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Law Offices of Jonathan M. Cooper

The Biggest Challenge to Proving Tortious Interference in NY

Jonathan Cooper
Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer

While there is no question that living in a free-market economy has enormous benefits, there are some downsides as well, such as trying to recover damages when someone tries to poach your clients.

“Why?” you ask.

Because the hurdles you need to clear in order to prove and win a claim that the defendant tortiously interfered with your client base are significant.

Indeed, the most commonly invoked – and most powerful – defense to these claims is that the plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the defendant lacked justification for inducing the client to break its relationship with the plaintiff.

“What does that mean?” you ask.

In layperson’s terms, this means that the defendant encouraged the client to leave plaintiff simply out of a desire to injure the plaintiff rather than due to any self-interest in gaining business for himself.

In other words, the plaintiff needs to show that:

  1. The defendant intended to hurt the plaintiff; and,
  2. The defendant did so without justification - economic or otherwise.

To that end, New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, summarized this 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.)

At the risk of stating the obvious, a plaintiff’s ability to prove this is quite rare.