Monday, March 5, 2012

2nd Circuit throws out $1.6 million judgment in tortious interference case

This must  be a devastating and heartbreaking loss for plaintiff and his attorney. And a glorious victory for defendants. The Court of Appeals has vacated a jury verdict in the amount of $1.6 million and dismissed the Complaint.

The case is Raedle v. Credit Agricole Indosuez, decided on February 28. Plaintiff sued for tortious interference with contract. He worked for defendant CAI. After he was fired, plaintiff applied to work for another employer, the Dreyfus Corporation, which offered him a job. After Dreyfus called CAI's people for a reference, Dreyfus rescinded its job offer. Claiming that CAI tortiously interfered with his offer from Dreyfus, Raedle offered testimony from a fellow named Thunelius about a phone call placed by the Dreyfus human resources manager, Leibig, in which plaintiff's boss at CAI trashed his job performance and even said that plaintiff had "mental issues" and "psychopathic" tendencies. Thunelius called CAI himself to verify this bad reference. CAI's people denied disparaging Raedle to anyone at Dreyfus.

This case went to trial. CAI's witness testified that he could not have slammed plaintiff in this manner. He gave some particular reasons for this:

Shaiman testified that he had no recollection of discussing Raedle with either Leibig or Thunelius, adding that "Thunelius" was an "unusual" name that he would have remembered — in part because his son had a poster of jazz musician Thelonious Monk in his bedroom, which would have served as a "pneumonic." Shaiman explained that he would never have said Raedle had "mental issues" because "I would never say anything like that about anyone. This is a hot button issue for me personally. I have a 19-year old son that has behavioral and other special needs, and he has been in the care of a behavioral psychologist for a dozen or more years. . . . I would never do that based on my personal experience." Leibig similarly testified that she had no recollection of speaking to anyone at CAI.
This testimony about Thelonious Monk and pneumonics must have persuaded the jury, which ruled against Raedle's claim, in favor of CAI. But the trial judge granted Raedle a new trial under Rule 59, reasoning that the verdict was "drastically wrong, and would result in a serious injustice if allowed to stand." The trial judge said that "it is a certainty that someone at CAI made a sufficiently damaging communication to Dreyfus, so that Dreyfus drew back from its quite strong desire to hire plaintiff for a very favorable position."

With his second bite at the apple, Raedle took his claim to a new jury, which awarded him $1 million in lost wages, $600,000 in reputational damages and $800,000 in punitives. That's over $2 million on a claim that a different jury had rejected! (The trial judge took away the punitive damages award).

The Court of Appeals (Parker, Lohier and Pooler) rejects the second verdict and says that the trial court had no right to even grant Raedle a new trial and that the first verdict was based on witness credibility about what Dreyfus told CAI and therefore should not have been overturned. The second trial is a nullity and should never have happened. The original verdict for defendant is reinstated and Raedle gets nothing. 

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