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Tort Claim Must Be Valid In Pennsylvania To Claim Civil Conspiracy

April 7, 2023

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In recent case <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Summers-v.-Extrity-LLC.pdf">Summers v. Extrity LLC</a>,</em>  United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that in order to state a viable cause of action for a civil conspiracy to engage in some underlying conduct, the underlying conduct must itself give rise to a “valid underlying tort claim.” <em>Summers v. Extrity, LLC</em>, No. CV 22-3918, 2023 WL 1102334, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2023).

In<em> Summers</em>, Plaintiff was hired and working as a security guard for Defendants, when his supervisor began “outing” him as transgender to various other employees. Consequently, Plaintiff began receiving threats, and harassing texts from coworkers, and despite reporting this to Defendant-employer, nothing was done to address the situation, and eventually one of Plaintiff’s coworkers assaulted him. Threats continued coming from various coworkers, and when Plaintiff finally confronted his boss about the dangers of having outed him, Plaintiff was fired. Upon being fired, Plaintiff continued to receive threatening texts from his former coworkers.

Plaintiff “filed a ‘Charge of Discrimination’ with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for gender discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. <em>…</em> He received a ‘Right to Sue’ letter and brought this action [alleging in part, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED”), and Civil Conspiracy to Commit the same]. <em>…</em> Defendants now move to dismiss Counts VI and VII of the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”

Summers grounded his IIED claim on the allegation, that his employer, Extrity, “directed its employees or agents …to message him, with the intent to intimidate him and dissuade him from suing the company.” Exrity argued that this allegation was entirely conclusory, and that the pleadings did not sufficiently connect the company to the post-termination texts.

The court agreed with Extrity, finding that Summer’s allegations while possible, were not plausible. As such the Court dismissed the IIED claim. The Court then addressed the separate count of civil conspiracy to commit IIED. The court posited that:

To state a claim for civil conspiracy, a plaintiff must show: “(1) a combination of two or more persons acting with a common purpose to do an unlawful act ...; (2) an overt act done in pursuance of the common purpose; and (3) actual legal damage.” (internal citations omitted). However, “absent a civil cause of action for a particular act, there can be no cause of action for civil conspiracy to commit that act.”

From here the court concluded because there was no viable claim for IIED, there cannot be a viable claim for Civil Conspiracy to commit IIED.

<em>Summers </em>is a victory for civil defendants, in that it upholds an important obstacle to proving civil conspiracy. It makes clear that a necessary element for sustaining a claim for civil conspiracy, is a viable claim for the underlying tort/unlawful act that a given set of defendants allegedly conspired to commit.

Thanks to Stephen Kerstein for his assistance in this post.  Should you have any questions, please contact <a href="tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken</a>.

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