Woman may amend tortious interference claim against Allison Transmission

A woman who alleges that an Indianapolis company contributed to her employment termination may continue her defamation claim against the company and amend her tortious interference claim pursuant to Indiana trial rules, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

While Virginia Mourning was on medical leave from her job at Ternes Packaging, a group of employees under her supervision filed a complaint against her with the help of individuals at Allison Transmission Inc., which received supply-chain-management services from Ternes. Two weeks after her return from medical leave, Mourning was terminated.

One year later, Mourning sued Ternes in federal court and later added state law claims against Allison for tortious interference with an employment contract and defamation. The state law claims were dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and the district court granted summary judgment to Ternes.

Morning then filed her claims against Allison in Marion Superior Court, and Allison responded with a Trial Rule 12(C) motion to dismiss, alleging Mourning had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that her claims failed as a matter of law. The trial court granted Allison’ motion and entered judgment in its favor.

Mourning appealed in Virginia E. Mourning v. Allison Transmission, Inc., 49A02-1608-MI-1822, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the judgment in Allison’s favor Wednesday.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the appellate panel that Mourning’s case turned on the relationship between Trial Rule 12(B) and Trial Rule 12(C) motions – that is, “a T.R. 12(B) motion is essentially procedural, while a T.R.12(C) motion is substantive unless it is brought on T.R. 12(B) grounds.”

“Accordingly, where a motion for judgment on the pleadings raises a defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the motion for purposes of that defense should be treated in the same manner as a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,” Vaidik wrote.  

Mourning argued that the trial court erred in not treating Allison’s 12(C) motion as a 12(B)(6), which would have allowed her to amend her complaint and fix any defects. The appellate panel agreed, with Vaidik writing Mourning sufficiently pleaded her defamation claim, but not her tortious interference claim.

In order to prove tortious interference, a litigant must prove, among other things, a lack of justification for breach of a contract. Mourning attempted to do so, but as Allison pointed out, her factual allegations “’address how Allison allegedly went about causing (her) to get fired, not why it did so.’”

Thus, the dismissal of Mourning’s defamation claim was reversed, and the case was remanded to allow Mourning to amend her tortious interference claim.

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