An Illinois appeals court recently examined the promissory fraud rule in a medical services contract dispute.
The key principle distilled from the court’s unpublished analysis in Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp. v. Cardwell, 2016 IL App (4th) 150312-U is that where fraud claims are based on false promises of future conduct, the claims will fail.
The plaintiff hospital there sued a former staff doctor for breaching a multi-year written services contract. When the doctor prematurely resigned to join a hospital in another state, the plaintiff sued him to recover about $250,000 advanced to the doctor at the contract’s outset.
The doctor counterclaimed, alleging the hospital fraudulently induced him to sign the contract. He claimed the hospital broke promises to elevate him to a Director position and allow him to develop a new perinatology practice group at the hospital. Since the promises were false, the doctor claimed, the underlying services contract was void.
Siding with the hospital (it granted the hospital’s summary judgment motion), the Court discussed when a defendant’s fraudulent inducement can nullify a written contract.
In Illinois, to establish fraud in the inducement, a plaintiff must show (1) a false statement of material fact, (2) defendant’s knowledge the statement was false, (3) defendant’s intent to induce the plaintiff’s reliance on the statement, (4) plaintiff’s reasonable reliance on the truth of the statement, and (5) damages resulting from reliance on the statement.
A critical qualification is that the fraud must be based on a misstatement of existing fact; not a future one. Fraud in the inducement goes beyond a simple breaking of a promise or a prediction that doesn’t come to pass.
Here, the Court found that the hospital’s pre-contract statements all involved future events. The promise of a Directorship for the doctor was merely aspirational. It wasn’t a false statement of present fact. The Court also determined that the hospital’s representations to the doctor about the development of a perinatology program spoke to a hoped-for future event.
Since the entirety of the doctor’s fraud counterclaim rested on the hospital’s promises of future conduct/events, the Court entered summary judgment against the doctor on his fraud in the inducement counter-claim.
This is another case that sharply illustrates how difficult it is to prove fraud in the inducement; especially where the alleged misstatements refer to contingent events that may or may not happen. While a broken promise may be a breach of contract, it isn’t fraud.
For a misstatement to be actionable fraud, it has to involve an actual, present state of affairs. Anything prospective/future in nature will likely be swallowed up by the promissory fraud rule.