misrepresentation - tort v. contract - gist of the action doctrine
Pediatrix Screening, Inc. v. Telechem Internation, Inc. - 3d Cir. - April 20, 2010
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has “operated under the assumption that the gist of the action doctrine is a viable doctrine that will eventually be explicitly adopted by [the] state’s High Court.” Reardon v. Allegheny Coll., 926 A.2d 477, 486 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007). The 3d Circuit has embraced that view as well. Bohler-Uddeholm, 247 F.3d at 103-04.
The gist of the action “doctrine is designed to maintain the conceptual distinction between breach of contract claims and tort claims. As a practical matter, the doctrine precludes plaintiffs from re-casting ordinary breach of contract claims into tort claims.” eToll, Inc. v. Elias/Savon Adver., Inc., 811 A.2d 10, 14 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002) (citation omitted). In some circumstances, “it is possible that a breach of contract also gives rise to an actionable tort[.] To be construed as in tort, however, the wrong ascribed to defendant must be the gist of the action, the contract being collateral.” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Bash v. Bell Tel. Co., 601 A.2d 825, 829 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992)). That the misconduct was fraudulent does not bar application of the gist of the action principle. Werwinski v. Ford Motor Co., 286 F.3d 661, 681 (3d Cir. 2002).
The Superior Court has held that fraud claims should be barred where they arose during the course of the parties’ contractual relationship; where the allegedly fraudulent acts also were breaches of duties “created and grounded in the . . . contract[;]” and where the damages “would be compensable in an ordinary contract action[ and] thus, the claim would essentially duplicate a breach of contract action.” eToll, Inc., 811 A.2d at 20-21. Where fraud claims are “inextricably intertwined” with the contract claims, the gist of the action is contractual, and the fraud claim should be dismissed. Id. at 21.
The test has been discussed in other cases as well, including Hart v. Arnold, 884 A.2d 316, 341 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005) (dismissing fraud-in-the-performance claim because it “essentially duplicate[d] . . . breach of contract claim and [its] success . . . [wa]s wholly dependent on the terms of a contract”), and Pittsburgh Construction Co. v. Griffith, 834 A.2d 572, 584 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003) (vacating award for conversion on gist of the action grounds where “tort and breach of contract claims [were] inextricably intertwined, the success of the conversion claim depending entirely on the obligations as defined by the contract”). Compare Sullivan v. Chartwell Inv. Partners, LP, 873 A.2d 710, 719 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005) (separate fraud claim not barred when defendant “fraudulently . . . agreed to perform obligations that it never intended to perform in order to induce” plaintiff into entering into contract).