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Bense v. Interstate Battery System of America Inc.

decided as amended.: July 6, 1982.

ROBERT L. BENSE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
INTERSTATE BATTERY SYSTEM OF AMERICA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, James S. Holden, Chief Judge, dismissing the complaint for lack of proper venue.

Timbers, Kearse & Pierce, Circuit Judges.

Author: Pierce

PIERCE, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Robert L. Bense appeals from a final judgment entered on November 11, 1981, in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont dismissing his complaint for lack of proper venue.

Defendant-appellee Interstate Battery System of America, Inc. ("Interstate") is a Texas corporation with its main offices in Dallas County, Texas. Interstate markets automobile storage batteries through a network of franchised distributors in 48 states.*fn1 From on or about February 24, 1970, until about June 19, 1981, Bense was Interstate's distributor for the State of Vermont and certain portions of the State of New York.

According to the contract signed by the parties on February 24, 1970, (hereinafter "the agreement"), Interstate could terminate the agreement upon ninety days notice to Bense, provided there was a showing of "due cause." On or about March 19, 1981, Bense received written notice from Interstate that it was terminating the agreement, supposedly because Bense had failed to meet his sales quotas, and the agreement was terminated on or about June 19, 1981.

On July 7, 1981, Bense filed the complaint herein against Interstate alleging violations of section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act and section 3 of the Clayton Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. ยงยง 1, 13. Bense alleged that the reason that Interstate had terminated the agreement was that he had refused to participate in a price-fixing plan proposed by Interstate. On August 12, 1981, Interstate moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b) (3) of the Fed.R.Civ.P., on the ground that the agreement provided that any action arising from the agreement could be brought only in Dallas County, Texas, and that venue in the District of Vermont was therefore improper.

On October 27, 1981, Chief Judge Holden filed a memorandum decision granting the motion, and on November 11, 1981, a final judgment was entered dismissing the action. We affirm.

Discussion

Bense raises two issues on appeal: first, that the forum-selection clause of the agreement with Interstate is unenforceable as a matter of law; and second, in the alternative, that a choice-of-law provision in the agreement, which provides that the agreement is to be governed by Texas law, should be enforced to the extent that Texas law does not recognize contractual forum-selection clauses.

I

The forum-selection clause of the agreement provides:

"the exclusive venue of any suits or causes of action arising directly or indirectly from this AGREEMENT shall be in Dallas County, Texas."

In addressing the question of whether this clause is enforceable, we note at the outset that the action undoubtedly arises "directly or indirectly" from the agreement. Although the complaint was brought pursuant to federal antitrust law, the gist of Bense's claim is that ...


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