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Mitchell v. C.C. Sanitation Company, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Mitchell sought to set aside a lesser damages award under the claim that his employer forced him to sign a release to salvage his job with Herrin Transportation Company.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A threat to execute a right guaranteed by the law represents duress.

    Facts.

    Mitchell was injured driving for Herrin Transportation Company (Herrin), when he was hit by Crane, a driver from C.C. Sanitation Company (C.C.). Mitchell sued the defendants for $40,000 in damages from the defendants while Herrin sustained $388.65 in damages from the defendants. Mitchell sued to set aside the $388.65 claiming that Herrin forced his compliance by threatening to terminate his employment. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

    Issue.

    Whether a threat to execute a right guaranteed by the law represents duress?

    Held.

    Yes. The judgment of the trial court is reversed. Mitchell signed the release under duress because Herrin used its superior bargaining power to exercise its interest over Mitchell, who was in fear of losing his job. Vulnerable to the threat of termination, Mitchell lost his claim for a stronger damages award.

    Dissent.

    (Tunks, C.J.) Not only was Herrin entitled to bargain for its own economic benefit, but Mitchell exercised his free will by choosing to maintain his job rather than pursuing his greater damages claim. The judgment of the trial court should be affirmed.

    Discussion.

    Duress occurs when a party is forced to enter a contract against his or her free will. Duress also exists if a threat of lawful conduct forces someone to give up a lawful claim.


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