Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


June 20, 1980


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SAROKIN

Defendants move for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for a summary hearing in order to determine whether the complaint filed herein should be dismissed by reason of a release and stipulation of dismissal executed in a prior action between the identical parties. The Court's jurisdiction is premised upon 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331.

Plaintiff, Filtrator Coffee Apparatus Co., Inc., (hereinafter "Filtrator") is a manufacturer and distributor of fluted coffee filters for use in coffee makers. Defendant North American Systems, Inc. (hereinafter "NAS") is the manufacturer and distributor of automatic drip coffee makers for home use utilizing the name "Mr. Coffee". NAS also manufactures and distributes fluted filters for use in its machines, as well as many other machines. Defendant Food Enterprises, Inc. distributes and sells products of NAS among others.

 On or about February 15, 1979, NAS filed an action against Filtrator in the District of New Jersey, entitled North American Systems, Inc. v. Filtrator Coffee Apparatus Co., Inc., Docket No. 79-533 (hereinafter "the prior action"). In that action, NAS sought relief from Filtrator's alleged usurpation of the trademarks and goodwill of NAS. NAS alleged that Filtrator was utilizing the name "Mr. Coffee" and a picture of the "Mr. Coffee" automatic coffee maker on its packages of fluted coffee filters without the prior consent of NAS.

 In the prior action Filtrator filed a motion to amend its answer and to file a counterclaim. The proposed counterclaim, which alleged antitrust violations, was appended to Filtrator's motion and contained claims which are identical or substantially similar to those contained in the complaint which it has filed in this action. Filtrator simultaneously served upon NAS interrogatories and requests for documents directed at the issues raised in the proposed counterclaim.

 Prior to the argument on the motion to amend the answer and file a counterclaim in the prior action, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, which agreement provided, inter alia, that:

"Each party agrees that the other is released from liability from all claims for acts permitted by this agreement or raised by any pleading filed in this action except as this agreement is breached by the other."

 In addition, the parties provided that the prior action would be dismissed by consent and, accordingly, the stipulation provided as follows:

"The parties hereto have entered into an agreement . . . and pursuant to said agreement hereby stipulate that the Complaint and any Counterclaim in the above-entitled action be dismissed without prejudice . . ."

 In the prior action, there was no counterclaim other than the proposed counterclaim attached to Filtrator's moving papers.

 In connection with the motion filed by the defendants in this matter to dismiss the complaint, neither party suggests that there were any discussions which took place as to whether or not the causes of action set forth in the counterclaim were to be included in the release. As a result thereof, the Court has concluded that no purpose would be served in having a hearing as to the intention of the parties. Both parties set forth in their affidavits their respective positions as to the intention of the parties, but do not allege that such intention was expressed in any way other than as is contained in the written documents. Therefore, it is incumbent upon this Court to interpret the documents based upon all of the foregoing facts, none of which are disputed. The scope of a release is determined by the intent of the parties as expressed in the terms of the instrument, considered in light of all the surrounding facts and circumstances, Bilotti v. Accurate Forming Corporation, 39 N.J. 184, 188 A.2d 24 (1963).

 At the time that the settlement negotiations took place and were consummated, there is no dispute that both parties were fully aware of Filtrator's claim of anti-trust violations as set forth in the proposed counterclaim. In reaching a settlement, it was reasonable for defendant NAS to assume that the causes of action set forth in the counterclaim in the prior action were included in the release and dismissal unless specifically reserved by Filtrator. Nothing, either in the negotiations or in the documents themselves, indicates any communication by Filtrator to NAS that it was Filtrator's intention to preserve its right to pursue the causes of action set forth in the counterclaim.

 Filtrator now relies upon a very technical interpretation of the release section of the agreement to contend that the phrase "by any pleading filed" did not describe the counterclaim in the prior action. Filtrator contends that it was merely a proposed pleading which was not formally filed, and, therefore, the claims contained therein were not released.

 Recognizing, as plaintiff correctly states, that it is well settled that a motion is not a pleading, Bigelow v. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 16 F.R.D. 15 (N.D.Ill.1954), U. S. v. 64.88 Acres of Land, 25 F.R.D. 88 (W.D.Pa.1960), Johnson & Gould v. Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., 28 F. Supp. 650, 651 (E.D.Tenn.1939), United States of America v. Plant, 56 F.R.D. 613 (W.D.Ark.1972), this Court cannot accept plaintiff's strained interpretation of the phrase "by any pleading filed" in the agreement, nor can this Court conceive that Filtrator signed the settlement agreement consciously relying on such narrow a construction to preserve a substantial anti-trust cause of action. Cf., D.D.I., Inc. v. U. S., 467 F.2d 497, 500-501, 199 Ct.Cl. 380 (1972), cert. denied 414 U.S. 830, 94 S. Ct. 61, 38 L. Ed. 2d 65 (1963) (Court determines scope of settlement agreement based upon common sense understanding of intention of parties). If it was Filtrator's intention not ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.