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May 5, 1995


Appeal from Russell Circuit Court. (CV-93-78). Wayne T. Johnson, TRIAL JUDGE.

Rehearing Denied June 30, 1995.

Ingram, Almon, Shores, Houston, and Butts, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ingram


Norman Gene Donaldson, a former employee of National Security Insurance Company, sued National Security and its president, Jack Brunson, alleging claims of bad faith, outrage, breach of contract, fraud, and retaliatory discharge. The trial court entered a summary judgment for the defendants on Donaldson's bad faith, outrage, and breach of contract claims. The trial court directed a verdict for the defendants as to a portion of Donaldson's fraud claim, but submitted another portion of the fraud claim *fn1 and the retaliatory discharge claim to a jury. The jury returned a general verdict for Donaldson in the amount of $500,000 in compensatory damages against Brunson and $3,000,000 in punitive damages against National Security; the trial court denied National Security and Brunson's motions for J.N.O.V and new trial. National Security and Brunson appeal.

A jury's verdict is presumed correct and will not be disturbed unless it is plainly erroneous or manifestly unjust. Alpine Bay Resorts, Inc. v. Wyatt, 539 So. 2d 160, 162 (Ala. 1988). In addition, a judgment based upon a jury verdict and sustained by the denial of a postjudgment motion for a new trial will not be reversed unless it is plainly and palpably wrong. Ashbee v. Brock, 510 So. 2d 214 (Ala. 1987). Because the jury returned a verdict for Donaldson, any disputed questions of fact must be resolved in his favor, and we must presume that the jury drew from the facts any reasonable inferences necessary to support its verdict. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co. v. Morris, 612 So. 2d 440, 443 (Ala. 1993). In short, when reviewing a judgment based upon a jury verdict this Court must do so in a light most favorable to the appellee. Continental Cas. Ins. Co. v. McDonald, 567 So. 2d 1208, 1211 (Ala. 1990).

The record, viewed in a light most favorable to Donaldson, Continental Cas. Ins. Co., supra, suggests the following facts:

Donaldson began working for National Security as a district manager in October 1984, in National Security's Phenix City, Alabama, office. Donaldson was very effective as district manager, and his district became one of National Security's most successful business districts. In 1987 Donaldson was promoted to regional manager; he continued to work in the Phenix City office. Donaldson testified that in November 1988, Brunson asked him to visit National Security's home office in Elba, Alabama, and that he did so; Donaldson said that during that visit Brunson spoke with him about the impending retirement of National Security's vice-president, Earl Peters. According to Donaldson, the conversation went as follows:

"He told me that he had been well pleased with the job that I had done since coming with the company. That Phenix City ... under my leadership ... had grown to the second largest district in the company....

"He told me that in 1989, that Mr. Peters was going to be retiring and that he had his eye on me as the man that he wanted to step in that position.... He told me that what he would like for me to do is to go ahead and move my family to the Elba area, that he would go ahead and give me a $5,000 raise effective then, in December, if I would do that. And he told me, he said, 'If you come to Elba, Gene, you'll have a job with this company as long as you want,' and we made a little more small talk. As we walked out the door, we walked by the office of Mr. Robbins which was vacant and he said, 'When I promote you to vice president, this will be your office.' He said, 'You'll answer directly to me' and that 'You and I will be running this company together,' and I thanked him again and told him I was going to discuss it with my wife and I would let him know if I accepted, which I did."

Donaldson's business diary from the day of the Elba visit includes the following notation: "Met with J.R.B. Discussed terms of moving to Elba. $5,000 raise now & promised permanent employment as v. pres. when Earl Peters retired in 1989."

Donaldson moved to Elba in December 1988; he received the $5,000 pay raise and began working in National Security's home office. Testimony from several witnesses indicated that, at that time, the general belief among National Security employees was that Donaldson was being groomed for the vice president's position. Two former National Security agents testified that when they began their work at National Security, Donaldson's career at National Security was used as an example of the career advancement opportunity available at the company. Several interoffice memoranda and letters praising Donaldson's work were also admitted into evidence.

In January 1989, Peters retired. Donaldson was not made vice president, but in March 1989 National Security hired Richard Girdner as agency director; Girdner's duties in that position included those that Peters had had as vice president. Donaldson testified that Brunson told him that Girdner would help him in his training to become vice president. At trial, however, Brunson denied having ever discussed with Donaldson the possibility of his attaining the vice president's position.

In November 1990, Donaldson slipped and fell in a driveway while working with a National Security agent in Troy, Alabama; he later underwent surgery for a hernia stemming from the accident. Donaldson filed for workers' compensation benefits soon after his injury. National Security, which insured itself for workers' compensation, paid his medical bills and provided disability pay. However, on March 21, 1991, Donaldson says, Girdner informed him that he was being terminated from his position as regional manager and was being demoted to his Phenix City ...

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