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Freeman & Mills, Inc. v. Belcher Oil Company

Law Dictionary

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Torts Keyed to Prosser

Citation. Freeman & Mills, Inc. v. Belcher Oil Co., 11 Cal. 4th 85, 900 P.2d 669, 44 Cal. Rptr. 2d 420, 1995 Cal. LEXIS 4963, 95 Cal. Daily Op. Service 6935, 95 Daily Journal DAR 11851 (Cal. Aug. 31, 1995)

Brief Fact Summary. Freeman & Mills (Plaintiff) is awarded a tort remedy under its breach of contract claim.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Tort and breach of contract remedies should not be awarded under the same claim unless the claim contains independent issues that support a claim for each type of remedy.

Facts. A jury verdict was granted in favor of Plaintiff in its breach of contract action against Belcher Oil Company (Defendant) for failing to pay accounting fees to Plaintiff as part of a service agreement between the two parties. The jury awarded the Plaintiff compensatory and punitive damages. The punitive damages were awarded as a remedy under tort law since Defendant denied the existence of the contract and acted with oppression, fraud, or malice. The court of appeals did not find a special relationship between the parties, which would justify a tort theory, and therefore, reversed and remanded the case on the issue of the Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim. The court reexamined the ruling in Seaman’s Direct Buying Service, Inc. v. Standard Oil Co., 36 Cal. 3d 752 (1984), which allowed, in breach of contract case, a tort cause of action for bad faith denial of contract.

Issue. Whether a party to a contract may recover in tort for another party’s bad faith denial of the contract’s existence?

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