First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co, 23

Citation20 L.Ed.2d 569,88 S.Ct. 1575,391 U.S. 253
Decision Date20 May 1968
Docket NumberNo. 23,23
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 253-258 intentionally omitted] William E. Kelly, New York City, for petitioner.

Simon H. Rifkind, New York City, for respondent.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this case is the propriety of an award of summary judgment in favor of respondent Cities Service in a treble-damage antitrust action. The District Court held there was no genuine issue as to material facts between the parties and that respondent was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 38 F.R.D. 170 (D.C.S.D.N.Y.1965). The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. 361 F.2d 671 (1966). This Court granted certiorari, 385 U.S. 1024, 87 S.Ct. 743, 17 L.Ed.2d 672 (1967), to determine whether the decisions below were in conformity with Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 82 S.Ct. 486, 7 L.Ed.2d 458 (1962). We conclude that Poller and other decisions of this Court were correctly applied and, accordingly, we affirm.

Because the question whether summary judgment is appropriate in any case is one to be decided upon the particular facts of that case, we shall set forth the background of this litigation in some detail (Part I) before turning to the specific issues petitioner raises (Parts II—V).


On June 11, 1956, petitioner Waldron1 filed a private antitrust complaint in the Southern District of New York against seven large oil companies: British Petroleum Co., Ltd. (formerly Anglo-Iranian Oil Co.), Gulf Oil Corp.,2 Socony Mobil Oil Co., Standard Oil Co. of California, Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, The Texas Co., and Cities Service Co. The complaint contained essentially two series of allegations. The first was copied from the complaint in a thenpending civil action by the United States against those defendants other than Cities Service, alleging the formation and maintenance by them of a worldwide oil cartel since 1928. The second series of allegations dealt specifically with a conspiracy claimed to have been entered into at the time of the nationalization of the properties of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. by the Government of Iran in May 1951. The defendants other than Cities Service, it was asserted, agreed at that time to boycott Iranian oil in all world markets until Iran should agree to return Anglo-Iranian's property and concession rights. While the dispute between Anglo-Iranian and the Iranian Government under Premier Mossadegh was still continuing, Waldron and some of his associates allegedly succeeded in obtaining a contract to purchase 15,000,000 metric tons of crude oil or refined products from the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), the company formed to take over Anglo-Iranian's nationalized properties, over a five-year period at a rate substantially less than the then current posted price for Persian Gulf oil. NIOC in return agreed not to deal with anybody other than Waldron in the United States market.

The complaint next stated that the defendants other than Cities Service conspired to prevent petitioner from selling any of the oil to which he was entitled under his contract with NIOC. It was further alleged that Cities Service, after first engaging in extensive negotiations with Waldron with an eye toward participating in the operation of the Iranian oil industry, broke off dealing and joined the conspiracy to boycott him as a result of having received what amounted to a bribe from Gulf and Anglo-Iranian, namely, a large supply of oil from Kuwait at a price even lower than that petitioner could offer Cities pursuant to his contract with NIOC. Finally, the defendants were alleged to have entered into a Consortium Agreement in 1954, pursuant to their attempt to monopolize Middle East oil production, which parceled out substantially all the Iranian oil production between them. Cities Service was claimed to have been permitted to purchase a share in the Consortium. Petitioner asserted that the boycott conspiracy carried out by all the defendants completely frustrated his ability to sell oil under his contract and accordingly sought treble damages from them in the amount of $109,000,000.

Within the time set for the defendants to answer the complaint, various of them moved to take petitioner's deposition, and all of them moved to postpone the filing of their answers until the completion of that deposition. The motions were accompanied by affidavits of counsel that the legal questions presented by the complaint were extraordinarily complex and that they had insufficient information about petitioner's business dealings with the Iranian Government to permit them adequately to prepare their clients' answers within the 20-day time limit set by Rule 12(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These motions were granted by Judge Weinfeld, who, in addition, stayed petitioner from any discovery of his own until completion of the defendants' discovery, apparently pursuant to then existing practice in the Southern District.3

The deposition of Waldron commenced on September 10, 1956, and continued until July 3, 1957, at which time petitioner's counsel announced his intention to limit further examination. Nothing further was done by any party until December 30, 1957, at which time a motion was made to terminate the taking of Waldron's deposition. By this time 62 days' testimony had been taken over a period of more than 15 months. All adjournments up to this point were either at Waldron's request or with his consent. Meanwhile, various of the defendants had noticed the depositions of petitioner's associates, Richard S. Nelson, James A. Bentley, James E. Zoes, Ray Carter, and Addison Brown, in October and November 1956. Pursuant to successive stipulations en- tered into between petitioner and the defendants, the taking of these depositions had been postponed up to the date of petitioner's motion to terminate the taking of his own deposition. In that motion petitioner also moved to vacate the notices to take depositions of his associates.

In response to petitioner's claims that the protracted examination of him by the defendants constituted harassment and an undue burden on him, the defendants pointed out that only one of their number had as yet examined Waldron and that the length of time over which the examination had proceeded had been with his complete acquiescence. As for petitioner's financial hardship contention, the defendants suggested that, in view of the damages sought by petitioner, it was not inappropriate that he be required to spend considerable time clarifying his claims before trial. Judge Herlands denied the motion on February 11, 1958, after argument; he ordered, however, that further examination of the petitioner by the seven defendants be limited to 52 working days, of which 10 were allotted to respondent Cities Service. In addition 174 1/2 days were scheduled for the examination of Waldron's five associates, of which 31 went to Cities Service. The examinations were to be consecutive and were set to commence on March 10, 1958, unless the parties agreed otherwise. The defendants were authorized to postpone the filing of their answers until 30 days after the completion of the depositions, and petitioner was stayed from undertaking any discovery proceedings of his own during that period.

Pursuant to stipulation the continued examination of petitioner did not resume until September 15, 1958, and was not terminated until October 1959. Twenty-six days were spent deposing Waldron in the latter part of 1958 and only six days during all of 1959, of which 3 1/2 were utilized by counsel for Cities Service. Petitioner's associates were deposed between January 1960 and April 1962 for 58 working days, of which 3 1/2 were used by counsel for Cities Service. Waldron was then examined for one additional day in 1962.

Thus, between September 1956 and May 1962, a period of over 5 1/2 years, Waldron and his associates were deposed for a total of 153 days, of which only seven days were attributable to Cities Service. The various stipulations that resulted in prolonging the period required for the taking of these depositions were all entered into either at the request, or with the agreement, of petitioner.

During the course of his deposition by Cities Service, Waldron stated that he had at first not attributed Cities' failure to conclude some sort of a deal with him for Iranian oil to its participation in the boycott. He explained that it was his discovery of Cities' purchase of substantial amounts of Kuwait oil from Gulf, plus its subsequent participation in the 1954 Consortium, that prompted him to join it in his complaint as a member of the conspiracy. Accordingly, when Cities moved for summary judgment in its favor in 1960, it did so on the ground that the affidavit of Cities' Senior Vice President in Charge of Foreign Operations, George H. Hill, and the accompanying documents from Cities' files that were submitted in support of the motion conclusively disproved petitioner's theory that it had joined the alleged boycott conspiracy because it had been bought off by the other conspirators.

In brief, the documents demonstrated that Cities had been engaged in negotiations with Gulf4 to purchase Kuwait crude oil since 1948, and that a substantially final agreement, although not the actual conclusion of a con- tract, had been reached on the proposed deal prior to the time petitioner first approached Cities.5 As for the Consortium, the documents showed that Cities had only commenced negotiations with the defendants to obtain participation therein some two years after it was alleged to have joined the conspiracy and that the share it was eventually offered, over its strenuous objections, was so small that it transferred the share to the Richfield Oil Co., in which it held a minority stock interest....

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