Petition for Rehearing En Banc Denied August 24, 1967.
PRETTYMAN, Senior Circuit Judge:
Appellant brought a civil action in the District Court as the beneficiary of one Samuel J. Sugar (her brother) in a retirement plan of the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. Mr. Sugar had been for many years an agent for that company. His retirement date under the plan was at age 65, which at the time of the events here involved was slightly more than five years away. He had contracted cancer, and the disease had progressed rapidly.
The plan provided that if the employee died or retired before the retirement date the company would pay the designated beneficiary the sum total of the employee's contributions to the fund, plus interest; but if he lived beyond the
In the late summer of 1962 senior officers of the company, being advised of the critical condition of Mr. Sugar, sent their general agent in this area to call upon him and to suggest to him an early retirement; this might increase considerably the eventual payment to his beneficiary. The call was made on October 1st, and the matter was discussed. Mr. Sugar acquiesced but selected his sixtieth birthday, November 11, 1962, as his retirement date. His son later wrote the company: "Knowing Dad as you did, I think you will understand, as I'm sure Wayne [the local general agent] does, that his last challenge was to live to see his 60th birthday — which would have been November 11th. It was for this reason alone, I know, that he picked the date — and stuck to it." The emissary sent by the company suggested to Mr. Sugar that he "retire right away" and expressed his own view that Mr. Sugar should do so. The company officers knew and the family knew that Mr. Sugar's illness was in a terminal phase, but the record indicates that he did not know it and that the family, at least as represented by the son, "would not suggest this to him for any amount of money." Mr. Sugar died on November 8, 1962. The company paid the beneficiary the amount provided by the plan for cases in which death of the employee occurred before the designated date of retirement. The beneficiary sued to recover the additional amount which would be the company's matching contribution. The District Court rendered summary judgment against her.
Upon this appeal the beneficiary appellant contends that under the law of torts and under the law relating to fiduciaries the company "owed a duty to use its utmost efforts to induce Mr. Sugar to retire immediately." Upon this premise she builds her claim.
It appears clear from the record that the only information which would have induced Mr. Sugar to expedite his retirement to a date prior to his sixtieth birthday was the medical opinion that his demise was imminent. But the family was insistent that this word not be given him, a natural position premised no doubt upon affection. It also seems clear to us that the responsibility for this lack of action, which is critical to the present claim, lay as much, if not more, upon the family as upon the company. We do not see how the family can shift to the company an obligation which they themselves shared but thought it best not to exercise. Even if the company occupied a fiduciary relationship toward Mr. Sugar, its obligations as such did not go so far as to require it to violate the clear wishes of the family in this extremely personal matter of fact.
Approaching the matter from the viewpoint of the law, we are not shown any provision which requires, or even empowers, the company to advance the retirement date set by an employee or to compel the employees to do so. From the moral standpoint we see no principle which would require a company in such a situation to impose its views upon an employee despite his own decision and the judgment of his family. Mr. Sugar was an expert in pension and retirement plans and knew better than most people the scope and the limits of such plans. There was no misrepresentation here; the company stood, literally, ready and willing to implement instant retirement. Our appellant points to the equitable principle that he who undertakes to advise must do so to the full. But that principle does not apply here. Equity is not an exercise in lifeless semantics; indeed it came into existence because the law was tending to mummify. The moral problem, as we have indicated, was the persuasion of Mr. Sugar to select an immediate retirement date, and the only effective persuasion, as shown by this record, would have been
Our dissenter is of opinion that summary judgment should not have been entered and that the case should now be remanded for an evidentiary trial. As we see it, the facts here are not in dispute. The situation, the existence and terms of the retirement agreement, the call of the company's agent, the advancement of the retirement date by nearly five years, the agent's suggestion of immediate retirement, Mr. Sugar's response are established and not disputed. Claimant does not say the company did less than the present record shows; she says the company did just what it says it did, and no more. The dispute is whether it did enough; not what it did but whether what it did was enough to fulfill its legal obligation. This, we think, is the sort of question which is best handled by summary judgment.
LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judge (dissenting):
In my view this was not a proper case for summary judgment. In a proper case, summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is a beneficent and useful instrument of justice, uncluttering the docket and removing the pall of litigation hanging over parties who should not be subject to this cloud. Summary judgment is proper when there is no meaningful role to be played in the case by the judge or jury charged with the function of finding the facts and applying the law thereto, either because the facts are in effect stipulated or because the allegations of factual issues are feigned or sham and are not genuine in fact. Summary judgment is for the case where "it is quite clear what the truth is" and there is really no issue to try.
1. I begin with the key paragraphs of the memorandum of the District Judge in support of summary judgment, dismissing the action brought by appellant.
2. The District Judge said he was granting summary judgment regretfully. I in turn regret that he did not discuss the shape of the case in terms of applicable legal principles. At least the starting point for my thinking is Gediman v. Anheuser Busch, Inc., 299 F.2d 537 (2d Cir. 1962). The company was held liable, in tort, notwithstanding its good faith, for failure to inform the employee adequately on the consequences of the election that he made upon retirement. Although the booklet distributed by the company concededly made everything clear to an experienced draftsman, Judge Friendly noted that where a company gives advice in conversation to an employee, it has a duty of acting carefully under which it is "bound to take account of the frailties of human understanding." In that case the employee "should have been plainly warned" that with the deferral of cash distribution under discussion, the risks incident to death would continue until the date of distribution.
3. Appellant's case sounds not simply in tort, but has at least overtones of the duty of care incident to a fiduciary relationship. Kosty v. Lewis, 115 U.S.App. D.C. 343, 348, 319 F.2d 744, 749 (1963), cert. denied, 375 U.S. 964, 84 S.Ct. 482, 11 L.Ed.2d 414 (1964). Appellee sought to dilute the fiduciary flavor of this case by arguing that it had no possible conflict of interest. Liability would not be negatived even if appellee's discussion with its agent arose only out of a sense of moral duty, but it is fair to suggest that this action was not necessarily unrelated to sound business considerations.
4. Reverting to what does, or rather does not, clearly appear from Mr. Dorman's deposition, he testified that an officer of appellee told him to raise the early retirement issue with Mr. Sugar and he did so. Mr. Sugar requested information of the home office as to certain types of elections he could make. Subsequently came the conference of October 1, which took place in Mr. Sugar's apartment. Mr. Dorman took with him papers with the retirement date of November 11, 1962 typed in. Deponent testified: "I suggested that he go ahead and make it right now [October 1]." (Dorman Dep. 29). Mr. Dorman admitted, however, that he could not recall specifically how he put this to Mr. Sugar, and he did not know why Mr. Sugar did not want to advance the date. (Dorman Dep. 43).
Liability may turn on whether and to what extent defendant acted carefully and warned Mr. Sugar plainly. Yet Mr. Dorman's deposition is not only not clear
5. We need not pursue the matter of what we do not know. What we do know — about what Mr. Dorman did not tell Mr. Sugar — is enough to indicate that there was a question for the trier of fact at a trial. Mr. Dorman did not tell Mr. Sugar that the retirement benefit available if Mr. Sugar lived to November 11, exceeded by only a miniscule amount (a matter "of pennies") the benefits available if he retired on October 1. Furthermore, Mr. Dorman's contemporaneous notes reveal that Sugar "wanted to make his October payment, so the papers could be calculated reflecting that payment being made." (Dorman Dep. 35). Mr. Dorman knew that towards the end of October the next payment would be made automatically by the bookkeeper. Yet he admitted he did not tell Mr. Sugar that retirement could be made effective, including the October payment, as of October 31, with exactly the same benefits as retirement on November 11!
With these omissions in the record, plaintiff was entitled to a trial both to determine what Mr. Dorman did and did not do, and also to determine whether, in view of his indisputable shortfall, appellee's duty to speak plainly and carefully remained unsatisfied. The facts are not clear to the point of establishing a defense beyond dispute or beyond the inferences and judgments of the fact trier.
6. The District Court stated: "At this point of Mr. Sugar's life, his prime objective seemed to be to live until his 60th birthday, which would have been the 11th of November 1962." What to the District Court "seemed" to be the fact has apparently become crystallized in the majority opinion as the plainly established reason why Mr. Sugar did not advance his retirement date from November 11, 1962.
In my view the record before us does not contain one line that can be adduced in support of this statement or premise. Let me demonstrate by turning to the statements of Mr. Sugar's son and of Mr. Dorman.
a. Mr. Sugar's son
In a letter written after Mr. Sugar's death by his son there is an assertion that it was only because Mr. Sugar was resolved to live until he was 60 that he failed to advance the retirement date. But the son's hearsay letter is not admissible against appellant, for the son, as co-executor, was aligned by appellee as a party adverse to appellant, as a third party defendant who must make a substantial payment to appellee if appellant should prevail.
The inadmissibility of the son's letter against appellant is not critical, since the son's deposition was taken by appellee. What is in that deposition? Appellee
To cap the climax, appellee's motion for summary judgment complained to the District Court of "constant evasiveness of his [the son's] answers on his deposition." The claim that a deponent is evasive is a reason for a trial where the fact trier can assess his demeanor. It is hardly a basis for a judgment without a trial on that deponent's letter. That letter is not only inadmissible, but, taken in conjunction with the deposition, has been stripped of any support that would show that the statement rests on anything more than speculation.
b. Mr. Dorman
There is not a word in Mr. Dorman's deposition that he was aware from father, son or anyone else that Mr. Sugar was guiding, much less controlling, his action by the star of an inner resolve to live it out to his 60th birthday.
If we look to contemporaneous documents that are admissible in evidence, why we find Mr. Dorman's notes that Mr. Sugar "wanted to make his October payment." But of course Mr. Dorman, taking into account the frailty of Mr. Sugar's understanding, could readily have pointed out that the October payment is made by the bookkeeper automatically in October, so there was no benefit whatever in postponing the date beyond October 31.
7. Nor can appellee's exculpation be placed on the ground that its agent was not required to tell Mr. Sugar bleak facts of his condition or prognosis that the family did not want him to know. The fact trier might well conclude that no discussion of condition was required in order to suggest that retirement be effective as of the October payment rather than uselessly delayed two weeks. Furthermore Mr. Dorman's testimony proceeded on the line that he was able to talk to Mr. Sugar about his illness as a reason for advancing retirement date, and he nowhere states that he was told of, much less restricted in his conversation with Mr. Sugar because of, the family's restraint on discussion of illness. Appellee's brief proceeds on the premise that Mr. Sugar knew as much of his condition as did Mr. Dorman — a factual issue if ever I saw one.
8. The function of the trier of facts lies not only in resolving disputes as to the evidentiary facts, but also, even where the evidence is undisputed, in drawing inferences and applying normative standards, such as, whether the conduct described was "reasonable." Cf. Senko v. La Crosse Dredging Corp., 352 U.S. 370, 374, 77 S.Ct. 415, 417, 1 L.Ed. 2d 404 (1957), pointing out that the doctrine —
It is for this reason, as well as the likelihood of disputes as to evidentiary facts, that negligence cases are said to illustrate "the type of issues that are not generally susceptible to summary adjudication." 6 Moore's Federal Practice § 56.15 (2d ed. 1966); see also §§ 56.17, 56.17. They have long been identified as cases calling for a jury rather than a court even when the evidentiary facts are undisputed. O. W. Holmes, The Common Law 123 (1881).
Assuming, furthermore, that it is a court and not a jury that is to make the ultimate judgment, as in a "negligence" case that sounds essentially in breach of fiduciary duty, true accuracy of vision requires the depth and perspective of a trial.
Even where the central issue is of a kind labeled a question of "law," summary judgment is properly avoided if the field of law is in a state of flux, and its sound development turns on apprehension at trial of facts not established by documentary evidence. Cf., White Motor Co. v. United States, 372 U.S. 253, 259, 83 S.Ct. 696, 9 L.Ed.2d 738 (1963). Where the applicable legal principles turn on a rule of reason, application of the law is influenced by the shape of the facts as they emerge at trial and should not be molded in summary adjudications. These considerations are applicable here, where the duty owed by a company to its agent and assigns and beneficiaries turns on a blend of reasonableness and fiduciary relationships.
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In deciding whether or not to grant summary judgment, as in so many aspects of the art of judging, general principles are not decisive and disposition turns on the assessment of the particular case with its own factual stance. Certainly, however, the right of trial, a right that stands on constitutional grounds where a jury is involved, stands on a higher plane than such values as expedition, docket backlog, and the peace
Q. Your testimony is that you urged him because of that reason, to take the earlier date. Is that right? A. Yes, sir.
Q. He refused to take the earlier date, even though you urged him for the reason stated? A. I don't know for what reason he didn't want to do it, but he didn't.