A dispute over the inheritance of a family farm set the stage for a ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals this week on the law of interference with economic relations. In Butcher v. McClain, plaintiffs were a woman and her children, and defendants were the siblings of the woman's deceased husband. Plaintiffs contended that defendants had wrongly caused the family matriarch to execute a will that disinherited plaintiffs from the family farm. Plaintiffs sued for tortious interference with a prospective inheritance.
Defendants moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that the two-year statute of limitations had run. The trial court agreed, holding that the claim accrued when the matriarch executed the will disinheriting plaintiffs, more than two years before suit was filed.
The Court of Appeals reversed. Judge Rosenblum, writing for the Court, first noted that Oregon does recognize the tort of interference with an economic advantage in the form of a prospective inheritance. Such a claim is subject to the two-year statute of limitations for torts. According to the Court, the claim accrues not when the wrongful act occurs, but when the interference in fact causes injury. Thus, plaintiffs' claim accrued not when the will was executed, but when the matriarch died and plaintiffs lost their expected inheritance. Because those events occured within two years of the date plaintiffs filed suit, the claim was timely.