Gill v. Computer Equipment Corp., 384

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtSMITH
Citation292 A.2d 54,266 Md. 170
Docket NumberNo. 384,384
Decision Date30 June 1972

Page 170

266 Md. 170
292 A.2d 54
Earl F. GILL
No. 384.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
June 30, 1972.

Page 171

Courtland K. Townsend, Jr., Silver Spring (Clark & Cromwell, Silver Spring, on the brief), for appellant.

Page 172

Robert L. Burchett, Rockville (Miller, Miller & Canby, Rockville, on the brief), for appellee.

Argued before BARNES, McWILLIAMS, SINGLEY, SMITH, DIGGES and IRVING A. LEVINE (spec. assigned), JJ.

[292 A.2d 55] SMITH, Judge.

Appellant, Earl F. Gill (Gill), sued appellee, Computer Equipment Corporation (Computer), for breach of contract in allegedly failing to honor an employment contract. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Gill in the amount of $20,000, which was set aside when the trial court entered judgment n. o. v. in favor of Computer, the defendant, upon its seasonably filed motion. The second count of Gill's declaration asked for a declaratory judgment that a convenant not to compete was void. The trial court ruled against Gill upon that count also. Gill has filed appeals from both actions of the trial court. We shall affirm

Gill and B. J. Fadden had been partners in a manufacturers' representative business known as Eastronics. They later incorporated under the name of Eastronics, Inc. In 1969 conversations took place between the executive vice-president of Computer and Messrs. Gill and Fadden culminating in a contract under which shares of Eastronics stock were exchanged for shares of Computer, Gill and Fadden were employed by Computer, provision was made for bonuses to them based upon the earnings of a new division to be known as 'Peripheral Systems Division of Computer Equipment' set up to take over the business of Eastronics, an annual salary of $25,000 each was agreed upon as to Gill and Fadden, and each stockholder agreed that 'should he leave the employment of Computer for any reason, he (would) not compete with Computer for a period of two (2) years following such termination of employment.'

The relationship between the parties terminated when Computer sent Gill a telegram on July 8, 1970, advising that sales were not developing satisfactorily, that Gill's employment was terminated that date 'with salary including vacation paid thru end of July,' and that his

Page 173

'rights to any future CEC shares earned under terms purchase agreement between CEC and shareholders of Eastronics (would) of course be protected for the term of the agreement.' This suit followed on September 2, 1970.


The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $20,000 in favor of Gill. Gill had sought to prove that the true intent of the agreement between him and Computer was to employ him for a definite term of three years, commencing on May 28, 1969, when the agreement was executed. The trial judge permitted the introduction of testimony of prior discussions between Gill and Computer's representative because he felt that the written agreement was rendered ambiguous by an apparent conflict between two paragraphs. On the motion for judgment n. o. v. the court reversed itself, holding that it had erred in permitting admission of this testimony, that the contract was not ambiguous. It further observed:

'However, assuming this evidence had been properly admitted, we think the jury's verdict was wrong because it was against the clear weight of the evidence.'

We consider this case bearing in mind the oft quoted rule that on appellate review of a motion for judgment n. o. v. the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from it must be considered in the manner most favorable to the party opposing the motion, in this instance, Gill. Lusby v. First Nat'l Bank, 263 Md. 492, 499, 283 A.2d 570 (1971).

Section 11.01 of the contract provided that '(e)ffective immediately upon Closing Computer agree(d) to employ each of the Stockholders at an annual salary of $25,000.00, and the Stockholders agree(d) to accept such employment and devote their full time and best efforts thereto.' It was silent as to the period of employment. The bonus provision provided for additional shares for

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Gill and Fadden in Computer[292 A.2d 56] based upon the earnings of Peripheral Systems Division 'for the calendar years 1969, 1970, and 1971.'

The two sections originally regarded as conflicting were § 13.04 and § 13.06 which read:

'13.04 Entire Agreement. This Agreement contains the entire agreement between the parties hereto and supersedes any and all prior agreements, arrangements or understandings between the parties relating to the acquisition of Eastronics by Computer. No oral understandings, statements, promises or inducements contrary to the terms of this Agreement exist. No representations, warranties, covenants or conditions, express or implied, whether by statute or otherwise, other than as set forth herein, have been made by either Stockholders or by Computer. No waiver of any term, provision or condition of this Agreement, whether by conduct or otherwise, in any one or more instances shall be deemed to be or construed as a further or continuing waiver of any such term, provision or condition, or of any other term, provision or condition of this Argeement. This Agreement cannot be changed or terminated orally.'

'13.06 Survival of Representations, Etc. All representations, warranties and covenants made by Stockholders and by Computer (as the case may be) in this Agreement or pursuant hereto, shall be deemed joint and several (except as otherwise expressly stated) and made for the purpose of inducing Computer or the Stockholders (as the case may be) to enter into this Agreement, and shall survive the Closing and remain operative and in full force and effect regardless of any investigations at any time made by or on behalf of the party or parties to whom such representations or warranties are

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made, and shall not be deemed merged in any document or instrument executed or delivered at the Closing.'

On direct examination of Gill there was but a single reference to the term of the employment contract. The record is:

'Q. Were there any specifics discussed between you and Mr. Fadden on the one hand and Mr. Gundy and Mr. Moore on the other hand with respect to the term of your employment? A. Yes, we talked. They illustrated to us the method of remuneration. They proposed a salary of $25,000.00 and illustrated how in the first year and second year and third year the bonus plans would operate.

'Then there was some discussion as to the exact number of shares that we were to receive for Eastronics.

'At the conclusion of it when we agreed on the number of shares everybody jumped up and I remember...

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