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James Talcott Inc. v. Corenzwit

Decided: May 15, 1978.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For modification and remandment -- Justices Sullivan, Pashman, Schreiber and Handler and Judge Conford. For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justice Clifford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Schreiber, J. Clifford, J., dissenting in part. Hughes, C.J., joins in this opinion.


The plaintiff James Talcott, Inc., assignee of a book account arising out of sales of toys by Remco Industries, Inc. (Remco) to the defendant H. Corenzwit & Co., instituted this action to collect the balance due of $36,000. The factual and legal issues centered about a provision in the terms of the purchase agreement to the effect that Remco guaranteed that there would be no drop in prices of the type of merchandise sold to the defendant for a period of 12 months. Talcott, having obtained the Remco inventory upon a default in its borrowing arrangement, sold toys at prices below the Remco guarantee. The defendant asserted that these sales violated the purchase agreement and that breach of the guarantee entitled it to a set-off against the balance due on the account receivable. Holding that the purchase agreement required Remco to reimburse the defendant "for total gross purchases retroactive to time of [its] first purchase" during the 12-month period prior to the date of violation, the trial court found that the total gross sales in that period exceeded the $36,000 and entered judgment for the defendant. The Appellate Division reversed. It reasoned that the drop-in-price provision was not triggered because the plaintiff Talcott had no contractual relationship with the defendant and it, Talcott, not Remco, sold the merchandise. We granted certification. 75 N.J. 19 (1977).

At the trial the parties stipulated that the amount of the account receivable was $36,000, that the indebtedness arose out of the sales of toys sold and delivered by Remco to the

defendant, and that all sales were governed by the terms prescribed in the defendant's purchase order.

The defendant, one of the five largest toy distributors in the United States, had been purchasing toys from Remco, a toy manufacturer, since at least 1966. The defendant's purchase order forms were used and accepted by both parties for each order. The orders contained the following pertinent provisions:

The acceptance and Shipment of this order is the Vendor's certification that the prices, discounts and the terms of the resulting invoice, or invoices, covering the sale are the same that are granted any other customer of similar classification for the same quantity, make, type, quality and grade of merchandise under like circumstances.

If price is omitted on order, it is agreed that Vendor's price will be the lowest prevailing market price and in no event is the order to be filled at higher prices than last previously quoted or charged without Purchaser's written consent.

Vendor guarantees cost of merchandise against drop in price for 12 months from date of shipment. He agrees to reimburse purchaser for total gross purchases retroactive to time of first purchase for such decrease at once.

Because of the volatile nature of the toy business, the defendant deemed it essential to protect itself as a toy distributor against a drop in prices at the wholesale level. Such a provision, the defendant believed, assured the saleability of its inventory and acted as a safety device with respect to the defendant's customers who had received a comparable assurance on their purchases from the defendant.

Between February 1973 and February 1974, defendant had purchased $65,842 worth of merchandise from Remco. At some point during that period Remco decided to go out of business. Attempts to sell its inventory located in the Remco Building in Harrison, New Jersey, at 60 percent of the manufacturer's cost, failed. The inventory was subsequently sold in February 1974 by A. J. Wilner, an auctioneer, on behalf

of plaintiff Talcott. Its interest in the inventory resulted from financial arrangements previously made with Remco. Talcott had advanced funds to Remco and obtained a security interest in Remco's accounts receivable and in Remco's inventory at Harrison, New Jersey. Upon default, Talcott became assignee of the $36,000 accounts receivable owing by the defendant and caused the inventory to be sold. As we previously observed, these sales occurred at prices lower than those fixed in the defendant's purchase orders. As of June 11, 1974 the defendant had on hand $15,150 of those goods. These had not been saleable because of the sharp drop in prices occasioned by the Remco distress sale.

Plaintiff contends that the drop-in-price clause was not applicable to a distress sale of this type. We do not agree. The contractual language is an outright guarantee that the cost of merchandise will not drop in price for 12 months from date of shipment. There is no intimation that Remco would be relieved of this obligation if some agent, assignee or third person made the sale in its place. The distributor was seeking protection against a wholesale price cut irrespective of the identity of the seller of the toys. Uncontradicted testimony of the defendant's vice-president was that one "reason we put [the clause] on the purchase order is to protect us in case" Remco went out of business, though he had not expected that occurrence. The distress sale of the Remco inventory violated the defendant's agreement and understanding with Remco.

We next turn to whether plaintiff Talcott as assignee of the accounts receivable should be subjected to the defendant's set-off claim, the claim having arisen after the assignment of the accounts receivable became effective. Both parties agree that their respective rights and duties are governed by the Uniform Commercial Code. The Code has continued the common law view that an assignee of a chose in action, such as a receivable, stands in the shoes of the ...

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