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03/27/97 MARCUS LEWIS v. AMERICAN AIRLINES

March 27, 1997

MARCUS LEWIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Arthur A. Sullivan, Jr., Judge Presiding.

Rehearing Denied April 21, 1997. Released for Publication May 12, 1997.

Presiding Justice Hartman delivered the opinion of the court. Hourihane and South, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hartman

PRESIDING JUSTICE HARTMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff Marcus Lewis appeals from the circuit court's orders granting summary judgment to defendant American Airlines, Inc., (American) and denying his motions for leave to: (1) conduct additional discovery prior to summary judgment, (2) file a fourth amended complaint, and (3) file a jury demand. For the reasons which follow, we affirm. The factual context of this dispute appears in the pleadings or discovery documents.

Plaintiff, hired by American as a ramp service clerk in 1984, soon noticed that the doors on American's tractors did not protect drivers from the elements. Plaintiff told his group supervisor, Dick Walters, about his idea to invent a plastic or canvas door that "fanned" like a shower curtain to cover the aperture in bad weather. Walters told plaintiff to submit his idea to American through its Employee Suggestion Program, an arrangement with which plaintiff allegedly had been familiar since his first week of work. Plaintiff thereafter did so on a suggestion form which stated that "accepted suggestions become the exclusive property of American" and American's decisions regarding "the amount of awards are final." Prior to his initial meeting with Walters, he practiced his idea on a shower curtain at home, attaching weights to the bottom of the curtain to see how it would retract and extend. He also checked with various manufacturers to discover the most suitable material for his idea. Doors, fabricated by American, occasionally appeared on American's tractors, beginning in 1985.

American's Employee Suggestion Program (Program) was created by its Regulations, two of which are relevant here. *fn1 Regulation 145-14 defined the Program's objectives and structure. The Program was created to help American "simplify and improve procedures, *** eliminate unnecessary work, *** increase employee productivity, and *** reduce operating expense." The Program identified a potential cash award, "equal to 10% of the estimated first year's savings, following adoption, realized from the suggestion (after installation costs have been deducted)." The maximum potential award was limited to $10,000.

Regulation 145-15 established "when, and how releases of, and awards for, copyrightable material and patentable inventions may be granted to employees." Regulation 145-15 states, in part:

"since all material and inventions *** automatically become the property of [American], there is no obligation upon [American] to award any additional compensation to employees whose material or inventions are used. However, additional compensation may be awarded, or the property rights of [American] may be released to the employee, at the complete discretion of [American], in accordance with the following procedures. Since [American] is not a manufacturer, releases will ordinarily be freely granted to employees." (Emphases added.)

The foregoing was consistent with American's employment application plaintiff had filled out upon starting work with American, which stated:

"All right, title and interest, including, without limitation, all copyrights and patents, in and to any material produced or inventions developed by me which affect or relate to the company's business or affect or relate to the air transportation industry shall vest in the company and I shall have no personal right, title or interest whatsoever therein. " (Emphasis added.)

A photograph of plaintiff standing next to a tractor with the flexible door he suggested appeared in American's internal newspaper, "Flagship News," in November of 1985. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff spoke to Walters about securing patent rights to his idea. Plaintiff then met with a union steward and Walters and reviewed Regulation 145-15. Plaintiff asked Walters to ascertain whether American would release its rights to his idea. American refused plaintiff a release, but subsequently calculated an award for him at $866.32. After plaintiff complained about the size of his award, American agreed to extend the period during which cost savings would be calculated.

Nevertheless, on September 11, 1990, plaintiff filed a complaint, seeking an accounting. *fn2 American successfully moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint because it already had furnished plaintiff with a sufficient accounting. Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint, which was subsequently dismissed because it was "confusing and impractical to respond." Plaintiff thereafter filed a second amended complaint for breach of contract, claiming that he and American "entered into an oral contract based on" American's Program. Plaintiff also alleged that letters from American's vice-president and assistant vice-president were written contracts evidencing American's agreement to pay plaintiff 10% of all cost savings. American's motion to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint was denied in part, but the court granted American's motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. Plaintiff then filed a third amended complaint, averring that he and American entered into an oral contract, based upon American's Program, under which American agreed to release to plaintiff its property rights to the tractor door so that plaintiff could patent his suggestion. American moved to dismiss the third amended complaint and the circuit court granted plaintiff leave to withdraw the third amended complaint and reinstate the second amended complaint.

American then moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's second amended complaint, maintaining that Regulation 145-15 did not create an enforceable contract under Duldulao v. St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center, 115 Ill. 2d 482, 505 N.E.2d 314, 106 Ill. Dec. 8 (1987) (Duldulao) and assuming arguendo a binding contract was created, Regulation 145-15 vested American with sole discretion to determine whether or not to release its property rights in the tractor door. On November 6, 1995, the circuit court granted American's motion for summary judgment, finding that Duldulao's prerequisites had not been met. The court ...


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