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Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc v. Auto Paint & Supply of Lakeland

November 17, 2011



THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. #56) and Plaintiff's Response (Dkt. #62), Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. #66), Defendant's Response (Dkt. #67), and Plaintiff's Reply (Dkt. #73). The Court, having considered the motions and responses, and being otherwise advised, concludes that Defendant's Motion should be denied in part and granted in part, and that Plaintiff's Motion should be denied.


Plaintiff Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc. ("Akzo") is a manufacturer of car refinish products, which it distributes to wholesalers, automotive body shops, car dealerships, and other customers. Defendant Auto Paint & Supply of Lakeland, Inc. ("APS") was a former authorized Akzo wholesaler. This action relates to the most recent wholesaler agreement between the two parties, entered into on May 26, 2009.*fn1

Under this agreement APS was authorized to serve as Akzo's authorized wholesaler in five counties throughout central Florida. The wholesaler contract required APS to deal exclusively in Akzo products within the assigned area, to use its best efforts to promote the sale of Akzo products, to refrain from marketing competitive products, and to not convert or attempt to convert Akzo customers to competing products.

In July of 2009 APS began secretly negotiating with Dupont to distribute products that were directly competitive to Akzo merchandise. On October 2, 2009, APS entered into a single line distributor letter agreement with Dupont. Pursuant to this agreement APS agreed to purchase automotive paint materials exclusively from Dupont for five years in exchange for two million dollars and customer incentives. APS also agreed to convert ninety percent of its existing customers to Dupont products. It is undisputed that APS has since converted Akzo customers to Dupont's line of products.

Akzo later sued APS*fn2 alleging: (1) breach of contract; (2) tortious interference with a contract; (3) tortious interference with a business relationship; and (4) a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act ("FDUTPA").

APS has counterclaimed for: (1) fraudulent inducement; (2) breach of contract; and (3) tortious interference with a contract and an advantageous business relationship.*fn3

APS now moves for summary judgment on: (1) Akzo's tortious interference with a contract claim; (2) Akzo's tortious interference with a business relationship claim; (3) Akzo's claim for certain damages; and (4) Akzo's claim for attorney's fees.

Akzo moves for summary judgment on its breach of contract claim against APS.

Summary Judgment Standard

Motions for summary judgment should only be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The existence of some factual disputes between the litigants will not defeat an otherwise properly supported summary judgment motion; "the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (emphasis in original). The substantive law applicable to the claimed causes of action will identify which facts are material. Id. Throughout this analysis, the court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. at 255.

Once a party properly makes a summary judgment motion by demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, whether or not accompanied by affidavits, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings through the use of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The evidence must be significantly probative to support the claims. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49 (1986).

This Court may not decide a genuine factual dispute at the summary judgment stage. Fernandez v. Bankers Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 906 F.2d 559, 564 (11th Cir. 1990). "[I]f factual issues are present, the Court must deny the motion and proceed to trial." Warrior Tombigbee Transp. Co. v. M/V Nan Fung, 695 F.2d 1294, 1296 (11th Cir. 1983). A dispute about a material fact is genuine and summary judgment is inappropriate if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Hoffman v. Allied Corp., 912 F.2d 1379 (11th Cir. 1990). However, there must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question. Verbraeken v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 881 F.2d 1041, 1045 (11th Cir. 1989).


A. APS's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Akzo's Tortious Interference with a Contract Claim In order to state a cause of action for tortious interference with a contract, a plaintiff must prove: "(1) the existence of a contract; (2) the defendant's knowledge of the contract; (3) the defendant's intentional procurement of the breach of the contract; (4) the absence of any justification or privilege; and (5) damages resulting from the breach." Washington v. Sch. Bd. of Hillsborough Cnty., 731 F.Supp.2d 1309, 1320 (M.D. Fla. 2010).

Akzo argues that APS knew that Akzo had entered into supply contracts with certain customers serviced by APS as an authorized wholesaler and that APS intentionally induced those customers to switch to Dupont's line of products, thereby inducing them to breach their contracts with Akzo.*fn4 Akzo also argues that this conduct was neither justified nor privileged and that Akzo was damaged as a result of losing ...

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