Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Law School Case Brief

Hodges v. S. C. Toof & Co. - 833 S.W.2d 896 (Tenn. 1992)

Rule:

A court may award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly. A person acts intentionally when it is the person's conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result. A person acts fraudulently when (1) the person intentionally misrepresents an existing, material fact or produces a false impression, in order to mislead another or to obtain an undue advantage, and (2) another is injured because of reasonable reliance upon that representation. A person acts maliciously when the person is motivated by ill will, hatred, or personal spite. A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.

Facts:

Carl Hodges had been continuously employed by Defendant S. C. Toof & Company for some 19 years prior to his termination in January 1988. At the time of his firing, Plaintiff's position was that of assistant warehouse supervisor in Defendant's printing business. During his tenure, Plaintiff received 20 merit raises and had never been disciplined. In the summer of 1987 Plaintiff was called for jury service and sat as a juror in a three- month trial from mid-September to December 18, 1987. In early January 1988, Plaintiff was fired.

Hodges filed a retaliatory discharge action against the employer. At trial, the Jury returned a verdict for Hodges and awarded him $200,000 compensatory and $375,000 punitive damages. On appeal, the Court of Appeals, while upholding the jury's finding of retaliatory discharge, vacated the award of compensatory and punitive damages, concluding that the exclusive remedy for an employee's discharge because of jury service was reinstatement and lost wages. Hodges appealed.

Issue:

Is reinstatement and lost wages the exclusive remedy available to an employee who had been discharged because of serving on a jury?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court. The court found that where a common law tort action for retaliatory discharge existed and a statutory remedy was subsequently created, the statutory remedy was cumulative unless expressly stated otherwise. The court then announced a new procedure to provide specific criteria for the jury in deciding whether to award punitive damages, and, if so, in what amount. Henceforth, a court could award punitive damages only if it found a defendant had acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly. These criteria had to be proved by plaintiff by clear and convincing evidence. If the factfinder found defendant liable for punitive damages, the amount of the damages was to be determined in an immediate, separate proceeding, which considered certain specific factors. Thus, the case was remanded for a trial on whether to award punitive damages.

Access the full text case Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class