Law School Case Brief
Sigal Constr. Corp. v. Stanbury - 586 A.2d 1204 (D.C. 1991)
Apparent authority arises when a principal places an agent in a position which causes a third person to reasonably believe the principal had consented to the exercise of authority the agent purports to hold. Critical to apparent authority, therefore, is the third-party's perception of the agent's authority.
Appellee, Kenneth Stanbury, worked as a project manager for Sigal Construction Corporation from May 1984 to June 1985. According to Sigal's personnel manager, Pamela Heiber, Sigal terminated Stanbury's employment because he was not doing his job correctly. When a job offer from another company was made to Stanbury, it was alleged that Paul Littman, a current Sigal project executive, made negative statements about the former. It was established that Littman had made these statements without having supervised, evaluated, read an evaluation of, or even worked with Stanbury (other than seeing Stanbury in the halls at the office). As a result of these statements, Stanbury was not hired in the new company. Thereafter, Stanbury filed suit against Sigal Construction Corporation for defamation, alleging that Littman had slandered him while giving an employment reference to another construction company. The trial court found in Stanbury’s favor, but granted a remittitur reducing the jury's damages award. Sigal appealed the trial court's denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, contending that Littman's statements were constitutionally protected opinions, not actionable statements of fact and that the statements, even if factual, were protected by a qualified privilege which had not been overcome by clear and convincing evidence showing common law malice.
Did the trial court err in denying Sigal Construction Corporation’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict?
The Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the employer's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and its order of remittitur that reduced the employee's damages award. The Court found that Sigal was liable for Littman’s defamatory statements, which were not protected by the qualified common interest immunity, because they were made with either implied or apparent authority. The Court further held that the remittitur order was not an abuse of discretion.
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