What if your competitor persuades your customer or employee to break a contract with you? Quite possibly you might have a right of action against your competitor for “tortious interference.”
North Dakota courts recognize the claim of “tortious” or “wrongful” interference with contractual rights. To prove this claim, a plaintiff must show breach of contract instigated without justification by the defendant. See, Hennum v. City of Medina, 402 N.W.2d 327, 336 (N.D. 1987).
These claims are hard to prove but common in business disputes. A plaintiff will need to show that the defendant was aware of the contract and caused its breach. It will not likely be enough to show that the defendant caused an at-will employee to quit or a customer to terminate a contract consistent with its terms because termination of an at-will contract is not a breach.
Also, the defendant will not be liable if its action was justified. Whether a defendant's conduct was justified is a fact question that depends on the circumstances. Interestingly, one Minnesota court recently found that a defendant's action was justified because the defendant reasonably relied on an erroneous opinion of its lawyer. Justification otherwise generally requires an inquiry into the defendant's motives. If the defendant was merely acting reasonably to protect its own legitimate interests, its actions may have been justified.
Since questions of cause and motives are important, a lawyer should conduct careful investigation into the facts and circumstances before bringing a tortious interference claim. We are happy to provide a free initial consultation to help you consider a tortious interference claim.