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Tortious interference claims easier?

For plaintiffs suing for tortious interference with contract, Virginia law may have shifted slightly in their favor last year when the Supreme Court of Virginia decided DurretteBradshaw PC v. M.C. Consulting LC.

At least that’s how one federal magistrate judge interpreted the 2009 high court case.

Earlier this month, Richmond U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis W. Dohnal heard a tort case filed by a former executive assistant at MeadWestvaco who alleged she was fired as a result of a complaint by a psychologist hired to assist the company in review of its executive team. She sued the psychologist, alleging tortious interference with her at-will employment contract.

MeadWestvaco had hired defendant psychologist Paul Napper to visit their offices on a monthly basis and assist the HR department with “360 Evaluations.” Plaintiff Teresa Clark was assigned to assist Napper, but he became unhappy with her after the “Lost Report Incident,” when a confidential evaluation of a senior executive went missing. Napper requested another staff person be assigned to support him. Clark was fired, and she sued Napper.

Dohnal said to show tortious interference, a plaintiff has to prove a contract or expectancy, that the interferor knew about the contract or relationship, intentional interference that caused a breach of the relationship and damage.

Dohnal said that a putative plaintiff’s burden had been eased, to some extent, by “recent developments in Virginia law” that provide “additional nuances to the element of intent in tortious interference cases.”

He said that under the 2009 decision in DurretteBradshaw, Clark could satisfy the intent requirement if she could show that Napper knew her termination would result from his account of her role in the Lost Report Incident.

In the end, the discussion was merely academic for Clark. Even if the burden has been eased, it made no difference for Clark. Dohnal recommended summary judgment for Napper.

Richmond lawyer Scott Crowley, who represents Clark, has filed objections to the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne will have the last word.
By Deborah Elkins

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