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Rammell v. Mountainaire Animal Clinic, P.C.

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 21, 2019

REX RAMMELL, individually, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
MOUNTAINAIRE ANIMAL CLINIC, P.C.; PAUL ZANCANELLA, individually; and VICKY ZANCANELLA, individually, Appellees (Defendants).

          Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County The Honorable Richard L. Lavery, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Pro se

          Representing Appellees: Richard H. Honaker, Honaker Law Offices, LC, Rock Springs, Wyoming

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          DAVIS, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Rex Rammell, D.V.M., filed a complaint against his former employer, Mountainaire Animal Clinic, P.C., its sole shareholder and president, Paul Zancanella, D.V.M., and its office manager, Vicky Zancanella, collectively Mountainaire, asserting multiple claims including breach of express contract and tortious interference with contract. The district court entered partial summary judgment against Dr. Rammell on all his claims except the breach of express contract claim. Shortly before trial, it dismissed that claim as a sanction for willful obstruction of discovery and fraud upon the court. Dr. Rammell appeals the summary judgment ruling on his tortious interference claim and the dismissal of his breach of express contract claim. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Dr. Rammell presents six issues on appeal, which we summarize and restate as two issues.[1]

1. Did the district court err in entering summary judgment against Dr. Rammell on his tortious interference claim?
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion in dismissing Dr. Rammell's remaining claims as a sanction for his discovery violations?

         [¶3] Mountainaire addresses these two issues and offers two additional issues in response:

1. Does Appellant's false certification concerning the transcript of trial court evidence, and failure to include the transcript in the record, render his notice of appeal jurisdictionally defective, requiring dismissal of this appeal?
2. Should the trial court's decision be summarily affirmed because of Appellant's failure to present a proper record, including a transcript, for this appeal?

         FACTS

         [¶4] Mountainaire is a veterinary clinic located in Sweetwater County. Dr. Rammell is a veterinarian, and he was hired by Mountainaire pursuant to an employment agreement dated November 14, 2016. The agreement was for a term of one year and provided as follows concerning termination:

This agreement shall terminate immediately upon the occurrence of any of the following events:
A. The denial, refusal, suspension, revocation or restriction of Employee's license to practice veterinary medicine in the State of Wyoming.
B. The death of Employee.
C. The mutual agreement of Employer and Employee, in writing, to termination.
D. Disability of Employee which continues for a period of 30 consecutive days or more.
E. The failure or refusal of Employee to diligently perform the duties of his employment and provisions of this agreement.
F. The end of the term of this agreement.
G. Notwithstanding any of the foregoing, if Employer determines that continued employment of Employee is not desirable for any reason, such employment may be terminated, with or without cause, upon sixty (60) days prior written notice to Employee.

         [¶5] On April 19, 2017, Dr. Zancanella, in his capacity as Mountainaire's president, met with Dr. Rammell and terminated his employment. On July 5, 2017, Dr. Rammell filed a complaint against Mountainaire and against Dr. Zancanella and Vicky Zancanella in their individual capacities.[2] The complaint asserted claims for breach of express contract, breach of implied contract, tortious interference with contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Mountainaire answered and counterclaimed for breach of the employment agreement's non-compete clause and for a $10, 000 salary advance it had made to Dr. Rammell. It also applied for and was granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Dr. Rammell from directly or indirectly providing services that would compete with Mountainaire within a fifty-mile radius of the clinic.

         [¶6] On June 8, 2018, Mountainaire filed two summary judgment motions, one on its $10, 000 claim for a salary advance refund, and the other against all of Dr. Rammell's claims. The district court granted Mountainaire summary judgment on all claims except a part of Dr. Rammell's breach of implied contract and his breach of express contract claims. Shortly thereafter, it granted Mountainaire's motion to reconsider the breach of implied contract ruling and entered summary judgment in its favor on that claim.[3] That decision left only Dr. Rammell's breach of express contract claim for trial.

         [¶7] A few weeks before the August 27, 2018 trial, Mountainaire filed a motion for an order to show cause as to why Dr. Rammell's remaining claim should not be dismissed. In support of its claim for dismissal, Mountainaire alleged that Dr. Rammell flagrantly violated the court's preliminary injunction by offering veterinary services within a few miles of the Mountainaire clinic, that he provided false discovery answers regarding those services, and that he self-issued invalid trial subpoenas. Mountainaire subsequently supplemented the motion with allegations that Dr. Rammell gave false discovery answers concerning income he had earned since the termination of his employment with Mountainaire.

         [¶8] On August 15, 2018, the district court held an evidentiary hearing on Mountainaire's motion, and on August 20th, it issued its order ruling on the motion. The court found that Dr. Rammell had issued invalid subpoenas but that he had done so unintentionally, and it did not sanction him for that conduct. The court further found that Dr. Rammell had violated the preliminary injunction, but it concluded that the violation was not grounds for dismissal and otherwise ordered no sanction for it.

         [¶9] With respect to discovery responses concerning income he had earned since his dismissal from Mountainaire, the court found the responses ranged from "evasive and misleading to outright false." For this discovery violation, the court dismissed Dr. Rammell's only remaining claim of breach ...


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