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Brown v. K&L Tank Truck Service, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 21, 2017

JOHN BROWN and BARBARA BROWN, Plaintiffs,
v.
K&L TANK TRUCK SERVICE, INC., ALFONSO MARTINEZ, and TOM HERRELL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE.

         The court held a trial in this case beginning on November 28, 2017. Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) after the close of plaintiffs' case-in-chief on December 13, 2017. The court took the motion under advisement. On December 14, 2017, the court granted the motion with respect to plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claim, but denied it as to plaintiffs' breach of contract claims against defendant K & L Tank Truck Service, Inc. (“K & L”).[1]

         At the close of defendants' evidence, plaintiffs move for judgment as a matter of law on defendants' defense that plaintiffs released defendants of their obligation to pay John Brown his 2013 shareholder bonus. The court denied plaintiffs' motion on December 14, 2017.

         The court ruled on both motions in open court, and files this memorandum and order to explain its rulings.

         I. Legal Standard-Judgment as Matter of Law

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state:

If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1)(A)-(B). Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate when the evidence “conclusively favors one party such that reasonable [people] could not arrive at a contrary verdict.” Weese v. Schuckman, 98 F.3d 542, 547 (10th Cir. 1996) (quoting W. Plains Serv. Corp. v. Ponderosa Dev. Corp., 769 F.2d 654, 656 (10th Cir. 1985)).

         II. Defendants' Motion

         Breach of Contract

         Defendants argue that plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence such that a reasonable jury could find the president of K & L, defendant Alfonso Martinez, had the inherent or implied authority to bind K & L to a contract for lifetime employment and health insurance. Defendants state that the interpretation of K & L's bylaws is a matter for the court to decide. Defendants note that a contract for lifetime employment is considered an extraordinary contract under Kansas law and not within a president's inherent authority.

         Defendants also claim that there was no evidence of apparent authority because John Brown was a director of K & L and had knowledge of its bylaws and the president's authority. Defendants contend that John Brown could not reasonably believe the president could bind K & L to such a contract. Similarly, there was no evidence of ratification of an unauthorized act because ratification ...


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