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Thompson v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Nebraska

May 4, 2018

Kim M. Thompson, appellant,
v.
Aaron M. Johnson and Shawna L. Johnson, appellees.

          1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will affirm a lower court's grant of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         2. __:__. In reviewing a summary judgment, an appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

         3. Torts: Intent: Proof. To succeed on a claim for tortious interference with a business relationship or expectancy, a plaintiff must prove (1) the existence of a valid business relationship or expectancy, (2) knowledge by the interferer of the relationship or expectancy, (3) an unjustified intentional act of interference on the part of the interferer, (4) proof that the interference caused the harm sustained, and (5) damage to the party whose relationship or expectancy was disrupted.

         4. Torts: Employer and Employee. Factors to consider in determining whether interference with a business relationship is "improper" include: (1) the nature of the actor's conduct, (2) the actor's motive, (3) the interests of the other with which the actor's conduct interferes, (4) the interests sought to be advanced by the actor, (5) the social interests in protecting the freedom of action of the actor and the contractual interests of the other, (6) the proximity or remoteness of the actor's conduct to the interference, and (7) the relations between the parties.

         5. Torts: Liability. A person does not incur liability for interfering with a business relationship by giving truthful information to another. Such interference is not improper, even if the facts are marshaled in such a [299 Neb. 820] way that they speak for themselves and the person to whom the information is given immediately recognizes them as a reason for breaking a contract or refusing to deal with another.

         6. Summary Judgment: Proof. Once the moving party makes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion to produce admissible contradictory evidence showing the existence of a material issue of fact that prevents judgment as a matter of law.

         7. Appeal and Error. An appellate court is not obligated to engage in an analysis which is not needed to adjudicate the controversy before it.

          Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County, Horatio J. Wheelock, Judge, on appeal thereto from the County Court for Douglas County, Susan M. Bazis, Judge. Judgment of District Court affirmed.

          Joy Shiffermiller and Abby Osborn, of Shiffermiller Law Office, PC, L.L.O., for appellant.

          Damien J. Wright, of Welch Law Firm, PC, for appellees.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, and Stacy, JJ., and Luther and O'Gorman, District Judges.

          Luther, District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         This appeal arises from a lawsuit filed by Kim M. Thompson (Kim) in which she alleged that Aaron M. Johnson and Shawna L. Johnson tortiously interfered with her business relationship with her employer, Millard Public Schools (MPS). The county court for Douglas County granted Aaron and Shawna's motion for summary judgment, and the district court for Douglas County affirmed. Kim now appeals to this court. Kim asserts, in pertinent part, that the evidence shows a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether interference by Aaron and Shawna was justified. We conclude that the undisputed facts show that Aaron's and Shawna's actions were justified, because they provided truthful information to MPS. Therefore, we affirm the district court's order.

          [299 Neb. 821] BACKGROUND

         Parties The undisputed evidence shows that Kim and Aaron met through their work with MPS. In her position as a project manager employed by MPS, Kim organized construction projects within the district. Aaron worked on construction projects for MPS as an independent contractor. At all times relevant to this appeal, Aaron was married to Shawna and they had children attending MPS. In October 2011, Kim and Aaron began an extramarital affair.

         OCTOBER 2012 SUSPENSION

         In October 2012, Shawna learned of the affair between Kim and Aaron. Aaron ended the affair and informed MPS that he would no longer work with Kim. Following an investigation, MPS discovered that Kim had used MPS' computers "to communicate inappropriate messages and pictures" with Aaron, in violation of MPS policy. As a result, MPS suspended Kim for 8 days without pay.

         CONTINUED CONTACT AND MARCH 2014 DIRECTIVES

         Kim and Aaron continued to have contact with each other. On February 26, 2014, in response to an email from Kim in which she stated that Aaron did not care about her, Aaron wrote, "If I didn't care about you at all, why would I have ever agreed to talk to you? ... If I didn't care and I wanted to go into your boss and get you fired, and ruin your life, I could have done it long ago."

         Not long afterward, new concerns about Kim's job performance prompted a meeting between her and MPS officials. At the meeting on March 3, 2014, MPS officials addressed the issue of an angry and loud telephone call that Kim had conducted with her ex-husband in the workplace and allegations that Kim had gone through documents on her supervisor's desk.

          [299 Neb. 822] During the meeting process, Kim volunteered that she was having issues with Aaron and Shawna. Kim stated to MPS officials that in November 2013, Aaron had shown up at her workplace demanding to speak to her and threatening to cause a scene. Kim told MPS officials that to process her feelings after "good talks" with Aaron in the summer of 2013, she had painted a painting of her and Aaron and posted it on Facebook, initially identifying the two by name. She stated that when Aaron asked her to remove the painting, she removed the identifying names, but she did not remove the painting. Kim reported that this caused Aaron to threaten to call her supervisor and jeopardize her employment. Kim also told MPS officials that Shawna had been stalking Kim's Facebook page.

         On March 7, 2014, MPS wrote a letter to Kim documenting the topics discussed and the expectations communicated at the March 3 meeting. In part, the letter stated:

ISSUE #5: The issue of your relationship with the person who almost cost you your job (Aaron) came up repeatedly .... This is related to the affair you had with Aaron (a former contractor for the District) in 2012 that was dealt with in your reprimand and suspension letter from late 2012.
EXPECTATION: We discussed how your affair with Aaron almost cost [you] your job before. Now, you appear to be escalating a confrontation with Aaron and his wife by posting on a public media page. ... As we discussed, if you escalate this conflict and that escalation impacts [the] workplace, it is likely to lead to future discipline, up to and including termination.
. . . Specifically, it is not our intention to take any action if Aaron or his wife reacts irrationally to a post that [299 Neb. 823] is not about them. However, if your communications can be reasonably interpreted as an escalation of that conflict and that conflict disrupts the workplace, we may not be able to support you.

         Kim signed the document, acknowledging ...


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