Charles v. Tex. Co, 15368.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation18 S.E.2d 719
Docket NumberNo. 15368.,15368.
PartiesCHARLES. v. TEXAS CO. et al.
Decision Date05 February 1942

18 S.E.2d 719

TEXAS CO. et al.

No. 15368.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Feb. 5, 1942.

[18 S.E.2d 720]


[18 S.E.2d 721]

Appeal from Common Pleas Court, of Union County; E. C. Dennis, Judge.

Action by J. Hoyle Charles against the Texas Company and others to recover damages allegedly resulting from an unlawful conspiracy. Judgment for the plaintiff and the defendants appeal.

Judgment affirmed.

Tompkins & Tompkins, of Columbia, and P. D. Barron and Barron, Barron & Walker, all of Union, for appellants.

Bryan & Mozingo and Samuel Want, all of Darlington, Hughes & White and Young & Long, all of Union, and Donald Russell, of Spartanburg, for respondent.

STUKES, Justice.

This action, in which the plaintiff sought damages in the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars alleged to have been suffered by him as the result of various illegal and wrongful acts alleged to have been committed by the defendants pursuant to an unlawful conspiracy, was commenced by service of summons and complaint upon the defendants on November 3, 1938.

Within time the defendants moved to strike certain allegations from the complaint, and also to make the same more definite and certain in several particulars. These motions were heard at the Fall, 1938, term of the Court of Common Pleas for Union County by Honorable William H. Grimball, Circuit Judge, and were overruled by him by order dated April 4, 1939. Upon appeal to this Court said order was affirmed. Charles v. Texas Company et al., 192 S.C. 82, 5 S.E.2d 464; in this report the complaint appears in full.

Defendants, the Texas Company and Ezelle, in due course filed their answer, admitting certain formal allegations, denying certain specific allegations, and denying generally all those allegations charging them, or either of them, with being parties to any unlawful conspiracy or unlawful acts.

Defendant Lynch filed a separate answer, admitting the formal allegations, admitting the allegations that plaintiff and said defendant entered into a partnership agreement for the handling and selling of petroleum products in the County of Union, and that said partnership continued until about July 21, 1938, when same was dissolved. In his answer he admitted also the execution of a commission and consign ment agreement with defendant, the Texas Company, to handle and sell the latter's petroleum products in said County, and admitted that it was agreed between plaintiff and said defendant Lynch that the said contract should be for the benefit of the partnership; that the partnership was dissolved and that the dissolution agreement was executed on July 21, 1938, effective July 31, 1938; that in the division of the assets of the partnership the lease on the White Way Service Station was allocated to plaintiff; that several stations trading with the partnership were allocated neither to plaintiff nor to the defendant; certain other allegations of plaintiff's petition were admitted by defendant Lynch in his answer, but he denied all allegations not expressly admitted.

Thereafter the cause came on for trial before Honorable E. C. Dennis, Circuit Judge, and a jury, at the September, 1940, term of the Court of Common Pleas at Union, and resulted in a verdict in favor of the plaintiff against all defendants in the sum of thirty-five thousand dollars actual damages, and forty thousand dollars punitive damages.

At the conclusion of plaintiff's testimony the defendants, the Texas Company and H. G. Ezelle, separately moved for a nonsuit, each of which motions was denied by the presiding Judge. The defendant G. B. Lynch did not move for a nonsuit.

At the conclusion of all the testimony the defendants, the Texas Company and H. G. Ezelle, jointly moved and the defendant, G. B. Lynch, separately moved for a directed verdict, each of which said motions was denied by the presiding Judge.

Motions for a new trial were duly made by the defendants and the presiding Judge granted a new trial unless the plaintiff should remit on the record fifteen thousand dollars of the punitive damages awarded by the jury. Thereupon the plaintiff duly remitted on the record fifteen thousand dollars of the verdict for punitive damages and judgment was entered upon the verdict, as reduced, in the amount of sixty thousand dollars.

From the judgment, orders and rulings entered in this cause by the presiding Judge, the defendants in due course perfected their appeal to this Court.

The foregoing is practically a copy of the statement contained in the transcript of record, the contents of which

[18 S.E.2d 722]

were prescribed by order of the trial Judge after the parties were unable "To agree. The defendants also appealed from this action and argue that the Court erred in refusing to settle the "case" by ordering the adoption of the statement in toto which was proposed by the appellants and further erred in ordering the printing in the record of certain of plaintiff's exhibits which take up fourteen pages of the printed record of four hundred and ninety-four pages. The order of settlement of the transcript is properly printed in an appendix and upon study we find that the able and careful trial Judge rejected the separate statements proposed by the appellants and by the respondent and approved and combined portions of them, by which it appears upon consideration of the record that a fair and just result was reached. Likewise we affirm his disposition of the contention concerning the inclusion of the exhibits in question. Despite the testimony about them, they shed light on their angles of the controversy and were properly printed in full. Appellants' exceptions relating to the settlement of the transcript are, therefore, overruled, and their question numbered XII resolved against them.

There are thirty-three exceptions made in behalf of the appellants, the Texas Company and Ezelle, and by a thirty-fourth they adopt the exceptions of the appellant Lynch. The latter has submitted nineteen separate exceptions and also adopts all of the exceptions of the other appellants, and then there is a single separate exception by Ezelle, individually, wherein he alleges error and abuse of discretion by the trial Court in failing to further reduce the verdict for punitive damages against him because of the lack of evidence of his financial status whereby the exemplary damages were excessive on the record and require a reversal of the judgment.

Very able and voluminous briefs have been filed, separately by the appellants, the Texas Company and Ezelle, and by the appellant Lynch, wherein twelve questions are presented for all appellants by the two first named and one additional by the latter. It will be undertaken to treat and dispose of these questions in the order in which they have been stated in the briefs and necessary references will be made to the evidence. (Question XII is disposed of hereinabove.)

The first three may properly be considered together, as argued by appellants, for they question the sufficiency of the evidence for submission to the jury of the issues of (a) whether there was an unlawful conspiracy, (b) whether the defendants committed unlawful acts or lawful acts in an unlawful manner in pursuance of a conspiracy, and (c) whether the plaintiff suffered actionable damages.

The evidence is contained in full in the record and we have examined it with care. It reasonably tends to show that plaintiff was engaged in a partnership with the defendant Lynch in the distribution of petroleum products in Union and the surrounding territory, the relation having commenced in 1926 with a written contract of partnership which provided for dissolution on thirty days notice by either partner. When the partnership was formed plaintiff was an experienced local gasoline dealer but Lynch was a newcomer to the community. After years of dealing with other companies the agency for the sale of the products of the Texas Company was undertaken in 1934. At the instance of the Company the agency agreement was made in the name of Lynch but it was understood by all concerned that it was for the benefit of the partnership which conducted the agency, made the sales and deliveries and the profits were paid out in equal portions to the partners.

In 1938, the defendant Ezelle sought a private interview near the wholesale plant of the partnership with the partner, defendant Lynch, which lasted about three hours, after which Lynch informed the plaintiff that the Texas agency contract had been cancelled, the partnership would have to be dissolved and he (plaintiff) would have to find another occupation and there is testimony that Lynch threatened plaintiff with a receivership proceeding against the partnership if it were not amicably terminated. Plaintiff operated a separate roofing business, a corporation of which he and his wife were the owners, through which it appears that he disposed of roofing products of the Texas Company which he obtained on credit and the defendants contended that the amount of this approved credit had been exceeded by means of slow billing by the partnership and that the Texas Company through Ezelle demanded that Lynch promptly pay off this indebtedness to the Company in performance of his guaranty as sales agent, and that on this account Lynch demanded of Charles the termination of the partner-

[18 S.E.2d 723]

ship relation. However, the accounts of the roofing company with the Texas Company were introduced in evidence and indicate a frequent prior exceeding of this credit limit and all of this and the other evidence upon the point properly made an issue thereabout for the jury.

Our task is not to find the facts or even weigh the evidence; these were for the jury in this, a law case, and they have concluded against the appellants. Our duty is only to ascertain whether in our opinion the trial Judge erred in submitting the issues to the jury, whether the evidence was susceptible of a reasonable finding for...

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