Martin v. Platt

Decision Date26 March 1979
Docket NumberNo. 3-1076A252,3-1076A252
Citation179 Ind.App. 688,386 N.E.2d 1026
Parties, 115 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 4782 Gerald G. MARTIN and Keith Niemann, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Robert H. PLATT, Alfred di Scipio, and the Magnavox Company, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Martin T. Fletcher, Rothberg, Gallmeyer, Fruechtenicht & Logan, Fort Wayne, for plaintiffs-appellants.

J. Michael O'Hara and William L. Sweet, Jr., Barrett, Barrett & McNagny, Fort Wayne, for defendants-appellees.

GARRARD, Presiding Judge.

Gerald Martin and Keith Niemann (employees) brought this action against their former employer, the Magnavox Company (Magnavox) claiming retaliatory discharge. Joined as individual defendants were Alfred di Scipio and Robert Platt (officers) who were the vice president and president of Magnavox. The claim against the officers alleged tortious interference with the employment relationship between Magnavox and the employees. Magnavox and the officers moved for summary judgment. The court found that there were no genuine issues of any material fact as to the non-liability of all defendants and that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Judgment was entered against the employees and they appeal.

Of course, the burden in the trial court was upon the proponents of the motion, and any genuine disputes concerning the existence of material issues of fact are to be resolved in favor of the non-moving party. Podgorny v. Great Central Insurance Co. (1974), 160 Ind.App. 244, 311 N.E.2d 640. Thus, for the purposes of this appeal the issue becomes whether the appellees were entitled to judgment as a matter of law, assuming the truth of the facts as alleged by the employees wherever the facts appear to be in dispute.

The record reveals the following background. The employees were executives with Magnavox. di Scipio was their immediate superior, and Platt was di Scipio's superior. Both employees were employees at will. In 1974 they reported to Platt information that di Scipio was soliciting and receiving "kickback" payments from Magnavox suppliers. 1 After Magnavox investigated the charges, no action was taken against the officers. However, the employees were discharged.

The employees maintain that the officers intentionally and maliciously caused Magnavox to discharge them in retaliation for truthfully reporting the kickbacks and to suppress the information they had obtained.

I. Interference with Business Relationship

The employees contend they have a claim against the officers individually on the ground that they tortiously interfered in the employment relation between the employees and Magnavox.

Indiana has long recognized that an action will lie for an unjustifiable interference with the contractual and prospectively advantageous business relationship one enjoys with another. Daly v. Nau (1975), Ind.App., 339 N.E.2d 71; Kiyose v. Trustees of Indiana University (1975), Ind.App., 333 N.E.2d 886; Fort Wayne Cleaners & Dyers Assoc., Inc. v. Price (1956), 127 Ind.App. 13, 137 N.E.2d 738.

However, such an action involves the intervention of a third party. Geary v. United States Steel Corp. (1974), 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174. It will not lie against a party to the contract. Daly, supra; Kiyose, supra ; Prosser, Torts, § 129 (4th Ed. 1971). In addition, an officer or director of a corporation will not be held independently personally liable for inducing the corporation's breach of its contract, if the officer or director's action is within the scope of his official duties on behalf of the corporation. Daly, supra; Kiyose, supra. See also H. F. Philipsborn & Co. v. Suson (1974), 59 Ill.2d 465, 322 N.E.2d 45; Widger v. Central School Dist. No. 1 (1964), 20 A.D.2d 296, 247 N.Y.S.2d 364.

In the present case it is undisputed that Platt and di Scipio were the supervisors of Martin and Niemann. It is uncontroverted that the decision to hire and fire executive level employees at Magnavox rested with the employee's immediate superior. The discharges were within the scope of the duties of Platt and di Scipio, and no action will lie against them on the theory of interference with a contractual relationship. The trial court correctly held the officers were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

II. Retaliatory Discharge

The employees also contend that they had a cognizable legal claim that their employment was terminated in retaliation for their truthful reporting of di Scipio's improper activities. The issue we face is whether an employee at will can maintain an action for retaliatory discharge.

The general rule and great weight of authority is that where the duration of the employment cannot be determined from the terms of the contract, the contract is at will and either party may terminate it with or without cause at any time in the absence of contractual limitations. Pearson v. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. (7th Cir. 1964), 332 F.2d 439; Speeder Cycle Co. v. Teeter (1897), 18 Ind.App. 474, 48 N.E. 595.

An exception exists, of course, where an applicable statute prohibits discharge for a specified reason. See, e. g., Phelps Dodge Corp. v. N.L.R.B. (1941), 313 U.S. 177, 61 S.Ct. 845, 85 L.Ed. 1271, 133 A.L.R. 1217.

In Frampton v. Central Ind. Gas Co. (1973), 260 Ind. 249, 297 N.E.2d 425 our Supreme Court found that such a discharge would be precluded where the reason was to punish the employee and dissuade other employees from claiming Workmen's Compensation benefits. The court termed such a discharge a "device" within the meaning of IC 22-3-2-15 prohibiting employers from avoiding their obligations under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

A few cases have extended the prohibition to situations where the employee was discharged for complying with a statutory duty. See Nees v. Hocks (1975), 272 Or. 210, 536 P.2d 512 (performing jury service); ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
80 cases
  • Cromwell v. Williams
    • United States
    • Mississippi Court of Appeals
    • 18 Enero 2022
    ...will not be liable for tortious interference, even if the employee is acting with bitterness and hostility.); Martin v. Platt , 179 Ind.App. 688, 386 N.E.2d 1026, 1028 (1979) (An officer acting in the scope of his official duties cannot be liable for tortious interference.); Diederich v. Ya......
  • Ostrofe v. H. S. Crocker Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • 8 Marzo 1982
    ...truthful deposition testimony in antitrust litigation has no cause of action for wrongful discharge under state law.); Martin v. Platt, 386 N.E.2d 1026 (Ind.App.1979); Geary v. United States Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174, 178-79 (Pa.Supreme Court 1974); see generally 53 Am.Jur.2d, ......
  • Moffett v. Gene B. Glick Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • 21 Octubre 1985
    ...472 N.E.2d 213, 215 (Ind.App. 1984); Campbell v. Eli Lilly & Co., 413 N.E.2d 1054 (Ind.App.1980); Martin v. Platt, 179 Ind.App. 688, 386 N.E.2d 1026 (Ind.App.1979). A cause of action under the Frampton rule "must allege the discharge of an employee at will was in retaliation either for fulf......
  • Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • 28 Julio 1980
    ...563 P.2d 54 (1977) (discharge for participating in an unauthorized Christmas party fund did not violate public policy); Martin v. Platt, 386 N.E.2d 1026 (Ind. App. 1979) (no "declared" public policy forbids discharge in retaliation for reporting a supervisor for taking kickbacks); Scroghan ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT