It is Not Tortious to Interfere if You Are Exercising a Legitimate Interest or Right

more+
less-
more+
less-

In many commercial disputes, one or more of the parties will assert a tortious interference claim against the other.  While there are several variations of tortious interference claims (e.g., interference with existing contractual relations, with prospective business advantage or with existing business relations), for discussion purposes, the elements required to show tortious interference with existing contractual relations are: (1) that the acts were intentional and willful; (2) that they were calculated to cause damage to the plaintiffs in their lawful business; (3) that they were done with the unlawful purpose of causing damage and loss, without right or justifiable cause on the part of the defendant (which constitutes malice); and (4) that actual damage and loss resulted.  See Morrison v. Miss. Enter. for Tech. Inc., 798 So. 2d 567, 574 (Miss. 2001) (citing Par Indus. Inc., v. Target Container Co., 708 So. 2d 44, 48 (Miss. 1998)).

In the face of a tortious interference claim, however, if the interfering party has a legitimate interest or right in doing what he did, then under Mississippi law, the interfering party’s actions are “privileged”, and the tortious interference claim fails.  The Mississippi Court of Appeals has summarized this point by explaining that “[a]n interference is not wrongful and actionable if undertaken by someone in the exercise of a legitimate interest or right which constitutes ‘privileged interference.’”  King’s Daughters & Sons Circle No. Two v. Delta Reg’l Med. Ctr., 856 So.2d 600 (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (quoting Vestal v. Oden, 500 So.2d 954, 957 (Miss.1986) and Martin v. Texaco, Inc., 304 F.Supp. 498, 502-04 (S.D.Miss.1969)).

Based on this principle, below are a couple examples where Mississippi courts have granted summary judgment to defendants facing tortious interference claims: 

  • The Tupelo Public School District Interim Superintendent had a “legitimate interest” in sending out letters to all of the voice teacher’s students stating that pending an investigation that all tutoring, private lessons or private coaching by the voice teacher to the public school students must be immediately suspended.  The Court granted summary judgment to the Tupelo Public School District.  See Ellis v. Tupelo Pub. Sch. Dist., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43540 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 31, 2014) 
  • A medical center had a contractual agent that was interested in purchasing a hospital, and the agent had gone so far as to enter into a letter of intent with the hospital.   Upon learning of the letter of intent, the medical center took the position that the agent had breached its fiduciary duties.  This caused the agent to back out of the deal with the hospital.  The Supreme Court held that trial court properly granted summary judgment to the medical center as the medical center had a legitimate interest in enforcing its contract with the agent even though it had interfered with the relationship between the agent and the hospital.  See King’s Daughters & Sons Circle No. Two v. Delta Reg’l Med. Ctr., 856 So. 2d 600 (Miss. Ct. App. 2003). 

From this, we see that it is not tortious (or actionable) to interfere as long as you are exercising a legitimate interest or right. 

 

Topics:  Contract Disputes, Tortious Interference

Published In: Business Torts Updates, General Business Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Butler Snow LLP | Attorney Advertising

Don't miss a thing! Build a custom news brief:

Read fresh new writing on compliance, cybersecurity, Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers, social media, hiring & firing, patent reform, the NLRB, Obamacare, the SEC…

…or whatever matters the most to you. Follow authors, firms, and topics on JD Supra.

Create your news brief now - it's free and easy »