Newspaper's Gathering of Proprietary Information Not a Tort
Description Appeals court upheld dismissal of a suit brought by a tribe against a newspaper for its solicitation of proprietary information from tribe employees about tribal gambling operations. This constitutionally protected news activity did not support a suit for the tort of interference with business relationships.
Topic Torts
Key Words Interference with Business Relationship; News Gathering; Proprietary Information
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Seminole Tribe of Florida sued the St. Petersburg Times for having its reporters solicit tribal employees and agents to reveal confidential and proprietary documents about the tribe's gambling operations. The paper published stories about the operations that were critical of it. The tribe sued for the tort of interference with business relationships between the tribe and its employees for attempting to get employees to provide information to the newspaper. The trial court dismissed the suit. The tribe appealed.
Decision Affirmed. "The elements of tortious interference with a contract or business relationship are : (1) the existence of a business relationship between the plaintiff and a third person, not necessarily evidenced by an enforceable contract, under which the plaintiff has legal rights; (2) the defendant's knowledge of the relationship; (3) an intentional and unjustified interference with the relationship by the defendant which induces or otherwise causes the third person not to perform; and (4) damage to the plaintiff resulting from the third person's failure to perform." The action of the reporters in soliciting proprietary information was not the kind of improper behavior that could support this tort; it was not designed to terminate ongoing relationships. Furthermore, the reporters' conduct is protected by the Constitution.
Citation Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Times Publishing Company, Inc., - So.2d - (2001 WL 273828, Dist. Ct. App., Fla., 2001)

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