158 F.2d 631 (2nd Cir. 1946), 20340, Matarese v. Moore-McCormack Lines

Docket Nº:20340
Citation:158 F.2d 631, 71 U.S.P.Q. 311
Case Date:December 10, 1946
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 631

158 F.2d 631 (2nd Cir. 1946)

71 U.S.P.Q. 311




Nos. 20340

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

December 10, 1946

Page 632

Joseph K. Inness, of New York City, for appellants.

Alvin Cushing Cass, of New York City (Tyson & Tyson and T. Kenneth Tyson and Sidney Worthman, all of New York City, on the brief), for appellee.

Before AUGUSTUS N. HAND, CHASE, and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

CLARK, Circuit Judge.

This appeal raises the issue whether a corporation may be required to pay the reasonable value of the use of certain inventive ideas disclosed by an employee to an agent of the corporation in the expectation of payment where an express contract fails for want of proof of the agent's authority. Here the plaintiff, being refused compensation, brought suit upon an alleged express contract to pay one-third of the savings realized by the defendants through the use of his devices. The suit having been instituted in the Supreme Court of New York, defendants removed it to the federal court because of their diverse citizenship from that of plaintiff, a New York citizen. During the trial plaintiff abandoned his theory and, over the objections of defendants, amended his complaint by adding a prayer for recovery of quantum meruit upon the theory of unjust enrichment. The court submitted the case to the jury upon this theory, and it returned a verdict for plaintiff for $90, 000. This, upon motion, the district judge ordered set aside unless the plaintiff consented to its reduction to the sum of $40, 000. The plaintiff so consented, judgment was entered for the latter sum, and defendants appeal.

The plaintiff is a man of little education, who, emigrating to this country from Italy some forty-six years ago, had always worked around the docks and in 1938 was employed as a part-time stevedore on defendants' pier. His case, which the jury quite obviously must have accepted in full, was that in August of that year he informed Furey, defendants' agent in charge of the pier, that he had something which would facilitate cargo loading and unloading, thus saving the defendants much money and preventing the numerous accidents ordinarily occurring at the pier. 1 So, at

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plaintiff's invitation, Furey made a special trip to plaintiff's home in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn and was there shown models of devices for loading and unloading cargo which the plaintiff had invented. Present were not only plaintiff and Furey, but also plaintiff's son and a friend named Devereaux, all of whom handled the models in an operational demonstration. All of these were witnesses at the trial; and even Furey, testifying for the defendants, admitted the visit to plaintiff's home and the demonstration of the models, while denying any further commitments upon his part. According to plaintiff and his witnesses, however, Furey expressed his satisfaction with the models and promised the plaintiff one-third of what the defendants would save by use of the device. He suggested that plaintiff patent his device and offered to be the plaintiff's partner in exploiting it. He also offered the plaintiff the job of supervising the construction of his devices for defendants on the defendants' premises and with the defendants' materials. Plaintiff accepted the job and continued to receive longshoreman's pay until the end of the year, when, presumably, he received gearman's pay. After a full-scale test of plaintiff's devices, defendants put a great number of them into use at the pier under Furey's charge and at other piers subsequently acquired by them. From time to time plaintiff asked Furey about his money, and Furey always assured him that he would be compensated in the future. In 1941, however, Furey sent plaintiff to another agent of the defendants, who discharged him from his job. This action was commenced in April, 1943.

Meanwhile on January 28, 1939, plaintiff applied for a patent. The application was divided in the patent office in 1940, and on March 18, 1941, plaintiff was issued two patents. One was for a 'cargo loading and unloading apparatus, ' consisting of a reversible 5' x 4' wooden palet, and a flexible bridle, a guiding frame, a mesh net, and lifting bars to transport the pallet between ship and pier. The other was for a 'cargo loading and unloading platform, ' or stationary wooden platform attached to, and extending out from, the pier. Defendants objected to the admission of these patents in evidence, asserting that they were 'secretly after-acquired' grants which were invalid for want of invention and that their admission was highly prejudicial on plaintiff's claim of novel invention. But the question of validity of the patents was not involved, and the court very carefully explained to the jury that it was not. The patents, however, were properly admitted, as part of the history of events between the parties, taken pursuant to Furey's direction and plan of retaining the benefit to defendants alone.

The main legal issue of the appeal turns, therefore, upon the validity of plaintiff's claim of unjust...

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