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Humphrey v. Hill

Filed: January 5, 1982.

WALTER E. HUMPHREY, JR.
v.
ROBERT HILL



Appeal by plaintiff from Small, Judge. Judgment entered 30 October 1980 in Superior Court, Lenoir County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 12 October 1981.

Morris, Chief Judge. Judges Arnold and Becton concur.

Morris

We first address the question whether an enforceable contract existed between plaintiff and defendant. Case law in this

State and other well-reasoned authority indicate that this particular agreement or agreements were terminable at will because not supported by consideration additional to services.

Personal service contracts are subject to restrictive rules of interpretation, requiring for their enforcement certainty as to the nature and extent of the services to be performed, the place where and the person to whom services are to be rendered, and the compensation to be paid. Beal v. Supply Co., 36 N.C. App. 505, 244 S.E.2d 463 (1978); McMichael v. Motors, Inc., 14 N.C. App. 441, 188 S.E.2d 721 (1972); Croom v. Lumber Co., 182 N.C. 217, 108 S.E. 735 (1921). Defendant's brief raises the question of adequate specificity of terms, alleging that the time, manner and place of transfer of stock were unclear, and that plaintiff was only to continue working for defendant as he had before, for an indefinite period. The specifics of where and when the services were to be performed, the nature of the services and how compensation was to be made do not make the contract fail for lack of certainty, however. "In contracts for general employment . . . there is seldom any stipulation respecting any matters other than the period of the service and the remuneration to be made; the remainder of the terms are such as the law implies." 53 Am. Jur. 2d, Master and Servant, § 21.

The period of time for which plaintiff was to render services is too indefinite to create an enforceable contract, however. Plaintiff testified under cross examination that there was no explicit understanding with defendant as to how long plaintiff would continue in his previous employment role. He said:

In exchange for the one-third interest I was to continue to perform my services as I had. I did not say how long I would continue to perform the services if he agreed. There was no limit on that. . . .

Where a contract of employment does not fix a definite term, it is terminable at the will of either party. Nantz v. Employment Security Comm., 290 N.C. 473, 226 S.E.2d 340 (1976); Tatum v. Brown, 29 N.C. App. 504, 224 S.E.2d 698 (1976).

The general rule is, that "permanent employment" means steady employment, a steady job, a position of some permanence, as contrasted with a temporary employment or a temporary job. Ordinarily, where there is no additional expression as to duration, a contract for permanent employment implies an indefinite general hiring, terminable at will. McKelvy v. Oil Co., 52 Okla., 81, 152 P., 414. . . .

Malever v. Kay Jewelry Co., 223 N.C. 148, 149, 25 S.E.2d 436, 437 (1943). We have been reluctant, however, in the presence of some indication of duration or of good consideration in addition to the services contracted to be rendered, to hold a "permanent" employment contract unenforceable merely because it fails to specify a term of employment. See Tuttle v. Kernersville Lumber Co., 263 N.C. 216, 139 S.E.2d 249 (1964); F. S. Royster Guano Co. v. Hall, 68 F.2d 533 (4th Cir. 1934), Jones v. Carolina Power and Light Co., 206 N.C. 862, 175 S.E. 167 (1934); Stevens v. Southern Railroad, 187 N.C. 528, 122 S.E. 295 (1924); Fisher v. John L. Roper Lumber Co., 183 N.C. 486, 111 S.E. 857 (1922).

What constitutes sufficient consideration to prevent a contract of permanent employment from being terminable at the will of the employer varies among jurisdictions. 53 Am. Jur. 2d, Master and Servant, § 33. We have said that "[w]here the employee gives some special consideration in addition to his services, such as relinquishing a claim for personal injuries against the employer, removing his residence from one place to another in order to accept employment, or assisting in breaking a strike, such a contract may be enforced." Burkhimer v. Gealy, 39 N.C. suck a contract may be enforced." Burkhimer v. Gealy, 39 N.C. App. 450, 454, 250 S.E.2d 678, 682 (1979), cert. denied, ...


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