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DR. J. SHELVEY HOLLAND, JR. v. DR. VERNE R. KENNEDY

AUGUST 23, 1989

DR. J. SHELVEY HOLLAND, JR.
v.
DR. VERNE R. KENNEDY, DOROTHY D. BARHAM, THOMAS G. HOOD, NORMAN H. McCRUMMEN, III, and BELHAVEN COLLEGE



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J.; ROBERTSON AND PITTMAN, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

Today's appeal presents a point of adequacy in a plaintiff's pleading and, more poignantly, the present possibility that justice delayed may be justice denied. Plaintiff's suit for breach of employment contract, for libel and slander incident to discharge was filed December 30, 1981, and generously sets forth facts which if found to be true fortell recovery. Yet, after one false start, appeal, reversal and remand, the Circuit Court, in what is surely the last hurrah for the late but we trust not lamented demurrer, *fn1 dismissed the declaration on its face.

 We reverse and remand.

 II. *fn2

 By letter dated August 10, 1979, Belhaven College offered J. Shelvey Holland ("Holland") the administrative position of Vice President for Student Affairs at the college. At that time, Holland was also offered a teaching position on the faculty of the college. The terms of Holland's employment were outlined in

 the letter, to commence on June 1, 1979. For each of the next two years the college reappointed Holland to his administrative and teaching positions. The college's fiscal year commenced each June 1.

 The "Faculty-Staff Handbook" provided that notice of any termination of employment would be transmitted to the affected faculty member no later than March 1. More particularly, the handbook stated:

 Members of the faculty not on permanent tenure are given notice in writing by the President not later than March 1 in any academic year in which their appointment is not to be renewed.

 On March 23, 1981, Holland was informed by a letter from Dr. Verne Kennedy, President of Bellhaven College, that his appointment at the college had been renewed for the fiscal year beginning on June 1, 1981. The announcement of Holland's re-appointment, however, caused disquiet among both other faculty members as well as the administrative staff who worked under Holland's supervision.

 The President of the college ultimately capitulated to the wishes of the disgruntled employees, and by letter dated April 1, 1981, Kennedy discharged Holland from his employment, effective May 31, 1981. Holland's salary was to continue through the month of August, however. The letter stated that Holland's interactions with other employees had caused serious problems at the college and that working relationships among the faculty and staff had suffered as a result.

 In addition to the letter of re-appointment, Holland claims also that at a meeting held in Kennedy's office on March 9, 1981, Kennedy extended to him an oral offer of employment for the fiscal year beginning June 1, 1981. Holland says he accepted the offer at that time.

 These factual circumstances form the basis for Holland's wrongful discharge (or breach of contract) claim. The libel claim stems primarily from events occurring after Holland's termination. Apparently, the president of the college sought ratification of his actions from the Belhaven Board of Trustees. While explaining his reasons for the termination to that body, Holland alleges, Kennedy submitted a memorandum which contained accusations which he knew to be false and which injured Holland's reputation.

 The civil conspiracy and interference with contract claims are rooted in the alleged participation of the other Belhaven

 faculty and staff in the events leading up to Holland's termination. Holland claims in his amended declaration that these other defendants, working in concert, actively induced his employer to breach his employment contract by circulating false rumors among the staff and by vocally calling for his dismissal.

 On December 30, 1981, Holland filed suit against the college, its president (Kennedy), and those faculty and staff members who allegedly induced Kennedy to breach his employment contract. Holland claimed that he was entitled to his salary for the entire one-year term of the contract as well as actual damages resulting from his relocation to Jackson from Altanta. In addition, Holland sought actual and punitive damages from all defendants for tortious breach of contract, libel, and interference with contract.

 This is not the first appearance of this case in this Court, however. Holland filed his original declaration on December 30, 1981, naming only Belhaven College and its president, Verne R. Kennedy as parties defendant. After the Circuit Court had sustained a demurrer by order dated March 31, 1982, Holland filed an amended declaration, naming the additional parties. The defendants responded with a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure having recently been adopted. The Circuit Court granted that motion, and Holland appealed to this Court, maintaining that the new rules had no application to the action as it had been initiated prior to their adoption, January 1, 1982. By opinion dated August 22, 1984, this Court held that the Rules of Civil Procedure were not applicable to this action, as ...


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