Hensley v. E. R. Carpenter Co., Inc., No. 80-3446

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore GEE, RUBIN and RANDALL; GEE
Citation633 F.2d 1106
PartiesJames D. HENSLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. E. R. CARPENTER CO., INC., Defendant-Appellee. Summary Calendar. . Unit A
Decision Date25 November 1980
Docket NumberNo. 80-3446

Page 1106

633 F.2d 1106
James D. HENSLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
E. R. CARPENTER CO., INC., Defendant-Appellee.
No. 80-3446
Summary Calendar.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
Unit A
Nov. 25, 1980.

Page 1107

Michael G. Soper, Tupelo, Miss., for plaintiff-appellant.

Lumpkin, Holland, Ray & Upchurch, James Hugh Ray, W. Reed Hillen, Tupelo, Miss., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.

Before GEE, RUBIN and RANDALL, Circuit Judges.

GEE, Circuit Judge:

James D. Hensley appeals from both a summary judgment against him in a breach of contract suit he brought against his employer and an injunction entered against him upon a counterclaim by the employer that requires him to abide by a restrictive covenant in the contract.

In September 1978, Hensley's employer, E. R. Carpenter Company, a manufacturer and processor of urethane foam, promoted Hensley to division manager of the company's Tupelo (Mississippi) Division Profit Center. In December of the same year, Hensley signed an employment contract with the company that contained the following clause: "2. Duties. The Employee is employed to manage the Tupelo division profit center. The precise services of the Employee may be extended or curtailed from time to time, at the direction of the Company." The contract also contained a covenant that Hensley would not work for a competitor of Carpenter anywhere in the continental United States or Canada for at least two years after leaving the company. 1

In November 1979, the company removed Hensley as division manager and placed him in the newly created position of sales manager, which involved supervising a staff of two employees, later reduced to one. Hensley's salary was not diminished, but he received neither a cost-of-living increase that was accorded all of Carpenter's other Tupelo employees nor a customary year-end bonus. The company also assigned Hensley to

Page 1108

an office that lacked both a desk and a desk chair.

Since Hensley regarded Carpenter's treatment of him to have breached his employment contract, he left the company and, in January 1980, accepted employment as general manager of Superior Products Company, a Tupelo-based competitor of Carpenter. The next month he brought this diversity suit against Carpenter for damages attendant to the breach of contract and for a declaration that he was no longer bound by the contract and its restrictive covenant because Carpenter's breach warranted rescission of the contract and because the contract in general and the covenant in particular were unconscionable. Hensley formally requested a jury trial. Carpenter counterclaimed for an injunction enforcing the covenant and thus barring Hensley from continued employment with Superior Products.

The district court first held a hearing on Carpenter's equitable counterclaim and entered a preliminary injunction forbidding Hensley to work for a competitor of Carpenter within a 300-mile radius of Tupelo for the two-year period prescribed in the restrictive covenant. The court decided that Carpenter had not breached its contract with Hensley by removing him as division manager because it had not reduced his salary, because it had not asked him to resign, and because the second sentence in the duties clause of the contract, quoted above, authorized the company to treat Hensley as it did. The court also found that the covenant not to compete was not unconscionable (and therefore unenforceable) except with regard to its geographic scope-the continental United States and Canada-which the court found to be unreasonable as applied to Hensley. The court decided, however, that a reasonable scope for the covenant would be the trade area served by the Tupelo Division, which encompassed a 300-mile radius of the City of Tupelo, and, with the geographic scope of the covenant thus modified, the court issued the preliminary injunction enforcing the covenant against Hensley. Shortly thereafter, the court granted Carpenter's motion for summary judgment on the merits of Hensley's claims and made the preliminary injunction permanent.

Hensley appeals the district court's finding that Carpenter did not breach its contract with him and thus the court's conclusion that Carpenter was entitled to summary judgment and enforcement of the restrictive covenant. Hensley also appeals the court's specification of a reasonable geographic scope for the covenant insofar as it extends beyond the boundaries of the State of Mississippi. Although we previously denied Hensley's motion for suspension of the district court's injunction pending our disposition of this appeal, we did order that the appeal be expedited.

We agree with Hensley that the district court erred in finding that Carpenter did not breach the employment contract when it demoted him 2 and that the court

Page 1109

erred, because of its reliance on that finding, in granting summary judgment for Carpenter on Hensley's breach of contract claim and in enforcing the restrictive covenant. Since this is a diversity case, the substantive issues herein are of course governed by state law. In Matheney v. McClain, 248 Miss. 842, 161 So.2d 516 (1964), the Supreme Court of Mississippi, considering a claim by an employee that he was not bound by a covenant not to compete contained in his contract because his employer had breached the contract, held that "if the breach of the contract is such that upon a reasonable construction of the contract, it is shown that the parties considered the breach as vital to the existence of the contract, such a breach will discharge the other party from the performance of his promise." Id. at 849, 161 So.2d at 520 (citations omitted); see Olin Corp. v. Central Industries, Inc., 576 F.2d 642, 646-47 (5th Cir. 1978). Although the Mississippi courts have not to our knowledge specifically decided whether an unjustified reduction in rank conferred by an employment contract can constitute a breach of that contract, the weight of authority in other jurisdictions is that it can. 53 Am.Jur.2d Master and Servant § 44 (1970); Annot., 63 A.L.R.3d...

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39 practice notes
  • Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., JOHNS-MANVILLE
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 22, 1986
    ...Turbo Trucking Company v. Those Underwriters at Lloyd's London, 776 F.2d 527, 529 (5th Cir.1985) (quoting Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., 633 F.2d 1106, 1109 (5th Cir.1980)) (citation omitted) (bracket in original). See also Nobs Chemical, U.S.A., Inc. v. Koppers Co., Inc., 616 F.2d 212, 214......
  • Montogomery v. Mississippi, Civil Action No. 5:05-cv-217(DCB)(JMR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • July 6, 2007
    ...order to fall outside of the MTCA, Montgomery's claim must be based on some theory of contract. In Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., Inc., 633 F.2d 1106 (5th Cir.1980), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made an Erie guess that Mississippi courts would recognize a "wrongful demotion claim" bas......
  • Samra v. Shaheen Business and Investment Group, Civil Action No. 03-2062 (RCL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 31, 2005
    ...of fact turns essentially on whether the claim to which those issues relate is legal or equitable." Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., Inc., 633 F.2d 1106, 1110 n. 5 (5th Cir.1980) (as quoted in Quijano, 952 F.Supp. at 3). An action to enforce a settlement agreement is, at bottom, an action see......
  • Harvey v. Caesars Entm't Operating Co., Case No. 2:11CV194–NBB–SAA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • September 24, 2014
    ...McClain, 248 Miss. 842, 161 So.2d 516, 520 (1964) ). “Materiality is ordinarily a question of fact, e.g., Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., 633 F.2d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir.1980), albeit one of ultimate fact, not evidentiary fact. The standard for determining materiality must necessarily be both ‘......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
39 cases
  • Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., JOHNS-MANVILLE
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 22, 1986
    ...Turbo Trucking Company v. Those Underwriters at Lloyd's London, 776 F.2d 527, 529 (5th Cir.1985) (quoting Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., 633 F.2d 1106, 1109 (5th Cir.1980)) (citation omitted) (bracket in original). See also Nobs Chemical, U.S.A., Inc. v. Koppers Co., Inc., 616 F.2d 212, 214......
  • Montogomery v. Mississippi, Civil Action No. 5:05-cv-217(DCB)(JMR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • July 6, 2007
    ...order to fall outside of the MTCA, Montgomery's claim must be based on some theory of contract. In Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., Inc., 633 F.2d 1106 (5th Cir.1980), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made an Erie guess that Mississippi courts would recognize a "wrongful demotion claim" bas......
  • Samra v. Shaheen Business and Investment Group, Civil Action No. 03-2062 (RCL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 31, 2005
    ...of fact turns essentially on whether the claim to which those issues relate is legal or equitable." Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., Inc., 633 F.2d 1106, 1110 n. 5 (5th Cir.1980) (as quoted in Quijano, 952 F.Supp. at 3). An action to enforce a settlement agreement is, at bottom, an action see......
  • Harvey v. Caesars Entm't Operating Co., Case No. 2:11CV194–NBB–SAA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • September 24, 2014
    ...McClain, 248 Miss. 842, 161 So.2d 516, 520 (1964) ). “Materiality is ordinarily a question of fact, e.g., Hensley v. E.R. Carpenter Co., 633 F.2d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir.1980), albeit one of ultimate fact, not evidentiary fact. The standard for determining materiality must necessarily be both ‘......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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