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Snitken v. Franklin Sussex Auto Mall

February 29, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County, L-317-05.

Per curiam.


Argued December 5, 2007

Before Judges Payne and Sapp-Peterson.

Plaintiff, Perry Snitken, appeals from the November 3, 2006 Law Division order granting summary judgment dismissing, with prejudice, plaintiff's complaint alleging tortious interference against defendant, Franklin Sussex Auto Mall. We affirm.

The basic facts viewed most favorably towards plaintiff are largely undisputed. In April 1998, plaintiff commenced employment with Nassau Broadcasting (Nassau) as an account executive responsible for selling air time for Nassau's six radio stations, providing clients with day-to-day customer service, securing commercial copy, getting the commercials done by the Creative Department, and obtaining clients' approval. Plaintiff was hired by Camille Rose (Rose),*fn1 Nassau's sales director, who served as his supervisor throughout his employment with the company. Defendant is a auto dealership and one of Nassau's advertising clients.

In November 1999, plaintiff went to defendant, which he knew to be one of Nassau's advertisers, to purchase a new vehicle, allegedly choosing it because he had bad credit, and both his wife and a friend had been able to obtain favorable deals from defendant despite credit problems. After making it known that he was a Nassau employee, plaintiff was introduced to defendant's general manager. Thereafter, a loan was secured by the dealership on plaintiff's behalf, despite plaintiff's credit history, which included personal bankruptcy in November 1999. Plaintiff agreed to lease a new 2000 Jeep Cherokee, specifying that the car be equipped with a CD player and security system. However, when the car was delivered, it did not contain the requested security system. Thereafter, installation was substantially delayed, and eventually, the installation was performed, over plaintiff's objection, by an outside vendor.

A short time after the installation of the security system, Daimler-Chrysler sent to plaintiff a voluntary, non-confidential customer service survey. In completing the survey, plaintiff expressed his dissatisfaction concerning the way defendant handled the installation of the security system. Although nothing on the survey said it was confidential and even though he was not required to do so, plaintiff signed his name on the survey, returning it to Daimler-Chrysler, which forwarded it to defendant. Upon receiving the survey, defendant informed Rose of the content of the survey and also sent a copy of the survey to Nassau. Thereafter, Rose admonished plaintiff, both in person and in writing, expressing Nassau's dissatisfaction with plaintiff's conduct concerning the vehicle purchase. In a written warning dated March 7, 2000, Rose stated:

This Written Warning has been initiated due to the unacceptable way in which you used your position with Nassau Broadcasting in an effort to obtain financing for a new vehicle through Franklin-Sussex Auto Mall. You initiated your vehicle purchase/lease by announcing that you worked for Nassau Broadcasting, knowing that Franklin-Sussex Auto Mall has had a long-term business relationship with Nassau Broadcasting. The client himself personally vouched for you based on his long-standing relationship with Nassau Broadcasting. It is in this way that you involved Nassau Broadcasting in the transaction.

You apparently were dissatisfied with some aspect of your dealings with Franklin-Sussex Auto Mall, and berated the General Man[a]ger, both on the telephone and in his showroom. You then used the Customer Satisfaction Survey to further discredit Mr. Snauffer,*fn2 the GM at Franklin-Sussex Auto Mall. A copy was sent to the office of Nassau Broadcasting.

Your behavior was detrimental to Nassau Broadcasting Partner's efforts to operate profitably. Since you represented yourself as an employee upon initiating your transaction, you were a representative of Nassau Broadcasting. Leveraging your position with Nassau Broadcasting to gain personally is a breach of confidence.

In her deposition, Rose testified that after plaintiff received the written warning, he "would loudly complain about how he was being treated unfairly by Nassau Broadcasting and how unpleasant it was to work there." She fired plaintiff on March 15, 2005, offering as explanations for her action that plaintiff (1) "was not good at dealing with rejection, which is a large part of any sales job"; (2) "could not meet sales goals"; (3) "did not get along with the rest of the sales group or other departments in the company, (he was not a 'team player' which was necessary in his line of work)"; and (4) "sexually harassed another female employee[.]"

On June 13, 2005, plaintiff filed a one-count complaint against defendant, alleging tortious interference with his employment relationship with Nassau. Following the completion of discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment, which the court granted. In its oral opinion of November 3, 2006, the court concluded:

If all the Defendant did was to call Rose and convey the information as to what took place and forward a copy of the survey filled out by Plaintiff, then truth is not an improper act for which there is ...

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