THE TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH CONTRACT AND DEFAMATION CAUSES OF ACTION WERE NOT REFUTED BY DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE AND WERE ADEQUATELY PLED (THIRD DEPT). ​

The Third Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined that plaintiff had stated causes of action for tortious interference with contract and defamation and the actions should not have been dismissed on either the “documentary evidence” or “failure to state a cause of action” ground:

Turning first to CPLR 3211 (a) (1), a motion to dismiss pursuant to this provision “will be granted only if the documentary evidence resolves all factual issues as a matter of law, and conclusively disposes of the plaintiff’s claim” … . What may be deemed “documentary evidence” for purposes of this subsection is quite limited. “Materials that clearly qualify as documentary evidence include documents . . . such as mortgages, deed[s], contracts, and any other papers, the contents of which are essentially undeniable” … . Here, Supreme Court relied upon the statements taken during defendant’s investigation, as well as its non-harassment policy. As plaintiff argues, even sworn affidavits have been held inadequate to meet this statutory standard, and defendant’s submissions here do not qualify as documentary evidence … . …

The grounds for dismissal under CPLR 3211 (a) (7) are also strictly limited; the court is not allowed to render a determination upon a thorough review of the relevant facts adduced by both parties, but rather is substantially more constrained in its review, examining only the plaintiff’s pleadings and affidavits … . …

To establish a claim for tortious interference with a contract, the plaintiff must allege “the existence of [his or her] valid contract with a third party, [the] defendant’s knowledge of that contract, [the] defendant’s intentional and improper procuring of a breach, and damages” … . Here, plaintiff’s complaint alleged that a valid contract existed between plaintiff and the distributor, that defendant intentionally spread “false, specious and salacious accusations against [p]laintiff,” and that such conduct “had no good faith or justifiable cause” and did not “protect an economic interest.” Liberally construing these allegations, as we must, taking all of the alleged facts as true, and giving plaintiff every favorable inference … , they do not fail to state a claim.

The defamation claim will ultimately require “proof that the defendant made ‘a false statement, published that statement to a third party without privilege, with fault measured by at least a negligence standard, and the statement caused special damages or constituted defamation per se’” … . Here, the complaint sets forth the particular words complained of and the damages plaintiff allegedly sustained … . Carr v Wegmans Food Mkts., Inc., 2020 NY Slip Op 02141, Third Dept 4-2-20

 


DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANTED, DEFENDANT’S ONLY CONNECTION TO THE CORPORATION WHICH HAD CONTACTS WITH NEW YORK WAS HIS SALARY; THEREFORE THE CORPORATION’S NEW YORK CONTACTS COULD NOT BE IMPUTED TO DEFENDANT (FIRST DEPT).

The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined defendant’s (Sprinkle’s) motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction should have been granted, noting that Sprinkle’s only connection with the corporation alleged to have breached the contract was his salary. The corporation’s contacts with New York could not, therefore, be imputed to Sprinkle:

The complaint fails to state a cause of action as against Sprinkle for tortious interference with contract, because there is no allegation that Sprinkle personally benefitted from the corporations’ alleged breach of contract; the only benefit he is alleged to have received is his salary from the corporations … .

Plaintiff failed to make a sufficient start on a showing of jurisdiction over Sprinkle to entitle it to jurisdictional discovery … . Because the conduct complained of involved the diversion of funds from outside New York to recipients outside New York, the “critical events,” and thus the situs of injury, were not in New York … . Moreover, plaintiff does not allege that Sprinkle received substantial revenue from interstate or international commerce (see CPLR 302[a][3][ii]). Because Sprinkle did not personally benefit from the breach of contract, the corporations’ contacts with New York cannot be imputed to him … .

Nor can Sprinkle be said to have “reasonably expected” his actions to have consequences in New York … as he neither did anything to avail himself of New York nor took any steps to project himself into New York. Given that Sprinkle had no contact with New York and did not purposefully avail himself of New York, the constitutional guarantee of due process bars New York courts from exercising personal jurisdiction over him. Greenbacker Residential Solar LLC v OneRoof Energy, Inc., 2019 NY Slip Op 05487, First Dept 7-9-19

 


HANDWRITTEN PROVISION OF A LETTER OF INTENT CONTROLS, THE LETTER OF INTENT IS NOT A BINDING CONTRACT, BREACH OF A FIDUCIARY DUTY AND TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH CONTRACT CAUSES OF ACTION PROPERLY DISMISSED IN THE ABSENCE OF A BINDING CONTRACT, UNJUST ENRICHMENT CAUSE OF ACTION PROPERLY DISMISSED BECAUSE THE BENEFIT TO THE DEFENDANTS WAS UNIDENTIFIED (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department determined that a letter of intent concerning the development of defendant-church’s property was not a binding contract because of a handwritten provision. Because there was no binding contract, the fiduciary duty, joint venture, covenant of good faith, and tortious interference with contract causes of action were properly dismissed. The unjust enrichment cause of action was properly dismissed because the benefit allegedly received by defendants was not identified:

“It is a fundamental principle of contract interpretation that when a handwritten or typewritten provision conflicts with the language of a preprinted form document, the former will control, as it is presumed to express the latest intention of the parties’” … . Here, there are inconsistent provisions in the letter of intent regarding whether the parties intended it to be a binding agreement. However, the parties modified the letter of intent, with a handwritten provision, to state that it is “not intended to constitute a binding contract.” Accordingly, this handwritten provision controls over the conflicting printed provisions stating that the letter of intent will become binding after a period of five days … . …

“To prevail on a claim of unjust enrichment, a party must show that (1) the other party was enriched, (2) at that party’s expense, and (3) that it is against equity and good conscience to permit [the other party] to retain what is sought to be recovered” … . A bare legal conclusion that it is against equity and good conscience to retain an unidentified benefit is insufficient to adequately allege that an asserted enrichment was unjust … . Here, the complaint does not identify the benefit the defendants allegedly obtained or explain why it is against equity and good conscience to allow the defendants to retain such benefit. FoxStone Group, LLC v Calvary Pentecostal Church, Inc., 2019 NY Slip Op 04916, Second Dept 6-19-19

 


COMPLAINT STATED CAUSES OF ACTION FOR CONVERSION AND TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH A CONTRACT (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, modifying Supreme Court, determined the complaint (supplemented with affidavits) stated causes of action for conversion and tortious interference with contract which should not have been dismissed. Plaintiff, a dog trainer, purchased a dog and allegedly entered a contract with the seller of the dog (America' Best) to train the dog. Plaintiff and defendant were in a relationship at the time they agreed to purchase the dog. The complaint alleged that defendant took possession of the dog:

Two key elements of conversion are the plaintiff's (1) legal ownership or an immediate superior right of possession to a specific identifiable thing, and (2) the defendant's unauthorized dominion over the thing in question or interference with it, to the exclusion of the plaintiff's right… . Here, accepting the facts alleged in the complaint as true, and according the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, the complaint sufficiently alleges that the plaintiff is the owner of the dog, that the defendant has unauthorized possession of the dog, and that the defendant has refused to return the dog.

… The elements of tortious interference with a contract are: “(1) the existence of a contract between plaintiff and a third party; (2) defendant's knowledge of the contract; (3) defendant's intentional inducement of the third party to breach or otherwise render performance impossible; and (4) damages to plaintiff” … . The complaint, as supplemented by the plaintiff's affidavits, sufficiently alleges the elements of a cause of action to recover damages for tortious interference with a contract, including that the defendant's intentional interference with the America's Best contract rendered performance impossible … . Nero v Fiore, 2018 NY Slip Op 06755, Second Dept 10-10-18

CONVERSION (COMPLAINT STATED CAUSES OF ACTION FOR CONVERSION AND TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH A CONTRACT (SECOND DEPT))/TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH CONTRACT (COMPLAINT STATED CAUSES OF ACTION FOR CONVERSION AND TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH A CONTRACT (SECOND DEPT))/CIVIL PROCEDURE  (COMPLAINT STATED CAUSES OF ACTION FOR CONVERSION AND TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH A CONTRACT (SECOND DEPT))/CPLR 3211 (COMPLAINT STATED CAUSES OF ACTION FOR CONVERSION AND TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH A CONTRACT (SECOND DEPT))


Rare Example of Sufficiently Pled Cause of Action for Prima Facie Tort—Elements of Tortious Interference with a Contract Outlined

The Second Department determined plaintiff had stated a cause of action for prima facie tort and tortious interference with a contract. The complaint alleged the defendant set up websites and organized public protests accusing plaintiff of child abuse and had communicated with plaintiff’s employer, causing plaintiff to be terminated without cause. The decision is noteworthy because it demonstrates the extreme nature of allegations deemed sufficient to support a prima facie tort cause of action. With respect to the tortious interference with contract cause of action, the court explained:

The elements of tortious interference with a contract are: “(1) the existence of a contract between plaintiff and a third party; (2) defendant’s knowledge of the contract; (3) defendant’s intentional inducement of the third party to breach or otherwise render performance impossible; and (4) damages to plaintiff” … . The amended complaint sufficiently sets forth a cause of action based on tortious interference with a contract, alleging, in pertinent part, that [defendant’s] intentional interference with the subject employment contract rendered performance impossible. Hersh v Cohen, 2015 NY Slip Op 06888, 2nd Dept 9-23-15

 


Elements of Tortious Interference with Contract and Tortious Interference With Prospective Business Relations Explained

The Second Department, over a dissent, determined that the counterclaims alleging tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with prospective business relations were properly dismissed. The counterclaims alleged that the plaintiffs-attorneys, who represented defendant, Landmark, improperly sought payment of attorney’s fees for a negotiated stipulation of settlement directly from the party with whom Landmark settled, rather than from Landmark. In dismissing the counterclaims, the court explained the required elements of each:

A necessary element of [tortious interference with contract] is the intentional and improper procurement of a breach and damages … . Here, Landmark failed to adequately plead facts that would establish that the plaintiffs, in communicating with the third party to secure their attorney’s fees, intentionally procured that party’s breach of the stipulation of settlement… . …

A claim for tortious interference with prospective business relations does not require a breach of an existing contract, but the party asserting the claim must meet a “more culpable conduct” standard … . This standard is met where the interference with prospective business relations was accomplished by wrongful means or where the offending party acted for the sole purpose of harming the other party … . ” Wrongful means’ include physical violence, fraud or misrepresentation, civil suits and criminal prosecutions, and some degrees of economic pressure” … . As a general rule, the offending party’s conduct must amount to a crime or an independent tort, as conduct that is neither criminal nor tortious will generally be “lawful” and thus insufficiently “culpable” to create liability for interference with prospective business relations … . The mere violation of an attorney disciplinary rule will only create liability if actual damages are incurred as a result of the violating conduct  … . In addition, where the offending party’s actions are motivated by economic self-interest, they cannot be characterized as solely malicious … . Law Offs. of Ira H. Leibowitz v Landmark Ventures, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 06575, 2nd Dept 8-19-15

 


Flaws in Causes of Action Stemming from the Alleged Breach of a Joint Venture Agreement Explained

In an action stemming from the alleged breach of a joint venture agreement, the Second Department, in the context of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, went through each cause of action and, where dismissal was appropriate, noted the pleading failure. The joint venture cause of action did not allege a mutual promise to share the losses. The constructive trust cause of action did not allege a confidential or fiduciary relationship. The fraud allegations were not collateral to the terms of the alleged joint venture and no out-of-pocket losses were alleged. The tortious interference with contract cause of action did not allege the intentional procurement of a breach of the joint venture agreement. The accounting cause of action did not allege that a demand for an accounting was made. The Second Department noted that the motion to amend the complaint to cure some of the defects should have been granted. With respect to the criteria for determining a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action where documentary evidence supporting the motion is submitted, the court explained:

“A motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action is barred by documentary evidence may be granted only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes the plaintiff’s factual allegations, thereby conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law” … .

In considering a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), “the court must accept the facts as alleged in the complaint as true, accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory” … . A court may consider evidentiary material submitted by a defendant in support of a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) … . When evidentiary material is considered on a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), and the motion has not been converted to one for summary judgment, “the criterion is whether the [plaintiff] has a cause of action, not whether he [or she] has stated one, and, unless it has been shown that a material fact as claimed by the [plaintiff] to be one is not a fact at all and unless it can be said that no significant dispute exists regarding it . . . dismissal should not eventuate”… . Mawere v Landau, 2015 NY Slip Op 06317, 2nd Dept 7-29-15

 


Elements of Negligence, General Business Law 349 and Tortious Interference with Contract Causes of Action Succinctly Described

The Second Department determined that Supreme Court properly dismissed (for failure to state a cause of action) the negligence cause of action, should not have dismissed the General Business Law 349 cause of action, and properly denied the motion to dismiss the tortious interference with contract cause of action. The court succinctly described the elements of the three causes of action (facts not described in the decision):

To prevail on a negligence cause of action, a plaintiff must establish the existence of a legal duty, a breach of that duty, proximate causation, and damages. “Absent a duty of care, there is no breach, and without breach there can be no liability” … . * * *

To state a cause of action under General Business Law § 349, the complaint must allege that ” a defendant has engaged in (1) consumer-oriented conduct that is (2) materially misleading and that (3) plaintiff suffered injury as a result of the allegedly deceptive act or practice’” … . * * *

The elements of a cause of action to recover damages for tortious interference with contract are the existence of a valid contract between it and a third party, the defendant’s knowledge of that contract, the defendant’s intentional procurement of the third party’s breach of that contract without justification, and damages … . MVB Collision, Inc. v Allstate Ins. Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 05453, 2nd Dept 6-24-15

 


Motion to Dismiss In Which Documentary Evidence Was Submitted—Court’s Role Is to Determine Whether Plaintiff Has a Cause of Action, Not Whether Plaintiff Has Stated a Cause of Action—Although the Complaint Alleged Interference With a Competitive Bidding Process Involving Public Entities, the Case Fit an Exception to the Rule that Competitive Bidding Issues Be Determined in an Article 78 Proceeding—It Was Alleged a Private Party (Defendant) Interfered with the Competitive Bidding Process

Reversing Supreme Court, the Third Department determined plaintiff had adequately pled a cause of action for tortious interference with contract. The plaintiff alleged that defendant subverted a bidding process for the installation of artificial turf at state and local schools. Usually competitive bidding cases are brought in an Article 78 proceeding against the relevant public entity. This case fit an exception to that rule because it was brought against a private party working with the public entities. There was also some question whether the proceeding was a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action or a motion for summary judgment.  Because documentary evidence was submitted, the court’s role was to determine whether the plaintiff has a cause of action, not whether plaintiff has stated one:

…[S]ince the motion (made shortly after serving the answer and before disclosure) argued an absence of any legal viability of the alleged causes of action, Supreme Court did not err in treating the motion as a narrowly framed post-answer CPLR 3211 (a) (7) ground asserted in a summary judgment motion … . When dismissal is sought for failure to state a cause of action and, as here, plaintiff submits affidavits, “a court may freely consider [those] affidavits . . . and ‘the criterion is whether the proponent of the pleading has a cause of action, not whether he [or she] has stated one’” … .

Turning to the merits of the motion, “the laws requiring competitive bidding were designed to benefit taxpayers rather than corporate bidders and, thus, should be construed and administered with sole reference to the public interest” … . Therefore, the remedy for an alleged violation of the competitive bidding statutes typically involves a timely CPLR article 78 proceeding challenging the bidding process … . However, a narrow exception to the limited remedy may exist where a plaintiff does not seek relief from the public entity, but brings an action against someone working on behalf of the public entity in the competitive bidding process who allegedly engaged in egregious conduct unknown to the public entity aimed at intentionally subverting a fair process … . Allegations of restricting competition to artificial turf manufactured by A-Turf could be part of a cognizable claim under the narrow exception … . Chenango Contr., Inc. v Hughes Assoc., 2015 NY Slip Op 03903, 3rd Dept 5-7-15

 


Tortious Interference with Contract and Unfair Competition Causes of Action Proven–Elements Explained—Punitive Damages Not Warranted–Purpose Explained

The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Sweeney, determined that the trial judge (bench trial) properly found that JC Penney (JCP) had tortiously interfered with the exclusivity provision of a contract between Macy’s and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO), but that the trial judge had improperly dismissed the cause of action alleging tortious interference with the confidentiality provision of the contract and the cause of action for unfair competition. The First Department agreed with the trial judge that punitive damages were not warranted.  Macy’s had entered a contract with MSLO which gave Macy’s the exclusive right to manufacture and sell MSLO products. JCP was found to have knowingly and forcefully engaged in negotiations with MSLO which resulted in MSLO’s breaching both the exclusivity and confidentiality provisions of the Macy’s contract:

To sustain its claim of tortious interference with contract, Macy’s must prove (1) that it had a valid contract with MSLO; (2) that JCP had knowledge of Macy’s contract with MSLO; (3) that JCP intentionally induced MSLO to breach its contract with Macy’s; (4) that MSLO breached its contract with Macy’s; (5) that MSLO would not have breached its contract with Macy’s absent JCP’s conduct; and (6) that Macy’s sustained damages … .

* * * On the record before us, the evidence establishes that JCP had, as the court found, a “certainty” or “substantial certainty” that it actions would result in a breach, particularly in light of the unambiguous language of the contract requirement that all MSLO goods in the Exclusive Product Categories, including all such goods sold in any MSLO Store, had to be manufactured by Macy’s. * * *

… Macy’s alleges that JCP induced MSLO to disclose the terms of its agreement and confidential financial information. This was a violation of the confidentiality provision of the agreement. Macy’s sufficiently demonstrated that the material disclosed does not fall under any exception to the confidentiality provisions as required by law or legal processes. Further, Macy’s demonstrated that the scope of disclosure was not properly limited with respect to the information provided and the personnel receiving it. As noted, JCP sought this information almost from the inception of its discussion with MSLO. The information was tantamount to trade secrets, as JCP’s executives acknowledged. * * *

It is well settled that “the primary concern in unfair competition is the protection of a business from another’s misappropriation of the business’ organization [or its] expenditure of labor, skill, and money’” (Ruder & Finn v Seaboard Sur. Co., 52 NY2d 663, 671 [1981]…). Indeed, “the principle of misappropriation of another’s commercial advantage [is] a cornerstone of the tort” (52 NY2d at 671). Allegations of a “bad faith misappropriation of a commercial advantage belonging to another by exploitation of proprietary information” can give rise to a cause of action for unfair competition … .

Here, the agreement between Macy’s and MSLO provided Macy’s with valuable exclusive rights to the Martha Stewart trademark and MSLO’s designs in the Exclusive Product Categories, which, as the court found, gave Macy’s a competitive advantage. It is conceded that the MSLO brand had significant value in the retail world, and the record shows JCP was fully aware of Macy’s commercial advantage as the exclusive distributor of these branded products. JCP’s actions in attempting to misappropriate this commercial advantage by inducing MSLO to breach its agreement falls squarely within Ruder and Finn’s definition of unfair competition … . * * *

…In order to be entitled to punitive damages, a private litigant “must not only demonstrate egregious tortious conduct by which he or she was aggrieved, but also that such conduct was part of a pattern of similar conduct directed at the public generally … . Punitive damages are “a social exemplary remedy, not a private compensatory remedy” Macy’s Inc v Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc, 2015 NY Slip Op 01728, 1st Dept 2-26-15

 

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