Douglas R. Peters, Appellant,
Deseret Cattle Feeders, LLC, Appellee.
BY THE COURT
law in Kansas generally favors employment at will, but it
also recognizes implied-in-fact employment contracts in
certain circumstances. For under Kansas law, parties may
become contractually obligated by their conduct as well as by
their use of oral or written words.
Evidence of an implied-in-fact contract shows a mutual intent
to contract. So an implied contract cannot be established
solely by the employee's subjective understanding or
expectation of his or her continued employment.
intent of contracting parties is normally a question of fact
for the jury, and the determination of whether there is an
implied-in-fact employment contract requires a factual
deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court
must determine whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.
Promissory estoppel is an equitable doctrine designed to
promote some measure of basic fairness when one party makes a
representation or promise in a manner reasonably inducing
another party to undertake some obligation or to incur some
detriment as a result.
of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished
opinion filed August 26, 2016.
from Haskell District Court; Bradley E. Ambrosier, judge.
M. Lindner, of Lindner, Marquez & Koksal, of Garden City,
argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.
L. Rupe, of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, of
Wichita, argued the cause, and Jeremy K. Schrag, of the same
firm, was with him on the briefs for appellee.
an employment case arising out of the sale of a cattle
feedlot. The district court held that Douglas R. Peters, who
moved his employment from the old owner to the new-Deseret
Cattle Feeders, LLC (Deseret)-was Deseret's employee at
will. In short, Deseret could terminate Peters'
employment at any time without cause. So the court granted
summary judgment to Deseret on Peters' claims of breach
of implied-in-fact employment contract and promissory
Court of Appeals panel reversed, holding that whether
Peters' employment was at will-or protected by an
implied-in-fact contract-was a disputed question of fact
precluding summary judgment.
as here, no definite term of employment is expressed, the
duration of employment depends on the intention of the
parties as determined by the circumstances of each particular
case. Johnson v. National Beef Packing Co., 220 Kan.
52, 54-55, 551 P.2d 779 (1976). Under the circumstances of
this particular case, we agree with the panel. As required by
caselaw, Peters' implied-in-fact employment contract
claim is supported by more than his own subjective
understanding or expectation. And whether a meeting of the
minds existed between Peters and Deseret on such a contract
presents a genuine issue of material fact preventing summary
result, we affirm the panel's decision reversing summary
judgment on this claim and the one for promissory estoppel.
We remand to the district court for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
Enterprises, Incorporated (Hitch) owned and operated a
Haskell County feedlot licensed to feed more than 47, 000
head of cattle. As Hitch's shop manager, Peters was
responsible for supervising two to three individuals in the
shop and for keeping all of the equipment running. When
Peters began working for Hitch in 2006, he signed a statement
acknowledging he was an employee at will.
2010, Hitch sold the enterprise to Deseret. While Hitch
custom fed cattle for a variety of different owners, Deseret
exclusively feeds cattle coming from the 10 ranches operated
by its parent company AgReserves, Inc.
or early June 2010, Hitch called a company meeting and told
its employees it was selling its feedlot to Deseret. No
Deseret representatives attended the meeting. There, Hitch
representatives told their employees they were welcome to
look into transferring to other Hitch locations-two feedlots
near Guymon, Oklahoma-if they were unable to work for
to the later deposition testimony of Hitch employee Lew
Branscum, Hitch also told its employees the sales agreement
provided there would be no layoffs and if the former Hitch
employees did their jobs after Deseret took over, Deseret
would keep them. Any reduction in workforce would be through
attrition from retirements and voluntary resignations.
Hitch managers, Ronnie Pruitt and Dale Nicodemus, were not
retained. During their depositions, they testified that
Deseret warned them against enticing any current Hitch
employees to go with them. In sum, Deseret needed the
employees to keep operating the feedlot.
2010, Deseret representatives held meetings to introduce
themselves to the Hitch employees. David Secrist, Vice
President of Cattle for AgReserves, Inc., and Michael
Archibald, General Manager for Deseret (who eventually
replaced Pruitt), met with groups of Hitch employees from
each of the departments, i.e., shop and yard, feed and mill,
and animal health. At the time of these meetings, Deseret was
unfamiliar with Hitch's individual employees and their
experience levels, work history, disciplinary history,
attendance, or productivity levels. Secrist and ...