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Posted: December 27, 2018

Court Dismisses Tortious Interference Claims on Summary Judgment

On November 15, 2018, Judge Wilson of the the Bergen County Superior Court (Law Division), issued a decision in Comprehensive Neurosurgical, P.C., et al. v. The Valley Hospital, et al., Docket No.: BER-L-6794-16, dismissing tortious interference claims on summary judgment, explaining:

NJBSC alleges that Valley’s entry into the Exclusivity Agreement constituted tortious interference with prospect economic advantage. Under New Jersey law, an action for tortious interference with a prospective business relation protects the right to pursue one’s business, calling or occupation free from undue influence or molestation. To prevail on this claim, Plaintiffs must demonstrate a reasonable expectation of economic advantage, which was lost as a direct result of the Valley Defendants’ malicious interference, and that Plaintiffs suffered losses thereby.

In the defamation context, malicious is used to describe harm that is inflicted intentionally and without justification or excuse. Plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating the absence of justification for the Valley Defendants’ actions in the context of the case presented. New Jersey courts use an eight-factor balancing test to determine whether maliciousness was present:

(a) The nature of the actor’s conduct, (b) the actor’s motive, (c) the interests of the other with which the actor’s conduct interferes, (d) the interests sought to be advanced by the actor, (e) the social interests in promoting the freedom of the action of the actor and the contractual interests of the other, (f) the proximity or remoteness of the actor’s conduct to the inference and (g) the relations between the parties.

In this instance, the Valley Defendants undertook a rational and routine course of action in aligning with NANJ. This was designed to further Valley’s longstanding alignment strategy to improve patient care and economic efficiency. On the contrary, NJBSC’s only interest in Valley’s agreement with NANJ is that they no longer have an additional hospital to practice within and gain an additional stream of revenue. Considering the foregoing, there insufficient evidence in the record to support a finding of maliciousness, let alone the remaining factors of a claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.

NJBSC [also] has failed to provide evidence supporting a claim for tortious interference with contract. To establish a claim of tortious interference with contract, a plaintiff must prove the following: (1) an existing contractual relationship; (2) intentional and malicious interference with that relationship; (3) causation; and (4) damages resulting from that interference.

NJBSC has also failed to support a claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage as to NANJ. As previously stated, plaintiff must show the following to succeed on such a claim: (1) a reasonable expectation of economic benefit or advantage; (2) intentional and malicious interference with that expectancy; (3) a reasonable probability that plaintiff would have realized the economic benefit but for the interference; and (4) actual damages resulting from defendant’s interference. New Jersey courts do not draw a bright-line between actions for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and for tortious interference with existing business relationships.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted).

In New Jersey, there are circumstances where someone can be held liable for causing someone else to break their contract with you (tortious interference with contract), and they can even be held liable for causing someone not to enter into a contract with you in the first place (tortious interference with prospective economic advantage). Contact Schlam Stone & Dolan partner John Lundin at jlundin@schlamstone.com if you or a client think someone has interfered with your rights relating to a contract.

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