What can I do when my business relationship with another goes sour through no fault of my own? This is a question that many of our clients ask us.
Fortunately, there are at least two actionable tort claims available in Georgia for a plaintiff who has been injured by wrongful interference with a business relationship: tortious interference with contractual rights and tortious interference with business relations.
These two distinct yet related torts require a plaintiff to show four common elements: that the defendant (1) acted improperly and without privilege, (2) acted purposefully and with malice with the intent to injure, (3) induced a third party or parties not to enter into or continue a business relationship with the plaintiff; and (4) for which the plaintiff suffered some financial injury. Chaney v. Harrison & Lynam, LLC, 308 Ga. App. 808, (2011); Gordon Document Products, Inc. v. Service Technologies, Inc., 308 Ga. App. 445 (2011). In Georgia, without privilege means that the defendant must be a stranger to the contract and the underlying business in order to be liable. See Carey Station Village Home Owners Ass'n, Inc. v. Carey Station Village, Inc., 268 Ga. App. 461 (2004) (homeowners association not stranger to contract between developer and certain purchasers of subdivision lots).
Although these torts share common elements, there are a couple of subtle differences to keep in mind when deciding a theory of liability. First, a plaintiff asserting a cause of action for tortious interference with business relations must show that absent the interference, those relations were reasonably likely to develop down the road. Wilson v. City of Sardis, 264 Ga. App. 178 (2003). And, a plaintiff asserting a cause of action for wrongful interference with contractual rights must show the existence of a valid and enforceable contract. Wachovia Ins. Services, Inc. v. Fallon, 299 Ga. App. 440 (2009). Proof of a valid and enforceable contract need not be proved for interference of business relations.
A plaintiff need not wait to show that an interference resulted in breach to pursue tortious interference - he need only show interference that, because of the defendant's interference, a third party's performance of a contract was made more difficult, more expensive or actually caused the party not to perform the contract. St. Mary's Hosp. of Athens, Inc. v. Radiology Professional Corp., 205 Ga. App. 121 (1992).
In cases where a defendant's interference was not to an already existing business relationship or contract but to an anticipated business relationship, or economic expectancy, of plaintiff's, then, to make out a claim for tortious interference, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with malice and fraud, and present evidence that as a result of those malicious and fraudulent actions, the economic benefit or gift which would have flowed to him was diverted to the defendant. Ford v. Reynolds, 726 S.E.2d 687 (Ga. Ct. App. 2012).
If you feel like you have been a victim of wrongful interference of business relations or contract rights, then you should consult an experienced business attorney at Betts & Associates to ensure that your rights are protected.