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Appeals court split on parol evidence issue

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Judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals were split on whether a boss's oral promise to a future employee regarding a severance package would be barred from consideration by the parol evidence rule.

In Mark Hinkel v. Sataria Distribution & Packaging Inc., No. 49A04-0908-CV-473, Judges Nancy Vaidik and Patricia Riley ruled any alleged promises John Jacobs from Sataria made to potential employee Mark Hinkel regarding severance and salary are barred from consideration by the parol evidence rule.

Hinkel worked for a different company when Jacobs approached him about working for Sataria. Hinkel claimed Jacobs promised him in a job offer one year's salary and insurance coverage if Hinkel ever lost his job with Sataria for any reason except if Hinkel quit. Jacobs sent a letter to Hinkel outlining the terms of the employment, but the letter didn't mention the oral agreement, nor did it specify paid vacation time.

Hinkel signed the letter and worked for the company for a little over a year until Sataria terminated his employment. Hinkel sued for breach of contract and/or promissory estoppel, claiming the company owed him the severance package Jacobs promised instead of the six weeks he received. The trial court granted summary judgment for Sataria.

Under the parol evidence rule, the majority found Hinkel's contract represented a complete integration of the parties' employment agreement. Since a lucrative severance provision would normally be included in an employment contract, the omission of it supported the conclusion Hinkel's written contract superseded any prior oral promises, wrote Judge Vaidik. In addition, the majority held that Jacobs' alleged oral promises after Hinkel signed the employment agreement don't constitute a valid contract modification because they weren't supported by an independent, bargained-for exchange.

Judge Terry Crone dissented on the issue of parol evidence because he believed a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the parties intended for Jacobs' written job offer to be completely integrated. The one-page written agreement doesn't contain an integration clause. Judge Crone also found telling the fact the vacation terms were yet to be determined, which he interpreted as meaning the parties hadn't reached an agreement on the issue and the offer is more like a memorandum of understanding.

Also, he believed the terms of the severance package didn't vary from or contradict the terms of the written offer, but merely covered that which wasn't covered in the offer. As such, even assuming that the offer is completely integrated, the terms of the severance package would not be barred by the parol evidence rule, he wrote.

The majority also addressed Hinkel's claim for promissory estoppel and found he failed to show an injury "so independent and severe that injustice could only be avoided by enforcement of Jacobs' alleged promise," wrote Judge Vaidik.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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