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Law School Case Brief

Lawlis v. Kightlinger & Gray - 562 N.E.2d 435 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)


When reviewing the grant of summary judgment, the court stands in the shoes of the trial court and applies an identical standard. Summary judgment is appropriate only where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue of fact must be resolved in favor of the nonmovant. In determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment, all doubts must be resolved against the moving party and the facts set forth by the party opposing the motion must be accepted as true. Even if the facts are undisputed, summary judgment is inappropriate when evidence before the court reveals a good faith dispute as to the inferences to be drawn from such facts.


Plaintiff, former partner, was expelled from defendant law partnership due to alcoholism. He filed an action for wrongful expulsion from the partnership, alleging that defendant breached the partnership agreement, breached a fiduciary duty to him, committed constructive fraud against him, and breached an oral contract to restore him to partnership status if he quit drinking. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendant ruling that there were no genuine issues as to whether defendant breached the partnership agreement, or breached a fiduciary duty to plaintiff, or was guilty of constructive fraud, or breached an oral contract. The former partner appealed.


Did the court err in dismissing the complaint?




The court affirmed the judgment dismissing plaintiff's action, holding that plaintiff had no statutory claim for damages for wrongful expulsion under Ind. Code § 23-4-1-18(a)(2) because he remained a senior partner until he was expelled by vote of the partners in accordance with the partnership agreement. The court further held that plaintiff had no claim for breach of fiduciary duty because the facts showed the firm had no "predatory purpose" in expelling him, that there was no constructive fraud because the facts showed defendant acted in good faith, and that defendant violated no oral agreement to restore plaintiff to partner status because he was never downgraded from that status and he would have waived any claim for damages by his own acquiescence.

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