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October 4, 1993


APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF NEWTON COUNTY. Honorable Don J. Killebrew, Associate Circuit Judge

Montgomery, Parrish, Shrum

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Montgomery

Plaintiff, Edward L. Murray, brought this action against Defendants, James L. Ray and Colleen C. Ray, Connie J. Easley and John T. Easley, alleging in Count II that Defendants intentionally caused Greater Joplin Associates, Ltd., to terminate its business relationship with Plaintiff without justification. *fn1 Count II was submitted to the jury by an instruction patterned after MAI 23.11 (tortious interference with contract), and the jury awarded Plaintiff $3,500 in damages against each Defendant for a total judgment of $14,000. Both sides filed appropriate after-trial motions, and all motions were overruled. Both Plaintiff and Defendants appeal.

In 1988, Plaintiff, along with Don Lawellin and Defendants James Ray and Connie Easley, purchased a Re/Max real estate franchise. All four were licensed Missouri real estate sales persons. That same year, with an initial investment of $6,000 each, they formed a Missouri corporation known as Greater Joplin Associates, Ltd., (GJAL), and began listing and selling property. Using the Re/Max name, GJAL operated in the Joplin, Missouri, area.

After incorporation, Don Lawellin became the sole director and was elected president and secretary of the corporation, since he was the only one of the investors who held a broker's license. In May of 1989, Lawellin resigned as broker, officer and director and relinquished his ownership in both the corporation and the Re/Max franchise. After this reshuffling, Defendants James Ray and his wife Colleen Ray became joint owners of one-third of the corporate stock, as did Defendant Connie Easley and her husband John Easley. Plaintiff owned the remaining one third. Defendant James Ray, who had by that time acquired a broker's license, replaced Lawellin as broker, officer and director of GJAL.

In the fall of 1989, Sally Woodman of the Harrison (Arkansas) Land Company contacted Plaintiff to request that he assist her and a prospective purchaser in their search for a large building which could be converted into a multipurpose facility. While assisting Woodman, Plaintiff learned that a B.F. Goodrich plant in Miami, Oklahoma, was for sale. Subsequently, Plaintiff and Woodman accompanied the prospective buyer, Danny Wallis, on a tour of the Goodrich facility.

In all, Wallis met with Plaintiff on three or four occasions, and in November 1989, Wallis advised plaintiff and Woodman that he would pay them $500,000 as a referral fee if he could buy the Goodrich facility for $2 million. Plaintiff testified that Defendant James Ray asked for $50,000 as his share of this fee and became angry when Plaintiff refused his proposition.

Defendant James Ray later told Plaintiff to obtain an Oklahoma real estate broker to assist in the Goodrich deal, since he was concerned about the legality of Plaintiff selling Oklahoma real estate without a license from that state. Plaintiff never did so, although he testified that a broker in Oklahoma was "contacted."

On January 17, 1990, Defendants James Ray and Connie Easley gave Plaintiff a letter warning him that if he discussed corporate business or problems with outsiders he would be terminated. Plaintiff admitted that prior to receiving the letter he had engaged in such Discussions.

On January 24, 1990, Defendant James Ray became aware of a written communication from B.F. Goodrich officials to Plaintiff, which indicated that Plaintiff was still assisting Wallis in the proposed Goodrich plant purchase. Up to that point, Plaintiff had given Defendant James Ray no indication that he was working with an Oklahoma broker. That evening all the Defendants met at the Re/Max office and agreed Plaintiff should be terminated.

The next day Defendant James Ray met with Plaintiff and told him he was being terminated for illegally selling real estate in Oklahoma. *fn2 Subsequently, Defendant James Ray returned Plaintiff's license to the Missouri Real Estate Commission. Defendants James Ray and Connie Easley later filed a complaint with the Missouri Real Estate Commission against Plaintiff because of the Goodrich deal. The complaint resulted in no disciplinary action against Plaintiff.

After his termination, Plaintiff continued in the real estate business, and in April 1990, he placed his license with another broker with whom he had become associated.

The appeals by Plaintiff and Defendants have been consolidated and will be addressed separately in this opinion. Additional facts will be noted as ...

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