TUTTLE, Senior Circuit Judge:
The plaintiff Carroll Kenworth Truck instituted this action against Kenworth Truck Company under 15 U.S.C. § 1221-1225, the Automobile Dealers Day in Court Act, and its Alabama equivalent, Section 8-20-1, et seq. of the Alabama Code of 1975, the Alabama Motor Vehicle Franchise Act. The plaintiff sought damages for the wrongful termination and/or non-renewal of its franchise agreement with Kenworth Truck Company. After a two-day jury trial, the jury rendered a six hundred and sixty-five thousand dollar ($665,000) verdict in favor of Carroll. Defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or alternatively for a new trial on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury verdict. The district court denied defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and granted its motion for a new trial unless plaintiff agreed to a remittitur to reduce the verdict to four hundred thousand dollars ($400,000). Plaintiff agreed to the remittitur and was also awarded eighteen thousand nine hundred dollars ($18,900) in attorney's fees under the Alabama Motor Vehicle Franchise Act.
On this appeal, the defendant urges that there was no evidence to support the jury's verdict, that a new trial should have been granted because of plaintiff's improper argument, and that the verdict was so excessive that a new trial should have been granted or at a minimum a much larger remittitur should have been ordered. We partially agree with the defendant-appellant's first contention. We believe the evidence was sufficient to support a jury verdict under the Alabama statute but not under the federal statute. In accordance with this conclusion, we remand for a new trial.
Buddie Carroll and other members of his family formed Carroll Kenworth Truck Sales, Inc. in Montgomery, Alabama in 1971. In 1972, they entered into a one-year dealership agreement with appellant Kenworth, a manufacturer of Class 8 Diesel trucks (full size, eighteen wheel, over the road trucks). Kenworth sells its trucks solely through a network of dealerships such as Buddie Carroll's. Carroll's Montgomery dealership is located in Kenworth's Southeast Region, which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
After an initial one-year agreement, Carroll received renewals of its dealership agreement for three year terms in 1973, 1976, and 1979. One basis for determining whether a dealership would be renewed was whether it sold its quota of trucks. Until 1982, Kenworth used the following formula to arrive at a dealership's sales quota.
Kenworth first used various industry projections and attempted to determine how many heavy duty trucks would be sold in the United States as a whole during the upcoming year. The dealership's territory was then viewed from an historical standpoint to determine what percentage of the national market it comprised. Next, Kenworth reviewed sales figures on a regional basis to determine its market penetration in the Region to which each dealer was assigned. It then assigned each dealership a quota which would allow it to achieve that penetration in its territory. For example, if industry forecasts indicated that 100,000 trucks would be sold in the United States for the upcoming year, and a given dealership had historically had one (1%) percent of all new trucks sold registered in its territory, Kenworth would project that 1,000 trucks would be sold in that dealer's territory during the upcoming year. If Kenworth's historical market penetration in that dealer's region was 10%, Kenworth would assign that dealer a quota of 100 trucks, or 10% of the total anticipated registrations in his territory. At trial, a Kenworth employee, Ms. Torkko, testified that the actual computation of each individual quota simply involved the application of a mathematical formula to the projection and registration figures, and that quotas were
From 1973 to 1979, Carroll exceeded its quota every year except 1975 when it reached 58% of its quota and 1976 when it reached 89% of its quota. After 1979, its sales declined significantly. It failed to reach its quota in both 1980 and 1981. In 1980, its quota was 51 but it sold only 26 trucks, 51% of its quota. In 1981, it sold 23 trucks as against its quota of 47, 49% of quota.
In 1982, Kenworth changed one element of the method of calculating quotas. Rather than use Kenworth's historical penetration percentage for each region, Kenworth chose a target penetration percentage which it hoped to obtain for the upcoming year in each region, and assigned quotas based on that target percentage of anticipated registration in each dealer's territory. This new method was used to determine quotas for all Kenworth dealerships. Under this new formula, Carroll's quota for 1982 was seventy. At the end of the first three months of 1982, however, it had sold only three trucks.
The final three year contract between Carroll and Kenworth extended from March 1979 to March 1982. In determining whether to offer a renewal contract to a dealer, Kenworth customarily began its dealer evaluation approximately six months prior to the termination of the existing contract. As a part of this evaluation, a representative from each of the various departments of the region, Truck Sales, Parts, Service, Credit and Dealer Development makes a recommendation as to renewal. The final recommendation is made by the Regional Manager in conjunction with the head of Dealer Development. That recommendation, along with the underlying evaluations, is then sent to the home office in Seattle, which makes the final decision.
Kenworth began its evaluation of Carroll in the fall of 1981. Representatives for Service, Parts, and Credit evaluated Carroll favorably and recommended a three-year term for renewal. The Dealer Development representative recommended renewal of Carroll's contract but made no recommendation as to term. The Sales representative recommended a one-year term, explaining that:
The regional office ultimately recommended to the national office that Carroll be given a two-year contract. The National Dealer Development Manager, Robert Sergeson, decided on a one-year renewal. In making this decision, Mr. Sergeson wrote an interoffice memo pointing out the deficiencies in Carroll's dealership:
Along with the one-year contract, Charles Womble, Regional Manager, sent Carroll a letter stating:
Buddie Carroll deleted the one-year term, inserted three years, and sent the signed dealership agreement to Kenworth.
An internal Kenworth memorandum prepared by the Southeastern Regional Representative stated:
Carroll points to this memorandum as a "smoking gun," and principal support for its contention that the one-year contract along with the recommendations to beef up its sales force amounted to a constructive termination. Kenworth personnel, however, testified that the letter is an oversimplification. Moreover, Kenworth points to evidence of other one-year contracts that have not resulted in terminations even when the dealer failed to meet quota.
Faced with a one-year contract renewal, Buddie Carroll perceived that his dealership was being terminated and thus brought the present action, claiming that the alleged termination was in bad faith, and thus unlawful under both federal and state law.
I. Federal Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act
The Automobile Dealer's Franchise Act, known more colloquially as the Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act, was enacted in 1956 in response to intense lobbying by automobile dealers who decried the inequality of bargaining power between individual dealers and their manufacturers. S. Macauley, Law and the Balance of Power — The Automobile Manufacturers and Their Dealers 43-71 (1966). It was designed "in order to balance the power now heavily weighed in favor of the automobile manufacturers." See preamble to House Report 2850, U.S.Code Cong. and Admin.News, 84th Cong., Vol. 3, p. 4596 (1956). Accord, H.C. Blackwell Company, Inc. v. Kenworth Truck Company, 620 F.2d 104, 106 (5th Cir.1980); Woodard v. General Motors Corporation, 298 F.2d 121, 127 (5th Cir.1962). It was not, however, designed to tilt the balance of power so heavily in favor of dealers as to handcuff a manufacturer to an undesirable and unproductive dealer. See H.R.Rep. No. 2850, 4603, 84th Cong., 2d Sess. (1956), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin. News 1956, pp. 4596, 4603.
To prevail under this statute, a dealer must show that a manufacturer failed to act in good faith in performing or complying with any of the terms or provisions of the franchise, or in terminating, cancelling, or not renewing the franchise. 15 U.S.C. § 1222. Good faith is statutorily defined as:
15 U.S.C. § 1221(e) (1976). Bad faith under this Act has been defined narrowly and construed strictly. Bob Maxfield, Inc. v. American Motors Corp., 637 F.2d 1033 (5th Cir.1981). It does not mean simply a lack of fairness but entails a showing of coercion. See H.C. Blackwell Company, Inc. v. Kenworth Truck Company, 620 F.2d at 106 (5th Cir.1980) (citations omitted).
In view of this narrow definition, appellant contends that the trial court erred by not granting its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the ground that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Kenworth failed to act in good faith in terminating the Carroll dealership.
In determining the propriety of a j.n.o.v. we
As important as the right to a jury trial is to our judicial system, a party is not entitled to have his case presented to a jury when his case is supported by a mere scintilla of evidence. Indeed, to create a jury question
Just as the existence of good faith is to be determined by the jury on a case by case basis, the existence of evidence sufficient to create a jury question is to be determined by the court on a case by case basis. To say that an issue is a jury question is not to say that the issue should go to the jury in all instances. This proposition, true generally, is equally true in the context of the existence of good faith under the Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act. Indeed, in Victory Motors v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 357 F.2d 429 (5th Cir.1966), the Fifth Circuit affirmed the grant of a directed verdict in favor of a manufacturer where termination was due to the dealer's consistent failure to meet quota. In doing so, the Court held that testimony that the manufacturer threatened to establish another dealership in an area was not sufficient to create a jury question when the new dealership was not so placed until after the termination and when nothing in the franchise agreement prevented the dealer from establishing another dealership in the region. Id. at 432.
In light of Victory Motors and a general appreciation of the role of judge and jury in our judicial system, we resist any reading of Blackwell which stretches it so far as to make the existence of good faith under the Automobile Dealers' Day in Court Act an issue for the jury in every conceivable instance, regardless of how meager the evidence, or how unsupported the resulting verdict.
With a view to a case by case approach for determining sufficiency of evidence to create a jury question, we turn now to the evidence presented at trial. Appellee cites as evidence of bad faith:
Of these alleged pieces of evidence of bad faith, we consider in detail only appellant's quota system.
Appellant argues that its quota system is not evidence of bad faith since it is very similar to the quota system upheld in Victory Motors in that both were based on registration of new vehicles in a dealer's assigned territory. Appellee counters by arguing that Kenworth's quota computation failed to give any consideration to local conditions and was not uniformly applied, whereas the quota in Victory Motors took into account "local conditions, revisions in direct dealer sales locality description, the recent trend in direct dealer sales performance, and other factors, if any, directly affecting sales opportunity." Appellee's Br. at 26.
In response, appellant notes that the contract in Victory Motors said the quota may be changed based on several factors, but the opinion indicates the quota was not in fact altered because of these factors, thus, making the quota system there identical to the one used by Kenworth.
Moreover, appellant argues that the similarities between the two cases go even deeper in that Victory Motors' primary argument was that Chrysler's quota system failed to take into account an alleged recession in the Savannah area during 1960-61. The old Fifth Circuit rejected this
Appellee also argues that the quota system was applied to it selectively. If by that appellee means to argue that it is bad faith not to terminate all dealers who fail to reach quotas we reject that argument. See, e.g., Clifford Jacobs Motors, Inc. v. Chrysler Corporation, 357 F.Supp. 564, 575 (S.D.Ohio 1973); Zebelman v. Chrysler Corporation, 299 F.Supp. 653, 658 (E.D. Mo. 1968).
As to the nature of Kenworth's quota, we agree with appellant. We find no substantive difference between the two quota systems. Furthermore, we find nothing coercive or inherently arbitrary about Kenworth's system for establishing quotas for its dealers and thus do not find its existence or application to Carroll evidence of bad faith.
Once it is determined that the quota is reasonable, failure to meet quota provides sufficient justification for termination, absent evidence of an ulterior motive.
In York Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., the dealership was terminated ostensibly because of its poor financial condition. The jury, however, was presented with evidence of a motive for the termination other than the dealer's financial condition.
Similarly, the jury in Marquis v. Chrysler Corporation, 577 F.2d 624 (9th Cir.1978), was presented with evidence of a motive for a dealer termination other than the articulated motive of failure to meet quota. The dealer presented evidence that the real reason for its termination was Chrysler's desire to establish a company-owned dealership on land which Chrysler owned already, and that failure to meet quota, or Minimum Sales Responsibility was a mere pretext. Indeed, the Court stated:
Marquis, at 633.
Our thorough review of the record here reveals no evidence of an ulterior motive for terminating Carroll, such as was present in Marquis, and York Chrysler Plymouth.
Appellee argues that Kenworth was "overdealered" in Alabama, and that this, rather than failure to meet quota, was the real reason for its termination. There is, however, no evidence to support this theory advanced by counsel for appellee. Nothing in the record suggests that Kenworth considered itself overdealered in Alabama. Even if there were a modicum of evidence to suggest that Kenworth did consider itself overdealered, there is no evidence that this, rather than a poor sales record, motivated Kenworth to terminate Carroll's dealership.
In short, we find no evidence of bad faith in its restricted meaning under the Automobile Dealers Day in Court Act.
II. Alabama Motor Vehicle Franchise Act
Like its federal counterpart, the Alabama Motor Vehicle Franchise Act requires that a manufacturer act in good faith when terminating a dealership. Unlike its federal counterpart, however, the Alabama Act defines good faith in a more traditional commercial manner. Good faith under the Alabama Act means: "Honesty in fact and the observation of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing in the trade as is defined and interpreted in paragraph (1)(b) of Section 7-2-103." § 8-20-3(7), Code of Alabama (1975). Section 7-2-103(1)(b) is the definitional section of Alabama's Uniform Commercial Code. It provides that "`good faith' in the case of a merchant means honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing in the trade."
Although Alabama courts have not yet interpreted this statute, a literal reading reveals a more liberal definition of good faith than is found in its federal counterpart. As a federal court interpreting a state statute, it is not our role to pass on the wisdom of a state legislative policy choice. We must accept the decision of the Alabama state legislature to make it easier for terminated dealers to succeed against manufacturers under Alabama law than they can under federal law. We therefore reject appellant's suggestion that the definition of good faith is the same under both statutes. We are all the more unreceptive to this argument in light of appellant's failure to object when the trial court instructed the jury differently under each statute.
Under the more liberal Alabama statute, a jury reasonably could conclude
Under Alabama law, a dealer has a separate cause of action when the manufacturer fails to give ninety day notice prior to termination. Since appellee failed to include this cause of action in its complaint, the judge instructed the jury that this issue was relevant only to the extent it had a bearing on Kenworth's lack of good faith.