38 A. 96 (Me. 1897), Perkins v. Pendleton

Citation38 A. 96, 90 Me. 166
Opinion JudgeWISWELL, J.
Party NamePERKINS v. PENDLETON et al.
AttorneyP. H. Gillin and R. F. Dunton, for plaintiff. W. H. Fogler and W. P. Thompson, for defendants.
Case DateApril 09, 1897
CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Maine

Page 96

38 A. 96 (Me. 1897)

90 Me. 166

PERKINS

v.

PENDLETON et al.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

April 9, 1897

Page 97

P. H. Gillin and R. F. Dunton, for plaintiff. W. H. Fogler and W. P. Thompson, for defendants.

WISWELL, J.

To the plaintiff's declaration, which appears in full in the statement of the case, the defendants filed a general demurrer, which was overruled by the justice presiding at nisi prius, and the declaration adjudged good. The case comes to the law court upon exceptions to this ruling.

The plaintiff alleges that upon a certain day he was, and for 22 years prior to that time had been, in the employ of the Mt. Waldo Granite Company as a stone cutter, working by the piece; that he was making large profits out of his employment; that he would have continued in such employment from the day named until the date of his writ "but for the wrongful acts, inducements, threats, persuasions, and grievances committed by said defendants against the said plaintiff as hereinafter set forth;" that on the day named, and "at divers other times thereafter until the date of the plaintiff's writ," the defendants "did unlawfully and without justifiable cause, molest, obstruct, and hinder the plaintiff from carrying on his said trade, occupation, or business as a stone cutter for the said Mt. Waldo Granite Company, and wrongfully, unlawfully, and unjustly had him discharged without any justifiable cause from the employment of the said Mt. Waldo Granite Company by willfully threatening, persuading, inducing, and by other overt acts compelling, the said Mt. Waldo Granite Company, against its will, and without any desire on its part so to do, to discharge the said plaintiff from its employ for the sole reason that the plaintiff would not become a member in the order of the Mt. Waldo Branch of the Granite Cutters' National Union"; whereby he suffered the injury specially set out in his declaration. Does this statement of facts sufficiently set out an actionable wrong upon the part of the defendants?

That an action lies under certain circumstances for procuring a third person to break his contract with the plaintiff has been frequently decided by the courts of England and of this country.

In Lumley v. Gye, 2 El. & Bl. 216, decided in 1853, the action was for knowingly and maliciously inducing an opera singer to break her contract with the plaintiff to perform exclusively for a certain time in his theater. The right of action was sustained by a majority of the court.

In Bowen v. Hall, 6 Q. B. Div. 333, decided in 1881, a person had contracted to manufacture glazed bricks for the plaintiff, and not to engage himself to any one else for a term of five years. The English court of appeals held that an action could be maintained against the defendant for maliciously procuring a breach of this contract, provided damage accrued; and that to sustain the action it was not necessary that the employer and employé should stand in the strict relation of master and servant. It was said by the court in this case: "That wherever a man does an act which in law and in fact is a wrongful act, and such an act as may, as a natural and probable consequence of it, produce injury to another, and which in the particular case does produce such an injury, an action on the case will lie. *** If these conditions are satisfied, the action does not the less lie because the natural and probable consequence of the act complained of is an act done by a third person, or because such act so done by the third person is a breach of duty or contract by him, or an act illegal on his part, or an act otherwise imposing an actionable liability on him. *** Merely to persuade a person to break his contract may not be wrongful in law or fact, *** but, if the persuasion be used for the indirect purpose of injuring the plaintiff or of benefiting the defendant at the expense of the plaintiff, it is a malicious act, which is in law and in fact a wrong act, and therefore an actionable act if injury ensued from it."

The doctrine of these cases has been very generally adopted, and the cases themselves very frequently cited, by the courts of this country. Walker v. Cronin, 107 Mass. 555; Bixby v. Dunlap, 56 N.H. 456; Noice v. Brown, 39 N. J. Law, 569; Haskins v. Royster, 70 N.C. 601; Daniel v. Swearengen, 6 S.C. 297.

In view of these authorities and others, which it is not necessary to refer to, it must be conceded that for a person to wrongfully--that is, by the employment of unlawful or improper means--induce a third party to break a contract with the plaintiff, whereby injury will naturally and probably, and does in fact, ensue to the plaintiff, is actionable; and the rule applies both upon principle and authority as well to cases where the employer breaks his contract as where it is broken by the employé; in fact it is not confined to contracts of employment.

But in this case the plaintiff does not allege that the Mt. Waldo Granite Company was induced by the wrongful means adopted by the defendants to break a contract, nor that there was any contract between the plaintiff and the employer for any definite time. We must, therefore, assume that there was none, that either party had the right to terminate the employment at any time, and that the act of the Mt. Waldo Company in discharging the plaintiff was lawful, and one which the company had a perfect right to do at any time.

Page 98

The question presented, then, is whether a person can be liable in damages for inducing and persuading, by threats or other unlawful means, an employer to discharge his employé when the terms of the contract of service are such that the employer may do this at his pleasure, without violating any legal right of the employé. The question is a novel one in this state, but it has already arisen and been passed upon by the courts of some other states.

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