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Ghezzi v. Ford Motor Co., Inc.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 30, 2013

LISA A. GHEZZI, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, INC. and KIMBERLY WYATT, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lisa A. Ghezzi filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County against Defendants Ford Motor Company and Kimberly Wyatt for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage. Ghezzi seeks more than one-hundred-thousand dollars in damages in this diversity action. Ghezzi worked as an on-site liaison between Ford and several of its suppliers at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant (the "Plant"). Ghezzi alleges that the suppliers terminated their business relationship with her after the Defendants made false statements and threats to the suppliers. After removing this action to this Court, the Defendants denied Ghezzi's allegations. The Defendants now seek summary judgment because (1) the Defendants were not strangers or outsiders to the business relationship between Ghezzi and the suppliers, (2) Ghezzi cannot show that the Defendants intentionally and unjustifiably interfered with Ghezzi's relationship with the suppliers, and (3) the Defendants did not cause the suppliers to terminate their relationship with Ghezzi. For the reasons stated herein, this Court grants the Defendants' motion in part and denies it in part.

FACTS

The following material facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Ghezzi is an Indiana resident who worked as a customer liaison on behalf of several companies that supplied parts to Defendant Ford at the Plant. (Dkt. No. 49, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 4.) Specifically, Ghezzi served as a customer liaison at the Plant for Dakkota Integrated Systems, Inc., Inalfa Roof Systems, Inc., Undercar/ABC Group, Inc., and NYX Incorporated (collectively, the "Suppliers"). ( Id. at ¶¶ 17, 25, 33, 35.) As a customer liaison, Ghezzi provided on-site customer service and support for the Suppliers. ( Id. at ¶ 5.) The Suppliers paid Ghezzi by the hour and could terminate Ghezzi, an independent contractor, at any time. ( Id. at ¶ 9.)

Ford is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Michigan. ( Id. at ¶ 1.) Ford purchased automotive parts from the Suppliers for use in vehicles manufactured at the Plant. ( Id. at ¶¶ 4, 10.) The Plant is a secure facility controlled by Ford. ( Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) One must have either an access badge or a temporary pass to gain access to the Plant. ( Id. at ¶ 15.) Consequently, one could not serve as a customer liaison at the Plant unless Ford granted him or her access. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) The Suppliers provided customer liaisons to Ford at the Plant because Ford purchased automotive parts from the Suppliers. ( Id. at ¶¶11-13.)

Wyatt is an Illinois resident who worked for Ford as a Senior Incoming Quality Manager. ( Id. at ¶ 2.) As a Senior Incoming Quality Manager, Wyatt was responsible for issues and concerns related to the quality of automotive parts used at the Plant to make Ford vehicles. ( Id. at ¶ 3.) Other than simple pleasantries, Wyatt had no work-related interaction with Ghezzi. (Dkt. No. 54, Defs.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 8.)

Dakkota terminated its business relationship with Ghezzi at the Plant in February 2010 due to internal restructuring. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 19-20.) Dakkota reduced its number of customer liaisons at the Plant from two to one. ( Id. at ¶ 21.) Ford was not involved in Dakkota's decision to terminate its relationship with Ghezzi. ( Id. at ¶ 22.) And Dakkota did not terminate its liaison relationship with Ghezzi at the direction or request of Wyatt. ( Id. at ¶ 23.)

Inalfa terminated its business relationship with Ghezzi at the Plant in August 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 29.) Ghezzi's supervisors at Inalfa, David Baxter and Rick Braun, testified at deposition that Ghezzi was technically deficient and Inalfa needed a customer liaison with greater technical expertise at the Plant. ( Id. at ¶¶ 27-29.) According to Baxter and Braun, neither Ford nor Wyatt told Inalfa to terminate its business relationship at the Plant with Ghezzi. ( Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) But Ghezzi claims in her affidavit that Wyatt pressured Baxter and Braun to terminate Inalfa's relationship with Ghezzi because of Ghezzi's relationship with Rick Frank. (Ex. 1 to Dkt. No. 50, Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 6-7.) Inalfa terminated Ghezzi no later than August 6, 2010. (Defs.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 18.)

Rick Frank is Ghezzi's ex-husband. ( Id. at ¶ 1.) Frank worked as a supplier representative at the Plant until 2010 when Ford no longer allowed Frank access to the Plant. ( Id. ) Frank filed a lawsuit against Ford alleging that Ford employees falsely accused Frank of improperly accessing Ford's computer programs. ( Id. at ¶ 2.) Ghezzi claims that Wyatt told her that she needed to distance herself from Frank. ( Id. )

Undercar terminated its business relationship with Ghezzi at the Plant in August 2010. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 56.) Ghezzi's supervisor at Undercar, Steven Keith, testified at deposition that Flueretta Drummer told him that Ghezzi could no longer access the Plant. ( Id. at ¶ 54.) Keith understood that Ford would no longer allow Ghezzi to represent suppliers at the Plant because Ghezzi violated Ford's computer policy. ( Id. at ¶¶ 48 and 54.) Undercar expected Ghezzi to follow Ford's rules and procedures when at the Plant. ( Id. at ¶ 50.) Because Keith understood that Ford would no longer allow Ghezzi to represent the Suppliers at the Plant, Undercar terminated its relationship with Ghezzi at the Plant. ( Id. at ¶¶ 54-56.)

Ford's computer policy restricted computer use to legitimate business purposes and prohibited the transfer of user identifications and passwords from one individual to another. ( Id. at ¶ 40.) Ghezzi accessed Ford's computer system at the Plant using the user identification and password of a Ford employee. ( Id . at ¶ 46.) On August 9, 2010, Wyatt saw Ghezzi using Ford's computer system to search for vacations on Google. ( Id . at ¶¶ 45-46.) Ford disciplined the employee who allowed Ghezzi to use his user identification and password to access Ford's computer system. ( Id . at ¶ 49.) The Ford employee testified that he allowed other supplier representatives to use his credentials to access the internet. (Defs.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 7.) There is a dispute as to whether Wyatt knew that the Ford employee allowed others to use his credentials to access Ford's computer system at the Plant. ( Id. at ¶ 7.) There is also a dispute as to whether Wyatt saw Ghezzi access Ford's computer system prior to August 9, 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 10.)

NYX terminated its business relationship with Ghezzi at the Plant in August 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 63.) NYX expected Ghezzi to abide by Ford's policies, rules, and procedures while at the Plant. ( Id. at ¶ 58.) NYX also expected Ghezzi to maintain good customer relations with Ford. ( Id . at ¶ 59.) Ghezzi's supervisor at NYX, Gurpreet Sidhu, testified at deposition that Wyatt told him that she would not recommend that NYX continue to use Ghezzi as its customer liaison because Ghezzi violated Ford's computer policy. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 61.) Sidhu understood that Ford was not pleased with Ghezzi's violation of Ford's computer policy, which it considered unacceptable behavior. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 61.) Although satisfied with Ghezzi's services at the time, NYX terminated its business relationship at the Plant with Ghezzi because "she is representing us, and if our customer is saying she's broken the law, how could we continue with somebody who broke their law." (Sidhu Dep. Tr. at 19:22-20:14, Ex. H to Dkt. No. 39, Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt.) Even though Ghezzi no longer works for NYX, NYX did offer her an opportunity to serve as its liaison at another facility. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 69.) Ghezzi declined the offer because it was in another state. ( Id. )

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Summary judgment is proper when, viewing all facts and inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, no genuine dispute as to material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Carroll v. Lynch, 698 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2012). Whether a fact is material depends on the underlying substantive law that governs the dispute. Id. And a genuine dispute is one where "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party shows that the nonmoving party cannot prove an element essential to its case. Parent v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 694 F.3d 919, 922 (7th Cir. 2012). Where the moving party has ...


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