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Jobe v. AAA Trailer Services, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

April 3, 2018

JESS JOBE, Appellant,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 16SL-CC3097 Honorable Judy P. Draper


          Hon. Mary K. Hoff, J.

         Jess Jobe ("Jobe") appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of AAA Trailer Services, Inc. ("AAA") on its claim that Jobe, an at-will employee, breached an enforceable non-competition agreement ("Non-Compete") and that AAA did not tortiously interfere with Jobe's new employment. We reverse and remand.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         AAA is a full-service commercial tractor and trailer mechanical service provider that also performs mobile mechanic services. On August 7, 2015, Jobe was employed by AAA as a mobile tractor and trailer mechanic. On November 11, 2015, Jobe signed a "Confidentiality and Non-Competition, Non-Solicitation Agreement For At Will Employees" ("Agreement"[1]). In exchange for agreeing to the Non-Compete, AAA promised to pay Jobe an additional one-dollar per hour as well as continued at-will employment. On June 28, 2016, Jobe terminated his employment with AAA. Shortly thereafter, Jobe commenced employment with a new employer. On July 5, 2016, Jobe received a letter from AAA's attorney ("Letter") informing Jobe that he was in violation of the Non-Compete. Allegedly, as a result of AAA's actions and its Letter, Jobe was terminated from his new employment.

         On August 23, 2016, Jobe filed a two-count petition against AAA seeking a declaration that the Non-Compete part of the Agreement was unenforceable (Count I) and damages for tortious interference with a business expectancy based on AAA's actions and its Letter (Count II). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted AAA's motion for summary judgment, and denied Jobe's motion. The trial court found that the Non-Compete was valid and enforceable and that the Agreement was supported by consideration.[2] In addition, the trial court found Jobe failed to show that AAA interfered with his relationship with his new employer such AAA's actions and its Letter constituted tortious interference with a contract. Jobe now appeals.[3]

         Standard of Review

         The propriety of summary judgment is solely an issue of law. City of DeSoto v. Nixon, 476 S.W.3d 282, 286 (Mo. banc 2016). Appellate courts review a grant of summary judgment de novo. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). When considering appeals from summary judgments, we review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered. Id.

         "The criteria on appeal for testing the propriety of summary judgment are no different from those employed by the trial court to determine the propriety of sustaining the motion initially." Frye v. Levy, 440 S.W.3d 405, 407 (Mo. banc 2014). "A 'defending party' may establish a right to summary judgment by showing (1) facts that negate any of the claimant's necessary elements; (2) that the claimant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not been able and will not be able to produce sufficient evidence to allow the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the claimant's elements; or (3) that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of the facts required to support the movant's properly pleaded affirmative defense." Nail v. Husch Blackwell Sanders, LLP, 436 S.W.3d 556, 561 (Mo. banc 2014).

         "The record below is reviewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was entered, and that party is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record." Shiddell v. Bar Plan Mut., 385 S.W.3d 478, 483 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012). "However, facts contained in affidavits or otherwise in support of the party's motion are accepted as true unless contradicted by the non-moving party's response to the summary judgment motion." Id. Even if the facts alleged by the movant in a summary judgment motion are uncontradicted, they must still establish a right to judgment as a matter of law. Miller v. City of Wentzville, 371 S.W.3d 54, 57 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012) (citing Kinnaman-Carson v. Westport Ins. Corp., 283 S.W.3d 761, 765 (Mo. banc 2009)). "'The movant bears the burden of establishing both a legal right to judgment and the absence of any genuine issue of material fact required to support the claimed right to judgment.'" Kinnaman-Carson, 283 S.W.3d at 765 (quoting Lewis v. Biegel, 204 S.W.3d 354, 356 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006)). "The trial court is prohibited from granting summary judgment, even if no responsive pleading is filed in opposition to a summary judgment motion, unless the facts and the law support the grant of summary judgment." Id.


         Jobe raises two points on appeal. In Point I, Jobe argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for summary judgment because the Non-Compete was invalid and unenforceable, because the undisputed facts showed that AAA had no legitimate business interest in the non-compete and provided inadequate consideration. In Point II, Jobe argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of AAA on Jobe's claim for tortious interference because the undisputed facts showed that, through AAA's actions and its Letter sent to Jobe threatening legal action, AAA interfered with Jobe's new employment.

         As an initial matter, we note that Jobe failed to comply with the requirements of Rule 74.04 in his responsive pleadings. Rule 74.04(c) provides in pertinent part:

(2) …. The response shall set forth each statement of fact in its original paragraph number and immediately thereunder admit or deny each of movant's factual statements.

A denial may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the party's pleading. Rather, the response shall support each denial with specific references to the discovery, exhibits or affidavits that ...

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