This is an appeal from summary judgments entered in favor of 33 defendants in an action alleging conspiracy to interfere with contractual relations.
The action is brought by A & J Builders Inc., the stock of which is wholly owned by one Carl R. Anderson and Mary Anderson, his wife. The subject of the contract with which defendants allegedly interfered is certain Dakota County real estate which was originally acquired by Anderson's associate, Julian Vinge, in 1953 for $15,000. On February 21, 1963, it was acquired by plaintiff under a contract for deed for the price of $160,000.
From the incomplete and unsatisfactory record presented by plaintiff, it would appear that, on February 21, 1962, Anderson and Vinge organized A & J Builders Inc., for the purpose of entering into the construction business, as well as for the development of the tract of land acquired by Vinge in 1953, 152 acres of which he thereafter transferred to the corporation. Part of the land was to be utilized in the construction of a nursing home for the elderly. In furtherance of this project, Anderson, Luther C. Gronseth, and Eugene W. Linse, on January 22, 1965, incorporated Ridge Lutheran Home, Inc., as a Minnesota nonprofit corporation. This corporation, which is one of the principal defendants, will be hereafter referred to as "Ridge Lutheran." In addition to the three incorporators, other directors were Vinge, Howard E. Pleuss, Howard A. Burgdorf, and August L. Hauptmann, all of whom, except Vinge, are named as defendants. Anderson served as president of Ridge Lutheran from January 22, 1965, until his resignation on August 26, 1967. He was its executive secretary from March 5, 1965, until August 26, 1967. In the latter capacity, he was the sole executive authorized to withdraw and disburse the corporate funds.
These corporate funds came from the sale of building development bonds to the general public. Ridge Lutheran enlisted the services of Providence Church Plan, Inc., of Atlanta, Georgia, a securities dealer, in order to promote the sale of these bonds. The arrangement with Providence Church Plan, Inc., was shortly terminated, after which Ridge Lutheran continued its solicitation and sale of bonds. Although Ridge Lutheran had no connection with any denomination of the Lutheran Church, either officially or tacitly, it used church-related publications, including Lutheran Layman and the Lutheran Reporter, to advertise the sale of these bonds. From early 1965 until September 1967, Ridge Lutheran realized $1,645,000 from the sale of bonds to some 600 bondholders throughout the country.
It appears that part of the proceeds from the sale of bonds was used by plaintiff to pay Vinge for the purchase of the Dakota County tract. In addition, part of the proceeds of the bonds was used to purchase heavy construction equipment for plaintiff. On April 26, 1966, Ridge Lutheran agreed to purchase 130 acres of the land in question from plaintiff for $910,000 or $7,000 per acre. This was a part of the tract which plaintiff acquired from Vinge in 1963 for $160,000. Anderson signed the
Construction on the project began in June 1966 and continued until September 1967, at which time the building was approximately 80 percent completed. It would appear that during this period, corporate accounting procedures were disregarded and Anderson used the proceeds of the bonds as if they were his own. He drew checks on Ridge Lutheran payable to himself and deposited the proceeds in his personal bank accounts. As construction costs became due, he drew checks to A & J Builders Inc., which, in turn, satisfied creditors. Checks totaling more than $1 million were drawn on Ridge Lutheran and deposited in Anderson's account. Included in the disbursements was $500,000 to plaintiff to apply on land purchases. No accounting was ever rendered to Ridge Lutheran concerning any of these expenditures.
In June 1965, defendants August Hauptmann and Howard Pleuss resigned their positions as directors of Ridge Lutheran. In July 1966 defendant Howard Burgdorf resigned. They were not replaced. In the summer of 1967, there were insufficient funds to pay construction costs for work already performed on the project, and subcontractors refused to continue the work until past accounts were settled. Anderson resigned from Ridge Lutheran on August 26, 1967, and Vinge followed suit on August 30, 1967. At this time the financial affairs of Ridge Lutheran had deteriorated to the point where it owed an interest payment of approximately $50,000 on September 1, 1967, and had only $1,000 available for the payment. Anderson's policy had been to make current interest payments from proceeds derived from the sale of additional bonds. On September 1, 1967, Gronseth and Linse, the two remaining directors of Ridge Lutheran, elected themselves president and secretary, respectively. On September 8, 1967, Ridge Lutheran and Linse, having retained counsel, applied for a temporary injunction in the District Court of Dakota County in an action against Anderson, Vinge, and A & J Builders Inc., to conserve the assets for the benefit of Ridge Lutheran and its creditors. A hearing upon the application was held September 21, 1967. In connection with this proceeding, Anderson filed an affidavit in which he stated:
At that hearing, plaintiff's counsel stated, "We do not object to an order of the Court that the property not be sold to anyone
It is apparent that the injunction was designed to protect the rights of creditors, including purchasers of the bonds, by preventing plaintiff from cancelling the contract of purchase of the land to Ridge and otherwise depleting assets acquired from the proceeds of the bonds.
On September 11, 1967, plaintiff amended its complaint to include two bondholders, Caroline F. Siebert and Emma Steffens, as additional defendants.
At the hearing in the district court on October 23, 1967, on Linse's application for appointment of a receiver for Ridge Lutheran, counsel for plaintiff stated:
The court appointed Oscar Husby as receiver.
Plaintiff commenced this action on April 10, 1968, against 37 defendants, including Concordia College; the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; former board members Pleuss, Hauptmann, and Burgdorf; and 13 members of the law firm of Maslon, Kaplan, Edelman, Borman, Brand & McNulty. In a scurrilous complaint, plaintiff contends, in 12 pages of rambling invective, that defendants have conspired to interfere with its contractual relationship with Ridge Lutheran. The complaint alleges:
Most of the defendants moved for summary judgment and, at the hearing thereon, the court was presented with affidavits of the defendants or their officers, or employees, each containing evidentiary support for the motion. In addition, the court had an extensive deposition of Anderson; a copy of the United States grand jury indictment of Anderson, Vinge, and Gronseth; and the files and proceedings of the action involving the temporary injunction and the appointment of a receiver. After fully hearing the matter, the court granted the motions for summary judgment.
From a sifting of the facts, certain significant circumstances surface on the record before us. Ridge Lutheran bonds in the total amount of $1,645,000 have been sold to the public. Ridge Lutheran is insolvent; interest has not been paid on the bonds; and the purpose of the legal proceedings instituted against plaintiff is to salvage for the creditors such assets as may be remaining.
The property interests to which the bondholders and creditors might look to protect their rights were exposed to loss by cancellation of the Ridge Lutheran contract by plaintiff, which is the personally-owned corporation of John and Mary Anderson. Moreover, it appears that Anderson, who controls the plaintiff corporation, was himself convicted of mail fraud violations of 18 U.S.C.A. § 1341, in May 1969, for criminal acts in connection with the sale of Ridge Lutheran bonds. He was fined and sentenced to prison by the United States District Court. Gronseth and Vinge were named with him in the same indictment. Gronseth entered a plea of guilty to a violation of 15 U.S.C.A. § 77q(a), proscribing fraudulent interstate securities transactions, and was placed on probation by the United States District Court. A similar charge against Vinge was dismissed.
It may be added that on January 24, 1968, the State Department of Commerce issued a cease-and-desist order barring further sales of Ridge Lutheran securities. On the representation that the corporation was a nonprofit religious institution, these bonds had been accorded an exemption from the state securities registration laws. A hearing before the commission disclosed numerous irregularities in the operation of the enterprise, including the disclosure that, despite promotional claims, there had never been any official sanction by, or relationship with, the Lutheran Church.
In considering plaintiff's claim that the trial court erred in granting defendants' motions for summary judgment, it is unnecessary
Giving plaintiff the full benefit of the rules that, in summary judgment proceedings, the moving party has the burden of proof and the nonmoving party has the benefit of having the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to him; and that the motion for summary judgment should be denied if, under the evidence, reasonable men might reach different conclusions (Ahlm v. Rooney, 274 Minn. 259, 143 N.W.2d 65; Bennett v. Storz Broadcasting Co., 270 Minn. 525, 134 N.W.2d 892; Sauter v. Sauter, 244 Minn. 482, 70 N.W.2d 351; Anderson v. Twin City Rapid Transit Co., 250 Minn. 167, 84 N.W.2d 593), the obvious conclusion, which cannot be avoided, is that the court had before it a vexatious action predicated upon extravagant, fictitious, and ambiguous claims unsupported by any showing that defendants had acted in any manner other than to protect their rights.
Plaintiff's action is obviously calculated to forestall or interfere with the clear and unassailable rights of bondholders and creditors. A review of the record and an evaluation of the evidence and credibility of statements given by affidavits in support of the motion for summary judgment satisfy us that the issues presented are so frivolous and so insubstantial that it would be futile to try them. Whisler v. Findeisen, 280 Minn. 454, 160 N.W.2d 153.
Plaintiff's contention that Linse was without authority to proceed to procure a temporary injunction or an appointment of a receiver is without merit. There is a complete absence of evidence tending to impugn his motives or the propriety of his actions. Certainly he should not be subjected to protracted and expensive litigation simply on the bald assertion in the complaint that he—
The trial court was correct in granting summary judgment for Linse. The record compels the same conclusion as it bears upon those named defendants who are only tangentially involved in the litigation through their association with Linse. Oliver Harms, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia College of St. Paul, Concordia Publishing House, Oscar Husby, Emma Steffens, United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company, and Martin Lieske were also entitled to summary judgments.
Another group of defendants, accused of conspiracy in plaintiff's wide-ranging complaint, filed individual affidavits setting forth specific facts in order to demonstrate an absence of cause of action. As opposed to these affidavits, plaintiff relied upon the bald allegations in its complaint. We said in Rosvall v. Provost, 279 Minn. 119, 124, 155 N.W.2d 900, 904:
Accordingly, the following defendants were entitled to summary judgments: Pleuss, Hauptmann, Edward J. Mahnke, Joseph Webb, Providence Church Plan, Inc., Burgdorf, R. K. B. Studios, and Douglas Seltz.
Defendant Hyman Edelman and 12 other members of the law firm of Maslon, Kaplan, Edelman, Borman, Brand & McNulty, who represented the bondholders and creditors in the actions, were also charged with conspiracy and named as defendants. The issue thus presented is too frivolous to merit discussion other than to say that the remedies exercised in behalf of Ridge Lutheran and its bondholders were appropriately chosen and competently presented. Hoppe v. Klapperich, 224 Minn. 224, 28 N.W.2d 780. The court was correct in awarding summary judgment to defendant Edelman and the 12 members of his law firm.
The court had no jurisdiction over defendant First National Bank of Hudson, Wisconsin, and an order quashing the alleged service of process was properly granted.
Affirmed as to all defendants.
KELLY, J., not having been a member of this court at the time of the argument and submission, took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.