LATCHUM, Chief Judge.
This is an appeal from an order of the Bankruptcy Judge in a Chapter XI arrangement proceeding dismissing a complaint seeking a determination that a particular debt is nondischargeable.
It is well established that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Scott v. Plante, 532 F.2d 939, 945 (C.A. 3, 1976); 2A Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 12.08 (2d ed. 1975). The same standard governs this Court's review on appeal of the order of dismissal.
On a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The following facts are alleged in the amended complaint filed in the bankruptcy court. (Bk. Docket Item 126).
The defendant Kearney Chemicals is a Delaware corporation. It filed a petition for an arrangement under Chapter XI of the Bankruptcy Act on September 13, 1977. As of June 1977, Richard J. Kearney and his wife, Caroline A. Kearney, owned 88.24 percent and 5.88 percent, respectively, of the common stock of Kearney Chemicals. (Id. par. 7). In July 1977, Richard Kearney also owned 100 percent of the common stock of another corporation, Kearney Chemicals of Louisiana, Inc. ("Kearney Louisiana").
Richard Kearney was the President and a director of both Kearney Chemicals and Kearney Louisiana, and, according to the amended complaint, he "dominated and controlled the affairs" of both corporations at all times relevant to this action. (Id. pars. 8, 9, 11 and 12).
The plaintiff is a banking corporation organized and existing under the laws of New York. On September 15, 1976, the plaintiff entered into a Credit Agreement and Pledge with Kearney Louisiana by which it "agreed to make loans to Kearney Louisiana, from time to time, in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $4,300,000." (Id. par. 13). The plaintiff actually advanced over $2,100,000.00 to Kearney Louisiana under the agreement. (Id. par. 14). Both Richard Kearney and Kearney Chemicals guaranteed payment of the loan.
To secure his guarantee, Richard Kearney pledged to the plaintiff his shares in Kearney Louisiana and Kearney Chemicals. In Paragraph 9 of the Pledge and Security Agreement, Richard Kearney also made the following commitment:
The complaint alleges that the defendant Kearney Chemicals "conspired to unlawfully, knowingly, wrongfully, maliciously and intentionally interfere with and induce a breach of the contractual obligation [quoted above] of Richard J. Kearney to [the plaintiff]." (Id. par. 19). Two breaches are alleged. First, in June 1977 the Board of Directors of Kearney Chemicals authorized and issued an additional 8,000 shares of common stock to Caroline A. Kearney in consideration of $5,000, thereby diluting the percentage of ownership represented by the pledged shares from 88.24 percent to 15.46 percent. The second breach occurred on July 22, 1977, when the Board of Directors of Kearney Chemicals "knowingly adopted a false and fraudulent resolution by which it acquired all of the issued and outstanding stock of Kearney Louisiana from Richard J. Kearney, its alleged nominee." (Id. par. 20(d)). On that same day, Richard Kearney executed a stock power transferring the Kearney Louisiana shares to Kearney Chemicals. (Id. par. 20(e)).
Finally, the plaintiff avers that as a result of the acts complained of it sustained willful and malicious injury to its property in the amount of $1,913,204.65. (Id. par. 23).
This Court now must determine whether the allegations in the complaint are sufficient to state a claim for nondischargeability under § 17(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Act, 11 U.S.C. § 35(a)(8).
Requirements for Nondischargeability
Since 1903 provable debts
Since at least 1945, the courts have looked to state law to determine the validity of a creditor's claim in a bankruptcy proceeding. See Halpert v. Industrial Commissioner of New York, 147 F.2d 375 (C.A.2, 1945). In this case the applicable state law has yet to be determined. The parties agree that the only possibilities are New York, Florida and Delaware. The Bankruptcy Judge granted the motion to dismiss on the ground that the result would be the same regardless of which State's law she applied.
Inducement of a Breach of Contract
The complaint alleges that the defendant induced Richard Kearney to breach his obligation to the plaintiff bank to prevent the defendant and Kearney Louisiana from issuing any stock in addition to or in substitution for the pledged stock. Section 766 of the Restatement of Torts (1939) states the general principle applicable to interference with a contractual relationship:
The recently promulgated Restatement (Second) of Torts § 766 (1979)
Kearney Chemicals, the defendant, first challenges the sufficiency of the complaint by arguing that it could not have induced Richard Kearney to breach his contract, because the complaint itself alleges that Richard Kearney dominated and controlled Kearney Chemicals. Although this apparent inconsistency may hamper the plaintiff in proving its case, it does not completely foreclose the plaintiff from proving a set of facts that would entitle it to relief. The comments to § 766 under both the Restatement and the Restatement Second indicate that:
A simple request or even a statement unaccompanied by any specific request but having the same effect as if one had been made may result in inducement within the meaning of § 766. Restatement, supra, § 766, comment f.
The complaint alleges that the defendant Kearney Chemicals, "its officers, directors, agents, attorneys and employees, jointly and severally," conspired to interfere with and induce a breach of the contract by Richard Kearney. Without any discovery, the Court cannot be certain that an officer or agent of Kearney Chemicals, other than Richard Kearney, did not conceive the idea of authorizing and issuing more shares and then persuade Richard Kearney to go along with it. Thus, the fact that the defendant could not force Richard Kearney to cooperate does not preclude a finding that it induced a breach of his contract with the plaintiff within the meaning
The Pecuniary Interest Privilege
As an alternative ground for dismissal, the defendant argues that, even if it did interfere with or induce a breach of the plaintiff's contract with Richard Kearney, it was privileged to do so because it had a substantial pecuniary interest in seeing that the contract was breached. The Bankruptcy Judge agreed with the defendant and dismissed the complaint on the basis of the pecuniary interest privilege. The Judge cited three cases to support her decision. One of the cases, Serafino v. Palm Terrace Apartments, Inc., 343 So.2d 851 (Fla.Dist. Ct.App.1976), concerned an alleged interference with a contractual relationship. The other two cases involved inducement of a breach of contract. See Babson Brothers Co. v. Allison, 337 So.2d 848 (Fla.Dist.Ct. App.1976), cert. denied, 348 So.2d 944 (Fla. 1977); Morrison v. Frank, 81 N.Y.S.2d 743 (Sup.1948). In each case, the court held that the defendant's financial interest rendered its conduct privileged. Because the Babson and Morrison courts relied upon the Restatement, this Court will begin its analysis by reviewing the relevant sections of the Restatement.
Section 767 sets forth as a general proposition the factors to be considered in determining whether a defendant's conduct in any particular situation is privileged. Those factors are:
The importance of the individual factors varies with the facts of each case; courts must appraise the several factors and evaluate their comparative weight to determine whether an actor's conduct is privileged in a particular situation. See id., comment a. The Restatement (Second) of Torts adheres to the same principles.
The Restatement also recognizes several specific privileges covering situations where application of the factors listed in § 767 has produced identifiable decisional patterns. If the conditions for one of these specific privileges exist, the court may hold the defendant's conduct privileged without going through the balancing of interests prescribed by § 767. The privilege relevant to this case is defined in § 769, which reads:
It is clear that the pecuniary interest privilege referred to by the Bankruptcy Judge is based upon § 769. The plaintiff contends that privilege is not applicable in
Comment d to § 769 reads: "The rule stated in this Section does not apply to the causing of a breach of contract. . . ." This limitation on the applicability of the financial interest privilege reflects the fact that contractual rights are more definite than informal commercial expectancies and traditionally receive greater protection. See Restatement, supra, § 767, comment c. Thus, Section 769 indicates that a financial interest in the nature of an investment ordinarily will outweigh another's interest in a prospective contractual relation or some less formal business expectancy. Whether a financial interest will outweigh another's interest in an existing contract of a definite term cannot be predicted with confidence, however, and the Restatement advises the courts to decide that question on a case by case basis using the factors enumerated in § 767, rather than the per se rule stated in § 769.
The defendant argues that the courts in New York, Florida and Delaware have applied § 769 in cases involving breaches of contractual relationships and, therefore, implicitly have rejected the limitation stated in comment d. New York has indeed recognized the financial interest privilege in a breach of contract context. See Felsen v. Sol Cafe Manufacturing Corp., 24 N.Y.2d 682, 301 N.Y.S.2d 610, 249 N.E.2d 459 (1969); Morrison v. Frank, 81 N.Y.S.2d 743 (Sup.1948). The Florida and Delaware courts, however, have never applied the privilege to absolve a defendant from responsibility for interfering with a contract as definite as the one breached in this case. One of the Florida cases cited by the defendant involved a failure to renew a contract that was terminable at will and expired by its terms after one year. Babson, supra, 337 So.2d 849-50. While such contracts represent more than a mere expectancy of prospective advantage, they receive much more limited protection than contracts for a definite term. Prosser, Law of Torts § 129, at 932-33 (4th ed. 1971); see Restatement Second, supra, § 766, comment g (interference with contract terminable at will closely analogous to interference with prospective contractual relations). The other Florida case, Serafino, supra, is even more clearly distinguishable. The defendant in Serafino exercised its right under a lease to disapprove a proposed assignment of the lease by the lessee. 343 So.2d at 852. This Court is aware of no Delaware case that has applied § 769 of the Restatement.
Against this background, the Court concludes that Florida and Delaware probably would not have applied § 769 in the circumstances of this case. They would have resorted to the ad hoc balancing prescribed by § 767 instead. Whether the New York
Comment a to § 769 defines a financial interest as "an interest in the nature of an investment. A part owner of the business, as for example a partner or stockholder, has at least such an interest." The only interest asserted by the defendant Kearney Chemicals is an interest in the contract between Richard Kearney and the plaintiff. The defendant argues that it was in its interest to file a Chapter XI petition and attempt to reach an arrangement with its creditors, but that it could not realistically hope to do so as long as the plaintiff held a controlling stock interest in Kearney Chemicals. Thus, the breach of Richard Kearney's contract was necessary to dilute the plaintiff's stock interest in the defendant.
This Court seriously doubts that the interest asserted by the defendant falls within the ambit of a financial interest for purposes of § 769. This is not a case in which someone who has invested money in another tries to influence that person to act in a certain way in order to protect or realize a greater return on his investment. Nor is the interest asserted here comparable to the interests involved in any of the cases relied upon by the Bankruptcy Judge. In Morrison v. Frank, supra, the defendant was a stockholder of the corporation he sought to influence.
The Babson court held that the manufacturer had a clear financial interest in its distributors' contracts with dealers of its products. 337 So.2d at 851. In contrast, the defendant here seeks protection for its actions to transfer control of its financially troubled business from a stranger to a friend of management by means of a breach of the stranger's contractual rights.
This Court finds the interest asserted by the defendant Kearney Chemicals to be qualitatively different from the interests generally held to be privileged under § 769. Although the term "financial interest" could be construed expansively to cover this situation, such a construction would ignore the intent of the draftsmen of the Restatement. Section 769 was intended to govern a routine and often repeated factual situation. The facts in the case at bar are extremely unusual and do not readily come within the reach of § 769. The proper approach is to determine the existence vel non of a privilege in this case by carefully appraising and balancing the factors set forth in § 767.
The decision of the Delaware Court of Chancery in Bowl-Mor, supra, supports this position. There the defendant Brunswick asserted the privilege of a business competitor as defined in § 768. The court acknowledged that § 768 taken literally could be construed to warrant summary judgment in the defendant's favor, but only at the expense of exalting form over legal and commercial reality. Id. The following statement of the court readily can be applied in this case.
Id. at 66, quoting Calbom v. Knudtzon, 65 Wn.2d 157, 396 P.2d 148 (1964).
The allegations in the complaint in this action are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss based on a claim of privilege. The nature of Kearney Chemicals' conduct is questionable, especially its belated statement that Richard Kearney held the stock of Kearney Louisiana as its nominee. The complaint alleges that the defendant's resolution proclaiming that fact was false and fraudulent. (Bk. Docket Item 126, par. 20(d)). The defendant's conduct interfered with a contractual relationship of the plaintiff which was fully deserving of protection. All three parties involved had relationships to one another which further complicate the balancing required. Finally, the interest sought to be advanced by Kearney Chemicals and the social desirability of protecting its freedom of action in this context is obviously open to dispute. A full and informed appraisal of these factors is impossible without further development of the factual record.
The defendant's last argument to the Bankruptcy Judge in favor of dismissal was that the plaintiff could prove no damages since the stock of both Kearney Chemicals and Kearney Louisiana is valueless. The amended complaint alleges that the plaintiff suffered injury to its property in the amount of $1,913,204.65, exclusive of additional interest, costs and expenses. (Bk. Docket Item 126, par. 23).
In light of the Court's disposition of the substantive issues raised on this appeal, it is unnecessary to address the plaintiff's other claims of error.
Section 766B of the Restatement Second deals with intentional interference with a prospective contractual relation.
(Emphasis supplied). Comment b states that the rule does not apply to the causing of a breach of contract.