While it might give one a sense of satisfaction, overt retaliation in the business world will often come with a price tag. The facts before the Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Janvrin v. Continental Resources, Inc. were, in a nutshell, as follows:
Plaintiff-owned trucking firm J&J Trucking. Almost all of J&J’s revenue came from its business relationship with CTAP. In turn, one-half of CTAP’s revenue came from its business relationship with the defendant.
One of the defendant’s drivers struck and killed two cows owned by the plaintiff’s relatives. Believe it or not, this accident was covered by the local media. The plaintiff commented for the newspaper’s story, complaining about folks driving too fast on the road leading to the defendant’s office. The honcho at that office interpreted the plaintiff’s remarks to the media to be an audacious show of ingratitude.
The honcho sent his indignation up the chain and an even bigger honcho for the defendant contacted a boss at CTAP. Hours after the plaintiff’s remarks were published in the local newspaper, CTAP contacted plaintiff and informed him that CTAP would no longer be doing business with his company. Around this same time, one of the defendant’s honchos was heard bragging about shutting down a trucking firm.
The plaintiff sued the defendant for tortious interference. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff awarding him almost $125,000 in compensatory damages and an additional and equal amount of punitive damages.
Like most states, South Dakota law tracks the Restatement (Second) of Torts as to the elements of a claim for tortious interference. Accordingly, a plaintiff bringing such a claim must prove (1) the existence of a valid business relationship or expectancy; (2) knowledge by the interferer of the relationship or expectancy; (3) an intentional and improper act of interference by the interferer; and (4) damage caused by the interference.
The defendant raised a variety of points on appeal. The most interesting was the claim that they had an “absolute right” to refuse to do business with J&J Trucking. The court agreed with that contention, but aptly noted that encouraging CTAP to refuse to do business with J&J Trucking was a cow of a different color. Food for thought.
 2019 WL 3916532 (8th Cir. App.) (August 20, 2019)