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

11 Cal. 4th 376, 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 436, 902 P.2d 740 (1995)

 

RULE:

A plaintiff seeking to recover for alleged interference with prospective economic relations has the burden of pleading and proving that the defendant's interference was wrongful by some measure beyond the fact of the interference itself. 

FACTS:

Defendant car manufacturer barred American wholesalers from diverting its luxury car for foreign sales. Plaintiff wholesaler brought suit, claiming intentional interference with economic relations. After the jury returned a verdict for defendant, plaintiff appealed. The appellate court reversed and concluded that the trial court erred in modifying the jury instruction by imposing a requirement that plaintiff prove that defendant's conduct was "wrongful." Defendant appealed, and the state supreme court granted review to re-examine divergent rulings on the elements of this tort.

ISSUE:

Did the trial court err in modifying the jury instruction to require the jury to find that defendant's interference was "wrongful"? 

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The Court concluded that proof of a wrongful act as a component of the cause was a requirement of a plaintiff's prima facie case. A plaintiff seeking to recover for an alleged interference with prospective contractual or economic relations must plead and prove as part of its case-in-chief that the defendant not only knowingly interfered with the plaintiff's expectancy but engaged in conduct that was wrongful by some legal measure other than the fact of the interference itself. As such, the trial court's modification of the jury instruction was proper.

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