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EVENING NEWS ASSN. v. PETERSON
September 7, 1979
The EVENING NEWS ASSOCIATION, d/b/a the Evening News Association, Inc., Licensee of Station WDVM-TV, Plaintiff,
Gordon PETERSON, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER
The question presented in this litigation is whether a contract of employment between an employee and the owner and licensee of a television station, providing for the employee's services as a newscaster-anchorman, was assigned when the station was sold and acquired by a new owner and licensee.
Mr. Peterson was employed by the plaintiff for more than one year after the acquisition and received the compensation and all benefits provided by the Post-Newsweek contract. In early August, 1979, he tendered his resignation to the plaintiff. At that time the defendant had negotiated an employment contract with a third television station located in the District of Columbia, a competitor of the plaintiff. The Evening News then sued Peterson, seeking a declaration of the rights and legal relations of the parties under the contract and permanent injunctive relief against the defendant.
Following an accelerated briefing schedule and an expedited bench trial on the merits, the Court concludes that the contract was assignable and that Evening News is entitled to appropriate permanent injunctive relief against the defendant Gordon Peterson.
In accordance with Rule 52(a) Fed.R.Civ.P., the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of that determination are set forth.
The defendant was employed by Post-Newsweek Stations, Inc. from 1969 to 1978. During that period he negotiated several employment contracts. Post-Newsweek had a license to operate television station WTOP-TV (Channel 9) in the District of Columbia. In June of 1978, following approval by the Federal Communications Commission, Post-Newsweek sold its operating license to Evening News and Channel 9 was then designated WDVM-TV. A June 26, 1978, Bill of Sale and Assignment and Instrument of Assumption and Indemnity between the two provided in pertinent part:
PNS has granted, bargained, sold, conveyed and assigned to ENA, . . . all the property of PNS . . . including, . . . all right, title and interest, legal or equitable, of PNS in, to and under all agreements, contracts and commitments listed in Schedule A hereto. . . .
When Evening News acquired the station, Peterson's Post-Newsweek employment contract, dated July 1, 1977, was included in the Bill of Sale and Assignment.
The contract was for a three-year term ending June 30, 1980, and could be extended for two additional one-year terms, at the option of Post-Newsweek. The significant and relevant duties and obligations under that contract required Peterson:
to render services as a news anchorman, and to perform such related services as news gathering, writing and reporting, and the organization and preparation of program material, to the extent required by the Stations, as are consistent with (his) primary responsibility as a news anchorman. . . . (To participate) personally as a newsman, announcer, on-the-air personality or other performer in any news, public affairs, documentary, news analysis, interview, special events or other program or segment of any program, designated by . . . and to the extent required by the Stations . . . as may reasonably be required by the Stations. . . .
As compensation the defendant was to receive a designated salary which increased each year from 1977 through the fifth (option) year. Post-Newsweek was also obligated to provide additional benefits including term life insurance valued at his 1977 base salary, disability insurance, an annual clothing allowance and benefits to which he was entitled as provided in an underlying collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
There was no express provision in the 1977 contract concerning its assignability or nonassignability. However, it contained the following integration clause:
This agreement contains the entire understanding of the parties . . . and this agreement cannot be altered or modified except in a writing signed by both parties.
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