Court of Appeals Clarifies Intent Required to Establish Claim for Tortious Interference with Business Relations
On April 6, 2017, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided Whitt v. American Property Construction, PC, No. 15-CV-1199, slip op. (D.C. Apr. 6, 2017) in which it clarified the intent required to establish a claim for tortious interference with business relations.
By way of background, a claim for tortious interference with business relations requires showing: “(1) existence of a valid contractual or other business relationship; (2) the defendant’s knowledge of the relationship; (3) intentional interference with that relationship by the defendant; and (4) resulting damages.” Whitt, slip op. at 9 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by refusing to provide a proposed jury instruction explaining the third element (i.e., the element of intent). Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court should have instructed the jury that “interference with someone else’s business relationship is intentional if the actor desires to bring the interference about, or if he knows that the interference is certain or substantially certain to occur as a result of his action.” Id. at 10 (internal brackets omitted).
In reaching that conclusion, the Court of Appeals relied on the Restatement (Second) of Torts “which states that the intent required for tortious interference with business or contractual relations can be proven when the actor ‘knows that the interference is certain or substantially certain to occur as a result of his action.’” Id. at 9-10 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 766 cmt. j).
To view the Court of Appeals’ opinion, click here. For general background about tort claims for tortious interference in the District of Columbia, see Douglas C. Melcher, Tort Claims and Defenses in the District of Columbia § 25 (2014).