The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined defendant-employer (Verizon) was entitled to summary judgment dismissing the tortious-interference-with-prospective-business-relations cause of action. Plaintiff signed a non-compete agreement. When Verizon learned of plaintiff’s plan to resign and work for WarnerMedia Verizon warned plaintiff that resigning would lead to legal action:
Although plaintiff contends that Verizon wrongfully threatened litigation against him to enforce the noncompete provision, the “wrongful means” element of the cause of action is satisfied only where the threatened lawsuit is frivolous … . In light of the above facts, and considering that Verizon has successfully enforced a similar noncompete provision in the past … , there was an objectively reasonable basis to believe that the provision in its agreement with plaintiff was enforceable. …
Furthermore, the record does not support plaintiff’s argument that Verizon took its legal position solely out of a personal dislike for plaintiff, or solely by a desire to harm him … . On the contrary, the record shows that Verizon’s actions were motivated by economic self-interest … . Lucas v Verizon Communications, Inc., 2023 NY Slip Op 05190, First Dept 10-12-23
Practice Point: In order to support a tortious-interference-with-prospective-business-relations cause of action plaintiff must prove the employer’s threatened action was “wrongful” and was motivated solely by a desire to harm plaintiff. Here the employer threatened only to take legal action to enforce a non-compete agreement. The tortious-interference cause of action should have been dismissed.