A recent decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court may lead to groundbreaking changes for the claim of tortious interference of contract. The case, Sysdyne Corp. v. Rousslang, pertained to one company hiring away an employee from a competitor where that employee had a non-compete agreement. The company sought the legal advice of its attorney who reviewed the soon-to-be employee’s non-compete agreement with his prior employer. The attorney determined that, based upon legal precedence, the non-compete agreement would be unenforceable. The company then hired the employee.
A lawsuit ensued with the employee’s former company suing his new company for tortious interference with contract. A six-figure judgment in favor of the former employer was issued and an appeal was had. It worked its way up to the Minnesota Supreme Court. That court determined that because the new employer performed an inquiry as to the non-compete agreement and relied upon the advice of its counsel, it acted reasonably and, as a result, no liability would attach.
This is a potentially seismic shift in the tortious interference landscape. It can easily be extrapolated to say that reliance upon advice from counsel is a valid legal defense for any type of tortious interference claim, be it in the employment context or not. A slippery slope may then be created as this defense could be expanded into other business tort claims as well. While this is not yet law in Ohio, it is only a matter of time before this issue is presented here.