The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed a Virginia statutory business conspiracy claim, holding that the plaintiff’s alleged harm of losing his job is a “personal right as opposed to a business interest.” And, damages to a person’s “employment relation” are not actionable under Virginia Code sections 18.2-499 and 500.
In Mansfield v. Anesthesia Associates, Ltd., 2008 WL 1924029 (E.D.Va. 2008), published on April 28, 2008, the Court addressed a business conspiracy claim filed by Patrick Mansfield, M.D, who was a Board Certified anesthesiologist and an employee and shareholder of Anesthesia Associates, Ltd. Mansfield worked for Anesthesia Associates in Inova Alexandria Hospital (“Inova Hospital”). See http://www.williamsmullen.com/files/upload/ubp_blog060308.pdf .
On June 17, 2005, Mansfield was informed that an Inova Hospital employee had accused Mansfield of sexually harassment. On July 5, Mansfield met with the Chairman of Anesthesia Associates who handed Mansfield a letter from Inova Hospital that “claimed that [Mansfield] had been accused of sexual harassment by an employee of Inova, the charges had been investigated, and Inova had concluded that Plaintiff posed a threat to the safety and security of Inova staff.” On the basis of this allegation, Anesthesia Associates eventually terminated Mansfield.
Subsequently, Mansfield filed his lawsuit against Anesthesia Associates and Inova Hospital in Virginia state court. The defendants removed the case to federal court. Mansfield alleged that “Defendants did purposely and maliciously interfere with the Plaintiff’s Contract of Employment with Anesthesia Associates, Ltd and that the Plaintiff’s loss of contract was the anticipated outcome, if not the expressed purpose of removing him from both the defendant Association and Inova Alexandria Hospital.”
In examining Mansfield business conspiracy claim, the Court first repeated the standards for recovery: section “18.2-499 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to conspire to ‘willfully and maliciously injur[e] another in his reputation, trade, business or profession by any means whatever.’ To recover in an action for conspiracy to harm a business, a plaintiff must prove: (1) a combination of two or more persons for the purpose of willfully and maliciously injuring the plaintiff in his business; and (2) resulting damage to the plaintiff.” Citations omitted.
The Court then analyzed whether the statutes could provide any relief to Mansfield:
Federal courts in Virginia have consistently held that the statutes are designed to provide relief against ‘conspiracies resulting in business-related damages’ and that a cause of action exists ‘only when malicious conduct is directed at one’s business, not one’s person.’ Courts have characterized the ’employment relation’ as ‘a personal right as opposed to a business interest’ and have consequently placed employment interests outside the reach of [sections 18.2-499 and -500]. Similarly, an individual’s ‘professional reputation and stock ownership in his own company’ have been found to be employment interests that fall outside the scope of the statutes. [Citations omittted.]
The court also noted that the “Supreme Court of Virginia has also reached the conclusion that ‘personal reputation’ and ‘interest in employment’ are excluded from the scope of the statutes’ coverage.” Andrews v. Ring, 585 S.E.2d 780, 784 (Va. 2003).
The court rejected Mansfield argument that “his claim is not that he ‘lost his job’ but that ‘he has lost the ability to pursue his profession,’ and that injury to one’s ‘profession’ is a recoverable injury under the statutes.”
The Court also held that even if the statutes recognized the claimed injury, Mansfield conspiracy claim was deficient because his allegations were conclusory. Specifically, Mansfield failed to allege any agreement between Inova Hospital and Anesthesia Associates to injure him.
This case is a good illustration of the limits of the Virginia business conspiracy statutes because they are not designed to remedy every injury. Further, Courts are increasingly examining the factual allegations to ensure that an actual conspiracy has been plead.