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04/18/96 ELISABETH ANDERSON v. RONALD VANDEN DORPEL

April 18, 1996

ELISABETH ANDERSON, APPELLEE,
v.
RONALD VANDEN DORPEL ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The Honorable Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court: Justice Harrison, dissenting: Justice Freeman joins in this dissent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miller

The Honorable Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, Elisabeth Anderson, brought the present action in the circuit court of Cook County against defendants, Ronald Vanden Dorpel and Northwestern University. Vanden Dorpel was Anderson's supervisor at Northwestern and allegedly made defamatory remarks about her to a prospective employer. Anderson sought recovery under theories of defamation and interference with prospective economic advantage. On the defendants' motion, the circuit court dismissed those counts pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 1992)). The appellate court reversed, finding that the plaintiff stated causes of action under both theories, and remanded the cause for further proceedings. 268 Ill. App. 3d 907, 645 N.E.2d 250, 206 Ill. Dec. 245. We allowed the defendants' petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)), and we now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

The present appeal is before us on the pleadings, and the facts alleged by the plaintiff and the procedural history of the case may be stated briefly. The plaintiff was employed by defendant Northwestern University in 1989, where she had worked for nine years as its director of corporate relations. In that capacity she raised funds from corporations. According to the allegations in the plaintiff's first-amended complaint, which forms the basis for the claims at issue here, in November 1989 someone from the Young Men's Christian Association of Metropolitan Chicago (YMCA) approached the plaintiff, who was not then looking for a job, about a comparable position in the fund-raising department of the YMCA. The plaintiff had been recommended for the job by a member of the YMCA's board of trustees. The plaintiff was interviewed for the position on November 20, 1989, by Carmelita Gallo, director of personnel for the YMCA, and by Almarie Wagner, YMCA senior vice president. Further interviews were then scheduled for December 6 and 8, 1989, with absent members of the board of trustees. Plaintiff was told that her initial interviews had gone well and that she was being seriously considered for the position. The plaintiff alleges that as of December 6, she was the leading candidate for the job. She was interviewed on December 6, 1989, by Steven Crown, the YMCA's director, and was assured that the interview had gone well. The plaintiff learned that she was recommended or was going to be recommended for hiring by persons who interviewed her after she completed a follow-up interview on Friday, December 8.

Between Wednesday, December 6, and Thursday, December 7, Crown spoke with Ronald Vanden Dorpel about the plaintiff. Vanden Dorpel was Northwestern's vice president of university development and alumni relations and was the plaintiff's supervisor. According to the plaintiff's complaint, Vanden Dorpel told Crown that the plaintiff "did not follow up on assignments" and that "she could not get along with her coworkers." On Thursday December 7, someone from the YMCA called plaintiff to cancel interviews that had been scheduled for Friday, December 8, and Monday, December 11. The plaintiff alleged that Vanden Dorpel's comments were false and were made in violation of a Northwestern policy limiting the amount of information that may be provided to others. The plaintiff further alleged that Vanden Dorpel asked her to leave her employment with Northwestern in January 1990, though the present action does not involve that decision.

The plaintiff instituted the present action on December 5, 1990, by filing a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County. She sought recovery from the defendants under several different theories, including the two at issue here, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 1992)) for failure to make a claim for which relief may be granted. The trial judge dismissed the intentional interference and defamation counts without prejudice.

The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on June 14, 1991, again alleging theories of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation. Once more the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2--615. The trial judge dismissed the intentional interference count with prejudice and entered a Rule 304(a) finding enabling the plaintiff to immediately appeal the ruling. The trial judge denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the defamation count, however, and dismissed without prejudice a third count. The plaintiff then filed a second-amended complaint, realleging the defamation count and providing new allegations in support of the third count. The defendants moved for reconsideration of the prior ruling denying their motion to dismiss the defamation count, and moved for dismissal with prejudice of the third count as well. The trial judge granted the motion and dismissed both counts with prejudice. The plaintiff appealed from that ruling. Before the appellate court, the plaintiff apparently did not challenge the dismissal of the third count, and it is not at issue in the appeal to this court.

The appellate court consolidated the plaintiff's appeal from the dismissal of the defamation count with her earlier appeal from the dismissal of the intentional interference count, reversed the judgment of the circuit court, and remanded the cause for further proceedings. 268 Ill. App. 3d 907, 206 Ill. Dec. 245, 645 N.E.2d 250. With respect to the claim for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff had a reasonable expectancy of being hired by the YMCA and that, as alleged, the comments made by Vanden Dorpel to Crown could therefore have interfered with her realizing that benefit. 268 Ill. App. 3d at 913. With respect to the defamation count, the appellate court found that defendant Vanden Dorpel's alleged comment on the plaintiff's inability to get along with others was subject to an innocent construction and therefore not actionable. The appellate court believed, however, that the comment regarding the plaintiff's failure to follow up on assignments was not subject to an innocent construction. 268 Ill. App. 3d at 916-17. The court also concluded that neither count was barred by the conditional privilege asserted by the defendants. We allowed the defendants' petition for leave to appeal. 155 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).

I. Intentional Interference with Prospective

Economic Advantage

We consider first the plaintiff's claim, under count I of the first-amended complaint, seeking recovery under a theory of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. The defendants argue that the plaintiff did not have a reasonable expectancy of gaining employment with the YMCA and that she therefore cannot state a cause of action under that theory. The defendants contend that the appellate court's decision sustaining the intentional interference count conflicts with a number of other decisions that have denied recovery in similar circumstances and will dissuade employers from providing candid assessments of their employees.

To state a cause of action for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, a plaintiff must allege (1) a reasonable expectancy of entering into a valid business relationship, (2) the defendant's knowledge of the expectancy, (3) an intentional and unjustified interference by the defendant that induced or caused a breach or termination of the expectancy, and (4) damage to the plaintiff resulting from the defendant's interference. Fellhauer v. City of Geneva, 142 Ill. 2d 495, 511, 154 Ill. Dec. 649, 568 N.E.2d 870 (1991). The dispute here centers on the first element of the tort, whether the plaintiff had a reasonable expectancy. The defendants argue that a mere interviewee for a job cannot claim a reasonable expectancy in the position for purposes of a tortious interference claim and must possess more than a hope of employment with a prospective employer to state a cause of action under this theory. The defendants observe that the plaintiff had not completed all the scheduled interviews for this position when her candidacy ended. The defendants note further that current job holders have been denied relief in circumstances even more favorable than those shown here, and the defendants believe that allowing a job applicant to enjoy greater protection would be anomalous.

The case is before us following the dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 1992)). A motion to dismiss under section 2--615 challenges only the legal sufficiency of the complaint and admits the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations. Doe v. Calumet City, 161 Ill. 2d 374, 381, 204 Ill. Dec. 274, 641 N.E.2d 498 (1994). "The question presented by a motion to dismiss under section 2--615 is whether sufficient facts are contained in the pleadings which, if proved, would entitle the plaintiff to relief." Urbaitis v. Commonwealth Edison, 143 Ill. 2d 458, 475, 159 Ill. Dec. 50, 575 N.E.2d 548 (1991).

Without determining here whether in all cases a job applicant must have had a firm offer in hand to state a cause of action for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, we believe that the facts alleged in the present case fall short of what is necessary to state a claim under that theory. The allegations in the first-amended complaint--and repeated in the second-amended complaint--demonstrate nothing more than that the plaintiff was a candidate for a position with the YMCA and that she was scheduled for further interviews at the time her candidacy came to an end. The hope of receiving a job offer is not a sufficient expectancy. See Buchanan v. ...


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