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The Best Defense to Tortious Interference Claims in New York

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Here's a dose of some cold, hard truth:

As a practical matter it is far from simple to prove a tortious interference with contract claim under New York law.

The Two Main Elements Needed for a Successful Tortious Interference With Contract Claim

First, there are two (2) primary elements that the plaintiff must prove in order to demonstrate tortious interference with contract:

1)  That the defendant intentionally induced a third party to break their contract with the plaintiff; AND

2) That the defendant did so without justification.

"Why is that so hard?" you ask.

Why It's So Hard to Win a Tortious Interference With Contract Claim Under NY Law

The answer lies in the latter prong - without justification - because that is where many defendants have successfully defeated tortious interference claims.

The reason this defense is often so potent is really simple:

All the defendant needs to show is that their actions were undertaken for their legitimate economic interests.

That's right; that includes garden-variety competition.

Make no mistake: that is a very broad category.

In fact, New York's highest court has held that this exemption applied not only where the defendant was a direct competitor of the plaintiff's but even if they weren't directly competing, and summarized the rule as follows:

"The existence of competition may often be relevant, since it provides an obvious motive for defendant's interference other than a desire to injure the plaintiff; competition, by definition, interferes with someone else's economic relations. Where the parties are not competitors, there may be a stronger case that the defendant's interference with the plaintiff's relationships was motivated by spite. But as long as the defendant is motivated by legitimate economic self-interest, it should not matter if the parties are or are not competitors in the same marketplace." (Carvel Corp. v Noonan, 3 NY3d at 191.)

Obviously, this is not an easy hurdle to clear.

Category: Breach of Contract

Jonathan Cooper
Employment Litigation and School Negligence Lawyer

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