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MILES L. SHAW v. CHARLES BURCHFIELD

NOVEMBER 13, 1985

MILES L. SHAW
v.
CHARLES BURCHFIELD, CHARLES E. THOMAS, EVERETT STRINGER, SOUTHERN FARM BUREAU LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, SOUTHERN FARM BUREAU CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, MISSISSIPPI FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, MISSISSIPPI FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, AND MARION COUNTY FARM BUREAU (AAL)



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., PRATHER AND ROBERTSON, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

This case presents us with an all too familiar scenario upon the landscape of corporate America. A man invests twenty-six years of his life in serving a relatively large, and always impersonal, corporate organization, in this case an insurance company. Used up, he is discharged on ten days notice, no cause given and, it is contended, none required. In the end, the attendant rights and burdens are imposed by law, not sympathy or outrage.

 Unlike many at will termination cases, this record presents us express written contractual language by its terms legally empowering either party to terminate the contract without cause provided only that ten days advance written notice be given. Conceding as an illusion that the parties

 are in a posture of economic parity one with the other, particularly in ability to absorb the consequences of termination, we consider it our obligation to enforce the contract as written, as did the trial judge. The employee has made his bargain, in the end an improvident one, yet one, on the facts presented, we regard as beyond our authority to disturb.

 II.

 A. The Parties

 Miles L. Shaw, Plaintiff below and Appellant here, was born on April 28, 1925, and is an adult resident citizen of Marion County, Mississippi. Beginning in July of 1955, Shaw began working for a conglomeration of three Farm Bureau Insurance Companies serving as their agent.

 Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company, Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, and Mississippi Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company are Mississippi corporations organized for the purpose of meeting the insurance needs of Mississippi citizens, particularly the insurance needs of Mississippi farmers. The three Defendant insurance companies are separate and distinct corporate entities which have a joint, state-wide sales force that commonly serves each of the Companies. Each is an Appellee here.

 Two of the named individual Defendants, Charles Burchfield and Charles E. Thomas, are employees in the state-wide sales department which serves the three Farm Bureau Insurance Companies. Burchfield is the State Sales Director and Thomas is a District Sales Manager. Burchfield and Thomas are Appellees here.

 Defendant Everett Stringer is the elected President of Defendant Marion County Farm Bureau, but is not an officer or employee of the Farm Bureau Insurance Companies. Stringer is an Appellee here.

 Marion County Farm Bureau (AAL), another Defendant, is an organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Mississippi for the purpose of serving the needs of farmers in Marion County, Mississippi. Defendant Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is an organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Mississippi for the purpose of serving the needs of farmers throughout the State of Mississippi. Each of these Defendants is an Appellee here.

 B. The Contracts

 Miles Shaw contracted to work as agency manager for the three Farm Bureau Insurance Companies in Marion County in 1968 and continued in that capacity until his employment was terminated on June 1, 1981. Shaw had signed agency manager contracts with each, most recently on the following dates:

 (1) Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company Agency Manager Contract - January 1, 1980.

 (2) Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company Agency Manager Contract - March 1, 1974.

 (3) Mississippi Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company Agency Manager Contract - March 1, 1974.

 The Farm Bureau insurance business in Marion County was, by virtue of Shaw's position under the contracts, primarily under his direction and control. This included the solicitation of insurance applications, the training and supervision of agents and office personnel, and the daily operations and functions of the insurance office.

 Each of the three contracts contained a termination clause. Shaw's contract with Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company provided as follows:

 We both agree that this contract, together with any and all riders and supplements hereto, shall terminate:

 (a) as of the last day of the month in which you attain the age of seventy (70) years;

 (b) Ten (10) days following written notice of termination by either party to the other party computed from date of mailing said notice to the last known address of such other party by registered or certified mail. Either party may elect to so terminate this contract, and no cause shall be required; (Emphasis added)

 (c) Immediately upon the commission of any act of dishonesty or fraud or any attempt on your part to induce any agent of the Company to terminate his services;

 (d) Upon your death or your permanent or otherwise incapacitating disability.

 Shaw's contract with Southern Farm Casualty Insurance Company ...


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