Bryan v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 16831

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation364 S.E.2d 786,178 W.Va. 773
PartiesCarson W. BRYAN v. MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, etc., et al.
Docket NumberNo. 16831
Decision Date16 July 1987

Page 786

364 S.E.2d 786
178 W.Va. 773
Carson W. BRYAN
v.
MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, etc., et al.
No. 16831.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
July 16, 1987.

Page 787

[178 W.Va. 774] Syllabus by the Court.

1. "A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." Syllabus point 3, Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Federal Insurance Co. of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).

2. "To establish prima facie proof of tortious interference, a plaintiff must show:

(1) existence of a contractual or business relationship or expectancy;

[178 W.Va. 775] (2) an intentional act of interference by a party outside that relationship or expectancy;

Page 788

(3) proof that the interference caused the harm sustained; and

(4) damages.

If a plaintiff makes a prima facie case, a defendant may prove justification or privilege, affirmative defenses. Defendants are not liable for interference that is negligent rather than intentional, or if they show defenses of legitimate competition between plaintiff and themselves, their financial interest in the induced party's business, their responsibility for another's welfare, their intention to influence another's business policies in which they have an interest, their giving of honest, truthful requested advice, or other factors that show the interference was proper." Syllabus point 2, Torbett v. Wheeling Dollar Savings & Trust Co., 173 W.Va. 210, 314 S.E.2d 166 (1983).

3. "The essential elements for a successful defamation action by a private individual are (1) defamatory statements; (2) a nonprivileged communication to a third party; (3) falsity; (4) reference to the plaintiff; (5) at least negligence on the part of the publisher; and (6) resulting injury." Syllabus point 1, Crump v. Beckley Newspapers, Inc., 173 W.Va. 699, 320 S.E.2d 70 (1984).

Robert A. Yahn, Wheeling, for appellant.

Herbert G. Underwood, Clarksburg, Frederick Stamp, Wheeling, for Massachusetts Mut. Life.

William Watson, Wellsburg, for P. Kirby.

Jeremy McCamic, Wheeling, for Gunther/Roberts.

James McDermott, Wheeling, for J. Weaver.

James Haranzo, Wheeling, for F. Joanou.

Gilbert Bachmann, Wheeling, for R. Riley.

PER CURIAM:

This is an appeal by Carson W. Bryan and his brothers, Taft G. Bryan and Baron A. Bryan, from summary judgment rulings entered by the Circuit Court of Ohio County in three related cases. The cases involve the right of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company to terminate its contractual relationships with the appellants. They also involved certain tortious interference and libel claims. On appeal the appellants assert that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment. After examining the record, we believe that one of the appellants' contract assertions has merit, and we reverse on that point.

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company is a "general agency" insurance company which does business by contracting with a "general agent" who, in a specific geographical area, subcontracts with subagents known as "career agents." The insurance company does not contract directly with the career agents.

Prior to 1980, Massachusetts Mutual operated through one general agent in the State of West Virginia, but maintained two territories within the State, one called the Wheeling General Agency and the other called the Charleston General Agency. Charles Pearcy, who was stationed in Charleston, was the company's general agent for both the Wheeling and Charleston agencies. In 1973 Carson W. Bryan entered into a contract with Mr. Pearcy to sell insurance for Massachusetts Mutual in West Virginia as a career agent. Certain of the defendants below, Frank Joanou, Phillip C. Kirby, Roger G. Roberts, and Gordon B. Guenther, had also contracted with Mr. Pearcy to sell insurance for Massachusetts Mutual as career agents.

Sometime prior to April, 1979, Massachusetts Mutual learned that Mr. Pearcy was contemplating retirement as general agent for the State of West Virginia. Consequently, in April, 1979, the company decided to appoint Carson W. Bryan as co-general agent for the company in the State with the apparent purpose of preparing him to replace Mr. Pearcy. Mr. Bryan was stationed in Wheeling rather than in Charleston where Mr. Pearcy conducted his business.

[178 W.Va. 776] Following the appointment of Mr. Bryan as co-general agent, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Joanou, and Mr. Guenther, who, according to some evidence, had apparently resisted Mr.

Page 789

Bryan's promotion, continued to place their Massachusetts Mutual policies through Mr. Pearcy at the Charleston General Agency rather than through Mr. Bryan at the Wheeling General Agency. Mr. Kirby, on the other hand, commenced placing his business through Mr. Bryan at the Wheeling agency.

In the spring of 1979, Massachusetts Mutual received various complaints from Mr. Bryan concerning Mr. Guenther. The company also learned that Mr. Roberts preferred not to do business with Mr. Bryan in Wheeling. Consequently, Massachusetts Mutual granted permission for the establishment of a district office of the Charleston General Agency in Wheeling so that Mr. Roberts and Mr. Guenther could place all their business through the Charleston agency.

On April 1, 1980, the Massachusetts Mutual officially appointed Mr. Bryan sole general agent for the Wheeling agency and at the same time appointed Mr. Robert L. Riley sole general agent for the Charleston agency. Thus, what had been two unified general agencies was divided into two independent general agencies. Massachusetts Mutual's general agency contract with Mr. Bryan was an "at will" contract which allowed either party the right to terminate at any time.

In March, 1981, Mr. Kirby, who had been placing his business through Mr. Bryan in Wheeling, and Mr. Weaver, another career agent who had been placing his business through Mr. Bryan, decided to transfer their business from the Wheeling agency and placed it with the Charleston agency.

Following the abandonment of the Wheeling agency by Mr. Kirby and Mr. Weaver, Massachusetts Mutual became concerned over the deterioration of the business of the Wheeling agency, and on April 14, 1981, the regional vice president for Massachusetts Mutual met with Mr. Guenther, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Joanou, and Mr. Riley at a country club in Wheeling to discuss the company's business in West Virginia. During the meeting Mr. Roberts, Mr. Guenther, and Mr. Joanou questioned the decision of the company to retain Mr. Bryan as general agent for the Wheeling agency. They also questioned his ability to work with people and his business judgment. Later, on April 16, 1981, the vice president met with Mr. Bryan. Mr. Bryan accused Mr. Kirby and Mr. Weaver of disrupting his agency and of not advising him of their plan to move their insurance business.

As a result of the meetings, the vice president reported to Massachusetts Mutual that Mr. Bryan was not doing well as general agent and also reported that Mr. Roberts, Mr. Guenther, and Mr. Joanou had reached the point where they had lost respect for the home office's judgment. As a consequence, in November, 1981, Massachusetts Mutual, acting on the advice of its vice president, decided to close the Wheeling agency and to terminate Mr. Bryan's contract as general agent.

Two of Mr. Bryan's brothers, Baron A. Bryan and Taft G. Bryan, who are also appellants in the present proceeding, were career agents contracting through Mr. Bryan at the time Mr. Bryan's general agency contract was terminated. The express terms of Mr. Bryan's general agency contract provided that if the Massachusetts Mutual terminated his contract, all subagents contracting with him were automatically terminated.

Following the termination of Mr. Bryan's general agency agreement, the vice president investigating the situation was in favor of retaining Mr. Bryan's brothers as career agents, but Mr. Guenther, Mr. Joanou, and Mr. Roberts opposed the relationship. When asked, they openly expressed their opposition. Because of their opposition, the Bryan brothers were not retained.

Upon the dismissal of the Bryans, Massachusetts Mutual sent a letter to its policy holders notifying them of the action. The letter said:

Dear Policyholder:

This is to inform you that Baron, Carson and Taft Bryan are no longer associated[178 W.Va. 777] with the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.

You were recently informed of the transfer of your records to our Charleston

Page 790

General Agency (Robert L. Riley, C.L.U., General Agent). This will assure you of uninterrupted service. Shortly, Mr. Riley will assign one of his Wheeling agents to handle your service requests, or you may choose any other of his agents if you prefer.

Your Massachusetts Mutual Insurance...

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29 practice notes
  • Carlock v. Pillsbury Co., Civ. No. 4-87-517
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 9 Agosto 1989
    ...(S.D.Miss.1984); Comerio v. Beatrice Foods Co., 595 F.Supp. 918, 921 (E.D. Mo.1984); Bryan v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., 364 S.E.2d 786 (W.Va. Paragraph 28 of the franchise agreements signed by the plaintiffs states that the franchise shall be deemed to have been made in the S......
  • Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Coe, No. CIV.A. 1:03-0388.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • 9 Abril 2004
    ...of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to the fundamental public policy of" this state. Bryan v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 178 W.Va. 773, 364 S.E.2d 786, 790 The court applies forum law to determine whether the parties validly agreed to apply the law of another forum to this dispu......
  • W. Va. CVS Pharmacy, LLC v. McDowell Pharmacy, Inc., No. 16-0209
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 9 Febrero 2017
    ...Injury Settlement Tr. v. Blankenship , 231 W.Va. 637, 644, 749 S.E.2d 329, 336 (2013) (citing Bryan v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. , 178 W.Va. 773, 777, 364 S.E.2d 786, 790 (1987) ; Syl. pt. 1, General Elec. Co. v. Keyser , 166 W.Va. 456, 275 S.E.2d 289 ).There is sufficient evidence i......
  • Cavcon, Inc. v. Endress + Hauser, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:07-0044.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • 8 Mayo 2008
    ...(Compl. ¶ 2; Answer ¶ 2). The contract thus bears a substantial relationship to Indiana. See Bryan v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co., 178 W.Va. 773, 777, 364 S.E.2d 786, 790 (1987) (choice-of-law provision upheld in part because Massachusetts had a substantial relationship to the parties ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Carlock v. Pillsbury Co., Civ. No. 4-87-517
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 9 Agosto 1989
    ...(S.D.Miss.1984); Comerio v. Beatrice Foods Co., 595 F.Supp. 918, 921 (E.D. Mo.1984); Bryan v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., 364 S.E.2d 786 (W.Va. Paragraph 28 of the franchise agreements signed by the plaintiffs states that the franchise shall be deemed to have been made in the S......
  • Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Coe, No. CIV.A. 1:03-0388.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • 9 Abril 2004
    ...of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to the fundamental public policy of" this state. Bryan v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 178 W.Va. 773, 364 S.E.2d 786, 790 The court applies forum law to determine whether the parties validly agreed to apply the law of another forum to this dispu......
  • W. Va. CVS Pharmacy, LLC v. McDowell Pharmacy, Inc., No. 16-0209
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 9 Febrero 2017
    ...Injury Settlement Tr. v. Blankenship , 231 W.Va. 637, 644, 749 S.E.2d 329, 336 (2013) (citing Bryan v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. , 178 W.Va. 773, 777, 364 S.E.2d 786, 790 (1987) ; Syl. pt. 1, General Elec. Co. v. Keyser , 166 W.Va. 456, 275 S.E.2d 289 ).There is sufficient evidence i......
  • Cavcon, Inc. v. Endress + Hauser, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:07-0044.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • 8 Mayo 2008
    ...(Compl. ¶ 2; Answer ¶ 2). The contract thus bears a substantial relationship to Indiana. See Bryan v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co., 178 W.Va. 773, 777, 364 S.E.2d 786, 790 (1987) (choice-of-law provision upheld in part because Massachusetts had a substantial relationship to the parties ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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