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Decker v. Browning-Ferris Industries of Colorado

Colorado Supreme Court
931 P.2d 436 (1997)


Facts

Thomas Decker (plaintiff) was a trash-truck driver for Browning-Ferris Industries of Colorado (BFI) (defendant). One year, Decker received a discretionary bonus for good work, and a letter stating that BFI “look[ed] forward to a long and lasting relationship.” After Decker’s supervisor was terminated, a new supervisor came in and fired Decker, stating that he worked too slowly. Decker sued BFI for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, among other things. At trial, BFI stipulated that it had expressly promised to Decker that the company would treat him fairly. Although Decker’s lawsuit couched this claim as one of contract, Decker requested tort-based remedies, including punitive damages. The trial court ruled that although the covenant originated from contract law, a breach of the covenant was a tort. The jury returned a verdict for Decker, awarding compensatory, noneconomic, and punitive damages. In BFI’s post-trial motions, BFI stipulated that Decker’s claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing was tried as a tort claim. The trial court denied the motions, and BFI appealed. The court of appeals found that Colorado did not recognize the covenant of good faith and fair dealing as a tort claim in the context of employment relationships, and thus vacated the award of noneconomic, and punitive damages. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kirshbaum, J.)

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