APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon.
PHILIP G. REINHARD, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE UNVERZAGT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint in the circuit court of Winnebago County on October 22, 1974, which named as defendants in count I Peter Bosman, C.C. "Doc" Greenwald, John Hickey and Marshall Field & Company. He alleged that the individual defendants, "in the presence of third parties and in the scope of their employment by the defendant, Marshall Field & Company, stated that the plaintiff herein was intoxicated, was under the influence of narcotic drugs, had possession of marijuana and that because of the same, and for other reasons, was incompetent, unfit and unable to perform and/or discharge the duties of his employment with the defendant, Marshall Field & Company, and his profession and trade." Plaintiff further alleged that the statements were made by defendants with ill will toward plaintiff, that defendants knew or should have known that the statements were false, and that plaintiff was terminated by Marshall Field & Company and suffered injury as a direct and proximate result of the statements. As relief, plaintiff requested compensatory damages in the amount of $20,000 and exemplary damages in the amount of $100,000 plus costs.
In count II of his complaint, Ramsey alleged that the individual defendants intentionally undertook a scheme designed and intended to result in the termination of the employment relationship between Ramsey and Marshall Field & Company. Ramsey alleged that as a direct and proximate result of this scheme, Marshall Field & Company terminated his business relationship with plaintiff, causing him injury. Plaintiff requested compensatory damages in the amount of $20,000 and exemplary damages in the amount of $100,000.
An amended complaint alleging substantially similar matters was filed on the trial date and summary judgment in favor of defendant Bosman was granted on that date. The case against the rest of the defendants proceeded to trial before a jury. A directed verdict in favor of defendant John Hickey was entered at the close of plaintiff's case. The jury returned a verdict against C.C. "Doc" Greenwald and Marshall Field & Company on count I in the amount of $25,000. It further assessed punitive damages in the amount of $100 against defendant C.C. "Doc" Greenwald. On count II, the jury returned a verdict against defendant Greenwald, assessing compensatory damages in the amount of $500 and punitive damages in the amount of $500. Defendants appeal.
In 1973, plaintiff was working for defendant Marshall Field & Company at its Old Orchard store as a "B" engineer. During 1973, Marshall Field & Company opened a store at the Cherry Vale shopping complex and plaintiff requested and was granted a transfer to that facility. At Cherry Vale, plaintiff was employed as an "A" engineer.
Defendant C.C. "Doc" Greenwald was the lead engineer at the Cherry Vale store and was plaintiff's immediate supervisor. On July 30, 1974, a discussion took place between plaintiff and defendant Greenwald at the Cherry Vale store during which statements were made concerning plaintiff's drinking, taking of drugs and job competence.
At some point during the discussion, defendant John Hickey, the chief operating engineer and defendant Greenwald's supervisor, was reached by telephone at his office at the Chicago store. Plaintiff was told to report to defendant Hickey at the downtown Chicago store. When the plaintiff reported to Mr. Hickey, he was transferred to a fireman's position, which was a demotion. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a grievance with his union local regarding the incident. The union took the position that it had no jurisdiction over the grievance because plaintiff had accepted the position of fireman, which was represented by another union. Plaintiff was released from his position with defendant Marshall Field & Company on August 7, 1974.
Defendants raise six issues on appeal. The first is whether plaintiff's attorney prejudicially advised the jury in closing argument that a special interrogatory controls the general verdict. Two special interrogatories were submitted to the jury. They were:
"At the time of the occurrence alleged by the Plaintiff, was the Defendant, C.C. `Doc' Greenwald, acting within the scope of his employment by Marshall Field & Company?"
"At the time of the occurrence alleged by the Plaintiff, was the Defendant, C.C. `Doc' Greenwald, acting with actual malice toward Robert W. Ramsey?"
Both interrogatories were answered "yes" by the jury.
During his final argument, the plaintiff's attorney made reference to the special interrogatories. He stated in part:
"I also ask that you return the form of verdict that finds on the special interrogatory that he was in the course of his employment; and as a result of that, that you return that verdict against Marshall Field's, if you see fit."
The defendants' attorney objected to the reference. The trial court sustained the objection, stating, "Don't pursue that argument any further, tying the two together. Sustain the objection. Disregard the argument tying the verdict and the special interrogatory. * * *."
Subsequently, out of the presence of the jury, plaintiff's counsel stated he had honestly meant to refer to the issue instruction and not the special interrogatory. Defendants' attorney asked for a mistrial on the basis ...