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Levin v. Green

June 19, 2007


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Monmouth County, L-265-05.

Per curiam.


Submitted: October 31, 2006

Before Judges Kestin, Payne and Lihotz.

Plaintiff appeals from an order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissing the complaint with prejudice. We affirm.

The complaint, in two counts, alleges causes of action for tortious interference with contract and with prospective economic advantage. In adjudicating the motion for summary judgment, the trial court was obliged to view the facts indulgently in favor of plaintiff, the non-movant. See Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). We are governed by the same standard. See Prudential Property Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div. 1998).

Plaintiff, a rabbi, had been retained in June 1998 by Congregation B'nai Israel of Rumson (the Congregation) to serve as spiritual leader for a term beginning on August 25, 1998, and ending on June 30, 2003. The contract specified that, as the conclusion of the term approached, either party was obliged to serve the other with nine months' termination notice. Plaintiff's total annual compensation was to be $105,000 in the first year of the contract, rising to $141,000 in the final year.

Paragraph 23 of the contract entitled "Arbitration" provided for the resolution of "[a]ny dispute arising out of or in connection with this agreement, including but not limited to controversy over the roles and responsibilities of the parties," to be submitted to a "bet din," a religious tribunal, "convened by the Rabbinical Assembly," a body associated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, with which the Congregation was affiliated.

In May 2002, at a duly constituted meeting, and pursuant to a vote taken, the Congregation expressed a positive attitude regarding renewal of the contract and authorized a committee to enter into negotiations with plaintiff for a new agreement. Defendant, soon to become the president of the Congregation, was appointed to chair the negotiating committee initially. According to the complaint, "the first face[-]to[-]face meeting of the Rabbi's representative with [a small subcommittee of] the Congregation's negotiating committee" occurred on January 26, 2003.

The complaint alleges that defendant "predicated any new agreement on the harsh insistence that [] plaintiff must first yield on certain contested issues and severe requirements with regard to the role of the Rabbi as spiritual leader of the Congregation." The complaint goes on to allege particulars regarding defendant's conduct, labeled as "improper influence" and acts "in excess of his authority," summarized as "an unauthorized and malicious course of conduct in an effort to assure that no new agreement would be reached."

The allegations of the complaint continue with descriptions of efforts by defendant to delay negotiations and engender a "revers[al of] the mandate of the May 20, 2002 congregational vote and . . . prevent the consummation of a new agreement."

According to the complaint, those efforts included "the promoting of false, misleading and inflammatory information concerning [p]laintiff's character" and the nature of his proposals, as well as "the progress of negotiations [and] the ability of the Congregation to afford a renewed contract[.]" This recitation concludes with the allegation that, at defendant's instance, the Congregation breached the contract by a vote, on March 10, 2003, less than four months before the expiration date, not to continue in renewal discussions.

The complaint concludes with two ad damnum clauses. The first, asserting tortious interference with contract, alleges that, by reason of having been denied a renewed contract, plaintiff "has been damaged by the above[-]mentioned breaches of the Congregation by loss [sic] earnings and benefits and competitive standing in his calling as religious leader." The second statement of a cause of action, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, repeats that "[d]efendant's conduct was intentional, malicious, wanton and willful" and that, as a result, "plaintiff has suffered damages."

After the relationship between plaintiff and the Congregation broke down, the Congregation, on October 20, 2003, filed a complaint in the Chancery Division seeking rescission of the contract. Plaintiff, as the defendant in that suit, moved "to dismiss complaint and/or to compel arbitration." The court ordered the parties to proceed before the bet din as provided in the ...

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