669 N.E.2d 172 (Ind. 1996), 82S01-9505-CV-518, Wior v. Anchor Industries, Inc.

Docket Nº:82S01-9505-CV-518.
Citation:669 N.E.2d 172
Party Name:Glenn WIOR, Appellant, v. ANCHOR INDUSTRIES, INC., Appellees.
Case Date:August 07, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Indiana
 
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Page 172

669 N.E.2d 172 (Ind. 1996)

Glenn WIOR, Appellant,

v.

ANCHOR INDUSTRIES, INC., Appellees.

No. 82S01-9505-CV-518.

Supreme Court of Indiana.

August 7, 1996

Rehearing Denied Nov. 27, 1996.

Page 173

Joseph A. Yocum, Yocum and Yocum, Evansville, for Appellants.

William Michael Schiff, Mary Lee Franke, Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn, Evansville, for Appellees.

ON PETITION TO TRANSFER

SELBY, Justice.

This case presents three questions: (1) whether an oral agreement for employment until retirement, which was understood by the parties to mean retirement in "20 plus" years, is unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds; (2) whether Anchor could discharge Wior without cause; and (3) whether Wior has a wrongful discharge claim based upon his assertion that Anchor terminated him for refusing to discharge an employee with a worker's compensation claim.

  1. FACTS

    Glenn Wior has worked in the "needle trades" all of his working life. When Wior moved to Indianapolis in 1988, he worked at a plant manufacturing uniforms and safety equipment for the racing industry. Over the years, Wior belonged to various trade-related organizations, and subscribed to trade journals.

    From early 1991 to May 1992, Wior operated a sole proprietorship in Indianapolis known as Sewing Services. Altogether, Sewing Services' gross income as of May 1992 was less than $6,500 and Wior's net profit for this period was $2,705. In 1992, Wior actively sought other employment.

    Anchor Industries ("Anchor") specializes in the manufacturing of custom canvas and synthetic products for the outdoor recreational industry. In May 1992, Wior responded to a blind advertisement which Anchor placed in an Indianapolis newspaper. Anchor interviewed Wior for the position of Plant Supervisor of one of Anchor's Evansville, Indiana plants. Anchor told Wior that the position was not a temporary position. Wior informed Anchor that he would not leave Indianapolis unless he had a commitment for permanent employment until retirement in "20 plus" years. Anchor questioned whether Wior would be willing to give up his consulting business, and Wior responded, "With a commitment to a sound future, a long-term employment--you were talking 20 plus years--a good opportunity here to be a V.P. at Anchor, yes." (R. at 160). Anchor agreed to employ Wior for "20 plus" years, until Wior retired, but the parties never memorialized their agreement in writing.

    Wior and his family relocated to Evansville, and Wior began work at Anchor on August 3, 1992. At this time he was advised

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    that his job performance would be evaluated after his first ninety days of employment. With Anchor's knowledge and assistance, Wior purchased a home in Evansville. On November 11, 1992, Anchor terminated Wior because he did not "fit in." Anchor Vice-President Ken Dimmett explained that Anchor had sought someone they did not have to train, and that Wior was "just not working out." (R. at 309).

    Wior brought suit seeking damages for breach of contract, wrongful discharge, negligent misrepresentation, and intentional misrepresentation. Anchor moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Wior appealed to our Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part and reversed in part. Anchor petitioned this Court for transfer. We grant transfer and affirm the trial court.

  2. THE STATUTE OF FRAUDS

    Our Statute of Frauds states, in relevant part:

    No action shall be brought in any of the following cases:

    ....

    Fifth. Upon any agreement that is not to be performed within one (1) year from the making thereof;

    ....

    Unless the promise, contract or agreement upon which such action shall be brought, or some memorandum or note thereof, shall be in writing, and signed by the party to be charged therewith, or by some person thereunto by him lawfully authorized, excepting however, leases not exceeding the term of three (3) years.

    I.C. § 32-2-1-1 (1979).

    The progenitor of our Statute of Frauds is the former English Statute of Frauds, enacted more than 300 years ago. The original English statute was enacted to prevent " 'many fraudulent practices, which are commonly endeavored to be upheld by perjury and subornation of perjury.' " McIntosh v. Murphy, 52 Haw. 29, 469 P.2d 177, 179 (1970) (quoting 29 Car. 2, c. 3 (1677)). Additionally, commentators have identified at least three justifications for the continued vitality of modern statutes of fraud:

    (1) the Statute serves an "evidentiary" function, lessening the danger that courts or juries will be misled by perjured testimony as to the existence or purport of a contract; (2) it has a "cautionary" effect, tending to impress upon the contracting parties the significance of their agreement; and (3) it acts as a "channeling" device, providing a basis for distinguishing contracts which are enforceable from those which are not.

    Note, Statute of Frauds--The Doctrine of Equitable Estoppel and the Statute of Frauds, 66 Mich. L.Rev. 170, 170-71 (1967). The Court of Appeals reversed in part the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Anchor concluding that Wior and Anchor's employment agreement was not within the Statute of Frauds. Wior v. Anchor Industries, Inc., 641 N.E.2d 1275 (Ind.Ct.App.1994). The Court of Appeals observed that "death is the contingency which renders [a contract...

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