WreckageThe landscape of Minnesota Court of Appeals decisions is littered with the wreckage of pro se appeals for obvious reasons. Minnesota lawyers, the cohort in the best position to handle appeals, lose more than half the time. It is rare that an unrepresented party wins, especially against adversaries represented by experienced lawyers.

So, congratulations to John Stratton who represents himself in a claim against former business partners represented by fine civil litigators.

Mr. Stratton’s experience, as set out in a recent Court of Appeals decision, is painfully common. People get together to chase an economic opportunity. In their zeal, with naïve optimism, and, probably, wanting to save money and avoid hiring lawyers to negotiate and draft a careful and comprehensive deal, they set off on a venture without much planning set down in writing and it does not go as planned. Then, when some money comes in the door (or even close to it)(but not nearly as much was hoped for), the atmosphere can become dense with combustible airborne motes of uncertainty, ambiguity, credit, and blame.

Stratton brought claims for (1) breach of contract and (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; as to all defendants, (3) tortious interference with contract; (4) tortious interference with prospective advantage; (5) coercion; and (6) piercing the corporate veil.

The parties settled all but the tortious interference and coercion claims. Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina M. Chu granted summary judgment to the defendants on Plaintiff Stratton’s remaining claims. The Court of Appeals, however, found that Judge Chu failed to view all of the facts in the record in Stratton’s favor, as she was obligated to do on the other side’s motion for summary judgment.

[One Defendant’s] apparent efforts to remove Stratton from the company, the statements of other respondents discouraging individuals from investing in Pop Dental or dealing with Stratton, and the close timing of Stratton’s ouster and the Interlachen meeting, provide sufficient facts to withstand a motion for summary judgment on whether respondents intentionally interfered with the contract…

 

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