The Cherry-Evans Backflip: The case for a tortious interference claim

It has been widely reported in the news today the Daly Cherry-Evans, a rugby league player from the Manly Sea Eagles, has reneged on his agreement to play rugby league with the Gold Coast Titans in 2016 and will remain at his present club.

If you did not know, the NRL has a rule in which a player can, effectively, opt out, of a arrangement reached for the following year at any time up to the 13th round of the present year’s competition.  This is the loop hole Cherry-Evans and Manly has used to break the arrangement with the Gold Coast.

Obviously, the Gold Coast Titans, have invested a significant amount in seeking to get Mr Cherry-Evans to play for for their team.  In my view, they should receive recompense for their loss and one way to for them to do so resides in a tortious claim for interference in business relations.

Tortious interference with business relationships occurs where the tortfeasor acts to prevent the plaintiff from successfully establishing or maintaining business relationships. This tort may occur when a first party’s conduct intentionally causes a second party not to enter into a business relationship with a third party that otherwise would probably have occurred.

In order to prove tortious interference with business relationship, most jurisdictions require that the following elements be satisfied:
  • A valid business relationship or business expectancy existed between the parties
  • The defendant had knowledge of the relationship or expectancy
  • The defendant intentionally coerced one of the parties to terminate the business relationship, breach a contract, or withhold a valid business expectancy
  • The defendant was not authorized to interfere with the parties’ dealings
  • The defendant’s interference resulted in damages to the plaintiff

If we apply those elements to the Cherry-Evans scenario:

  • Cherry-Evans and the Gold Coast Titans had, as a minimum, an expectancy of a business relationship arising out of his agreement to join them in 2016.
  • Manly Sea Eagles knew about that expectancy of a business relationship.
  • Since the announcement of the Cherry-Evans to Titans deal, if even just what has been in the press is to be believed, the Sea Eagles have taken steps to coerce Cherry-Evans to renege on his arrangement with the Titans and he has now done so.
  • Whilst I assume the Sea Eagles are entitled to talk to Cherry-Evans as their employee, I do not see how they could be directly authorized to interfere in the dealings between Cherry-Evans and the Titan.
  • The Titans have suffered a loss because Cherry-Evans will no longer be playing for them and, as a minimum, the funds they have invested in their attempt to get him to play for them have been lost.  Further, if the Titans have been restrained from signing other players because of their commitment to Cherry-Evans another head of damage could arise.

Obviously, the NRL rules around signing contracts and cooling off periods are farcical and promote conduct like that which we have seen, again, in the case of Cherry-Evans.  That though does not make the conduct of the Sea Eagles blameless either ethically or in the eyes of the law.

If I was the Titans board I would be pressing all legal avenues available to me to recover my losses from this fiasco from both the player and the club.  Blind Freddie could tell you that won’t happen given that the NRL runs the Titans but one day one can only hope that a club in a similar position does take this step to protect their rights and the interests of their members and fans.

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