Jerry Janvrin, doing business as J&J Trucking Plaintiff - Appellee
Continental Resources, Inc., an Oklahoma corporation Defendant-Appellant
Submitted: June 13, 2018
from United States District Court for the District of South
Dakota - Sioux Falls
WOLLMAN, ARNOLD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.
determined that Continental Resources, Inc. (Continental),
had tortiously interfered with the business relationship
between Jerry Janvrin and CTAP, LLC (CTAP). Continental
appeals, challenging the sufficiency of evidence at trial,
the amount of damages awarded, and the district
court's instruction to the jury regarding improper
interference. We affirm.
time of trial in January 2017, Jerry Janvrin was a hired hand
and overseer of unit operations at the Jim Clarkson ranch
some seventeen miles north of Buffalo, Harding County, South
Dakota, where he also raised sheep. In years past, he had
done aerial depredation work exterminating coyotes and fox
under a county-funded, state-sponsored depredation program in
addition to his work as a ranch hand. He learned about the
oil business from others knowledgeable in the industry and in
2010 organized J&J Trucking to haul materials for oil
equipment suppliers on an as-needed basis. Roughly 96% of
J&J's income came from CTAP, an equipment supplier
having several supply terminals, including one in Bowman,
North Dakota, in the Bakken region, which comprises South
Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and parts of southern Canada.
himself did not hold a commercial drivers license, and so as
an independent contractor he employed others to drive the
trucks for J&J Trucking. He testified that most of those
he hired, some 29 in total, were local ranchers, attesting to
their reliability and punctuality in meeting their schedules.
He also acknowledged on cross-examination that he had fired
one of his drivers after receiving a complaint about her from
CTAP, saying, "I had a mandatory three strikes and you
are out, and the third time that happened it was done
for," referring to other documented circumstances
regarding that driver.
a top-10 oil producer in the United States and the largest
leaseholder in the Bakken region, was CTAP's largest
customer in that region from 2010 to 2014. It accounted for
roughly 60% of CTAP's business from the Bowman terminal,
which served Continental's "Buffalo District,"
located in the northwest part of Harding County. Gordon
Carlson supervises this district from Continental's field
office in Harding County, which is located on South Hills
Cave Road, a paved road surrounded by open range where local
ranchers graze their animals. Although Janvrin's company
hauled almost exclusively out of the Bowman terminal, less
than 1% of Janvrin's work for CTAP involved hauling to
the Buffalo District.
a February 2014 blizzard, a Continental pick-up truck driver
struck and killed two cows belonging to Janvrin's
relatives that were standing on South Hills Cave Road. His
relatives told Janvrin about the accident and contacted the
local newspaper. Janvrin testified that, concerned that many
drivers were going too fast for the rural road conditions and
recalling that he had lost several sheep on that road in the
past, he also called the local newspaper, which published an
article about the cow-truck collision and paraphrased his
Janvrin's comments made no mention of Continental or its
drivers, Carlson read the article and thought Janvrin was
"biting the hand that feeds him" by "pointing
the finger at Continental as the cause of the accident."
Carlson testified that because of the
"disrespectful" comments and because of previous
incidents in which Janvrin allegedly visited
Continental's well locations without proper safety
equipment, Carlson contacted his superiors to request that
Janvrin no longer haul materials to Continental's Buffalo
District sites. He spoke with the senior engineer in charge
of the Buffalo District, who in turn spoke with Ollis
Anderson, Continental's Director of Supply Chain
Management, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, purportedly
to ask that Continental prohibit Janvrin from delivering to
its well locations in the Buffalo District.
Anderson called Michael "Stoney" McCarrell, Senior
Vice-President of Operations at CTAP's headquarters in
Lafayette, Colorado. The two had a longstanding professional
relationship and had gone hunting in the past. Shortly after
the call, McCarrell spoke to Ron Spidahl, the supervisor
responsible for assigning independent drivers to CTAP's
deliveries from the Bowman terminal. McCarrell asked if
Spidahl would have enough trucks for deliveries if they
removed Janvrin from their "lineup" of drivers.
After Spidahl affirmed that they would, McCarrell responded,
"We are not going to use [Janvrin] anymore. [He is] not
going to haul for me." Spidahl asked why, and McCarrell
replied, "It doesn't make a difference what
happened. When I get a call from the big guy-." Spidahl
understood "big guy" to mean Ollis Anderson, and
thereafter called Janvrin to inform him that he had been
removed from the Bowman terminal lineup. Janvrin testified
that he received the call on the evening of February 19,
2014, hours after his published remarks in the local
newspaper had been distributed.
testified that he learned about CTAP's decision to
completely remove Janvrin from its lineup approximately one
week later. Director Anderson testified that, upon his
inquiry in a later phone call, Senior Vice President
McCarrell confirmed that Janvrin was no longer hauling from
the Bowman terminal. Anderson testified that he had not asked
McCarrell to return Janvrin to the lineup. Around that time,
a Continental employee told one of Janvrin's truckers-a
former Continental employee-that he had overheard Carlson
bragging that he had shut down a trucking firm.
filed a tortious interference claim in state court, alleging
that Continental had induced or otherwise pressured CTAP to
end its business relationship with J&J in retaliation for
Janvrin's newspaper comment. Continental removed the case
to federal district court based on diversity jurisdiction.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The case proceeded to
trial, at which the district court instructed the jury that
Continental had the right to refuse to do business with
Janvrin, but that it could not interfere with Janvrin and
CTAP's business relationship. The jury returned a verdict
for Janvrin, awarding him $123, 669 in ...