Conspiracy Under Torts| Law of Torts Notes|
- Definition: Conspiracy is (i) an unlawful combination of two or more persons to injure a third party, or (ii) a combination to injure but without the use of unlawful means (Winfield).
- Origin: The concept of conspiracy originated during the days of the “Star Chamber” in England as a crime, later the Common Law courts made it a civil wrong. The leading cases are Crofter v. Veitch,
- The purpose must be to cause damage to the plaintiff.
- Combination of persons.
- Overt act of causing damage.
A) Purpose : “Intention” or “Malice” is not the essential element. What is required is that the defendants should have acted in order that the plaintiff should suffer damage. Hence, the main purpose or objective decides whether there is conspiracy or not.
Crofter V. Veith : 7 small producers of tweed were using imported yarn to make cloth. 5 mill owners were using local yarn to manufacture cloth and they could sell at cheaper rates. The union of mills desired to fix a minimum price for cloth. Their objective was to get their wages increased. They could not get higher wags as the 7 small tweed producers were paying less. The union officials put an embargo on importation of yarn by ordering the dockworkers no to handle import yarn. This was obeyed by them. In consequence the small producers suffered and their trade was affected. They sued for conspiracy. Held, union is not liable. The main purpose was not to affect trade but to promote their own interests.
In Moghul Steamship Co. v Me Gregor, the defendants offered reduced freight charges to gain a monopoly of the China Tea trade. P, a shipping company seriously suffered which sued for conspiracy. Held, not liable. The main object of the defendants was to earn profits.
Quinn V. Leathern : P was a butcher selling a good quantity of meat to a big dealer M. The defendants D, the union officials, demanded that P should dismiss his workers and appoint only the members of the union. P refused. D induced M to stop buying from P with a threat that if M does not obey, his workers (who were members of the union) would resort to strike. M stopped all dealings with P. P suffered and sued for conspiracy. Held, defendants liable. The purpose in effect was to affect the business of P.
Sorrel V. Smith: Retail Newspaper formed a union, and desired to limit the shops only to themselves and those who had union’s permission. R was a wholesale dealer who supplied newspapers to a few retailers who had opened shops without union’s permission. The union interfered. It transferred P the customer of R to another wholesaler W. The newspapers owners, the defendants, found this to be injurious to trade and jointly they threatened to stop supplies to W. P sued the defendants, to restrain them from stopping. Held, no order or injunction against D was to be given. The combination was not to injure W or others but only to protect the interests of the newspaper trade.
B) Combination of persons : There must be two or more persons with the objective or purpose to injure a third person. The nature of the purpose is evident from the above cases.
C) Over act: There must be an overt act to cause damage in addition to the combination of persons. Mere overt act by itself will not be actionable injury. This is evident from Mighell V. Me Gregor and Sorrel V. Smith. The act must be injurious to trade as in Quinn V. Leatham.