Fitzpatrick v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago

Citation916 F.2d 1254
Decision Date25 October 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-2966,89-2966
PartiesDennis J. FITZPATRICK, doing business as F.E.L. Publications, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CHICAGO, a corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)

Dennis J. Fitzpatrick, Las Vegas, Nev., pro se.

Lee N. Abrams, George Vurdelja, Mayer, Brown & Platt, Chicago, Ill., for defendant-appellee.

Before WOOD, Jr., CUDAHY and POSNER, Circuit Judges.

HARLINGTON WOOD, Jr., Circuit Judge.

Dennis J. Fitzpatrick brings his second appeal to this court. A complete summary of the facts appears in our previous opinion, see F.E.L. Publications v. Catholic Bishop, 754 F.2d 216 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 824, 106 S.Ct. 79, 88 L.Ed.2d 64 (1985), but we will only develop the facts as necessary for our disposition of the case. The parties agree that Illinois law controls.

Operating under the aegis of F.E.L. Publications, Ltd., Fitzpatrick was a successful publisher of religious music for Roman Catholic liturgies. In fact, Fitzpatrick was so successful that, with little regard for the copyright laws, religious groups often copied his music. Some of these groups were controlled by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which soon found itself on the wrong end of a September 1976 lawsuit by F.E.L. Publications for copyright infringement. At the same time, F.E.L. Publications sent letters to all other Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States threatening litigation for copyright infringement.

In October 1976, Monsignor Brackin, the Vicar General of the Chicago archdiocese, sent two letters to institutions within his jurisdiction. These letters mentioned the pending litigation and asked that all use of F.E.L. materials cease immediately. Monsignor Brackin also requested that all F.E.L. materials be turned over to archdiocesan officials. In response to inquiries from other Roman Catholic clergy, Monsignor Brackin mailed copies of these letters to all dioceses in the United States. Monsignor Brackin's mailings are at the heart of this lawsuit.

After Monsignor Brackin sent his letters, F.E.L. experienced a sharp decline in sales whereas other publishers of liturgical music gained market share. Today, F.E.L. is no longer in business. Consequently, F.E.L. added a tortious interference with contractual relations count to its copyright suit. Specifically, F.E.L. claimed that the Chicago archdiocese's ban on F.E.L. music interfered with actual and prospective contractual relations with Roman Catholic parishes and other institutions both within and without the Chicago archdiocese. The focus of F.E.L.'s suit is Monsignor Brackin's letters about the ban that were mailed to third parties outside the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The copyright and tortious interference claims went to trial. The Chicago archdiocese admitted liability for copyright infringement but contested the tort count. The result was a verdict for F.E.L. in the amount of $190,400 for copyright infringement and $2 million in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages for the Chicago archdiocese's interference with F.E.L.'s contractual relations. On appeal, we affirmed that part of the district court's judgment relating to the copyright claim. 754 F.2d at 218-20. As to the tort claim, however, we found that the Archdiocese of Chicago and its parishes were the same entity, meaning that the archdiocese could only be liable for interference with contractual relations outside its borders. Id. at 220-22. Because we were "unable to determine from the record before us ... what amount of the jury's tortious interference award was impermissibly based on the Catholic Bishop's conduct toward its own parishes and what amount, if any, was based on its actions involving dioceses outside Chicago," we reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Id. at 222.

The further proceedings ended in August 1989, when the district court granted summary judgment to the defendant. The district court found that F.E.L. had failed to come forward with any evidence indicating that Monsignor Brackin's letters caused its dramatic decline in sales. Furthermore, the defendant had produced affidavits from twenty-four representatives of organizations that terminated their relationship with F.E.L. after Monsignor Brackin had sent his letters. Each affiant stated that the termination of their organization's business relationship with F.E.L. had nothing to do with the conduct of Monsignor Brackin or the Archdiocese of Chicago. Taking these facts into consideration, the district court concluded that summary judgment would be appropriate because the plaintiff would be unable to prove the essential element of causation at trial.

When this suit was brought, F.E.L. Publications was a corporate entity, but it has since been dissolved and its claims assigned to its owner, Dennis J. Fitzpatrick. The plaintiff informed the district court of this name change, and the caption has since been altered to reflect the plaintiff's correct name. The district court's judgment refers only to F.E.L. Publications, but we reject the defendant's contention that the plaintiff's notice of appeal, which specifies the appellant as "Dennis J. Fitzpatrick, doing business as F.E.L. Publications," is inadequate. It is clear that "F.E.L. Publications" and "Dennis J. Fitzpatrick" are now alternative names for the same entity.

To establish a claim for tortious interference with contractual relations in Illinois, a plaintiff has to prove five elements: (1) a valid contract, (2) defendant's knowledge of the contract's existence, (3) an intentional and malicious inducement of the breach of contract, (4) breach of contract caused by the defendant's wrongful conduct, and (5) resultant damage to the plaintiff. George A. Fuller Co. v. Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, 719 F.2d 1326, 1330 (7th Cir.1983) (quoting Swager v. Couri, 60 Ill.App.3d 192, 196, 376 N.E.2d 456, 459,...

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