trial, at least part of which would involve proof of the same alleged tying arrangement involved in the trial of the contract-tying theory. Moreover, because the summary judgment was granted on the basis of the pleadings, our need to examine the record at this stage is minimal. We will thus not be twiced forced to master the complex factual situation underlying the claims of the existence of a conspiracy and the validity of the alleged tying arrangements.

The immediate entry of final judgment will promote a unified disposition of the substantive tying claims presented here as to all defendants without significantly delaying the disposition as to the two lessor defendants and without causing duplication of effort by this court. These matters lie at the heart of the tension between the conflicting policies inherent in Rule 54(b). We find no abuse of discretion in the district court's implicit determination that the policy against piecemeal review was not unduly frustrated by immediately entering these judgments.

Defendants contend that assuming that the entry of judgment under Rule 54(b) was proper, there is no jurisdictional basis to appeal the earlier order of the district court denying class action certification. They argue that if we were to reverse the summary judgments, the issue would be moot, while if we affirm, the case merely reverts to the status ante. It is anomalous, they suggest, that our prior refusal to entertain the class action issue under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) should suddenly be reversed when the conspiracy-tying claim is appealed under Rule 54(b).

Defendants' argument fails to take cognizance of Wetzel v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 508 F.2d 239, 245 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 1011, 44 L. Ed. 2d 679, 95 S. Ct. 2415 (1975), which decided this precise issue. As Wetzel indicates, defendants' argument fails to note the distinction between 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) and Rule 54(b). A district court is not empowered to certify issues for appeal under Rule 54(b) but only to enter judgment without delay on decisions which are final under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. It is axiomatic that an appeal taken from a judgment entered under 54(b) brings to the court of appeals all issues determined in the district court which would be reviewable on an appeal from any final judgment.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A. Standard of Review

Plaintiffs contend that notwithstanding that the district court styled its order as one granting summary judgment, the order should be reviewed as one granting a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "It is a familiar principle that the label [which] a district court puts on its disposition of a case is not binding on a Court of Appeals." Tuley v. Heyd, 482 F.2d 590, 593 (5th Cir. 1973). We therefore look to the course of proceedings and basis for decision in the district court to evaluate plaintiffs' contention.

At the time the motions for summary judgment were made, discovery had been undertaken which was principally concerned with the issues raised by the class action allegations. Generally speaking the motions were grounded on two theories. The first was that as to the nonlessor defendants, plaintiffs lacked standing under §§ 4 and 16 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 15 and 26. This argument was based upon plaintiffs' depositions in which they severally stated that the nonlessor defendants had not damaged them in their business or property and that they had no knowledge of a conspiracy among the defendants. The second theory was that the complaints failed to allege concerted action sufficient to state a claim under section 1 of the Sherman Act. Plaintiffs moved for denial of the motions under Rule 56(f), submitting the required affidavit and saying that plaintiffs were unable properly to respond to the motions without an opportunity to conduct discovery concerning the "conspiracy" claim.

The district court held that "[because] the complaint fails, as a matter of law, to state a cause of action under Sherman Act § 1 against [the nonlessor defendants], summary judgment will be granted and plaintiffs' Rule 56(f) motion will be denied." 393 F. Supp. at 1049 (footnote omitted). The district court rejected the nonlessors' standing argument as a basis for summary judgment, ruling that plaintiffs' deposition testimony was inconclusive.

It is clear from the district court's opinion that it excluded everything but the complaint in granting the motions. Moreover, the record before us shows that the discovery which had been taken was directed solely toward the class action issues. The memorandum in support of plaintiffs' Rule 56(f) motion indicated that the evidence which would support its theory of a combination or conspiracy was, as it usually is in such cases, in the hands of defendants and that summary judgment should not be granted without affording plaintiffs an opportunity for discovery on the issue of concerted action. "We have said that where the facts are in possession of the moving party a continuance of a motion for summary judgment for purposes of discovery should be granted almost as a matter of course." Costlow v. United States, 552 F.2d 560, 564 (3d Cir. 1977), citing Ward v. United States, 471 F.2d 667, 670-71 (3d Cir. 1973). The district court regarded discovery as irrelevant, however, because it based its decision solely on the complaint which it thought failed to state a claim as a matter of law.

The district court could dismiss for failure to state a claim upon motion for summary judgment, but a motion so decided is functionally equivalent to a motion to dismiss. Schwartz v. Compagnie General Transatlantique, 405 F.2d 270, 273 (2d Cir. 1968); Moore, supra Para. 56.02[3], at 2035. We therefore think it appropriate to review the order as we would one dismissing the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim. E.g., Tuley v. Heyd, supra, 482 F.2d at 593-94; Marvasi v. Shorty, 70 F.R.D. 14, 17 (E.D. Pa. 1976); see Grzelak v. Calumet Publishing Co., Inc., 543 F.2d 579, 583 (7th Cir. 1975).

The standards by which the orders must be tested is whether taking the allegations of the complaint as true, Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 12 L. Ed. 2d 1030, 84 S. Ct. 1733 (1964), and viewing them liberally giving plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences which fairly may be drawn therefrom, see Murray v. City of Milford, 380 F.2d 468, 470 (2d Cir. 1967), "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim which would entitle [them] to relief." Hospital Building Co. v. Trustees of Rex College, 425 U.S. 738, 746, 48 L. Ed. 2d 338, 96 S. Ct. 1848 (1976).

B. Sufficiency of the Complaint

The first amended Bogosian complaint made a number of allegations of unlawful practices which it alleged were accomplished by a "conspiracy" among defendants "through a course of interdependent consciously parallel action pursuant to a tacit understanding by acquiescence coupled with assistance . . ." The second amended complaint eliminated all allegations of unlawful practices except for the tying claims which we have discussed supra. Conspicuously absent as well is any reference to a conspiracy. Instead the second amended complaint makes the following reference to concerted action:

"13. For many years past, the exact date being presently unknown to plaintiffs, but at least as early as 1957, and continuing to the present, defendants, through a course of interdependent consciously parallel action, have required all dealers who lease . . ."

"14. The leasing practices of the defendants, individually and collectively, through interdependent consciously parallel actions, as aforesaid, including the use of short-term leases, leases based on contracts for the sale of lessor's brand of gasoline, and other contractual arrangements, have enabled the defendants to compel the lessee-dealers to purchase the lessor's brand of gasoline and not to purchase any other brand of gasoline for resale.

"16. The unlawful acts of defendants as aforesaid constitute an unreasonable combination in restraint of interstate trade and commerce in the marketing of gasoline in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1.

"17. By means of their unlawful acts and pursuant to and in furtherance of the above-described combination, the defendants have in substantial measure succeeded in jointly accomplishing the following:

"19. As a result of the defendants' unlawful combination, plaintiff and the members of the class have suffered, and unless defendants are enjoined, will continue to suffer irreparable harm . . ."

The district court held that the complaint failed to allege either a "contract or conspiracy," and that the allegation of "interdependent consciously parallel action" did not plead the concerted action required to state a claim under § 1. Although the court recognized that, together with other evidence, consciously parallel business behavior may support an inference of conspiracy, it thought that an allegation of contract, conspiracy or combination is essential to state a claim. The court regarded the omission of the word "conspiracy" for the complaint to be a "deliberately employed strategy" by "experienced and learned attorneys in the field of antitrust litigation." Thus, it reasoned that although it terminated plaintiffs' actions for failure to plead the word "conspiracy" it was not resurrecting the requirement of pleading "magic words" which characterized common law pleading.

Plaintiffs argue that the complaint fairly read as a whole alleges a "combination," and that such an allegation combined with a statement of the specific course of conduct alleged ...


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