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Della Penna v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

Supreme Court of California

October 12, 1995, Decided

No. S044053.


 [*378]  [**741]  [***437]    ARABIAN, J. 

We granted review to reexamine, in light of divergent rulings from the Court of Appeal and a doctrinal evolution among other state high courts, the elements of the tort variously known as interference with "prospective economic advantage," "prospective contractual relations," or "prospective economic relations,"  [****2]  and the allocation of the burdens of proof between the parties to such an action. We conclude that those Court of Appeal opinions requiring proof of a so-called "wrongful act" as a component of the cause of action, and allocating the burden of proving it to the plaintiff, are the better reasoned decisions; we accordingly adopt that analysis as our own, disapproving language in prior opinions of this court to the contrary. Such a requirement, incorporating the views of several other jurisdictions, much of the Restatement Second of Torts, the better reasoned decisions of the Court of Appeal, and the views of leading academic authorities, sensibly redresses the balance between providing a remedy for predatory economic behavior and keeping legitimate business competition outside litigative bounds. We do not in this case, however, go beyond approving the requirement of a showing of wrongfulness as part of the plaintiff's case; the case, if any, to be made for adopting refinements to that element of the tort--requiring the plaintiff to prove, for example, that the defendant's conduct amounted to an independently tortious act, or was a species of anticompetitive behavior proscribed by positive [****3]  law, or was motivated by unalloyed malice--can be considered on another day, and in another case.

In this case, after the trial court modified the standard jury instruction to require the plaintiff automobile dealer to show that defendant Toyota's interference with his business relationships was "wrongful," the jury returned a verdict for Toyota. The Court of Appeal reversed the ensuing judgment and ordered a new trial on the ground that plaintiff's burden of proof did not encompass  [**742]   [***438]  proof of a "wrongful" act and that the modified jury instruction was therefore erroneous. Given our conclusion that the plaintiff's  [*379]  burden does include proof that the defendant's conduct was wrongful by some measure other than an interference with the plaintiff's interest itself, we now reverse the Court of Appeal and direct that the judgment of the trial court be affirmed.

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11 Cal. 4th 376 *; 902 P.2d 740 **; 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 436 ***; 1995 Cal. LEXIS 5960 ****; 95 Daily Journal DAR 13801; 95 Cal. Daily Op. Service 8056

JOHN DELLA PENNA, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, U.S.A., INC., Defendant and Respondent.

Prior History:  [****1]  Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No. 709470, Thomas P. Hansen, Judge.

Disposition: The judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed and the cause is remanded with directions to affirm the judgment of the trial court.


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Torts, Commercial Interference, Prospective Advantage, General Overview, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Intentional Interference, Elements