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39.4 Cases

Implied Authority

Kanavos v. Hancock Bank & Trust Company

439 N.E.2d 311 (Mass. 1982)


At the close of the plaintiff’s evidence, the defendant moved for a directed verdict, which the trial judge allowed. The judge’s reason for so doing was that the plaintiff, in his contract action, failed to introduce sufficient evidence tending to prove that the bank officer who made the agreement with which the plaintiff sought to charge the bank had any authority to make it. Upon review of the record we are of opinion that there was evidence which, if believed, warranted a finding that the bank officer had the requisite authority or that the bank officer had apparent authority to make the agreement in controversy. We therefore reverse the judgment.

For approximately ten years prior to 1975, Harold Kanavos and his brother borrowed money on at least twenty occasions from the Hancock Bank & Trust Company (the Bank), and, during that period, the loan officer with whom Kanavos always dealt was James M. Brown. The aggregate loans made by the Bank to Kanavos at any given time went as high as $800,000.

Over that same decade, Brown’s responsibilities at the Bank grew, and he had become executive vice-president. Brown was also the chief loan officer for the Bank, which had fourteen or fifteen branches in addition to its head office. Physically, Brown’s office was at the head office, toward the rear of the main banking floor, opposite the office of the president—whose name was Kelley. Often Brown would tell Kanavos that he had to check an aspect of a loan transaction with Kelley, but Kelley always backed Brown up on those occasions.…

[The plaintiff, Harold Kanavos, entered into an agreement with the defendant Bank whereby stock owned by the Kanavos brothers was sold to the Bank and the plaintiff was given an option to repurchase the stock. Kanavos’ suit against the Bank was based on an amendment to the agreement offered by Brown.]

Kanavos was never permitted to introduce in evidence the terms of the offer Brown made. That offer was contained in a writing, dated July 16, 1976, on bank letterhead, which read as follows: “This letter is to confirm our conversation regarding your option to re-purchase the subject property. In lieu of your not exercising your option, we agree to pay you $40,000 representing a commission upon our sale of the subject property, and in addition, will give you the option to match the price of sale of said property to extend for a 60 day period from the time our offer is received.” Brown signed the letter as executive vice-president. The basis of exclusion was that the plaintiff had not established the authority of Brown to make with Kanavos the arrangement memorialized in the July 16, 1976, letter.

Whether Brown’s job description impliedly authorized the right of last refusal or cash payment modification is a question of how, in the circumstances, a person in Brown’s position could reasonably interpret his authority. Whether Brown had apparent authority to make the July 16, 1976, modification is a question of how, in the circumstances, a third person, e.g., a customer of the Bank such as Kanavos, would reasonably interpret Brown’s authority in light of the manifestations of his principal, the Bank.

Titles of office generally do not establish apparent authority. Brown’s status as executive vice-president was not, therefore, a badge of apparent authority to modify agreements to which the Bank was a party.

Trappings of office, e.g., office and furnishing, private secretary, while they may have some tendency to suggest executive responsibility, do not without other evidence provide a basis for finding apparent authority. Apparent authority is drawn from a variety of circumstances. Thus in Federal Nat. Bank v. O’Connell…(1940), it was held apparent authority could be found because an officer who was a director, vice-president and treasurer took an active part in directing the affairs of the bank in question and was seen by third parties talking with customers and negotiating with them. In Costonis v. Medford Housing Authy.…(1961), the executive director of a public housing authority was held to have apparent authority to vary specifications on the basis of the cumulative effect of what he had done and what the authority appeared to permit him to do.

In the instant case there was evidence of the following variety of circumstances: Brown’s title of executive vice-president; the location of his office opposite the president; his frequent communications with the president; the long course of dealing and negotiations; the encouragement of Kanavos by the president to deal with Brown; the earlier amendment of the agreement by Brown on behalf of the Bank on material points, namely the price to be paid by the Bank for the shares and the repurchase price; the size of the Bank (fourteen or fifteen branches in addition to the main office); the secondary, rather than fundamental, nature of the change in the terms of the agreement now repudiated by the Bank, measured against the context of the overall transaction; and Brown’s broad operating authority…all these added together would support a finding of apparent authority. When a corporate officer, as here, is allowed to exercise general executive responsibilities, the “public expectation is that the corporation should be bound to engagements made on its behalf by those who presume to have, and convincingly appear to have, the power to agree.” [Citation] This principle does not apply, of course, where in the business context, the requirement of specific authority is presumed, e.g., the sale of a major asset by a corporation or a transaction which by its nature commits the corporation to an obligation outside the scope of its usual activity. The modification agreement signed by Brown and dated July 16, 1976, should have been admitted in evidence, and a verdict should not have been directed.

Judgment reversed.

Case Questions

  1. Why are “titles of office” insufficient to establish apparent authority?
  2. Why are “trappings of office” insufficient to establish apparent authority?
  3. What is the relationship between apparent authority and estoppel? Who is estopped to do what, and why?

Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Intentional Torts: Scope of Employment

Lyon v. Carey

533 F.2d 649 (Cir. Ct. App. DC 1976)

McMillan, J.:

Corene Antoinette Lyon, plaintiff, recovered a $33,000.00 verdict [about $142,000 in 2010 dollars] in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge Barrington T. Parker and a jury, against the corporate defendants, George’s Radio and Television Company, Inc., and Pep Line Trucking Company, Inc. The suit for damages arose out of an assault, including rape, committed with a knife and other weapons upon the plaintiff on May 9, 1972, by Michael Carey, a nineteen-year-old deliveryman for Pep Line Trucking Company, Inc. Three months after the trial, Judge Parker set aside the verdict and rendered judgment for both defendants notwithstanding the verdict. Plaintiff appealed.…

Although the assault was perhaps at the outer bounds of respondeat superior, the case was properly one for the jury. Whether the assault in this case was the outgrowth of a job-related controversy or simply a personal adventure of the deliveryman, was a question for the jury. This was the import of the trial judge’s instructions. The verdict as to Pep Line should not have been disturbed.

Irene Lyon bought a mattress and springs for her bed from the defendant George’s Radio and Television Company, Inc. The merchandise was to be delivered on May 9, 1972. Irene Lyon had to be at work and the plaintiff [Irene’s sister] Corene Lyon, had agreed to wait in her sister’s apartment to receive the delivery.

A C.O.D. balance of $13.24 was due on the merchandise, and Irene Lyon had left a check for $13.24 to cover that balance. Plaintiff had been requested by her sister to “wait until the mattress and the springs came and to check and make sure they were okay.”

Plaintiff, fully clothed, answered the door. Her description of what happened is sufficiently brief and unqualified that it will bear repeating in full. She testified, without objection, as follows:

I went to the door, and I looked in the peephole, and I asked who was there. The young man told me he was a delivery man from George’s. He showed me a receipt, and it said, ‘George’s.’ He said he [needed cash on delivery—COD], so I let him in, and I told him to bring the mattress upstairs and he said, ‘No,’ that he wasn’t going to lug them upstairs, and he wanted the COD first, and I told him I wanted to see the mattress and box springs to make sure they were okay, and he said no, he wasn’t going to lug them upstairs [until he got the check].

So this went back and forwards and so he was getting angry, and I told him to wait right here while I go get the COD. I went to the bedroom to get the check, and I picked it up, and I turned around and he was right there.

And then I was giving him the check and then he told me that his boss told him not to accept a check, that he wanted cash money, and that if I didn’t give him cash money, he was going to take it on my ass, and he told me that he was no delivery man, he was a rapist and then he threw me on the bed.

[The Court] Talk louder, young lady, the jury can’t hear you.

[The witness] And then he threw me on the bed, and he had a knife to my throat.

[Plaintiff’s attorney] Then what happened?

And then he raped me.

Plaintiff’s pre-trial deposition was a part of the record on appeal, and it shows that Carey raped plaintiff at knife point; that then he chased her all over the apartment with a knife and scissors and cut plaintiff in numerous places on her face and body, beat and otherwise attacked her. All of the physical injury other than the rape occurred after rather than before the rape had been accomplished.…

[Carey was convicted of rape and sent to prison. The court determined that George’s was properly dismissed because Pep Line, Carey’s employer, was an independent contractor over which George’s had no control.]

The principal question, therefore, is whether the evidence discloses any other basis upon which a jury could reasonably find Pep Line, the employer of Carey, liable for the assault.

Michael Carey was in the employment of the defendant Pep Line as a deliveryman. He was authorized to make the delivery of the mattress and springs plaintiff’s sister had bought. He gained access to the apartment only upon a showing of the delivery receipt for the merchandise. His employment contemplated that he visit and enter that particular apartment. Though the apartment was not owned by nor in the control of his employer, it was nevertheless a place he was expected by his employer to enter.

After Carey entered, under the credentials of his employment and the delivery receipt, a dispute arose naturally and immediately between him and the plaintiff about two items of great significance in connection with his job. These items were the request of the plaintiff, the customer’s agent, to inspect the mattress and springs before payment (which would require their being brought upstairs before the payment was made), and Carey’s insistence on getting cash rather than a check.

The dispute arose out of the very transaction which had brought Carey to the premises, and, according to the plaintiff’s evidence, out of the employer’s instructions to get cash only before delivery.

On the face of things, Pep Line Trucking Company, Inc. is liable, under two previous decisions of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. [Citation (1953)] held a taxi owner liable for damages (including a broken leg) sustained by a customer who had been run over by the taxi in pursuit of a dispute between the driver and the customer about a fare. [Citation (1939)], held a restaurant owner liable to a restaurant patron who was beaten with a stick by a restaurant employee, after a disagreement over the service. The theory was that:

It is well established that an employer may be held responsible in tort for assaults committed by an employee while he is acting within the scope of his employment, even though he may act wantonly and contrary to his employer’s instructions. [Citations] “…having placed [the employee] in charge and committed the management of the business to his care, defendants may not escape liability either on the ground of his infirmity of temperament or because, under the influence of passion aroused by plaintiff’s threat to report the circumstances, he went beyond the ordinary line of duty and inflicted the injury shown in this case. [Citations]”

Munick v. City of Durham ([Citation], Supreme Court of North Carolina, 1921), though not a binding precedent, is informative and does show that the theory of liability advanced by the plaintiff is by no means recent in origin. The plaintiff, Munick, a Russian born Jew, testified that he went to the Durham, North Carolina city water company office on April 17, 1919, and offered to pay his bill with “three paper dollars, one silver dollar, and fifty cents in pennies.” The pennies were in a roll “like the bank fixes them.” The clerk gave a receipt and the plaintiff prepared to leave the office. The office manager came into the room, saw the clerk counting the pennies, became enraged at the situation, shoved the pennies onto the floor and ordered Munick to pick them up. Bolton, the manager, “locked the front door and took me by the jacket and called me ‘God damned Jew,’ and said, ‘I want only bills.’ I did not say anything and he hit me in the face. I did not resist, and the door was locked and I could not get out.…” With the door locked, Bolton then repeatedly choked and beat the plaintiff, finally extracted a bill in place of the pennies, and ordered him off the premises with injuries including finger marks on his neck that could be seen for eight or ten days. Bolton was convicted of unlawful assault [but the case against the water company was dismissed].

The North Carolina Supreme Court (Clark, C. J.) reversed the trial court’s dismissal and held that the case should have gone to the jury. The court…said [Citation]:

“‘It is now fully established that corporations may be held liable for negligent and malicious torts, and that responsibility will be imputed whenever such wrongs are committed by their employees and agents in the course of their employment and within its scope * * * in many of the cases, and in reliable textbooks * * * ‘course of employment’ is stated and considered as sufficiently inclusive; but, whether the one or the other descriptive term is used, they have the same significance in importing liability on the part of the principal when the agent is engaged in the work that its principal has employed or directed him to do and * * * in the effort to accomplish it. When such conduct comes within the description that constitutes an actionable wrong, the corporation principal, as in other cases of principal and agent, is liable not only for ‘the act itself, but for the ways and means employed in the performance thereof.’

“In 1 Thompson, Negligence, s 554, it is pointed out that, unless the above principle is maintained:

“‘It will always be more safe and profitable for a man to conduct his business vicariously than in his own person. He would escape liability for the consequences of many acts connected with his business, springing from the imperfections of human nature, because done by another, for which he would be responsible if done by himself. Meanwhile, the public, obliged to deal or come in contact with his agent, for injuries done by them must be left wholly without redress. He might delegate to persons pecuniarily irresponsible the care of large factories, of extensive mines, of ships at sea, or of railroad trains on land, and these persons, by the use of the extensive power thus committed to them, might inflict wanton and malicious injuries on third persons, without other restraint than that which springs from the imperfect execution of the criminal laws. A doctrine so fruitful of mischief could not long stand unshaken in an enlightened jurisprudence.’ This court has often held the master liable, even if the agent was willful, provided it was committed in the course of his employment. [Citation]”

“The act of a servant done to effect some independent purpose of his own and not with reference to the service in which he is employed, or while he is acting as his own master for the time being, is not within the scope of his employment so as to render the master liable therefor. In these circumstances the servant alone is liable for the injury inflicted.” [Citation].…”The general idea is that the employee at the time of doing the wrongful act, in order to fix liability on the employer, must have been acting in behalf of the latter and not on his own account [Citation].”

The principal physical (as opposed to psychic) damage to the plaintiff is a number of disfiguring knife wounds on her head, face, arms, breasts and body. If the instrumentalities of assault had not included rape, the case would provoke no particular curiosity nor interest because it comes within all the classic requirements for recovery against the master. The verdict is not attacked as excessive, and could not be excessive in light of the physical injuries inflicted.

It may be suggested that [some of the cases discussed] are distinguishable because in each of those cases the plaintiff was a business visitor on the defendant’s “premises.”…Home delivery customers are usually in their homes, sometimes alone; and deliveries of merchandise may expose householders to one-on-one confrontations with deliverymen. It would be a strange rule indeed which, while allowing recovery for assaults committed in “the store,” would deny a master’s liability for an assault committed on a lone woman in her own home, by a deliveryman required by his job to enter the home.…

If, as in [one case discussed], the assault was not motivated or triggered off by anything in the employment activity but was the result of only propinquity and lust, there should be no liability. However, if the assault, sexual or otherwise, was triggered off or motivated or occasioned by a dispute over the conduct then and there of the employer’s business, then the employer should be liable.

It is, then, a question of fact for the trier of fact, rather than a question of law for the court, whether the assault stemmed from purely and solely personal sources or arose out of the conduct of the employer’s business; and the trial judge so instructed the jury.

It follows that, under existing decisions of the District of Columbia Circuit, plaintiff has made out a case for the jury against Pep Line Trucking, Inc. unless the sexual character of one phase of the assault bars her from recovery for damages from all phases of the assault.

We face, then, this question: Should the entire case be taken from the jury because, instead of a rod of wood (as in [one case]), in addition to weapons of steel (as in [one case, a knife]); and in addition to his hands (as in [the third case, regarding the dispute about the pennies]), Carey also employed a sexual weapon, a rod of flesh and blood in the pursuit of a job-related controversy?

The answer is, No. It is a jury’s job to decide how much of plaintiff’s story to believe, and how much if any of the damages were caused by actions, including sexual assault, which stemmed from job-related sources rather than from purely personal origins.…

The judgment is affirmed as to the defendant George’s and reversed as to the defendant Pep Line Trucking Company, Inc.

Case Questions

  1. What triggered the dispute here?
  2. The court observes, “On the face of things, Pep Line Trucking Company, Inc. is liable.” But there are two issues that give the court cause for more explanation. (1) Why does the court discuss the point that the assault did not occur on the employer’s premises? (2) Why does the court mention that the knife assault happened after the rape?
  3. It is difficult to imagine that a sexual assault could be anything other than some “purely and solely personal” gratification, unrelated to the employer’s business. How did the court address this?
  4. What is the controlling rule of law as to the employer’s liability for intentional torts here?
  5. What does the court mean when it says, “the assault was perhaps at the outer bounds of respondeat superior”?
  6. Would the jury think about who had the “deep pocket” here? Who did have it?

Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Intentional Torts: Scope of Employment

Cockrell v. Pearl River Valley Water Supply Dist.

865 So.2d 357 (Miss. 2004)

The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (“District”) was granted summary judgment pursuant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) dismissing with prejudice all claims asserted against it by Sandra Cockrell. Cockrell appeals the ruling of the circuit court citing numerous errors. Finding the motion for summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the District, this Court affirms the final judgment entered by the Circuit Court of Rankin County.

Facts and Proceedings in the Trial Court

On June 28, 1998, Sandra Cockrell was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol by Officer Joey James who was employed as a security patrol officer with the Reservoir Patrol of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District. Officer James then transported Cockrell to the Reservoir Patrol office and administered an intoxilyzer test. The results of the test are not before us; however, we do know that after the test was administered, Officer James apologized to Cockrell for arresting her, and he assured her that he would prepare her paperwork so that she would not have to spend much time in jail. As they were leaving the Reservoir Patrol office, Officer James began asking Cockrell personal questions such as where she lived, whether she was dating anyone and if she had a boyfriend. Officer James then asked Cockrell for her cell phone number so that he could call and check on her. As they were approaching his patrol car for the trip to the Rankin County jail, Officer James informed Cockrell that she should be wearing handcuffs; however, he did not handcuff Cockrell, and he allowed her to ride in the front seat of the patrol car with him. In route to the jail, Cockrell became emotional and started crying. As she was fixing her makeup using the mirror on the sun visor, Officer James pulled his patrol car into a church parking lot and parked the car. He then pulled Cockrell towards him in an embrace and began stroking her back and hair telling her that things would be fine. Cockrell told Officer James to release her, but he continued to embrace her for approximately five minutes before continuing on to the jail.

On June 30, 1998, Cockrell returned to the Reservoir Patrol office to retrieve her driver’s license. Officer James called Cockrell into his office and discussed her DUI charge with her. As she was leaving, Officer James grabbed her from behind, turned her around, pinned both of her arms behind her and pulled her to his chest. When Officer James bent down to kiss her, she ducked her head, thus causing Officer James to instead kiss her forehead. When Officer James finally released Cockrell, she ran out of the door and drove away. [Subsequently, Cockrell’s attorney threatened civil suit against Patrol; James was fired in October 1998.]

On September 22, 1999, Cockrell filed a complaint for damages against the District alleging that on the nights of June 28 and June 30, 1998, Officer James was acting within the course and scope of his employment with the District and that he acted with reckless disregard for her emotional well-being and safety.…On April 2, 2002, the District filed its motion for summary judgment alleging that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding Cockrell’s claim of liability. The motion alleged that the conduct described by Cockrell was outside the course and scope of Officer James’s public employment as he was intending to satisfy his lustful urges. Cockrell responded to the motion arguing that the misconduct did occur in the course and scope of Officer James’s employment with the District and also that the misconduct did not reach the level of a criminal offense such that the District could be found not liable under the MTCA.

The trial court entered a final judgment granting the District’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing the complaint with prejudice. The trial court found that the District could not be held liable under the MTCA for the conduct of Officer James which was both criminal and outside the course and scope of his employment. Cockrell…appeal[ed].


Summary judgment is granted in cases where there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”…

Cockrell contends there is a genuine issue of material of fact regarding whether Officer James was acting in the course and scope of his employment with the District during the incidents which occurred on the nights of June 28 and June 30, 1998. Cockrell argues Officer James’s conduct, although inappropriate, did not rise to the level of criminal conduct. Cockrell contends Officer James’s action of hugging Cockrell was similar to an officer consoling a victim of a crime. Cockrell does admit that Officer James’s action of kissing her is more difficult to view as within the course and scope of his employment…

The District argues that although Officer James acted within the course and scope of his duties when he arrested Cockrell, his later conduct, which was intended to satisfy his lustful desires, was outside the scope of his employment with it.…

“Mississippi law provides that an activity must be in furtherance of the employer’s business to be within the scope and course of employment.” [Citation] To be within the course and scope of employment, an activity must carry out the employer’s purpose of the employment or be in furtherance of the employer’s business. [Citations] Therefore, if an employee steps outside his employer’s business for some reason which is not related to his employment, the relationship between the employee and the employer “is temporarily suspended and this is so ‘no matter how short the time and the [employer] is not liable for [the employee’s] acts during such time.’” “An employee’s personal unsanctioned recreational endeavors are beyond the course and scope of his employment.” [Citation]

[In one case cited,] Officer Kerry Collins, a Jackson Police officer, was on duty when he came upon the parked car of L.T., a minor, and her boyfriend, who were about to engage in sexual activity. [Citation] Officer Collins instructed L.T. to take her boyfriend home, and he would follow her to make sure she followed his orders. After L.T. dropped off her boyfriend, Officer Collins continued to follow her until he pulled L.T. over. Officer Collins then instructed L.T. to follow him to his apartment or else he would inform L.T.’s parents of her activities. L.T. followed Officer Collins to his apartment where they engaged in sexual activity. Upon returning home, L.T. told her parents everything that had happened. L.T. and her parents filed suit against Officer Collins, the City of Jackson and the Westwood Apartments, where Officer Collins lived rent free in return for his services as a security guard.…The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City finding that Officer Collins acted outside the course and scope of his employment with the Jackson Police Department. [Citation]

In [Citation] the plaintiff sued the Archdiocese of New Orleans for damages that allegedly resulted from his sexual molestation by a Catholic priest. The Fifth Circuit found that the priest was not acting within the course and scope of his employment. The Fifth Circuit held that “smoking marijuana and engaging in sexual acts with minor boys” in no way furthered the interests of his employer.

The Southern District of Mississippi and the Fifth Circuit, applying Mississippi law, have held that sexual misconduct falls outside the course and scope of employment. There is no question that Officer James was within the course and scope of his employment when he first stopped Cockrell for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. However, when Officer James diverted from his employment for personal reasons, he was no longer acting in the furtherance of his employer’s interests…Therefore, the District cannot be held liable…for the misconduct of Officer James which occurred outside the course and scope of his employment.


Case Questions

  1. How can this case and Lyon v. Carey (Section 39.4.2 "Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Intentional Torts: Scope of Employment") be reconciled? Both involve an agent’s unacceptable behavior—assault—but in Lyon the agent’s actions were imputed to the principal, and in Cockrell the agent’s actions were not imputed to the principal.
  2. What is the controlling rule of law governing the principal’s liability for the agent’s actions?
  3. The law governing the liability of principals for acts of their agents is well settled. Thus the cases turn on the facts. Who decides what the facts are in a lawsuit?