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Sletten v. Crop Production Services, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 3, 2013

Brian Sletten, Appellant,
v.
Crop Production Services, Inc. d/b/a United Agri Products, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Sherburne County District Court File No. 71-CV-11-202.

Michelle Dye Neumann, Brian T. Rochel, Halunen & Associates, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant).

Bruce Jones, Kyle T. Fogt, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent).

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Chutich, Judge; and Smith, Judge.

CHUTICH, Judge.

This appeal follows a jury trial of appellant Brian Sletten's promissory-estoppel claim arising out of respondent's alleged promise to give him a raise. Sletten contends that the district court erred by dismissing his claims for fraudulent inducement and tortious interference with business expectancy, and by denying his motions to add claims for punitive damages, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. We affirm the district court's denial of Sletten's motions to add claims for punitive damages, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. Because genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on Sletten's fraudulent inducement and tortious interference with business-expectancy claims, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS

Sletten began working at respondent Crop Production Services, Inc. (CPS) in April 2007, as an at-will employee.[1] Sletten worked as an operations manager and earned approximately $52, 000 per year.

On or about March 5, 2010, Harlan Lee Fischer, co-president of Manor Concrete (Manor), spoke with Sletten about a job possibility at Manor. Fischer told Sletten that he had to accept or reject the job offer by the following week. Although Fischer and Sletten did not discuss the specific salary and hours of the position, Sletten estimated that he would earn approximately $80, 000 per year. That same day, Sletten returned to CPS and told his supervisor, Bill Walker, about his job offer from Manor. Sletten told him that he would like to continue to work for CPS, but he would need a considerable raise of approximately $13, 000 and a new company truck to stay at CPS.

Walker contacted his supervisor, division manager Mark Pierson, for approval of Sletten's requested raise. Pierson, in turn, contacted his supervisor, regional manager Dean Albrecht, for approval. Albrecht told Pierson that he approved of the raise, and Pierson then informed Walker of the approval.

On March 9, Walker told Sletten that his raise had been approved. Sletten immediately met with Fischer and declined Manor's job offer. The day after Sletten rejected the job offer, he met Pierson at a CPS meeting and thanked Pierson for the raise. Pierson told Sletten that he would see the increase in his next paycheck.

Approximately one week later, Pierson and Albrecht completed an "employee change authorization" form to increase Sletten's salary. A human-resources representative contacted Pierson, informing him that Albrecht did not have the authority to grant Sletten's requested raise. Under CPS policy, any raise greater than 8% had to be approved by Albrecht's supervisor, Thomas Warner. A CPS memorandum, dated January 15, 2010, informed regional and division managers, including Albrecht and Pierson, about this policy. Sletten had requested a 25% raise, but Albrecht and Pierson never sought Warner's approval. The human-resources representative informed Pierson that additional steps were needed to approve Sletten's raise under the policy. Pierson responded that he was not going to complete the necessary steps because he had "hired a seasonal employee . . . that we are planning to put into [Sletten's] spot post spring."

Charles Perry was the seasonal employee to whom Pierson was referring. During the same period of time that Walker and Pierson were discussing Sletten's raise, they were also planning to hire Perry as Sletten's replacement. They planned to have Perry become the operations manager and replace Sletten after the spring season, which was CPS's busiest time of the year. On March 22, Perry began work at CPS and Walker informed him that Sletten would be leaving CPS in the near future and that Perry would become the operations manager.

Warner ultimately did not approve Sletten's requested raise. In a letter dated March 25, Walker informed Sletten that his raise had not been approved and offered Sletten a stay bonus of $13, 000 if he agreed to stay until mid-June, which Sletten declined.[2] In mid-May, Walker fired Sletten for insubordination.

In February 2011, Sletten filed a complaint against CPS, Walker, and Pierson, alleging fraudulent inducement, tortious interference with prospective contract, tortious interference with a business expectancy, and promissory estoppel. Pierson and Walker were subsequently dismissed as individual plaintiffs.

In August 2011, CPS filed a motion for summary judgment and Sletten filed a motion for leave to seek punitive damages. The district court denied Sletten's motion to seek punitive damages and granted CPS's motion for summary judgment on all of Sletten's claims except promissory estoppel. On February 17, 2012, Sletten filed a motion to amend his complaint to add a claim for negligent misrepresentation, which the district court denied.

Sletten tried his promissory-estoppel claim to a jury. At the close of evidence, Sletten renewed his motion to add a claim for negligent misrepresentation and moved to add a claim for unjust enrichment. The district court denied both motions. The jury found in Sletten's favor on his promissory-estoppel claim and awarded him $2, ...


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