This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
It is axiomatic that an act does not amount to a tort unless it is at least wrongful. One who without negligence does an act which he has a right to do, does not thereby incur liability as a wrong-doer. But while this principle is recognized in the cases generally, including those on this topic, the application of so general and vague a principle to facts treated of in this chapter, on which the law is so unsettled, results in considerable conflict. Interference with an existing contract is almost always wrongful.1 If the interference is intended to injure the party who loses the benefit of the contract or to benefit the party who interferes, it is ordinarily wrongful. Yet even in cases of this sort it has been held that the refusal of members of a trades-union to work for an employer unless he discharged employes who were members of a rival union was not wrongful.2 This principle, where recognized, is referred to the doctrine of the right of competition. If employes ask advice of others as to the line of conduct to be pursued by them for their own interests, the parties giving such advice are not liable to the employers for damages, even if as a result thereof the workmen discontinue work. A recent case in England illustrates this proposition.3 In this case the workmen, coal miners, were paid on a sliding scale, their wages varying with the price of coal. The workmen, believing that the wholesalers who bought the coal from the employers of such workmen were using unfair means to force the price down, consulted their organization, and were advised to stop work on certain specified dates, as a demonstration to prevent such conduct in forcing down the price. It will be observed that this was not strictly a strike, although work was discontinued, and it was done to influence the conduct not of the employers but of other persons. It was held that if the advice to stop work on certain days was given honestly, without malice, though the persons giving it knew of the existing contracts of the miners with their employers, such facts constitute lawful justification and excuse. Passing from a consideration of interference with existing contracts to prevention of future contracts, we find that, if the interference is the result of competition and consists in the offer of lower rates, better facilities and the like, no wrongful act has been committed, no matter how great the damage may be.4 Even where a combination to wreck a business for the purpose of injuring the owner thereof, is a tort,5 it is held that a combination between a wholesale oil company and certain oil producers, by which the wholesale company induced the producers to ship by a pipe line controlled by such oil company, the oil company refusing to buy oil unless it is shipped by that line, does not give the right of action in tort to another pipe line from which a great amount of business has thus been diverted.6 As will be seen from the following sections, the wrongful acts generally relied upon are (1) refusal to deal with one who employs or deals with certain others; (2) threats or violence as a means of preventing carrying on of business. The only serious conflict on the second of these propositions is at what point persuasion passes into threats. Upon the first proposition there is hopeless conflict of authorities. The first question, therefore, to be considered, namely, what is a wrongful interference with contract is one upon which there is divergence of opinion. Upon the next question
7 Hetzler v. Morrell, 82 Ia. 562; 48 N. W. 938.
1 See Sec. 1326 et seq.
2 Jersey City Printing Co. v. Cas-sidy, 63 N. J. Eq. 759; 53 Atl. 230; National Protective Union v. Cumming, 170 N. Y. 315; 88 Am. St. Rep. 648; 58 L. R. A. 135; 63 N. E. 369.
3 Glamorgan Coal Co. v. South Wales Miners' Federation (1902) 1 K. B. 118.
4 Mogul S. S. Co. v. McGregor (1892), App. Cas. 25; affirming L. R. 23 Q. B. 598.
5 "If one wantonly or maliciously, whether for his own benefit or not, induce a person to violate his contract with a third person to the injury of that third person, it is actionable." From syllabus of West Virginia Transportation Co. v. Oil Co., 50 W. Va. 611; 88 Am. St. Rep. 895; 56 L. R. A. 804; 40 S. E. 591.
6 West Virginia Transportation Co. v. Oil Co., 50 W. Va. 611; 88 Am. St. Rep. 895; 56 L. R. A. 804; 40 S. E. 591.