Plaintiff appeals as of right from circuit court orders granting defendants' motions for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C) (10). We affirm.
Plaintiff was employed as a computer operator by defendant R.L. Polk Company (Polk), a publishing and market research company, from November 1985 to March 1988. Plaintiff was discharged from his job in March 1988 for allegedly threatening a customer, defendant Crestwood Dodge.
Before his termination, plaintiff had experienced problems with his car and took it to Crestwood for repair. A dispute arose between plaintiff and Crestwood regarding the amount owed for use of a replacement car. Crestwood brought a small claims action to recover this amount. Plaintiff participated in mediation of the action with two representatives of Crestwood.
During the course of the mediation, the mediator left the room so that the parties could resolve the matter between themselves. What happened when the mediator left is disputed by the parties. Plaintiff asserts that he told the Crestwood representatives that he would take a day off from work and stand out in front of the dealership to pass out letters indicating that his Dodge Shadow was a "lemon." The Crestwood representatives asserted that plaintiff stated that he worked for Polk and that if the small claims matter was not dropped he would send letters stating that his car was a "lemon" to all of Chrysler's customers. The representatives believed that the mailing was to be
Crestwood sent a letter informing Polk of plaintiff's alleged threat. In the letter, Crestwood expressed concern regarding the improper use of its customer lists and requested assurance from Polk that "Mr. Prysak's stated plan does not come to fruition." On the day his employment was terminated, plaintiff was called into the personnel office and was shown the letter. Plaintiff was informed that he was being discharged for threatening a customer.
In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that he was employed pursuant to a contract providing for termination for just cause only that was breached by Polk when his employment was terminated. Plaintiff also claimed that his termination was against public policy and constituted an intentional infliction of emotional distress. Additionally, it was alleged that Crestwood had intentionally interfered with the contractual relationship between plaintiff and Polk and that Crestwood's letter to Polk contained libelous statements regarding plaintiff.
Both Polk and Crestwood brought motions for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C) (10). The circuit court granted both motions.
On appeal, plaintiff asserts that the trial court improperly granted defendants' motions for summary disposition. A motion for summary disposition premised on MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual support for a claim. The court must consider the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, and other documentary evidence available to it and grant summary disposition if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A party opposing a motion brought under C(10) may not
Plaintiff first claims that summary disposition was improper in regard to his claims of breach of an employment contract and wrongful discharge because there was a genuine issue of material fact whether plaintiff was employed pursuant to a contract providing for termination for just cause only. Plaintiff asserts that his claim of a just-cause contract is supported by the employee handbook issued by Polk and statements made to him by a supervisor at Polk.
Generally, a contract for permanent employment is for an indefinite period of time and is presumed to provide for employment at will. Toussaint v Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan, 408 Mich. 579, 596; 292 N.W.2d 880 (1980). However, a contract providing for termination for just cause only may be created by an express agreement or
An employee's legitimate expectations may be based on the employer's written policy statements set forth in an employee manual or handbook. Id. at 599. While plaintiff argues that the existence of Polk's employee manual creates an issue of fact regarding the existence of a just-cause contract, he admits in his brief on appeal and in his deposition testimony that he does not recall ever receiving an employee policy manual. Nor does he claim that he was told of its contents. Therefore, we fail to see how plaintiff can assert that his interpretation or understanding of the manual or handbook gave rise to an expectation either subjective or objective, that he would be terminated only for just cause. Compare Stoken v J E T Electronics & Technology, Inc, 174 Mich.App. 457, 465; 436 N.W.2d 389 (1988). Accordingly, we reject plaintiff's argument that statements made in Polk's employee manual or handbook create an issue of fact regarding the existence of a just-cause contract.
Plaintiff also asserts that oral representations made to him by an agent of Polk create a genuine issue of material fact in regard to the existence of a just-cause contract. In his deposition, plaintiff stated that he had a discussion with a manager at Polk regarding another employee who was not "working out." Plaintiff testified that the manager told him "you just can't go firing people for no reason ... you got [sic] to have a reason."
In order to overcome the presumption of employment at will, oral statements of job security must be "clear and unequivocal." Rowe v Montgomery Ward & Co, Inc, 437 Mich. 627, 644; 473 N.W.2d 268 (1991). The Court in Rowe determined that oral statements made to the plaintiff at her initial
It was noted by the Court that the statements made to Mrs. Rowe were similar to the statement considered in Toussaint, supra. However, the Court found lacking objective evidence that would permit a reasonable juror to find that a reasonable promisee would interpret the statements as a promise of termination for cause only. Rowe, supra at 643. In making this determination, the Court noted that the statement was not made in response to any inquiry by the plaintiff regarding job security or during the course of negotiating the terms of employment.
The statement relied on by plaintiff in this case is not a "clear and unequivocal" promise of job security. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the statement do not provide objective evidence that a just-cause contract existed. The statement was not made in the context of negotiating plaintiff's terms of employment or in response to inquiries regarding his job security. Rather, they were made during the course of a discussion regarding the job performance of another employee. Under these circumstances, a reasonable juror could not find that the statements made to plaintiff could be reasonably interpreted as a promise of termination for cause only.
On the basis of the foregoing, we conclude that no issue of fact existed regarding the existence of a just-cause contract. Polk's motion for summary disposition of the claims of wrongful termination and breach of contract was properly granted.
Next, plaintiff argues that summary disposition
Generally, at-will employment may be terminated at any time, for any reason. Suchodolski v Michigan Consolidated Gas Co, 412 Mich. 692, 694-695; 316 N.W.2d 710 (1982). However, there is an exception to the general rule based on the principle that some grounds for termination are so contrary to public policy as to be actionable. Id. at 695. These proscriptions have been found in explicit legislative statements that prohibit the discharge, discipline, or other adverse treatment of employees acting in accordance with a statutory right or duty. Id. at 695. See, e.g., MCL 37.2701; MSA 3.548(701) (Civil Rights Act), and MCL 15.362; MSA 17.428(2) (Whistleblowers' Protection Act). Additionally, courts have implied a prohibition on retaliatory discharge where the reason for the discharge was the employee's exercise of a statutory right, Sventko v Kroger Co, 69 Mich.App. 644; 245 N.W.2d 151 (1976) (employee discharged in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim), or the employee's refusal to violate a law. Trombetta v Detroit, T & I R Co, 81 Mich.App. 489; 265 N.W.2d 385 (1978).
While this Court has recognized that it may be a violation of the First Amendment for a county employer to discipline or discharge an employee for engaging in certain types of speech, Pilarowski v Brown, 76 Mich.App. 666; 257 N.W.2d 211 (1977), plaintiff has not cited, and we have not found, any
Plaintiff's next argument is that summary disposition was premature because it was granted before
Generally, summary disposition granted before discovery on a disputed issue is complete is considered premature. Kassab v Michigan Basic Property Ins Ass'n, 185 Mich.App. 206, 216; 460 N.W.2d 300 (1990), lv gtd 439 Mich. 864 (1991). However, summary disposition may be proper before discovery is complete where further discovery does not stand a fair chance of uncovering factual support for the position of the party opposing the motion. Id.
In the present case, Polk's motion for summary disposition was not granted prematurely. The motion was granted after the discovery period had expired. See MCR 2.301(A). Although plaintiff told the court at the time the motion was granted that Polk had not answered the interrogatories, our review of the lower court record shows that there is no indication that plaintiff ever filed a motion to compel Polk to respond to the interrogatories before or after the expiration of the period for discovery.
Furthermore, summary disposition was appropriate because further discovery would not have provided a fair chance of uncovering factual support for plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff claims that the answers to interrogatories would have provided him with information regarding Polk's policies regarding hiring and termination practices. However, as was discussed previously, plaintiff's claim that he had a just-cause employment contract was based on the oral representations made by a superior and the statements of policy made in the employee handbook. However, as we concluded previously, because plaintiff did not remember
Next, plaintiff argues that a genuine issue of material fact exists in regard to his claim that Crestwood tortiously interfered with his contractual relationship with Polk.
See also Formall, Inc v Community National Bank of Pontiac, 166 Mich.App. 772, 779; 421 N.W.2d 289 (1988). A wrongful act per se is an act that is inherently wrongful or an act that can
We note that this Court has held that defendants motivated by legitimate business reasons are protected from liability under this cause of action. Id.; Christner v Anderson, Nietzke & Co, PC, 156 Mich.App. 330, 348-349; 401 N.W.2d 641 (1986), modified on other grounds 433 Mich. 1; 444 N.W.2d 779 (1989). However, in Jim-Bob, Inc v Mehling, 178 Mich.App. 71, 96-97; 443 N.W.2d 451 (1989), a panel of this Court declined to hold that a defendant who is motivated by legitimate business interests is therefore free from liability. The Court stated that motive is but one of several factors that must be weighed in determining the propriety of a defendant's actions. Id. The other factors include (1) the nature of the defendant's conduct, (2) the nature of the plaintiff's contractual interest, (3) the social utility of the respective interests of the plaintiff and the defendant, and (4) the proximity of the conduct of the defendant with the interference. Id. at 97. We need not resolve the conflict, if one exists, between Christner and Jim-Bob because we are able to analyze plaintiff's claim under the standard set out in Stanton, Feldman, and Formall.
In the present case, plaintiff alleged in his complaint that Crestwood intentionally caused his discharge from Polk through its letter to Polk. The letter expressed Crestwood's concern over the possible misuse of customer lists. The dealership sought assurances from Polk that plaintiff's plan would not "come to fruition" and stated that if it did not receive such assurances, it would turn the matter over to its legal department.
Plaintiff asserts on appeal that Crestwood's letter "unjustifiably" led to plaintiff's termination. However, plaintiff has not presented any facts to
In light of the evidence presented, we hold that the trial court correctly determined that there was no genuine issue of material fact in regard to plaintiff's claim. The letter itself is merely an expression of Crestwood's concern over the alleged threats made by plaintiff. The letter, while employing strong language, does not call for the discharge of plaintiff. Rather, Crestwood sought assurances that its customer lists would not be misused. There is no indication that Crestwood was acting with a wrongful or malicious intent to interfere with plaintiff's employment. To the contrary, Crestwood appears to have been acting solely to protect the confidentiality of its customer lists.
Lastly, plaintiff argues that summary disposition was improper in regard to his libel claim. Plaintiff alleges that the statements made in Crestwood's letter were false and defamatory.
Libel has been defined as a "statement of and concerning the plaintiff which is false in some material respect and is communicated to a third person by written or printed words and has a tendency to harm the plaintiff's reputation." Stablein v Schuster, 183 Mich.App. 477, 480; 455 N.W.2d 315 (1990).
In the present case, the trial court found that Crestwood's statements in the letter were protected under a qualified privilege. The determination
The trial court correctly determined that the letter written by Crestwood Dodge was subject to a qualified privilege. The letter was written in response to perceived threats to the confidentiality of its customer lists and was limited in scope to addressing this concern. Plaintiff failed to overcome the qualified privilege because he has presented no evidence of, and does not even allege that the letter was written with actual malice. Accordingly, we conclude that summary disposition was proper with regard to this claim.
GILLIS, J., concurred.
MICHAEL J. KELLY, J. (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
Defendant Crestwood posits its claim that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding plaintiff's claim of tortious interference with his contractual relationship with defendant Polk on its assertion that plaintiff threatened
But I have a very real question about what statements plaintiff made. I do not see where he admits to having made statements that he would cull R.L. Polk lists to obtain names and addresses of customers of Crestwood Dodge or Chrysler Corporation and that he would use those mailings to communicate his lemon message.
Plaintiff testified in this regard during questioning by Crestwood's attorney as follows:
A. No, I did not.
A. Oh, no, no.
A. ... No.
This is a classic question of fact. Certainly the jury or trier of fact could infer that plaintiff threatened to use R.L. Polk lists to communicate his grievances to defendant's customers. The trial court on motion for summary disposition could not make that inference in the face of plaintiff's denials. Crestwood's employees and agents could make
I believe that the majority's disposition of issues IV and V is improper because they assumed that plaintiff admitted, or his counsel admitted for him, that he threatened improper use of R.L. Polk lists to communicate his grievances to customers of Crestwood Dodge. For that reason, I would reverse the grant of Crestwood's motion for summary disposition.
I concur in the majority's disposition regarding affirmation of summary disposition in favor of the employer, R.L. Polk Company.