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Brooks v. Crowley Liner Services, Inc.

A-5554-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTS; TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE — In order to establish a cause of action for tortious interference, a party must show that the defendant has interfered with a prospective economic or contractual relationship, that the interference was done intentionally and with malice, and that the interference caused the loss of the prospective gain.

A liner company operated a marine terminal at an island in New Jersey from where it transported tanker trailers. The liner company contracted with a liquor company to transport rum from Puerto Rico to New Jersey. The liquor company, in turn, contracted with a trucking company to transport the tankers back and forth from New Jersey to the liquor company’s out-of-state plant. The liner company also contracted with the trucking company to transport the tankers from where the tankers were cleaned and back to the marine terminal. One of the trucking company’s contract drivers was dissatisfied with the amount charged by the trucking company to the liner company. He requested an increase in pay from the liner company’s manager, who denied his request. In the meantime, the trucking company was purchased by a new owner. The driver once again requested an increase in compensation from the liner company’s manager, who denied his request. In response, the driver informed the liner company’s supervisor that he would no longer transport the tankers to the marine terminal. The supervisor informed the driver’s employer of his actions. Shortly thereafter, the driver was reprimanded by the new owner of the trucking company and terminated. The driver filed an action against his former employer, the liner company, and the manager and supervisor of the liner company. He asserted that the liner company representatives had defamed his reputation with his employer and had tortiously interfered with his employment contract. He also contended that his former employer had violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Act by terminating him because of his age. The liner company and former employer moved for summary judgment, which the lower court granted. The driver appealed the lower court’s ruling contending that it erred in dismissing his tortious interference and defamation claims.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In its decision, it spelled out the burden of proof for a tortious interference claim. In order to establish a cause of action for tortious interference, a party must show: 1) the defendant has interfered with a prospective economic or contractual relationship; 2) the interference was done intentionally and with malice; and 3) the interference caused the loss of the prospective gain. In applying these elements, the Court found that the driver failed to establish that the liner company representatives intentionally interfered with his employment contract. It held that the driver interfered with his own employment contract as well as with the liquor company’s contract with the liner company by refusing to transport the tankers as required. It also rejected the driver’s defamation claim, finding that the statement by the liner company representative to the driver’s employer was subject to a qualified privilege because there was a contract between the two parties.


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