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Clockman v. Marburger

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

February 15, 2017

LEE CLOCKMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
BARBARA MARBURGER, and SLOAN FINE ART, LLC, Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, and LUBA DELUCA, and MOSIONZHNIK FINE ART, LLC d/b/a MFA, LLC, Defendants-Appellees.

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TAOS COUNTY Sarah C. Backus, District Judge

          Natelson Law Firm Stephen Natelson Taos, NM for Appellant

          Catron, Catron & Glassman, P.A. Richard Glassman Santa Fe, NM for Appellees

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LINDA M. VANZI, Chief Judge

         (1} Plaintiff appeals from the district court's order dismissing all of his claims against Defendants Luba DeLuca and Mosionzhnik Fine Art, LLC, d/b/a MFA, LLC (collectively, MFA Defendants), as well as from the district court's order dismissing some, but not all, of his claims against Defendants Barbara Marburger and Sloan Fine Art, LLC (collectively, Sloan Defendants). Sloan Defendants cross-appeal from the portion of the district court's order denying their motion to dismiss Plaintiff's breach of contract claim, as well as from a previous order of the district court denying Marburger's motion to dismiss. This Court issued a calendar notice proposing summary dismissal in part, summary affirmance in part, and summary reversal in part. [CN 2]

         (2} In our calendar notice, we initially addressed the issue of finality with respect to the portion of Plaintiff's appeal challenging the district court's dismissal of his claims against Sloan Defendants, as well as Sloan Defendants' cross-appeal. [CN 2-4] For the reasons detailed in our calendar notice, we proposed to dismiss these appeals for lack of a final, appealable order. [CN 4] Having received no memoranda in opposition to our proposed disposition, we dismiss. See Hennessy v. Duryea, 1998-NMCA-036, ¶ 24, 124 N.M. 754, 955 P.2d 683 ("Our courts have repeatedly held that, in summary calendar cases, the burden is on the party opposing the proposed disposition to clearly point out errors in fact or law.").

         (3} Similarly, we proposed to affirm the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's prima facie tort claim against MFA Defendants. [CN 9] Again, having received no memorandum in opposition to our proposed disposition, we affirm. See Hennessy, 1998-NMCA-036, ¶ 24.

         (4} With respect to Plaintiff's challenge to the district court's dismissal of his tortious interference with a contract and civil conspiracy claims against MFA Defendants, we proposed summary reversal. [CN 10] MFA Defendants filed a memorandum in opposition to this Court's proposed disposition, which we have duly considered. Unpersuaded, we reverse.

         (5} Specifically, as we noted in our calendar notice, a motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. [CN 5] Healthsource, Inc. v. X-Ray Assocs. of N.M., 2005-NMCA-097, ¶ 16, 138 N.M. 70, 116 P.3d 861. For purposes of Rule 1-012(B)(6) NMRA, we accept all well-pleaded facts as true and evaluate whether the claimant could prevail under any state of facts that might be proven in accordance with the allegations of the complaint. [CN 5] N.M. Life Ins. Guar. Ass'n v. Quinn & Co., 1991-NMSC-036, ¶ 5, 111 N.M. 750, 809 P.2d 1278. A complaint should not be dismissed unless there is a total failure to allege some matter essential to the relief sought. Las Luminarias of the N.M. Council of the Blind v. Isengard, 1978-NMCA-117, ¶ 3, 92 N.M. 297, 587 P.2d 444. [CN 5] Motions to dismiss are infrequently granted. [CN 5] Id. We review rulings on Rule 1-012(B)(6) motions de novo. [CN 5] Derringer v. State, 2003-NMCA-073, ¶ 5, 133 N.M. 721, 68 P.3d 961.

         (6} With respect to Plaintiff's claim of tortious interference with a contract, he must prove that (1) MFA Defendants had knowledge of the contract between Plaintiff and Sloan Defendants; (2) performance of the contract was refused; (3) MFA Defendants played an active and substantial part in causing Plaintiff to lose the benefits of his contract; (4) damages flowed from the breached contract; and (5) MFA Defendants induced the breach without justification or privilege to do so. [CN 6-7] See Ettenson v. Burke, 2001-NMCA-003, ¶ 14, 130 N.M. 67, 17 P.3d 440. To establish a lack of justification or privilege, there must be evidence that MFA Defendants acted with either an improper motive or by improper means. [CN 7] See Guest v. Berardinelli, 2008-NMCA-144, ¶ 32, 145 N.M. 186, 195 P.3d 353; see also M&M Rental Tools, Inc. v. Milchem, Inc., 1980-NMCA-072, ¶ 38, 94 N.M. 449, 612 P.2d 241 (holding that the plaintiff "has the burden of proving the interference was improper").

         (7} In our calendar notice, we suggested that it appeared that Plaintiff has pled facts in his complaint bearing on MFA Defendants' knowledge of Sloan's agreement to pay a commission to Plaintiff and the alleged inducement of Sloan Defendants to breach the agreement, and that he was damaged by such interference. [CN 8] Mindful that our rules of civil procedure require only notice pleading, and that the complaint need not detail the factual basis for the allegations, see Trujillo v. Puro, 1984-NMCA-050, ¶ 34, 101 N.M. 408, 683 P.2d 963, we suggested that it appeared that Plaintiff could be "entitled to relief under any state of facts provable under the claim" and that improper motive or means can be reasonably inferred at this point from the alleged unjustified and unprivileged inducement. [CN 8] Id. ¶ 31; see Derringer, 2003-NMCA-073, ¶ 5 (stating that all that is required is that "the essential elements prerequisite to the granting of the relief sought can be found or reasonably inferred").

         (8} In their memorandum in opposition, MFA Defendants essentially argue the following: (1) Plaintiff did not allege improper means or motive in his first amended complaint, and this Court's proposed determination that improper means or motive could be inferred from the allegations in the complaint is improper because Plaintiff did not file his complaint pro se [MIO 2-5]; (2) improper means or motive are primary elements, and must be pled, not inferred [MIO 5-7]; and (3) Plaintiff does not believe that he needs to prove improper means or motive [MIO 7-8]. We address each of these contentions in turn.

         (9} First, we are in agreement with MFA Defendants that Plaintiff did not specifically plead improper means or motive. [See CN 8] However, we are not convinced that we were incorrect in our determination that improper means or motive can be reasonably inferred at this point from Plaintiff's allegation that the inducement was unjustified and unprivileged. See Derringer, 2003-NMCA-073, ¶ 5. MFA Defendants argue that such an "inferential approach" applies only to pro se complainants, citing us to Derringer, Birdo v. Rodriguez, 1972-NMSC-062, 84 N.M. 207, 501 P.2d 195, and Ramer v. Place-Gallegos, 1994-NMCA-101, 118 N.M. 363, 881 P.2d 723, overruled on other grounds by Spectron Dev. Lab. v. Am. Hollow Boring Co., 1997-NMCA-025, 123 N.M. 170, 936 P.2d 852. [MIO 3-5] While it is true that each of those cases illustrates the court's use of inferences in finding the essential elements in a pro se complaint, there is no indication in any of the cited cases that the inferential approach is limited to pro se complaints. In fact, Ramer states that "[e]ven where the plaintiff is pro se, the 'pleadings, however inartfully expressed, must tell a story from which, looking to substance rather than form, the essential elements prerequisite to the granting of the relief sought can be found or reasonably inferred.' " 1994-NMCA-101, ¶ 8 (quoting Birdo, 1972-NMSC-062, ¶ 6). Clearly, Ramer's use of the phrase "even where the plaintiff is pro se" expresses the notion that the rule is not limited to pro se complainants. Linguistic concepts aside, in America Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18 v. State, a case not involving a pro se complainant, this Court reiterated that all that is required to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 1-012(B)(6) is that "the essential elements prerequisite to the granting of the relief sought can be found or reasonably inferred." 2013-NMCA-106, ¶ 6, 314 P.3d 674 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Consequently, we are not persuaded that our inference in this case was improper.

         (10} Next, along the same lines, MFA Defendants contend that "the improper means or motive element is a primary, and not secondary, element of the tort" [MIO 5], and thus cannot be inferred, instead, improper means or motive must be alleged "from the start" [MIO 7]. Notably, however, MFA Defendants do not explain what they mean by primary versus secondary elements of a tort or how this distinction affects our holding that a complaint survives a Rule 1-012(B)(6) motion to dismiss if "the essential elements prerequisite to the granting of the relief sought can be found or ...


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