Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company v. New Jersey Wood Finishing Company

PETITIONER: Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company
RESPONDENT: New Jersey Wood Finishing Company
LOCATION: United States Post Office and Courthouse

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 381 US 311 (1965)
ARGUED: Apr 29, 1965
DECIDED: May 24, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company v. New Jersey Wood Finishing Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 29, 1965 in Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company v. New Jersey Wood Finishing Company

Earl Warren:

-- Manufacturing Company versus New Jersey Wood Finishing Company.

Mr. Howell.

Sidney P. Howell, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, May it please the Court.

This case presents, I believe for the first time, an occasion by which this Court may construe one of the truly unique features of the Clayton Act, namely, Section 5, which has been various forms on the books since 1914.

Section 5 of the Clayton Act has two features.

The first, and we will argue the dominant concern of Congress at the time of this enactment, is that phrase now in Section 5 (a) relating and providing for the admissibility and subsequent private treble-damage litigation of the final judgment or decree secured in any civil or criminal proceeding instituted by the Government.

It is somewhat less unique feature, I used the word unique since the first feature to which I've just referred the admissibility is prima facie evidence, obviously works a drastic change on the prevailing common law notions of mutuality of the stock by statute.

The second feature and the one with which we are directly concerned on this appeal, is the provision of Section 5 (b) providing that during dependency of any such civil or criminal proceeding instituted by the United States, all right of action created by Section 4 of the Act for private litigants shall be suspended.

The statute of limitation, otherwise, pertaining to such private causes of action will be suspended.

Now, the specific question in this case is whether dependency of a Federal Trade Commission proceeding, the proceeding instituted to enforce the Anti-trust Laws as defined in the Clayton Act, is such a civil or criminal proceeding as by the United States as will suspend or toll the statute limitations.

The courts below have both answered this question in the affirmative and have held that the plaintiff's complaint below was therefore not timed barred by Section 4.

Three District Courts which have considered the same problem since this problem was considered by the District Court of the New Jersey in this action.


Sidney P. Howell, Jr.:

The action was instituted five years and three months after the institution -- after the single cardinal event which they say their right spring from namely, the acquisition by this petitioner, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company of a distributor through whom this plaintiff below distributed his products.

The acquisition was in August of 1956.

The complaint in this action was filed in November of 1961.

The District Courts, as I say in Missouri, Tennessee, and particularly, at least I commend the opinion particularly to you of judge who knew in the District Court of Maine, all followed upon the decision of this Court as other plaintiffs raised the same question as to whether or not various aspects of their causes of action had been saved by the suspension of the limitations during dependency of commission proceedings in those cases.

The Highland Supply Case in Missouri went up to the Eighth Circuit and was there affirmed bringing it into direct conflict with the decision of the Circuit Court here.

Now, I have no explanation as real explanation as to why it is taking 50 years for this particularly narrow and almost that it would seem from the briefing I've read obvious question to arise in this Court.

Except and I think an obvious practical construction has been placed on Section 5 over the years.

Not only by practitioners in the field by the bench, the bar, and all commentators who have ever considered this question in any aspect.

No one, no one has ever before advanced the fly that the Federal Trade Commission proceeding was such a proceeding as is comprehended by Section 5 of the Clayton Act.

Now, the question is here now and it arose in the following manner.

Petitioner Minnesota Mining defended below, we quite often refer to as “3M”, among many other diversified facets is a manufacturer and distributor of electrical insulation materials.

Prior to 1953, its principal product line was electrical installation tape which had sold to original equipment manufacturers and to distributors for resale.

Again, original equipment manufacturers and to repair in rewind shops.

In June of 1960, the Federal Trade Commission issued a complaint under Section 7 of Clayton Act which referred to a series of acquisitions made by 3M in the years from '53 to '55 as some six manufacturers of other electrical insulation product lines.

It then made particular reference in this complaint to its acquisition in March of 1956 of the Prayor (ph) Company, a distributor the second largest, I believe with the allegations, second largest distributor of electrical installation products located principally in Edmund Western States and then, to its subsequent acquisition in August of 1956 of the assets of “IWI”, which we quote for the moment the actual name slips my mind.

It's been so long since I forgot it, IWI, being a national distributor of electrical insulation products, and possessing roughly 14% of the market, and alleged to have been the third largest.

Potter Stewart:

Irvington Varnish Insulator Company.