Court Addresses Interference with Business Claims

A recent Alabama Supreme Court decision, Fitzpatrick v. Huehn, addressed issues relating to the tort of “intentional interference” with contract or with business relations. This case involved an inter-family dispute about an agreement to sell property on which a flea market was operated.

One issue dealt with the question of whether the argument that the defendant was not a “stranger” to the contract was an affirmative defense; that is, whether the plaintiff or the defendant had the burden to raise this issue in the pleadings and has the burden of proof at trial.

During the last several years the Alabama Supreme Court has expanded this defense so as to prevent tortious interference claims against persons or companies who not only were parties to the contract that plaintiff says they interfered with, but also precludes such claims where, while not a party to the contract, the person or company’s interests are so closely related to the contract that they are considered not a “stranger” to the contract. In this case, the court held that this defense is not an “affirmative defense,” but rather the issue was part of plaintiff’s burden of proof in presenting the claim.

The Supreme Court also considered a claim for intentional interference with an inheritance. This court had never previously determined whether this was a claim upon which a case could be brought in Alabama. Here, the court seemed to imply that there could be such a claim, but did not expressly say so; instead, it ruled that, even if there were, the plaintiff did not sufficiently prove facts necessary for this type of claim.