Do You Have the “Right to Remain Silent” in Business Dealings?

As a general rule in Louisiana, a party involved in business dealings may keep silent, but exceptions exist. Sure, where information is volunteered that may influence the other party’s conduct, that information must be truthful, but is there a duty to disclose information harmful to your position?   According to one recent decision, the answer may be “yes.”  

 

In Parkcrest Builders, LLC v. Housing Authority of New Orleans, 2017 WL 193500 (E.D. La. 2017), the court highlighted a wrinkle in the general rule of silence. According to the Parkcrest court, a party to a proposed transaction may have a duty to disclose any information that an ethical person would disclose. This duty complicates matters for a party wishing to disclose as little as possible in order to protect its interests in an arms-length negotiation. It also raises a question: can a party be sued in fraud if they don’t divulge enough information to satisfy the other party?

 

“Fraud” is defined as a misrepresentation or suppression of a material fact, made with the intent to obtain an unjust advantage or to cause a loss or inconvenience to the other party. La. Civil Code article 1953. In order to prove fraud by silence, there must exist a duty to disclose. 

 

Parkcrest involved a public project to construct new affordable housing units where the owner terminated its contract with the contractor and sued the contractor’s bond company. In the suit against the bond company, the owner alleged fraud and claimed that the bond company improperly concealed (1) its intent to rehire the defaulted contractor to complete the project, and (2) the nature of the bond company’s agreement with the contractor. According to Parkcrest, these allegations, if proven, were sufficient to prove fraud by silence. 

  

Given that the law allows recovery of economic losses arising from a party’s reasonable reliance upon information provided by another, businesses need to be careful in what they say, and even in what they don’t say.