The plaintiff, Intercontinental Planning, Limited is a New York corporation engaged in the business of bringing together European and American firms desiring to enter into business relationships. By this action plaintiff seeks to recover a finder's fee of $2,781,848 for its alleged services with respect to the acquisition in 1962 of a New Jersey electronics corporation, Daystrom, Incorporated, by defendant Schlumberger, Limited.
It is firmly established, of course, that summary judgment may not be granted whenever the pleadings raise material and triable issues of fact. (Sillman v. Twentieth Century-Fox, 3 N.Y.2d 395, 404.) We consider the evidentiary facts alleged in the light most favorable to plaintiff on this appeal from the grant of summary judgment to defendants. We conclude, however, that no triable issue of fact is raised when the evidentiary facts are so weighed.
The affidavits submitted upon the motion for summary judgment show that plaintiff's president, Salomon Jakob
On May 20, 1960, Mr. Jakob introduced the presidents of Daystrom and Rochar at a luncheon meeting at the Pinnacle Club in New York City. Prior to this meeting, Daystrom agreed in principle to pay plaintiff a finder's fee should a suitable business relationship be established with Rochar. Negotiations were held at this meeting concerning the establishment of a business relationship between Daystrom and Rochar. Both principals indicated their readiness to pay plaintiff a finder's fee should an "active business relationship" be concluded between the two firms.
The proposed acquisition of Rochar by Daystrom did not take place, however, as Rochar was acquired instead by defendant Schlumberger in July, 1960. Thereafter, Mr. Jakob "encouraged" Daystrom to negotiate with defendant Schlumberger.
Plaintiff alleges that, on November 22, 1960, Daystrom's president orally agreed to extend the terms of the written agreement to include a merger between defendant Schlumberger and Daystrom.
Plaintiff contends that the written finder's fee agreement, dated June 20, 1960, when interpreted in the light of other documents, establishes its right to compensation for the merger of defendant Schlumberger and Daystrom and constitutes an agreement sufficient to meet the New York Statute of Frauds. We note that plaintiff concedes that none of these other writings satisfies the applicable section of the Statute of Frauds (Personal Property Law, former § 31, subd. 10, now General Obligations Law, § 5-701, subd. 10) independent of the written agreement.
At the time the events in dispute occurred, subdivision 10 of former section 31 of the Personal Property Law read:
It is settled that former section 31 (subd. 10) applies to claims for fees by finders as well as brokers. (Minichiello v. Royal Business Funds Corp., 18 N.Y.2d 521, 527.) Plaintiff's contract cause of action is, therefore, encompassed by former section 31 (subd. 10), the applicable section of the Statute of Frauds.
We conclude that the writings relied upon by plaintiff are insufficient to constitute an enforceable agreement under subdivision 10 of former section 31.
"[I]n a contract action a memorandum sufficient to meet the requirements of the Statute of Frauds must contain expressly
The June 20, 1960 written agreement purports to be the complete agreement of the parties concerning plaintiff's right to a finder's fee and is signed by both parties. This agreement is clear and unambiguous on its face and specifically refers to the acquisition of "Rochar Electronique" by "Daystrom, Incorporated" — and not to the later purchase of Daystrom by defendant Schlumberger, Limited in February, 1962. It follows that plaintiff receives no support for its claim to a finder's fee for the merger of Daystrom and Schlumberger from the terms of the June 20 written agreement. Plaintiff cannot resort to extrinsic writings, none of which independently satisfies the Statute of Frauds, to create an ambiguity in the unambiguous and complete written agreement. (Tramco Ind. v. Broad Hollow Assoc., supra.)
Plaintiff, however, also alleges that Daystrom later orally agreed on November 22, 1960, to extend the terms of the June,
Special Term correctly concluded, therefore, that there was "no written note or memorandum evidencing any agreement with respect to the acquisition in question signed by the party to be charged, other than a document which, in clear and unambiguous language, refers solely to a prior contemplated acquisition."
Plaintiff's contract cause of action is inadequate, therefore, if New York law is applied. Plaintiff, alternatively, contends, however, that New Jersey's laws contain no Statute of Frauds applicable to this case, and should be applied under a "grouping of contacts" analysis of the choice of law. In any event, plaintiff argues, it is entitled to a full trial to show which jurisdiction has the most significant contacts with the litigation.
Our research indicates that New Jersey's Statute of Frauds does not apply to finder's fee agreements pertaining to the sale of businesses. (Cf. N. J. Stat. Ann. 25:1-5; 25:1-9; Tanner Assoc. v. Ciraldo, 33 N.J. 51; Fontana v. Polish Nat. Alliance of Brooklyn, 130 N. J. L. 503.) Therefore, plaintiff's agreements are unenforceable under New York law while New Jersey's Statute of Frauds does not bar an action on such an agreement.
The contacts of the parties with New York and New Jersey are essentially undisputed, except for the alleged oral modification of the written agreement in November, 1960, to include the proposed Daystrom-Schlumberger merger. However, we conclude that New York law should be applied when the facts relating to the choice of law issue are considered in the light most favorable to plaintiff. It follows that the matter is determinable on the affidavits, as a matter of law, and there is no issue of
Whether or not a contract, valid and enforceable in the jurisdiction where made, is subject to the Statute of Frauds of a jurisdiction where an action is brought upon the contract is a question not yet settled in this State. This court has recognized the existence of the problem and the conflict of authority on this point, but thus far has not found it necessary to resolve it. (Rubin v. Irving Trust Co., 305 N.Y. 288, 297-298; Russell v. Societe Anonyme des Etablissements Aeroxon, 268 N.Y. 173, 180-181; Reilly v. Steinhart, 217 N.Y. 549, 553; cf. 49 Am. Jur., Statute of Frauds [1968 Supp.], §§ 3.1, 3.2, 3.3; cf. Ann., Statute of Frauds and Conflict of Laws, 105 A. L. R. 652-681, supp. 161 A. L. R. 820-824; cf. Currie, Ehrenzweig and the Statute of Frauds: An Inquiry into the "Rule of Validation", 18 Okla. L. Rev. 243 ; cf. Ehrenzweig, The Statute of Frauds in the Conflict of Laws: The Basic Rule of Validation, 59 Col. L. Rev. 874 .)
Traditionally courts have arrived at their conclusion concerning the applicable law, i.e., lex loci or lex fori, by characterizing the Statute of Frauds as substantive or procedural and evidentiary. "If it is substantive, then the law of the place of contracting applies, and though the forum has its own Statute of Frauds, the latter would not be applicable. If it is procedural or evidentiary then the law of the forum applies though the contract was valid and enforceable where made." (Russell v. Societe Anonyme des Etablissements Aeroxon, supra, p. 181.) "Indeed the statute may even be regarded as having a dual nature — both substantive and procedural." (Rubin v. Irving Trust Co., supra, p. 298.) But this attempt to characterize the Statute of Frauds as procedural or substantive, concerned as it is with amorphous legal conclusions, does little more than restate the problem and has even less relevance to our modern approach to the conflict of laws.
However, as we view this case, it is unnecessary to characterize the Statute of Frauds as either substantive or procedural since New York law should be applied in either event. If the statute be viewed as procedural, there is no problem since the law of the forum would be applied. Likewise, New York's Statute of Frauds would be applied as the law of the State whose
The traditional view of the choice of law rules concerning contracts where the parties have not expressed their choice of law in their agreement was that matters bearing upon the execution, interpretation, and validity of contracts are determined by the law of the place where the contract is made while matters concerned with its performance are regulated by the law of the place where the contract, by its terms, is to be performed. (Swift & Co. v. Bankers Trust Co., 280 N.Y. 135, 141; Union Nat. Bank v. Chapman, 169 N.Y. 538, 543; cf. Restatement, Conflict of Laws, §§ 332, 358; cf. Goodrich, Conflict of Laws [3d ed., 1949], §§ 109, 114.) A contract was deemed made in the State where the last act necessary to make it binding takes place according to the law of contracts. (Cf. Goodrich, supra, § 107.)
However, the traditional view has been rejected by this court in favor of an approach which "gives to the place `having the most interest in the problem' paramount control over the legal issues arising out of a particular factual context, thus allowing the forum to apply the policy of the jurisdiction `most intimately concerned with the outcome of [the] particular litigation'". (Auten v. Auten, 308 N.Y. 155, 161.) "[T]he rule which has evolved clearly in our most recent decisions is that the law of the jurisdiction having the greatest interest in the litigation will be applied and that the facts or contacts which obtain significance in defining State interests are those which relate to the purpose of the particular law in conflict." (Miller v. Miller, supra, pp. 15-16; Matter of Crichton, supra, p. 133; Matter of Clark, supra, pp. 485-486.)
It is clear that New York has the paramount interest in the application of its law when the contacts which New Jersey and this State have with the instant controversy are examined in relation to the policies and purposes to be vindicated by the conflicting laws.
The purpose of the New York statute is manifest from an examination of its legislative history. The provision extending the Statute of Frauds to cover business brokerage contracts
We recently reviewed the legislative history of subdivision 10 of former section 31 and concluded that the report of the Law Revision Commission reflects the purpose of the statute. (Minichiello v. Royal Business Funds Corp., supra, 526-527.) It thus appears that the statute was based at least in part upon the premise that the "danger of erroneous verdicts" in allowing juries to determine claims for brokerage and finder's fees on oral testimony warranted the writing requirement. (Cf. Minichiello v. Royal Business Funds Corp., supra, pp. 526-527.) It follows from the purpose of the statute that one of the policies embraced by this provision is to protect the principals in the sale of a business interest from the type of claim being asserted here — a claim for a $2,780,000 finder's fee not supported by the written evidence.
This policy would include foreign principals who utilize New York brokers or finders because of the nature of the brokerage business as it is conducted here. It is common knowledge that New York is a national and international center for the purchase and sale of businesses and interests therein. We conclude therefore that the Legislature in enacting subdivision 10 of former section 31 intended to protect not only its own residents, but also those who come into New York and take advantage of our
It is clear that the instant dispute has sufficient contacts with New York to give our State a substantial interest in applying its policy. Plaintiff is a New York corporation and its international finder's business centers in this State. Moreover, plaintiff's representation of Rochar derived from a New York meeting with Rochar's president. Plaintiff solicited Daystrom's interest in Rochar through an advertisement placed in a New York newspaper, and Mr. Jakob introduced the presidents of the two original principals (Rochar and Daystrom) at a meeting in a New York restaurant. At this New York meeting the principals agreed to compensate plaintiff with a finder's fee if a business relationship was concluded between Rochar and Daystrom. The remaining contacts leading up to the execution of the written finder's fee agreement involve letters and telephone calls emanating from plaintiff's New York office and the New Jersey office of Daystrom. It is therefore clear that the services for which plaintiff claims compensation were substantially rendered in New York, and that our State has a substantial relationship with the formation and negotiation of the finder's fee agreement.
On the other hand, New Jersey's Statute of Frauds does not apply to brokerage or finder's fee agreements pertaining to the sale of businesses. (Cf. N. J. Stat. Ann. 25:1-5; 25:1-9; Tanner Assoc. v. Ciraldo, supra; Fontana v. Polish Nat. Alliance of Brooklyn, supra.) The general purpose underlying a Statute of Frauds can be characterized as the protection of parties who are sued for alleged promises informally made or to protect the enacting State's courts from perjury and prevent their use as instruments of extortion. (Cf. Fontana v. Polish Nat. Alliance of Brooklyn, 130 N. J. L. 503 supra; cf. Currie, Ehrenzweig and the Statute of Frauds: An Inquiry into the "Rule of Validation", 18 Okla. L. Rev. 243, 248-249, supra.) The latter policy, that of regulating the administration of justice in the courts of the enacting State, is inapplicable when the action is brought in another State. New Jersey, therefore, has no interest in protecting the New York courts from perjury. The policy of protecting the enacting State's defendants, of course, survives even though a contract action be brought in another jurisdiction. Here, Daystrom was incorporated in New Jersey and had its business office in that State. However, New Jersey has no interest in having its lack of protection for its residents used to establish their liability in a suit brought by residents of other jurisdictions when the laws of the forum State offer a complete defense to the action. It follows from this analysis that no true conflict of law exists since the proposed exception to the local law of the forum would defeat a legitimate interest of the forum State without serving a legitimate interest of any other State. (See, e.g., Traynor, Is This Conflict Really Necessary?, 37 Texas L. Rev. 657 ; Currie, Survival of Actions: Adjudication versus Automation in the Conflict of Laws, 10 Stan. L. Rev. 205 ; Currie, On the Displacement of The Law of The Forum, 58 Col. L. Rev. 964 ; Currie, Selected Essays on the Conflict of Laws; Cavers, The Choice of Law Process
The courts below, therefore, properly applied the New York Statute of Frauds to bar plaintiff's cause of action.
Accordingly, the order appealed from should be affirmed, with costs.
Although I agree that we should affirm the grant of summary judgment to the defendants, I find it unnecessary to approach the case as if it were a normal, albeit intricate, problem in choice of law. The conceded facts stamp the issue before us as quite unusual and, in my view, any attempt to solve such a problem by applying our usual conflicts analysis is apt to produce needless confusion. The factor which sets this case apart is that the plaintiff early recognized the need for a writing and joined in executing one. The memorandum, signed in June, 1960, which established the terms and amount of the finder's fee, covered the abortive Rochar deal. In the plaintiff's claim, there is no circumstance to warrant enforcement of an oral agreement assertedly made five months later "extend[ing] the terms of the written agreement" (opn., p. 377).
To begin with, there is no doubt that this State's Statute of Frauds requires that a finder's fee agreement be in writing (Personal Property Law, former § 31, subd. 10 [now General Obligations Law, § 5-701, subd. 10]) and that the written memoranda upon which the plaintiff relies are insufficient to constitute an enforceable agreement. (See, e.g., Minichiello v. Royal Business Funds Corp., 18 N.Y.2d 521; Cohon & Co. v. Russell, 23 N.Y.2d 569, 572.) Consequently, there is no way under the law of New York for the plaintiff to prevail on the claim.
This does not mean that our courts will not enforce a contract, made in conformity with foreign law when, under our conflict of law rules, our State lacks a sufficient interest in the application of its own law. (Cf. Anderson v. A/S Berge Sigval Bergesen, 22 N.Y.2d 944, affg. 29 A.D. 756.) But the case before us presents no such situation. With eyes open and apparently fixed upon the requirements of our Statute of Frauds, the plaintiff joined with Daystrom in executing a written agreement covering the main terms of the deal. Having thus wittingly acknowledged the controlling force of our statute upon the form
In short, then, in these special circumstances, I would affirm the summary judgment awarded the defendants on the ground that our Statute of Frauds prevents enforcement of an oral extension of a complete written contract intentionally executed in accordance with the provisions of that statute.