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G.D. SEARLE & CO. v. MEDICORE COMMUNS.

February 13, 1994

G.D. SEARLE & CO., Plaintiff,
v.
MEDICORE COMMUNICATIONS, INC. d/b/a PARK ROW PUBLISHERS, CAROL COOPER and JUDITH GIUSTO, Defendants.


Edelstein


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID N. EDELSTEIN

EDELSTEIN, District Judge:

 Plaintiff G.D. Searle & Co. ("Searle") brings this action against defendants Medicore Communications, Inc. d/b/a Park Row Publishers ("Medicore"), Carol Cooper ("Cooper"), and Judith Giusto ("Giusto") for breach of contract, indemnification, fraud, tortious interference with contractual relations, and conversion in connection with a contract for services to be provided by Medicore. Searle alleges damages in the amount of $ 218,675.00.

 Plaintiff has moved, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56, for summary judgment on each of its five claims. Defendants have filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on all claims, and for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The parties are in agreement as to many of the underlying facts of the instant controversy. The following summary of facts is undisputed except where noted. *fn1"

 Plaintiff G.D. Searle & Co. is a multinational pharmaceutical corporation incorporated in Delaware, with its principal place of business in Illinois. Defendant Medicore Communications, Inc., a New York corporation, published medical periodicals and other materials, and organized medical symposia on behalf of its clients, which included pharmaceutical companies such as Searle. Medicore conducted its business under the name Park Row Publishers; the company is still in existence, but no longer operates. Defendant Carol Cooper is a resident of the State of New York who, at all times relevant to this matter, was the president of Medicore. Defendant Judith Giusto is a resident of the State of West Virginia who, at all relevant times, was the executive vice president of Medicore. As of April 1991, Cooper and Giusto were the sole shareholders of Medicore.

 Searle contracted with Medicore to organize and manage a "symposium" ("Norpace symposium") designed to promote, as well as to educate the medical community regarding the uses of, Norpace CR, a drug developed by Searle for the treatment of arrhythmia. This symposium consisted of a series of eight medical education conferences to be held in various cities throughout the United States.

 The letter agreement provided further that (1) in consideration for Medicore's provision of these services, Searle would pay Medicore a management fee as specified in the agreement; (2) Searle would reimburse Medicore for all out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Medicore in connection with the conferences, up to a specified amount; (3) Medicore would bill all expenses to Searle at cost and without mark-up; (4) Medicore would submit itemized statements of services and expenses to Searle in order to obtain payment; (5) Medicore was permitted to contract with third parties *fn2" on behalf of Searle; and (6) Medicore would indemnify Searle against any claims for payment brought against Searle by third parties, provided that Searle had made the required payments to Medicore.

 The parties agree that, in providing the "necessary services" set forth in the letter agreement, Medicore was authorized to contract with third party vendors for various services associated with the Norpace symposium. Furthermore, the parties agree that Searle was not required to have any contact or dealings with third party vendors, and that Medicore was responsible for paying all third parties for their services. *fn3" Plaintiff asserts further, however, that payment of these third parties in consideration for their services was itself one of the "necessary services" provided for in the letter agreement such that Medicore's failure to pay third parties constituted a breach of Medicore's duties to Searle, and not merely a breach of Medicore's duties to third parties arising from Medicore's separate contracts with them. It is plaintiff's position that, regardless of Medicore's duties to third parties arising from Medicore's separate contracts with them, under the terms of the letter agreement Medicore owed a duty to Searle to pay third party vendors such that failure to do so rendered Medicore liable to Searle in addition to, and independent of, Medicore's liability to third parties.

 Defendants deny that payment to third parties was a "necessary service," or that Medicore had any duty to Searle to pay third parties under the terms of the letter agreement. Defendants' position is that, although Medicore and not Searle was responsible for paying third party vendors hired in connection with the Norpace symposium, Medicore's failure to pay certain third party vendors did not render Medicore liable to Searle other than by way of the various provisions in the letter agreement regarding indemnification.

 Two revisions to the letter agreement, dated February 6 and April 4, 1991, reflected cost changes for several of the conferences; save for these two revisions, which are not the subject of any dispute, the letter agreement remained unchanged during all relevant periods.

 The parties agree that Searle paid each and every invoice submitted to it by Medicore, although Medicore avers that none of these payments was received in a timely fashion. The payments made by Searle in connection with the Norpace symposium totalled $ 358,216.00. Of this amount, $ 110,500.00 represented payment by Searle of Medicore's management fee, and $ 247,716.00 represented full payment of the out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Medicore in connection with the Norpace symposium. Medicore, in turn, organized and managed the Norpace symposium, frequently relying on third party vendors such as printers, hotels, and travel agents to provide some of the "necessary services" for the various conferences. Plaintiff does not allege that Medicore's performance of its duties under the letter agreement was unsatisfactory in any respect other than its failure to pay certain third party vendors for their services.

 During the first half of 1991, Medicore experienced "cash flow problems." The origins of Medicore's cash flow difficulties, and precisely when these difficulties first arose, is disputed by the parties. Plaintiff avers that defendants experienced cash flow problems at least as early as January 1991, but did not inform plaintiff of them until several months later. Defendants blame Medicore's cash flow problems on "the constant lateness of the payments by Searle, coupled with Searle's refusal to advance money to Medicore to cover preliminary expenses . . . ." Mem. of Law In Supp. of Defs.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., at 8. In a letter dated July 11, 1991, Cooper and Giusto informed Searle that Medicore would use payments made by Searle in connection with specifically identified invoices, along with existing funds, to pay the balance of outstanding bills from several third parties that had provided services in connection with the Norpace symposium. Although this letter stated that its purpose was to confirm earlier discussions between Medicore and Searle, the parties dispute the contents of these earlier discussions, and therefore disagree as to the precise meaning of the letter.

 Specifically, the parties disagree as to what was said during a telephone call that took place on or shortly before July 11, 1991, between Giusto and Kim Cysewski ("Cysewski"), manager of Searle's U.S. marketing finance department. Plaintiff avers that during this telephone call, Giusto represented to Cysewski that all funds paid by Searle on outstanding invoices from Medicore would be used exclusively to satisfy Medicore's outstanding obligations to third-party vendors connected with the Norpace symposium. Defendants deny that Giusto made any such representation, and assert that Giusto merely stated that "every effort would be made" to pay the third party vendors, but that the payments received from Searle would be used to fulfill all outstanding obligations, not merely those obligations to third party vendors hired by Medicore in connection with the Norpace symposium. The parties agree, however, that regardless of what Giusto told Cysewski, it was Cooper's intent that Medicore would utilize all funds available to pay all of Medicore's creditors on a pro rata basis.

 Despite the fact that Searle reimbursed Medicore fully for all expenses related to the Norpace symposium, Medicore failed to pay, and has never paid, outstanding bills from certain third party vendors totalling $ 108,175.42. Although Searle had already reimbursed Medicore for bills from the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas, Texas, in the amount of $ 10,590.63, and the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, California, in the amount of $ 36,598.30, Searle subsequently made direct payments to each of these hotels for the amounts owed. The parties agree that although Searle has demanded the return of funds paid to Medicore, Medicore has not returned any funds paid by Searle to Medicore in connection with the Norpace symposium.

 The parties also agree that during June 1991, Medicore made payments personally to Cooper and Giusto in the aggregate amount of $ 7,076.38, and that subsequent to June 30, 1991, Medicore made payments to Cooper and Giusto in the aggregate amount of at least $ 35,000.00. Furthermore, after June 1, 1991, Medicore made payments of at least $ 20,747.92 in connection with automobiles driven by Cooper and Giusto, and paid $ 2,000.00 to a company of which Cooper's fiance is a principal. Defendants aver that any payments made by Medicore to either Cooper or Giusto were made in payment of salary, compensation, and benefits to which Cooper and Giusto were rightfully entitled. The parties agree that all payments made by Medicore were at the direction of either Cooper, Giusto, or both.

 Plaintiff filed this action alleging five specific claims. First, plaintiff alleges that Medicore breached the terms of the January 28, 1991 letter agreement by failing to pay certain third party vendors for services rendered. Second, plaintiff avers that Medicore is liable, under the indemnification provisions of the letter agreement, to Searle for $ 47,188.93, which represents the total amount paid directly by Searle to the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas and the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. Third, plaintiff claims that all defendants are liable for fraud. Fourth, plaintiff alleges that defendants Cooper and Giusto tortiously interfered with Medicore's performance of its duties under the contract. Fifth, plaintiff alleges that all defendants are liable for conversion.

 Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on all of its claims. Defendants have cross-moved for summary judgment on all claims and, in addition, urge this Court to impose Rule 11 sanctions against plaintiff on the ground that several of its claims are frivolous and were brought merely in order to harass defendants.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). "Summary judgment is appropriate if, 'after drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party.'" United States v. All Right, Title & Interest in Real Property, 901 F.2d 288, 290 (2d Cir. 1990) (quoting Murray v. National Broadcasting Co., 844 F.2d 988, 992 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 955, 102 L. Ed. 2d 380, 109 S. Ct. 391 (1988)).

 The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material, and "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Herbert Constr. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co., 931 F.2d 989, 993 (2d Cir. 1991). "The judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there does indeed exist a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also R.C. Bigelow, Inc. v. Unilever N.V., 867 F.2d 102, 107 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 815 (1989). The party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying which materials "it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see Binder v. Long Island Lighting Co., 933 F.2d 187, 191 (2d Cir. 1991).

 Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made, however, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, which must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. "The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. "Conclusory allegation will not suffice to create a genuine issue. There must be more than a 'scintilla of evidence,' and more than 'some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'" Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 178 (2d Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, and Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986)), cert. denied, 111 S. Ct. 2041 (1991); see also Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991). "The non-movant cannot 'escape summary judgment merely by vaguely asserting the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts,' or defeat the motion through 'mere speculation or conjecture.'" ...


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