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James v. Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources

February 10, 2010

KAREN R. JAMES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP RESOURCES, INC. AND KATIE ZIMMER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Karen James ("James"), filed an amended two-count complaint [7] against Defendants Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc. ("Intercontinental") and Katie Zimmer ("Zimmer") on June 24, 2009, alleging tortious interference with business relations and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage claims against both Defendants. All of Plaintiff's claims arise out of communications between Zimmer (who was an Intercontinental employee) and Plaintiff's employer following Plaintiff's stay at a hotel owned by Intercontinental. Plaintiff alleges that those communications caused her employer to demote her and reduce her salary. Before the Court is Defendants'motion to dismiss [11] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons stated below, the motion [11] is denied.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff is a resident of Northville, Michigan. Compl. ¶ 2. In January 2006, Plaintiff was employed by AT&T as a general manager. Id. ¶ 8. Between January 17 and January 19, 2006, Plaintiff traveled to the Chicago area on business for AT&T, and stayed at Candlewood Suites ("Candlewood"), a Hoffman Estates hotel owned by Intercontinental. Id. ¶¶ 7-9. On January 19, 2006, Plaintiff made a number of complaints about her stay at Candlewood to Zimmer, Candlewood' s general manager. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff informed Zimmer that (i) the telephone messaging system in her room did not operate, causing her to miss important personal calls; (ii) hotel personnel failed to notify her when a personal visitor arrived; (iii) hotel personnel failed to notify her when she received an important business fax; and (iv) there was no hot water for bathing on the day of Plaintiff's departure. Id. In response, Zimmer offered Plaintiff a free two-night stay at Candlewood. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff refused the offer and instead requested a formal apology and explanation for the incidents. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff did not receive an apology from Zimmer; however, on or about January 25, 2006, Plaintiff received hotel vouchers in the amount of $150 in the mail from Intercontinental. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff had not requested any hotel vouchers. Id.

AT&T has corporate offices in Hoffman Estates and had a corporate relationship with Candlewood. Id. ¶ 14. On two or more occasions between January 19, 2006 and March 8, 2006, Zimmer, acting in her capacity as an agent of Defendant Intercontinental, made statements to AT&T alleging that Plaintiff had engaged in work-related misconduct. Id. ¶ 15. Specifically, Zimmer alleged that in response to Plaintiff's complaints about her stay, Zimmer had credited the cost of the room back to the AT&T credit card Plaintiff had used to pay for her stay. Id. Zimmer told AT&T that Plaintiff had insisted that the charges be put back on the corporate credit card, and that she be given $150 in travel vouchers for her personal use. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Zimmer knew this information to be false when she provided it to AT&T. Id.

In response to Zimmer' s statements, AT&T commenced a formal investigation into Plaintiff's alleged misconduct. Id. ¶ 17. Following that investigation, AT&T took disciplinary action against Plaintiff in the form of a two-level demotion. Id. ¶ 19. AT&T also removed Plaintiff's name from a list of candidates for promotion, and reduced her wages and benefits. Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff had been employed by AT&T for nearly ten years at the time of the Candlewood incident, and had an exemplary work record.

Plaintiff asserts tortious interference with business relations and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage claims against Intercontinental (Count I) and Zimmer (Count II) based on the statements that Zimmer allegedly made to AT&T while acting as Intercontinental's agent.

II. Legal Standard on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true.

E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Detailed factual allegations" are not required, but the plaintiff must allege facts that, when "accepted as true, * * * 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005).

III. Analysis

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on two grounds. First, Defendants contend that a relationship created by a contract that is terminable at will -- such as Plaintiff's employment relationship with AT&T -- cannot support a claim of tortious interference with business relations, and that consequently Plaintiff' s tortious interference with business relations claims must be dismissed. Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's tortious interference with prospective economic advantage claims fail because Plaintiff has failed to allege an element of that cause of action -- namely, that she had a reasonable expectation of an ongoing employment relationship with AT&T. The Court addresses each argument in turn.

A. Torts of Interference with Business Relations and Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage Are Interchangeable Under Illinois Law

In moving to dismiss Plaintiff's tortious interference with business relations claims, Defendants appear to misconstrue the complaint. In Illinois, the terms "tortious interference with business relations" and "tortious interference with prospective economic advantage" are interchangeable. See Naeemullah v. Citicorp Servs., 78 F. Supp. 2d 783, 793 (N.D. Ill. 1999) ("' tortious interference with business relationship,'referred to in the Illinois cases as tortious interference with prospective economic advantage or tortious interference with business expectancy"); Marc Maghsoudi Enterprises, Inc. v. Tufenkian Import/Export Ventures, Inc., 2008 WL 4449881, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2008) (using terms "tortious interference with prospective economic advantage" and "tortious inference with a business relationship" interchangeably); Fellhauer v. City of Geneva, 568 N.E.2d 870, 878 (Ill. 1991) ("to prevail on a claim for tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage, a plaintiff must prove," inter alia, "his reasonable expectation of entering into a valid business relationship"). Plaintiff acknowledges that the terms are synonymous in her ...


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