Meissner v. Simpson Timber Co.

Decision Date15 December 1966
Docket NumberNo. 38347,38347
CourtWashington Supreme Court
Parties, 152 U.S.P.Q. 527 Donald K. MEISSNER, Appellant, v. SIMPSON TIMBER COMPANY, formerly known as Simpson Logging Company, a Washington corporation, and Donald A. Proudfoot, Respondents.

Torbenson, Thatcher, Stevenson & Burns, Seattle, for appellant.

Ryan, Askren, Carlson, Bush & Swanson, Seattle, for respondents.

BARNETT, Judge. *

Plaintiff Donald K. Meissner appeals from an adverse ruling made upon a motion for summary judgment whereby his cause against defendant Simpson Timber Company was dismissed.

The complaint alleged two causes of action, both of which were dismissed under motions for summary judgment. The dismissal of the second cause of action, which sounded in unjust enrichment, is not appealed from by plaintiff. Plaintiff's first cause was predicated upon an alleged promise by defendant company to pay to him, as compensation for an assignment of his rights in an invention, an extraordinary bonus and 20 per cent of certain royalty income. Defendant made two separate motions for summary judgment against this cause of action. The first motion was denied. The second motion, made upon different grounds from the first, was granted by the trial court upon two grounds: (1) that there was insufficient evidence from which it could be found that a contract was made by defendant to pay royalties to plaintiff; and (2) that, even if such evidence were sufficient to establish a contract, it could not be considered because of the limitations imposed by the parol evidence rule. Determining that no genuine issue of fact was involved in the controversy, the court dismissed plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice.

The object and function of summary judgment procedure is the avoidance of a useless trial. Balise v. Underwood, 62 Wash.2d 195, 381 P.2d 966 (1963). A summary judgment is properly granted if the pleadings, affidavits, depositions or admissions on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Balise v. Underwood, supra; Capital Hill Methodist Church of Seattle v. City of Seattle, 52 Wash.2d 359, 324 P.2d 1113 (1958); Rule of Pleading, Practice and Procedure 56(c), RCW vol. O. In ruling upon such motion, it is the duty of the trial court to consider all evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reed v. Streib, 65 Wash.2d 700, 399 P.2d 338 (1965); Balise v. Underwood, supra. If, from this evidence, reasonable men could reach only one conclusion, the motion should be granted. Balise v. Underwood, supra; Wood v. City of Seattle, 57 Wash.2d 469, 358 P.2d 140 (1960).

In the following narration, we have endeavored to relate the pertinent facts most favorable to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff Meissner was employed by defendant Simpson Timber Company in various sales capacities during the period of March, 1950 through March, 1963. Early in 1952, plaintiff, along with one Donald Proudfoot, developed a process of fabricating a wood fibre accoustical tile which had the esthetic appearance of fissured mineral tile, and which seemed to have significant economic potential. Plaintiff's development became known to defendant company, which expressed an interest in obtaining an assignment of the coinventors' rights therein. Plaintiff was informed by his personal friend, one Charles Devlin, who was an officer of defendant corporation, that the company desired such assignment. In the words of plaintiff, as he testified by deposition:

He (Devlin) said, 'They (defendant) will probably do several things for you. This isn't a commitment but, as an example, they will probably give you,--maybe assure you of a permanent career or something like that, possibly an extraordinary bonus or a royalty arrangement.

They probably won't give you anything for anything that Simpson makes, because they just don't do that. But if they license somebody on the outside, they probably will be as lenient, if not more so, than the agreement our fellows have in the lab.'

Subsequent to this conversation, on April 22, 1952, plaintiff and Proudfoot executed an instrument entitled 'Agreement of Assignment of Invention' wherein it was stated:

(F)or and in consideration of the sum of One Dollar ($1.00) and other valuable consideration * * * we have sold, assigned and transferred, and by these presents do sell, assign and transfer unto said Simpson Logging Company the full and exclusive right to said invention * * * and

We agree, upon request * * * to make application for letters patent on said invention or improvements * * * and shall assign all such application to Simpson * * * and * * * on request, execute all papers, including an assignment of any such invention or improvement, and do all that may reasonably be required in order to protect the rights of Simpson * * *.

The record does not disclose that, prior to the execution of the above assignment, the defendant promised to pay to plaintiff, as compensation, any royalties which might obtain from a licensing of the invention. Nor, patently, does the assignment instrument itself make mention of this mode of compensation.

Shortly thereafter, defendant company notified plaintiff that it desired to have a patent application filed. This request resulted in the filing of application for letters patent.

The record contains evidence making occasional reference to an 'executive meeting' which allegedly was held by several corporate officers during this period of time--the spring of 1952. There is also evidence that, at this meeting, those present agreed among themselves that the coinventors should receive, as compensation for their assignment, an extraordinary bonus plus 20 per cent of certain royalty income.

Plaintiff filed an affidavit during the pendency of this action, swearing, Inter alia, that Devlin (O)rally promised * * * that I would receive an extraordinary bonus no less than 20% Of royalty income received by the Defendant, the same as received by men in research.

The alleged 'oral promise' to which plaintiff referred in this affidavit, necessarily was made, if at all, during the course of a conversation held between plaintiff and Devlin in the fall of 1952, subsequent to the aforementioned assignment, when plaintiff and his wife were dinner guests at the Devlin residence. It is this conversation upon which plaintiff relies to establish the existence of a promise on the part of defendant. For this reason, we quote extensively from plaintiff's deposition wherein this event is discussed.

Q. (by Mr. Howard, counsel for defendant) Now going to the period after the execution of this assignment, when was the next time that you had any conversation or communication with anyone in Simpson concerning compensation?

A. * * * Sometime later * * * Mr. Devlin called me to come out to have dinner and bring my wife, at his house. During the course of the evening * * * he said, 'You can rest assured that your having had confidence in the company, in signing over the invention, that you are going to be compensated nicely for this.'

He said they had * * * an Executive Board meeting and he said, You will be happy to learn that for having assigned the whole thing over to them * * * that it was agreed there was to be an extraordinary bonus; * * *

He said that if this brought some sales * * * there would be no question but what I would get raises in the future * * * and that I wouldn't get any less percentage--outside royalty income--than they did at the lab; and I already knew that this would be twenty per cent, but he said it would be no less.

* * * * * *

Q. Did he indicate when that meeting took place?

A. No * * * I don't think he * * * told me what day it was, except to tell me that he was tickled to let me know that for having taken his advice, the company had gone somewhat the route that he thought they would. * * *

Q. Did he indicate who was present, at that meeting?

A. No, except that he indicated it was official enough that he could tell me now,--Chuck was very conservative and a very intelligent man, so I am certain he wouldn't,--he didn't make nebulous promises. He was pretty factual. I am certain he wouldn't have said this as a commitment if he hadn't been authorized,--he wouldn't have taken it upon his own to authorize this.

* * * * * *

Q. Did he indicate who was present in the meeting?

A. I don't know * * *. All I got out of the gist of the conversation, which was ten years or so ago was 'you will be tickled to know that after taking my advice in signing this assignment paper that the company had a meeting and have agreed to do some nice things for you' and then he started to just generally outline what they were.

* * * * * *

Q. (T)o stay with the dinner at the Devlins, apparently then Mr. Devlin was reporting to you that this meeting had taken place?

* * * * * *

A. Yes.

Q. And what had occurred at that meeting?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. Did he indicate whether he had been present at the meeting?

A. No * * * all I can say is maybe you can assume he was. But he did say, 'I am glad to tell you that the company had a meeting and they decided on these points' et cetera. * * *

Q. Did Mr. Devlin tell you that he had been instructed to give you this information?

A. No. The general atmosphere of the dinner and the conversation was just one to--not to tell me that he was instructed by the company to tell me this and that, I am sure it would have been in the office--but as I took it, and as I think you would take it, that having signed the thing over to the company, lock, stock and barrel, and having faith in the company that he was glad to report that for having taken his advice, the company had agreed to a method of compensation, and then...

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    • June 16, 2000 fall, such conclusory allegations are inadequate to raise a genuine issue of material fact. See, e.g., Meissner v. Simpson Timber Co., 69 Wash.2d 949, 955-56, 421 P.2d 674 (1966); Loss v. DeBord, 67 Wash.2d 318, 321, 407 P.2d 421 (1965); Curran v. City of Marysville, 53 Wash.App. 358, 36......
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