NATIONAL INSPECTION & REPAIRS v. GEORGE S. MAY INTERNATIONAL (April 9, 2010)
National Inspection & Repairs (“NIR”) is a trucking company located in Topeka, Kansas. When one of its employees accidentally caused its accounting systems to crash, NIR sought help from George S. May International (" May"), a business consulting firm. The parties entered into a consulting agreement. The agreement required NIR to approve any effort recommended by May. It also prohibited NIR from hiring any May employee for a year after the date of the agreement. May submitted five progress reports over the course of the three-week engagement. Each report was approved by NIR. As soon as the engagement was complete, NIR hired the May project manager as its Controller. NIR alleges that the project manager embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from NIR while acting as its Controller. NIR brought a breach of contract action against May. It alleged that May breached the contract by failing to "implement" its duties and for negligently hiring and supervising the project manager. The district court granted summary judgment to May. NIR appeals.
In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Kanne and Sykes affirmed. They Court first quickly addressed its appellate jurisdiction. The district court had dismissed without prejudice a claim brought by each of the parties, which made its order non-final. The Court noted its own precedent the lifts the jurisdictional bar when each party agrees at oral argument to treat the dismissals as with prejudice. Here, the parties were not explicit at oral argument. However, they were explicit in post-argument briefing. The Court concluded that that was sufficient to lift the jurisdictional bar. On the merits of the "failed to implement" allegation, the Court noted that NIR cannot prevail because it never pointed to a specific obligation or provision of the agreement that May is alleged to have failed to implement. On the merits of the negligent hiring claim, the Court concluded that it was NIR that in fact breached the contract by hiring the project manager. Finally, the Court addressed NIR's breach of implied warranty and negligence claims. NIR has a tort claim under Kansas law only if there is a violation of a duty imposed by law, as opposed to by agreement. Since Kansas law does not impose any duty on the parties to a consulting services agreement, there is no action for breach of a duty.