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Why "Interference" Alone Isn't Enough to Win a Tortious Interference Claim in NY

In "How to Prove a Tortious Interference Claim Under New York Law," we pointed out some of the critical elements needed to sustain a tortious interference with contract claim in New York. These factors were summarized rather succinctly by New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals, as follows:

"[W]here there is an existing, enforceable contract and a defendant's deliberate interference results in a breach of that contract, a plaintiff may recover damages for tortious interference with contractual relations even if the defendant was engaged in lawful behavior." NBT Bancorp v. Fleet/Norstar Fin. Group, 87 N.Y.2d 614, 621 (1996) (citing Israel v. Wood Dolson Co., 1 N.Y.2d 116, 119 (1956))."
 

Inherent in this list is the plaintiff's obligation to prove that there was an actual breach of the plaintiff's contract with the third party ("[i]n order for the plaintiff to have a cause of action for tortious interference of contract, it is axiomatic that there must be a breach of contract by the other party." Jack L. Inselman & Co. v. FNB Financial Co., 41 N.Y.2d 1078 (N.Y. 1977)). This leads to an interesting question:
 

What happens if the defendant's actions render the completion of the contract impossible?
 

Under New York law, the answer - in most cases - is that no cause of action for tortious interference will lie, because "a tortious interference with contract claim may not be premised on a theory that the defendant committed an act that rendered performance of a contract impossible. See, e.g., Twelve Inches Around Corp. v. Cisco Sys., Inc., No. 08 Civ. 6896(WHP), 2009 WL 928077, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2009)."
 

In other words, interference with the contract isn't enough; the plaintiff must prove that the contract was actually breached, and as a direct result of the defendant's deliberate actions. 


Jonathan Cooper
Employment Litigation and School Negligence Lawyer