The contours of the tort of unlawful interference with economic
relations have, heretofore, been "unsettled",
"confusing" and "inconsistent". The tort
essentially provides redress when party "A" intentionally
inflicts economic injury on party "B" by use of
unlawful means against party "C". What is the
nature of the "unlawful" activity that can ground the
tort? What degree of intentionality is required to give rise
to the tort? Is the tort available concurrently with other
causes of action? These are the central questions that the
Supreme Court of Canada grappled with in its recent decision in A.I. Enterprises Ltd. v. Bram Enterprises
Ltd., 2014 SCC 12, in an effort to bring clarity and coherence
to this tort.
The salient facts of the decision in A.I. Enterprises were as
follows. The majority owners of an apartment building
attempted to sell the property. The dissenting minority
owners thwarted the sale of the property to third parties by filing
encumbrances against the property and denying prospective buyers
entry to the property. The property was ultimately sold to
the dissenting minority owners for less than fair market value.
The majority owners commenced an action against the minority
owners, alleging that the latter's conduct amounted to
interference by unlawful means. The majority owners prevailed
at first instance. The trial judge's ruling was affirmed
on appeal. Although the appeal court found that the minority
owners' conduct did not meet the requirements of the tort, it
nevertheless imposed liability on the basis of a "principled
On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada took the occasion
to delineate the proper bounds of the tort, acknowledging the
"unfortunate state" of the existing jurisprudence.
The Supreme Court of Canada, after reviewing the relevant
jurisprudence from Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand and the
United States, adopted a "narrow understanding" of the
tort. More specifically, it ruled that:
the "unlawful means" aspect of the tort will only be
satisfied if it would give rise to an actionable civil wrong from
the perspective of the person at whom it was directed (thus,
"criminal offences and breaches of statute would not be per se
actionable under the unlawful means tort");
this narrow definition of "unlawful means" should not
be subject to "principled exceptions" (which the Court
noted essentially depend on the idiosyncrasies of individual
judges, introduce unwanted uncertainty and compromise
a plaintiff must specifically intend to harm the defendant
– incidental, foreseeable, harm is not sufficient – in
order to establish the tort.
The Supreme Court applied a restricted approach to the concept
of "unlawful means" despite recognizing the broader
approach to that concept in the context of other economic
torts. However, the Supreme Court declined to further confine
the application of the tort by ruling that it can be asserted
concurrently with other available causes of action.
The Court ultimately ruled that the unlawful means element of
the tort was not satisfied in the context of this case (but went on
to find the liability based on a different cause of action).
The decision in A.I. Enterprises represents a significant
narrowing of the bounds of the tort of unlawful interference with
economic relations. The circumscription of the tort evinces a
judicial desire to permit robust competition in the marketplace
– "some elbow-room...for the aggressive pursuit of
self-interest" – free from "vague" judicial
standards of "commercial morality".
It's not often that our little blog intersects with such titanic struggles as the U.S. presidential race – and by using the term "titanic" I certainly don't mean to suggest that anything disastrous is in the future.
J.J. v. C.C., is an interesting case in which the court held that an automotive garage owes a duty to minor children to secure the vehicles on the premises by locking the cars and safely storing the car keys...
In Irwin v. Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, 2015 ABCA 396, the Alberta Court of Appeal found that the "ABVMA" failed to afford procedural fairness to a veterinarian undergoing an incapacity assessment.
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