So Sue Me! (For Threatening to Sue You)

Employee sues employer. Employer calls employer’s lawyer. Employer and lawyer discuss the case. They review the cast of characters. They talk about the chronology of events. They assess the potential exposure to employer.

And, as sure as eggs, employer asks lawyer the following question: “Can’t we sue him?”

And what, do you presume, employer proposes to sue employee for exactly? Oh, there are many options, of course. But the classic is a claim for defamation. Employer wants to sue employee for alleging that employer engaged in unlawful discrimination or harassment or retaliation, etc., etc. Ok, truthfully, employer doesn’t care much about what exactly the suit would be for–just whether employer can sue the bejesus out of employee.

99 times out of 100, the answer to that question is a resounding “no”. See Jon Hyman’s post yesterday on this very topic. And, worse yet, lawyer may even tell employer that, just the threat of suit would be grounds for employee to add another claim to employee’s original suit.

Which, at last, brings me to the case I’d intended to post about today.

In Soterion Corp. v. Soteria Mezzanine Corp., the parties had negotiated the sale of a business but the sale was not consummated. The plaintiff sent the prospective buyers a letter threatening litigation and enclosing a copy of a draft complaint. The complaint was not filed until three months later.

The parties litigated the case all the way up to the courthouse stairs, as the saying goes. But, several days before trial was set to begin, the plaintiff stipulated to dismiss its claim.

The defendant counterclaimed, alleging that the plaintiff’s threat of litigation constituted a tortious interference with prospective business relations. The Court of Chancery addressed, as a matter of first impression, the question of whether such a claim could stand. Put differently, when does a threat of litigation constitute tortious interference? ,

The court held that a claim for tortious interference cannot stand where the threat of litigation is made in good faith and the bases for the threatened litigation are truthful. So, what is the lesson to be learned for employers from this case? In short, where a real claim exists, employers (and their lawyers) need not be afraid to say so.

Soterion Corp. v. Soteria Mezzanine Corp., No. 6158-VCN (Oct. 31, 2012).

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