Trnka v. Elanco Products Co., a Div. of Eli Lilly and Co.

Decision Date17 June 1983
Docket NumberNo. 82-2083,82-2083
Citation709 F.2d 1223
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Jack G. Marcil, Steven K. Aakre, of Tenneson, Serkland, Lundberg, Erickson & Marcil, Ltd., Fargo, N.D., for appellant.

Stephen Plambeck, of Nilles, Hansen, Selbo, Magill & Davies, Ltd., Fargo, N.D., for appellee.

Before ROSS and ARNOLD, Circuit Judges, and SCHATZ, * District Judge.

SCHATZ, District Judge.

In this removed diversity action, the plaintiff-appellant, Lester J. Trnka (Trnka), appeals from a summary judgment entered in the district court 1 dismissing his complaint. Trnka alleged as his cause of action that the defendant-appellee, Elanco Products Company (Elanco) negligently manufactured a herbicide called Treflan, manufactured and marketed defective Treflan and breached certain warranties in conjunction with the sale of a quantity of Treflan to Trnka.

For reversal, Trnka contends that the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment against him because: (1) there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the parties entered into a binding settlement agreement; and (2) North Dakota Century Code Sec. 28-01-40, as amended (requiring the claimant to timely file a verified report of loss with the agriculture commissioner as a prerequisite to commencement of a civil action arising out of the use or application of any agricultural chemical by any applicator or operator) should not be applied to bar Trnka's complaint under the facts here present. We affirm the district court on the basis of the settlement agreement executed by the parties and, therefore, need not and do not reach the statutory issue upon which the trial judge relied as an alternative ground to support the entry of summary judgment in favor of Elanco.

Preliminarily, it is recognized that in reviewing a decision of a district court to grant summary judgment, we must apply the same strict standard as the district court. Hines v. Rinker, 667 F.2d 699, 700 (8th Cir.1981). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment should not be entered unless the pleadings, stipulations, admissions and affidavits in the case show that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact. Vette Co. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 612 F.2d 1076, 1077 (8th Cir.1980). "The drastic nature of the summary judgment remedy imposes on the defendant who seeks it the burden of establishing, with such clarity as to leave no room for controversy, that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover under any circumstances." Ralph's Distributing Co. v. AMF, Inc., 667 F.2d 670, 672 (8th Cir.1981); accord, Westborough Mall v. City of Cape Girardeau, 693 F.2d 733, 736-37 (8th Cir.1982). We are required to view all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion, and to give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts disclosed in pleadings and affidavits filed in the suit. Hines v. Rinker, supra; Howard v. Russell Stover Candies, Inc., 649 F.2d 620, 623 (8th Cir.1981); Vette Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., supra. However, this circuit recognizes the remedy's salutary purpose of avoiding useless and time-consuming trials in proper cases. Butler v. MFA Life Ins. Co., 591 F.2d 448, 451 (8th Cir.1979).

The facts disclosed by the record are these. In May of 1979, Trnka purchased a quantity of Treflan from Oakes Fertilizer Company (Oakes). On May 18 and 19, 1979, Oakes applied the Treflan to Trnka's sunflower field, and Trnka incorporated it into the soil. In July, 1979, Trnka contacted Oakes and complained that the Treflan had not effectively controlled weeds. On July 16, 1979, a field sales representative employed by Elanco, together with Trnka and the manager of Oakes, visited Trnka's farm, visually examined the treated field and discussed the performance of the incorporated Treflan. Elanco's representative indicated he would recommend that Trnka be given a "refund" of twenty gallons of Treflan for use the following year. It was understood that the proposed refund was subject to the approval of Elanco's district manager or regional manager. Trnka said: (1) that he did not consider the refund proposal to be an offer, since the sales representative lacked authority to bind Elanco; and (2) that he could not be sure of his actual damages until after the sunflower crop had been harvested. Thereupon, Elanco's representative and Trnka reviewed and executed a document entitled "Settlement Agreement," which provided as follows:


This agreement was later approved and signed by Elanco's district manager, D. Roger Smith. Elanco then issued a merchandise certificate dated August 7, 1979, in the amount of "4 X 5 gal." of Treflan, entitling Trnka to receive the twenty gallons of Treflan at no charge. Trnka received the merchandise certificate, but never attempted to redeem the certificate or to rescind the written agreement he signed on July 16, 1979. Further, it appears from the record that, prior to the filing of the instant action in North Dakota state court on or about November 14, 1980, Trnka failed to notify Elanco that he (Trnka) did not consider the matter settled and compromised. After receiving the merchandise certificate, Trnka communicated his intention to refuse Elanco's refund "offer" to the manager of Oakes.

Due to the alleged Treflan failure and resultant weed infestation, Trnka claims to have sustained substantial crop loss as well as consequential damages. It may be noted that Trnka has been licensed since 1966 to practice law in North Dakota, and apparently maintains a general law practice in Oakes, North Dakota. Trnka is also a former insurance adjuster who had experience in the investigation and settlement of property damage claims.

With regard to the nature and effect of the settlement agreement executed on July 16, 1979, the district court found that: (1) pursuant to North Dakota law, a written contract supersedes all oral negotiations; (2) the document signed by Trnka and Elanco's sales representative is facially unambiguous and releases Elanco of liability in exchange for twenty gallons of Treflan; and (3) the subsequent approval of the compromise offer by Elanco's district manager along with delivery of the merchandise certificate to Trnka rendered the instrument a binding contract. Trnka argues on appeal that: (a) parol evidence should have been admitted to show that the writing signed by Trnka "was never executed or delivered as a contract," Hartford Accident...

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