Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Della Penna v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. case brief

Della Penna v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. case brief summary
902 P.2d 740 (Cal. 1995)

CASE SYNOPSIS
Defendant car manufacturer challenged the judgment of the California Court of Appeals that reversed a favorable judgment entered by the superior court, arguing that the superior court properly modified the standard jury instruction to include a requirement that plaintiff wholesaler prove that defendant's conduct was wrongful as an element of his prima facie claim of intentional interference with economic relations.

CASE 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.

DISCUSSION

  • 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 and, in disapproving prior opinions to the contrary, 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.

CONCLUSION
The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed and the matter was remanded with directions to affirm the judgment of the superior court. A plaintiff seeking to recover for a defendant's alleged interference with economic relations must plead and prove that defendant engaged in wrongful conduct. As such, the superior court judge did not err in modifying the jury instruction to impose such a requirement.

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