Intentional Interference with Contractual Relations
Extraordinarily talented people are often in demand. This is particularly true when the talent is marketable. When this is the case, it is not unusual to see employers vying for the services of a peculiarly gifted person. This in turn gives rise to the classic-fact pattern out of which arises the intentional interference with contractual relations tort. The landmark case of Lumley v. Gye, 118 Eng. Rep. 749 ( 1853) is illustrative of the classic-fact pattern. In that case, opera star Johanna Wagner had entered into an exclusive contract to perform for the Queen's Theatre. The Queen's Theatre alleged that the defendant, a rival employer, had attempted to induce Johanna Wagner to refuse to perform for the Queen's Theatre. In a case that broke new ground, the court recognized intentional interference with contractual relations as a viable cause of action. The tort today retains special vitality in the sports setting as rival employers typically vie for the special services of especially gifted athletes and coaches.
The tort's modern profile requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant intentionally interfered with an existing contractual relationship of the plaintiff. The defendant must do something that either prevents performance of the contract or makes performance substantially less likely. The defendant must have actual knowledge of the contract and must act with the intention of interfering with the contract. The defendant can justify the interference by showing that, on balance, his right to compete with the plaintiff for the personal services of others outweighs the plaintiffs interest in entirely stable contractual relations. Thus, the defendant might be justified in seeking to open negotiations with someone who is already employed. The cases which follow explore the parameters of the tort in greater detail.