Procedural Posture

Plaintiff movie owner and defendant distributor sought a declaratory judgment as to whether Eire, the Irish Free State, was part of the United Kingdom, in which defendant was permitted to distribute a movie pursuant to a contract between the parties. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California) struck distributor’s evidence of trade custom and usage of the words “United Kingdom” and entered judgment for owner. Distributor appealed.

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The court held that declaratory relief was available even though a breach of contract had already occurred and no action for breach was brought. At trial, distributor’s evidence consisted of testimony from several witnesses to the effect that in contracts covering the rights to produce pictures the general custom and usage was that the term “The United Kingdom” included Eire, the Irish Free State. Owner offered contrary evidence concerning such custom and usage. It was stipulated that Eire was independent of the United Kingdom and not a part thereof. The court held that the trial court erred in striking distributor’s evidence of custom and usage. Such evidence was admissible because there was evidence that the words “The United Kingdom” had acquired a certain meaning by trade usage and both parties were engaged in the trade. Parol evidence was therefore admissible to establish a meaning different from the words’ plain and ordinary meaning.


The court reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings.