610 F.2d 528 (8th Cir. 1979), 79-1298, Roberts v. Browning

Docket Nº:79-1298.
Citation:610 F.2d 528
Party Name:Jimmy ROBERTS, Appellant, v. BROWNING d/b/a Browning, Inc. of Utah, Appellee.
Case Date:September 10, 1979
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 528

610 F.2d 528 (8th Cir. 1979)

Jimmy ROBERTS, Appellant,


BROWNING d/b/a Browning, Inc. of Utah, Appellee.

No. 79-1298.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 10, 1979

Dec. 6, 1979.

Page 529

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 530

Sidney Fortus, Fortus & Anderson, Clayton, for appellant.

Thomas C. Walsh, Bryan, Cave, McPheeters & McRoberts, St. Louis, Mo., for appellee; Michael G. Biggers, St. Louis, Mo., on brief.

Before BRIGHT, Circuit Judge, MARKEY, Chief Judge, [*] and HENLEY, Circuit Judge.

HENLEY, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal by plaintiff, James or Jimmy Roberts, from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granting a summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Browning d/b/a Browning, Inc. of Utah, and dismissing the plaintiff's complaint. 1

Plaintiff was employed by Browning for some years beginning in October, 1969. He was eventually separated from employment not later than April, 1976. Plaintiff claimed that he was discharged by the defendant because he had prosecuted a claim for workmen's compensation under the Missouri Workmen's Compensation Law, R.S.Mo. § 287.010, Et seq., and that his discharge violated R.S.Mo. § 287.780 which makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on account of the latter's having sought or received workmen's compensation benefits. Plaintiff also claimed that in 1977 he demanded a "service letter" from the defendant as provided by R.S.Mo. § 290.140 and that the

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letter that he received did not satisfy the requirements of the statute. 2

The suit was filed in 1978 in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Missouri, where defendant operates a plant. The complaint or "Petition For Damages" was in two counts. In Count I plaintiff set out his claim based on R.S.Mo. § 287.780; in that count plaintiff sought actual damages in the sum of $100,000.00 and punitive damages in the sum of $300,000.00. In Count II plaintiff set out his claim under R.S.Mo. § 290.140. In that count plaintiff asked for nominal compensatory damages in the amount of $1.00 but also asked for punitive damages in the sum of $300,000.00.

The defendant promptly removed the case to the federal district court on the ground of diversity of citizenship with the requisite amount in controversy. In due course the defendant answered and denied liability. In its First Amended Answer the defendant denied that it had discharged plaintiff in violation of Missouri law and denied that the service letter that was given to the plaintiff in September, 1977 did not comply with statutory requirements. The defendant also took issue with the plaintiff on the issue of damages. As an affirmative defense the defendant pleaded accord and satisfaction. As will be seen, that defense was based on a document entitled "Release and Resignation" which the plaintiff had executed in favor of the defendant in April, 1976.

With the case being at issue, and after plaintiff had answered interrogatories propounded by the defendant, the latter moved for summary judgment as provided by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(b). That motion was stoutly resisted by plaintiff. The motion was submitted to the district court on the pleadings, documentary exhibits, including the affidavit of the plaintiff and of Robert E. Clark, the defendant's local manager at the plant in Arnold, Missouri, copies of the release relied on by the defendant and of the service letter written by the defendant in 1977, a copy of an arbitrator's award in favor of the plaintiff that was rendered in March, 1975, the motion papers, and thorough briefs from both sides.

On March 21, 1979 the district court filed a memorandum opinion granting the defense motion, and on the same day entered an order formally granting summary judgment to the defendant. A post-trial motion for reconsideration filed by plaintiff was denied, and this appeal followed.

The principles that governed the district court in passing on the defendant's motion and that govern this court in reviewing the action of the district court are thoroughly settled in this circuit and need not be explored in detail; nor do they require detailed citations in support of a statement of them. Some of our recent cases include Starling v. Valmac Industries, Inc., 589 F.2d 382 (8th Cir. 1979); Watts v. Brewer, 588 F.2d 646 (8th Cir. 1978); Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. v. Dain, Kalman & Quail, Inc., 578 F.2d 1256 (8th Cir. 1978). See also the general discussion of Rule 56 that appears, with ample citations, in 10 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure, §§ 2711 Et seq.

In this case the burden was on the defendant to establish beyond controversy that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff was entitled to have the case viewed in the light most favorable to him and to have the benefit of all inferences favorable to him that might reasonably be drawn from the evidence. Summary judgment is a harsh remedy and should be granted sparingly. On the other hand, courts should not be unreasonably niggardly in its use lest the purpose of the rule, which is to avoid needless trials, be defeated. While a motion for summary judgment

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ordinarily should not be granted if it appears that the position of the party opposing the motion would be supported at trial by substantial evidence, still it must be kept in mind that "substantial evidence" is more than a "mere scintilla." It must be such evidence as a reasonable mind would accept as sufficient to support a conclusion; it must do more than create a mere suspicion of the existence of a fact or state of facts. It must be enough to justify a trial judge in denying a directed verdict for the moving party at the conclusion of a jury trial. See Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 477, 71 S.Ct. 456, 95 L.Ed. 456 (1951), and cases cited. Conversely, if a district judge to whom a Rule 56 motion is addressed is satisfied that at the conclusion of a jury trial he would be required to direct a verdict in favor of the moving party, then the granting of the motion is appropriate. Bellflower v. Pennise, 548 F.2d 776, 777-78 (8th Cir. 1977); Cf. Windsor v. Bethesda General Hospital, 523 F.2d 891, 893-94 (8th Cir. 1975).

Returning to this case, it is undisputed that on April 17, 1976 the plaintiff, after negotiations had been had between local manager Clark and the business agent of the labor union to which plaintiff belonged, executed the Release and Resignation that defendant relies upon as an accord and satisfaction. That document recites that in consideration of a payment of $445.60, representing two weeks pay (80 hours), the plaintiff released the defendant from any and all past and future claims arising out of their employment relationship and that plaintiff was voluntarily resigning from his employment by the defendant. It is also undisputed that some days later the defendant mailed to the union business agent a check in the amount of $344.84, representing the net amount due plaintiff after deducting from the gross sum of $445.60 the sum of $100.76 withheld for state and federal taxes. And there is no dispute that the check was ultimately delivered to the plaintiff and was accepted by him and that he cashed it or deposited it in his bank account.

The position of the defendant is that between early March, 1976 and until the settlement postulated by the defendant was agreed upon, there was a genuine dispute between the parties as to plaintiff's employment status; that that dispute was settled by agreement, and that as evidence of the settlement plaintiff executed the document that has been described, that he is bound by it and that by its terms he cannot recover under either of the Missouri statutes on which he relies.

The position of the plaintiff is that he never resigned from the defendant's employ but was discharged by Clark on or about March 8, 1976, primarily because following an accident on defendant's premises plaintiff had applied for and received compensation under the Missouri Workmen's Compensation Law, Supra, and secondarily because of general hostility between plaintiff and Clark.

As to the money payment that plaintiff received, he says that it was nothing except payment for two weeks vacation pay that he had already earned, and that such a payment would not constitute valid consideration for the release relied on by the defendant.

The defendant does not deny that the facts surrounding plaintiff's employment and status and the conduct of plaintiff, on one hand, and Clark, on the other hand, between September, 1974 and April, 1976 are sharply disputed. Defendant contends, however, that those disputes are immaterial in view of the provisions of the written Release and Resignation executed by plaintiff, and that plaintiff is precluded by the parol evidence rule from establishing his factual theory of the case which evidence, according to the defendant, would vary the terms of the written contract document.

The plaintiff argues that the parol evidence rule is not applicable here, and at least one of his contentions is that the document signed by him is latently ambiguous and that in view of the ambiguity he is entitled to show by parol that there was no "present consideration" for the document

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and that he was simply paid money that was already due him from the defendant. 3

Since this is a diversity case, the substantive rights of the parties are governed by Missouri law, and Missouri, like other jurisdictions, holds that the parol evidence rule is a rule of substantive law and not a rule of evidence. Warriner v. Nugent, 362 Mo. 233, 240 S.W.2d 941, 944 (1951); Board of Regents v. Minner...

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