Defamation and business interference suits are among the most contentious matters in the court system. Reputations, careers and, of course, money are placed at issue. This is magnified when it is alleged that clients and business have been stolen.
Recently, Jeffrey Moore, Shane Spurlock and Top Gun Security & Investigations filed suit, in Harris County district court, against Blue Moon Detective Agency and its owner, Bobbi Bacha. Both of these private investigation firms maintain presences in the NASA area of Houston.
Top Gun’s suit claims that it and Blue Moon are competitors in the same geographic region. Moore claims that he was an employee of Blue Moon from 2000 to 2010. He alleges that after his resignation, Blue Moon began a “campaign of tortuous interference, defamation and business disparagement” against him and Top Gun. He alleges that many of his clients have been contacted by Blue Moon and falsely told that (1) he is in financial trouble (2) he has stolen clients and proprietary information and (3) many of his contracts are invalid due to restraining orders. These actions, he and Top Gun claim, constitute defamation, tortuous interference with existing and prospective contracts and business disparagement. Plaintiffs request an award of actual and punitive damages.
Blue Moon and Ms. Bacha answered the lawsuit, denying that any disparaging remarks were made. They claim that Mr. Moore works for Lunar Enterprise, a company owned by Ms. Bacha. According to the answer, Moore is currently being sued by Enterprise for breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy based on facts related to those claimed by Moore in his suit. The answer claims that Ms. Bacha was told by Moore that Enterprise’s business was running well but that, thereafter, Moore allowed access to the company’s financial records, employee records, client lists and other proprietary information. The remainder of the answer is confusing, but seems to allege that clients, vendors, bank accounts, insurance policies and other property were stolen from Enterprise Likewise, Bacha claims, 60 clients, representing revenue of 4.8 million dollars per year, were taken.
The suit papers raise countless questions. Did Mr. Moore have a written contract with Enterprise? Did it contain a non-compete clause? To which company or person did the clients “belong”, if either? If the clients did change affiliations, why did they do so? How can one company “steal” another’s vendors or insurance policies?
Tortuous interference suits are always interesting. Typically, the basis of the cause of action is that one company “wrongfully” interferes with another company’s existing or prospective clients, and should be awarded money as a result. For years those of us that practice in this area wrestled with the question of exactly when good, solid business competition crossed the line to wrongful interference. For instance, if I go to a prospective client and say “I can do a better job than your current lawyers” is that wrongful interference with the other firm’s client, or just healthy business competition? Thankfully, the Texas Supreme Court has clarified that interference with business relationships is not actionable unless it is done by independently wrongful means. So if I falsely tell the prospective client that they should fire their old lawyers because they are “mob lawyers” or have been disbarred, then I have defamed them. And if they fire the first lawyer and hire me as a result of the defamation, then the other firm has a potential claim against me for tortuous interference with its business relationship.