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Forged agreement presents question of fact

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A company that forged a former employee's non-compete contract and later sued and settled with another company over that false document isn't entitled to summary judgment in a new suit brought by the other company after it learned the document was forged, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Tru-Cal Inc. hired a former employee of competitor Conrad Kacsik Instrument Systems Inc. shortly after he quit. Conrad filed suit against Tru-Cal and the employee, Steven Sulzbach, basing most of its claims on an employment agreement he allegedly signed while working for Conrad that said he wouldn't work for a competitor for two years. After Tru-Cal learned of the litigation in an Ohio court and the non-compete agreement, it settled the suit. Sulzbach maintained he never remembered signing the document. The settlement contained mutual releases and an integration clause.

About a year later, Tru-Cal learned the Sulzbach's signature on the document was most likely forged because a former executive of Conrad said no employees signed non-compete agreements. It filed the instant action against Conrad seeking treble damages and attorney fees pursuant to the Indiana Crime Victims Relief Act, alleged the Ohio litigation initiated by Conrad constituted abuse of process, and Tru-Cal was entitled to rescission of the settlement agreement, attorney fees, and punitive damages. Hamilton Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Conrad on all of Tru-Cal's claims.

In the appeal, Tru-Cal v. Conrad, No. 29A04-0809-CV-511, the essence of the dispute between the companies appears to center on whether Tru-Cal rightfully or reasonably relied upon Conrad's forged documents and the Ohio litigation in filing its suit, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander. Conrad argues Tru-Cal couldn't reasonably rely upon these false representations because of the integration clause in the settlement agreement, which disclaimed reliance on any outside statement or representation.

The Court of Appeals found Prall v. Indiana National Bank, 627 N.E.2d 1374 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), and Circle Ctr. Dev. Co. v. Y/G Ind., L.P., 762 N.E.2d 176 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), to be factually distinguishable from the instant case.

"Rather, the alleged fraud here involves a forged employment agreement that was filed in a court of law, along with a complaint and an affidavit that represented to the Ohio court that said agreement was valid," wrote the judge. "Assuming, as we must, that the employment agreement was forged, the Ohio litigation initiated by CKI was therefore a sham."

In the instant case, there's no doubt the fraud directly induced the execution of the settlement agreement or at least contributed to it as a cause, wrote Judge Friedlander. Tru-Cal presented a material issue of fact as to whether it had the right to rely on the employment agreement and other related representations made in the Ohio litigation.

The trial court also erred in granting summary judgment regarding Tru-Cal's Indiana Crime Victims Relief Act claim because there is a question of fact as to whether the conduct and or the result of any of the alleged offenses occurred in Indiana.

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