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City of Yonkers and Yonkers Community Development Agency v. Otis Elevator Co.

decided: April 7, 1988.

CITY OF YONKERS AND YONKERS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AGENCY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, VITO J. CASSAN, ESQ., APPELLANT,
v.
OTIS ELEVATOR COMPANY AND UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from grant of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, John E. Sprizzo, Judge, to defendants in an action based on breach of contract, unjust enrichment and equitable estoppel. Appellants also appeal from sanctions ordered against them pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 for unjustified assertion of fraud claims.

Kaufman, Meskill and Mahoney, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mahoney

MAHONEY, Circuit Judge:

This diversity case, acknowledged by all parties to be governed by New York law, arises out of the City of Yonkers' ("Yonkers") attempt to prevent a major employer within its borders, Otis Elevator Company ("Otis"), from moving out of the city. After Yonkers and the Yonkers Community Development Agency (the "Agency") granted Otis various benefits, Otis stayed in the city for a number of years. However, the Otis facility was rendered uneconomical due to technological changes in the manufacture of elevators, Otis' main product. Otis then left the city, ultimately selling the facility to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Yonkers and the Agency then brought suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking damages from Otis and United Technologies Corporation ("United"), Otis' parent. After discovery, the district court, John E. Sprizzo, Judge, granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, and imposed a sanction of five thousand dollars upon plaintiffs and their counsel, Vito J. Cassan, for filing an unjustified fraud claim.

We affirm.

Background

Otis was founded in Yonkers in 1853, and continued in business there until 1976. In 1968, Otis' Yonkers plant required modernization and expansion to remain commercially viable. However, expansion appeared impossible due to limited land space, and Otis therefore considered alternatives, some of which involved closing the Yonkers plant.

The president of Otis, Ralph Weller, authorized Otis representatives to meet with Yonkers officials to try to solve Otis' space problems. A plan drafted by the Charles T. Main Company was rejected by Otis, but negotiations continued. Otis then formulated its own plan internally, tailored to meet Otis' land and space requirements in Yonkers. This plan recommended the use of urban renewal (with its accompanying provision for condemnation)*fn1 to allow Otis to expand to the east of the plant. Accordingly, Otis notified Yonkers that if an adjoining parcel of land could be made available, Otis would be willing to expand and modernize its plant. After further negotiation, Otis, Yonkers and the Yonkers Urban Renewal Agency entered into a letter of intent dated June 5, 1972 which provided in relevant part:

1) The purpose of this letter and of the commitments set forth herein is the realization of the following goals:

a) the retention by Otis of its existing usable manufacturing facilities in Yonkers;

b) the improvement and expansion of those facilities with the cooperation and assistance of federal, state and local agencies;

c) the improvement in the aesthetic appearance of the older section of Yonkers in which these facilities are located; and

d) the continuation of existing opportunities for employment and training of the unemployed and the underemployed, such as are now provided by Otis.

The Yonkers City Council adopted an urban renewal plan on September 26, 1972 which included the land in question and set forth a number of goals and conditions, including obligations of Otis. At this point, Yonkers and the Agency began purchasing and clearing the property adjacent to the Otis factory, using funding received from the federal and state government as well as Yonkers' own resources. Otis also invested substantial funds renovating its Yonkers physical plant.

On September 13, 1974, the Agency and Otis entered into a land disposition agreement, and the Agency executed an indenture conveying the property adjacent to the Otis factory, which Yonkers had acquired, to Otis. Because most of the obligations between the parties relating to the details of the land transfer and renovation had been completed, on December 29, 1976, the parties entered into a termination agreement, which released the parties from further liability with respect to these obligations. Moreover, the actual redevelopment and construction were substantially completed; on November 3, 1976, the Agency accordingly issued a certificate of completion.

By 1982, however, the technology of elevator manufacture had undergone substantial change. The Yonkers plant was used to manufacture three mechanical components. In the early 1980's, two of those three were replaced by electronic components. Accordingly, operation of the Yonkers plant became economically unfeasible, and Otis closed it down in 1982.

Yonkers then commenced this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. None of the agreements or other documents pertaining to this situation includes any specific commitment by Otis to continue production at its Yonkers facility, and obviously there was therefore no specific commitment to do so for any designated period of time. Yonkers contends, however, that under various theories,*fn2 Otis was obliged to continue in operation in Yonkers "for a reasonable time to be set by law, . . . alleged to be at least sixty years." Otis denies any such obligation, and further contends that the New York statute of frauds, N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law ยง 5-701 (subd. a, par. 1) (McKinney 1978), precludes any relief for Yonkers because the ...


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