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DOBBS v. VORNADO

December 8, 1983

LEONARD DOBBS, Plaintiff, against VORNADO, INC. and MORRIS PLAINS LEASING CORP., Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLASSER

ORDER

GLASSER, United States District Judge:

 Following a trial by jury a verdict was rendered for the plaintiff after the defendant's motion for a directed verdict was denied. The defendant now moves pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Fed.R.Civ.P. for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for such other relief as the court may deem proper. The plaintiff moved, pursuant to Rules 59(e) and 60 of the Fed.R.Civ.P. to amend the judgment to include prejudgment interest.

 The defendant Morris Plains Leasing Corp. ("MPLC") is a wholly owned subsidiary of the codefendant Vornado, Inc. ("Vornado") and owned a leasehold interest in approximately 34 acres of land in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Since 1976, that property was improved by a structure which housed a supermarket, a liquor store, and a Two Guys store. A gas station was also operated on the property. Parking facilities were also available. In or about that year the defendant contemplated developing the property further and had discussions with the plaintiff in that regard which extended from some time in 1977 through the early part of 1980 or the latter part of 1979. The main focus of those discussions was the expansion of the existing improvements and the development of the shopping facilities into an enclosed mall. Beyond this, the parties differed sharply as to what ensued factually and as to the legal implications that flowed therefrom. Their respective views were vigorously contested and may be summarized as follows.

 The plaintiff contended that in or about August 1977 the parties agreed, in writing, that plaintiff would develop the property to realize stated objectives. Encouraged and authorized to proceed, the plaintiff invested time and money in assembling and organizing the various components that go into the realization of an enclosed shopping center mall. He claimed that he conducted numerous feasibility studies, gathered the necessary and relevant information, pursued financing, architectural, engineering, construction and legal services necessary for such a project and procured tenants for the enlarged facility. He estimated his expenditure in time and money towards that end to be at least $250,000.

 The plaintiff also contended that in or about December 1978 he and MPLC entered into a joint venture agreement which, he claimed, the defendant breached causing him to suffer damages of at least $8,000,000.

 The defendants contended that no agreement was ever entered into between the parties and that if such an agreement did exist, it did not satisfy the requirements of the Statute of Frauds. The defendants contended that the plaintiff was not ready, willing or able to perform the conditions, the satisfaction of which were precedent to any agreement with them and that he did not, in fact, perform those conditions. Finally, the defendants contended that the time and money expended by the plaintiff were not by virtue of any agreement, nor in reliance upon any representations made by the defendants either by words or conduct. Those expenditures, they claimed were in the nature of an investment he made in the hope of inducing the defendants to enter into an agreement.

 At the conclusion of the presentation of their positions and arguments, the issues were presented to the jury in two stages. They were first instructed on the considerations that were relevant and essential to the creation of a joint venture agreement and to the breach thereof and directed to answer the questions which were submitted to them (Court Exhibit # 1.) Those questions, in essence, were:

 1. Did the parties enter into a joint venture agreement to develop a shopping mall? The jury found that they did.

 2. Having found a joint venture agreement, did the defendants terminate or breach the joint venture? The jury found that they did.

 Mindful of the problems that would arise from such a general verdict, the jury was directed to respond to four additional questions that were geared to the Statute of Frauds (Court Exhibit # 4.) Those questions were:

 1. Was the joint venture agreement between the parties entirely oral? The jury said "no."

 2. Was the joint venture agreement between the parties embodied entirely in a writing? The jury said "no."

 3. Was the joint venture agreement between the parties partly oral and partly in writing? The jury said "yes."

 4. If the answer to either 2 or 3 is "yes", identify the writings to which you refer. The jury referred to "Exhibits 15, 15-A, 16, 18, 25, 26, 52 and 31, plus Joint Venture Agreements - Exhibits A,B,C and D.

 Having determined the issue of liability, evidence was then introduced on the subject of damages. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, awarding him out-of-pocket expenses totalling $26,000 plus $56,000 as the reasonable value for his services. The out-of-pocket expenses consisted of $8,800 for architectural fees; $2,200 for engineering fees and $15,000 for legal fees. Although the plaintiff requested it, the jury did not award him any damages for lost profits.

 Discussion

 A motion for a directed verdict, made at the close of all the evidence, is a condition precedent to a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. A motion for a directed verdict was made by the defendant and for purposes of this motion, it will be assumed that the issues ...


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