may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998)
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Phillip R. Schaetzel,
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company,
a Delaware corporation,
Filed May 11, 1999
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C8984005
Steven L. Severson, Brendan W. Randall, Faegre & Benson LLP, 2200 Norwest Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
In an appeal from dismissal under rule 12.02(e), Phillip Schaetzel contends Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company tortiously interfered with his employment contract with a third party. Schaetzel failed to plead the elements necessary to a cause of action, and we affirm.
Phillip Schaetzel was employed by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) from November 1978 to December 1996. In December 1996, Schaetzel resigned his employment under a severance-pay plan, which prohibited him from applying for work with 3M for three years.
In January 1997, Schaetzel contacted Dacon, a temporary employment agency, to apply for contract job placements. On March 10, 1997, Dacon sent Schaetzel to work for Classic Manufacturing as a unigraphics detailer. During the time Schaetzel worked at Classic, all of its unigraphics work was on projects for 3M. In April 1997, 3M contacted Classic and demanded that Classic remove Schaetzel from any 3M projects. Classic discharged Schaetzel because Classic did not have any other unigraphics work.
Schaetzel filed suit against 3M, contending 3M had tortiously interfered with his employment contract with Dacon by prohibiting Classic from allowing him to work on 3M projects. 3M subsequently moved to dismiss Schaetzel's claim under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e). The district court granted 3M's motion, and Schaetzel appeals.
In reviewing a judgment on the pleadings, our analysis is limited to whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Elzie v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980); R.A., Inc. v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 556 N.W.2d 567, 572 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Jan. 29, 1997). A claim is legally sufficient if any theory of recovery is available on the claim. Northern States Power Co. v. Franklin, 265 Minn. 391, 395, 122 N.W.2d 26, 29 (1963). We will consider as true the factual allegations made in the complaint. D.A.B. v. Brown, 570 N.W.2d 168, 170 (Minn. App. 1997); see Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.03 (providing for motion to dismiss on the pleadings).
Minnesota has long recognized an action in tort for interference with economic relations. See, e.g., Mealey v. Bemidji Lumber Co., 118 Minn. 427, 136 N.W. 1090 (1912). A cause of action for tortious interference with a contractual relationship requires "(1) the existence of a contract; (2) the alleged wrongdoer's knowledge of the contract; (3) intentional procurement of its breach; (4) without justification; and (5) damages." Kjesbo v. Ricks, 517 N.W.2d 585, 588 (Minn. 1994) (quoting Furlev Sales & Assoc., Inc. v. North Am. Automotive Warehouse, Inc., 325 N.W.2d 20, 25 (Minn. 1982)).
The complaint alleges interference with a contract between Schaetzel and Dacon, but shifts its grounds by alleging that 3M demanded from only Classic that Schaetzel be removed from its projects. The complaint does not allege a contract between Schaetzel and Classic or that 3M knew about any such contract. Correspondingly, Schaetzel does not allege that 3M intentionally procured the breach of any contract between Schaetzel and Classic, but instead alleges that 3M's demand of Classic resulted in a breach of Schaetzel's contract with Dacon. A breach of contract occurs when a party to the contract fails to perform its duty under the contract when performance becomes due. Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 235 cmt. b (1981). Classic's dismissal of Schaetzel has no bearing on the status of Schaetzel's contract with Dacon because only a party to a contract can breach that contract. Schaetzel's complaint is legally insufficient because no theory of recovery exists under which he can obtain relief.
The pleading defects are more than technical difficulties. See Kellar v. VonHoltum, 568 N.W.2d 186, 190 (Minn. App. 1997) (citing Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (harmless error to be ignored)), review denied (Minn. Oct. 31, 1997). The terms of Schaetzel's contract with Dacon are subject to additional factual proof, but nothing in the pleadings or other material suggests the remote possibility that the terms of the alleged contract between Dacon and Schaetzel ensure Schaetzel's continued employment with Classic. Thus, Schaetzel's claim has been properly dismissed because it fails to plead a breach of any existing contract. See Brecht v. Schramm, 266 N.W.2d 514, 520 (Minn. 1978) (judgment of district court will be affirmed if sustainable on any grounds).
Schaetzel's brief argues for a more expansive interpretation of the elements of tortious interference with contract. Under this broader interpretation, the elements of the claim would include "not merely the procurement of a breach of contract, but all invasions of contract relations, so that any act which makes [performance] more difficult, prevents performance, or makes performance of a contract of less value to the promisee may fall within its scope." Schaetzel cites Royal Realty Co. v. Lavin, 244 Minn. 288, 291, 69 N.W.2d 667, 671 n.4 (1955), in support of this theory. The tort of interference with contract, however, has evolved significantly since Royal Realty was decided in 1955. See CyberOptics Corp. v. Yamaha Motor Co., Civ. No. 3-95-1174, 1996 WL 673161 at *45-51 (D. Minn. July 29, 1996) (discussing evolution of the tort under Minnesota law). Since 1994, Minnesota courts have consistently ruled that tortious interference requires that the interference cause breach of an existing contract. Id. at *49-50 (citing Kjesbo, 517 N.W.2d 585).