To state a claim for tortious interference with a business expectancy (as opposed to a realized contract), a plaintiff must allege: (1) the existence of a valid business relationship or expectancy “with a probability of future economic benefit”; (2) knowledge of the relationship or expectancy; (3) reasonable certainty that, absent intentional misconduct, “the claimant would have continued in the relationship or realized the expectancy”; and (4) damage as a result of the interference. (See Glass v. Glass, 321 S.E.2d 69, 77 (Va. 1984)). The intentional, interfering misconduct must involve “improper methods” such as unfair competition, unethical conduct, sharp dealing, misuse of confidential information, or breach of fiduciary duty. Only strangers to the relationship can be held liable for interfering with it. Tortious interference requires interference in a plaintiff’s relationship with another, rather than in plaintiff’s relationship with the defendant or his principal.
Where the party interfered with and the alleged interferor are in a principal-agent relationship, the interferor is not considered a third party. Agents, for example, can’t be liable for tortiously interfering with business expectancies to which their principals are parties. (See Livia Prop., LLC v. Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc., No. 5:14cv53, 2015 WL 4711585, at *6-7 (W.D. Va. Aug. 7, 2015). Think of it this way: if your answer to the second element of tortious interference (whether the defendant had knowledge of the existence of the business expectancy) is “of course the defendant had knowledge–he was part of it!”, that would be a good sign that the defendant is not a stranger to the relationship and can’t be sued for tortious interference.