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Freeman v. Huseman Oil International Inc.

July 23, 1998

TORY FREEMAN, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND EMPIRE GAS OF BAY SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI, INC.
v.
HUSEMAN OIL INTERNATIONAL, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Waller, Justice

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/05/95

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. HYDE RUST JENKINS, II

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: ADAMS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - TORTS - OTHER THAN PERSONAL INJURY AND PROPERTY DAMAGE

DISPOSITION REVERSED AND RENDERED

EN BANC.

¶1. Huseman initiated this action on July 11, 1993 in the Chancery Court of Adams County alleging tortious interference with business by Tory Freeman, Individually, and Empire Gas of Bay Springs, Mississippi. The matter was tried in August of 1994 and the chancellor ruled in favor of Huseman and granted him judgment in the amount of $72,000.00 against both defendants, jointly and severally. Freeman and Empire appealed, basically asserting that the chancellor's finding was not supported by the facts and evidence in the record as to either liability or damages. We agree, reversing the finding of the Court of Appeals which affirmed the judgment, and render.

Factual and Procedural History

¶2. Freeman was the manager at Empire Butane of Bay Springs, Mississippi, and oversaw the delivery of fuel to Huseman's oil well sites. *fn1 Huseman originally made his payment to Empire within thirty days, then started making them every sixty days, and finally only every ninety days or sometimes longer. Freeman admitted, however, that she valued Huseman's account at something over $500,000.00 per year. Sometime in 1993, Empire hired a new credit manager at the main office, who changed the credit policy to require security for accounts over $5,000.00. Freeman informed Huseman of the new policy and demanded a decision from him as to whether he was to pay in full or what type of security he could provide. At this time, Huseman's balance due Empire was approximately $26,000.00. Huseman requested time to consider the matter. Eventually, Huseman informed Freeman he was taking his company's business elsewhere.

¶3. Freeman thereupon took it upon herself to find out where Huseman had taken his account. She admitted to calling Cynergy, who was not servicing Huseman, and Herring Gas and speaking with Don Cavin, an employee of Herring. Cavin informed her that Herring was servicing Huseman's wells and Freeman thereupon informed him of the situation between Huseman and Empire making inferences that Huseman was a bad credit risk. Cavin made no response immediately other than that he would inform his superiors, which he did. On a subsequent call to Cavin, Freeman made the direct demand that Herring not service the account in order to assist her in collecting Empire's account. It was during this call that she allegedly made accusations that Huseman was passing bad checks, was on a cash-only basis with other service providers, was going into bankruptcy, and other such remarks. Cavin did not comply with Freeman's request, but continued servicing Huseman's wells without any apparent delay. At the time of the trial, Cavin/Herring was still servicing the account.

¶4. Huseman alleged a loss of $700,000.00 to $800,000.00 because he was forced to sell his company's interest in a well known as U.S.A. 17-7. *fn2 Huseman claimed that Freeman contacted various companies which did business with him and told these companies that Huseman's company was in a financial bind. As a result, he claims that the investors no longer trusted him or his company and Huseman had to sell his interest and resign as operator of the well, though none of these actual investor/owners of this well were called to testify. Nor was there any proof other than Huseman's own testimony that this was an involuntary sale. Freeman denied having called any service providers other than Cynergy and Herring. Huseman also called Jim Traxler, who testified that he declined to invest in one of Huseman's wells in the spring of 1993, *fn3 because he had heard "rumors" that Huseman was going bankrupt. In particular, he testified that he heard that Huseman could not get fuel to keep the wells running. Traxler testified that he never had any direct communication with Freeman or Empire. Freeman testified she did not know Traxler. The record gives absolutely no indication as to what the source of the rumors were and Traxler was unable to name any particular source. Furthermore, there was no testimony as to whether Huseman suffered any damages from Traxler's failure to participate in Huseman's well.

ΒΆ5. The chancellor ultimately found that Freeman actively and purposely interfered with the business of Huseman's company, and the conduct was calculated to cause damage thereto and its lawful business enterprise. The chancellor further found that as a result of this conduct, Huseman suffered financial loss due to his being forced to sell his interest in and cease to be the operator of U.S.A. 17-7 well. Huseman's figure of $700,000.00 to $800,000.00 was based on profits from the said U.S.A. 17-7 well at $4,000.00-$6,000.00 per month over twenty years. The chancellor found that twenty-year longevity for a well was speculative and a ...


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