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PIERRE v. INROADS

July 20, 1994

ULWYN PIERRE, Plaintiff,
v.
INROADS, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR

 Ulwyn Pierre ("Pierre") has sued the former patron of her doctoral dissertation study, *fn1" INROADS, Inc. ("INROADS"), charging it with copyright infringement and breach of contract. INROADS, a nonprofit corporation engaged in helping minorities to advance in the business world, has responded with a motion for summary judgment denying both of those charges. *fn2"

 Because no material issues of fact remain in dispute on Pierre's federal-question copyright claim, summary resolution of the entire case is indeed appropriate. That copyright claim (which appears problematic on the merits in any event) plainly falls on statute of limitations grounds, leaving her state law contract claim bereft of any supplemental jurisdictional predicate. And there is no reason to retain the state law claim under the circumstances. This action is therefore dismissed in its entirety (partly with prejudice, partly without).

 Background

 As already stated, INROADS is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to identify talented minority youth and prepare them for corporate and community leadership. Sometime in 1983 or 1984 Pierre, then a doctoral student at Columbia University's Teachers' College, approached INROADS about her dissertation project, a study of whether training provided by that type of institution actually enhances the upward mobility of minority youth. After speaking and corresponding with INROADS' Chief Executive Officer and President Reginald Dickson ("Dickson") and its Vice-President Charles Story ("Story"), Pierre obtained permission to use INROADS' data on its alumni for her study. INROADS stood to gain from that arrangement as well, in that it would be better apprised as to its overall general effectiveness.

 Hindsight has exposed a considerable difference of opinion as to the financial arrangements that were contemplated by the parties. For its part INROADS contends that it agreed to nothing more than to assist Pierre in soliciting funds from corporate contributors. In that respect INROADS states that it raised more than $ 90,000 in support of Pierre's study between 1987 and 1993 and paid her a total sum of $ 120,310 over the same period, a figure representing both the external funding and money out of its own coffers. *fn3" Pierre admits that she was continually reminded that any compensation she was to derive was contingent on the ability to identify contributors (D. 12(m) P 14).

 Feeling that INROADS was failing to live up its end of the bargain, Pierre wrote a July 14, 1987 letter to Dickson in which she explained that the cost of the study had "sky rocketed" due to unforeseen delays and that she was dissatisfied over (among other things) the "lack of clarity as to who has the final decision making power over this project regarding such things as finances, deadlines, and other resources, and etc." Pierre followed up that letter with another on July 20 (D. Ex. 10) in which she attempted to "reaffirm[ ] in writing" several oral agreements that had assertedly been reached at a June 22 meeting with Dickson and Story (and two other people). She appended a prospective budget calling for $ 109,250 "to be funded" (including a $ 35,000 salary for herself) and listing another $ 38,575 under "INROADS (in kind)." At the bottom of her letter Pierre included a signature line for Dickson if he "agree[d] to the terms stipulated in this letter."

 Instead of signing, Story responded on INROADS' behalf with an August 3 letter (D. Ex. 12), stating in part:

 
We are not interested in entering a contract with you. We are interested in completing the study. Floyd Brady and I will continue working with you to accomplish that end.

 As a follow-up to that letter, Story sent Pierre an August 10 memorandum (D. Ex. 13) "to inform you of the steps INROADS is taking to assist in the completion of the alumni study." Story's memorandum said in part:

 
3. INROADS will act as fiscal agent for this project and assist in contacting potential funding sources.
 
4. For funding purposes you will be considered a consultant to INROADS until completion of the project, not to exceed 21 months. You will be paid exclusively from money raised for the project.

 And on September 14 Pierre sent INROADS this two-sentence letter response (D. Ex. 14):

 
I am in agreement with the terms set forth in the August 10, 1987 Memorandum.
 
I look forward to reaching a successful conclusion to this project within a 21 month period.

 To make this long story shorter (because as will be seen these facts are at best only peripherally relevant to resolution of this action anyway), Pierre now contends that the August 10, 1987 memorandum--along with Story's original December 7, 1984 letter (Complaint Ex. A) outlining the basic nonfinancial understanding of their agreement--are ambiguous as a matter of law. She therefore urges this Court to conclude that extrinsic evidence must be admitted to demonstrate what she says are Dickson's and Story's binding contemporaneous oral assurances. *fn4" In total Pierre now seeks $ 274,274 in damages for breach of that claimed oral contract *fn5" ...


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