This is defendant Wickes' motion to dismiss the complaint under R. 4:6-2(e) for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs, an alleged class of present and former employees of Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Inc. (O.C.F.), and their union sue defendant Wickes seeking to recover compensatory and punitive damages as a result of defendant's allegedly hostile and illegal takeover attempt of O.C.F. which unlawfully and without justification interfered with certain prospective economic advantages enjoyed by plaintiffs. The first count of the complaint is for unlawful interference with prospective economic advantage and the second count is grounded in negligence.
Defendant Wickes moves to strike, stating that dismissal of the complaint is mandated because: (1) the cause of action is preempted by federal law, (2) this cause of action is barred because of conflict with the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, and (3) plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under New Jersey law.
This is a case of first impression in New Jersey. However, as Judge Conford stated in DiCristofaro v. Laurel Grove Memorial Park, 43 N.J. Super. 244, 128 A.2d 281 (App.Div.1957): "The novelty of a specific occasion for application of a principle in this field is no reason for according it a chilly reception."
The test for determining the adequacy of a pleading is whether a cause of action is suggested by the facts. We should search the complaint in depth, and with liberality, to determine whether the fundament of a cause of action may be gleaned
even from an obscure statement of claim, an opportunity being given to amend if necessary. This court is not concerned with the ability of plaintiffs to prove the allegations in the complaint. The examination should be painstaking and undertaken with a generous and hospitable approach. The New Jersey Supreme Court in Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp Electronics Corp., 116 N.J. 739, 563 A.2d 31 (1989), advises trial judges to approach this type of motion with great caution. Since such a motion is brought at the earliest stage of the litigation, it should prevail in only the rarest of situations.
Failure to State a Claim on Which Relief can be Granted.
I find that plaintiffs have, at the least, suggested facts which can bring relief under the cause of action "intentional and/or tortious interference" with a prospective economic relationship. Dealing with the four elements of a properly pleaded complaint as set forth in Printing Mart, I find as follows.
1. Plaintiffs have alleged facts showing some protectable right, a prospective economic relationship. For example, paragraph 4(c) of the complaint alleges that plaintiffs had a reasonable, quantifiable economic advantage and benefit in their jobs, salary and benefits. This gives rise to some reasonable expectation of economic advantage.
2. The complaint has at least suggested facts claiming that the interference was done intentionally and with malice-malice defined to mean the interference was done intentionally and without justification or excuse. Plaintiffs allege facts showing that defendant Wickes attempted a hostile takeover of O.C.F.; that defendant intentionally violated federal laws and regulations in making certain purchases of O.C.F. stock without the required reporting and waiting period; that this intentional and illegal process was taken with the knowledge of plaintiff's relationship and interest with O.C.F. and that this intentional,
illicit process would certainly cause harm to the existing future economic advantage ...