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  • Jeff Vail

Civil Theft

Civil Theft is a statutory remedy available in Colorado (and many other states), which serves to add remedies to the traditional economic tort of Conversion. Colorado Revised Statute Section 18-4-405 provides that any person who commits theft is liable in a private civil action for three times the amount of damages plus a mandatory award of attorney fees. See, e.g., Bermel v. BlueRadios, Inc., 440 P.3d 1150, 1151-52 (Colo. 2019). (In comparison, at common law in most states the tort of conversion provides relief in the form of economic damages and the ability to request attorney fees and punitive damages – these are not automatic).

To be liable for civil theft, the plaintiff must prove the defendant:

(1) Knowingly obtained, retained, or exercised control over;

(2) Anything of value of another;

(3) Without authorization or by threat or deception; and

(4) Intends to deprive the plaintiff permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value, knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the thing of value in a manner that deprives the plaintiff permanently of its use or benefit.

C.R.S. § 18-4-401(1).

Civil Theft has also been at the forefront of the “Economic Loss Rule,” which is a judicially-created doctrine that attempts to maintain the boundary between tort and contract law. For example, if two parties have a contract for the sale of goods, and one party takes the goods but refuses to pay, can this support both a claim for breach of contract and civil theft? The Colorado Supreme Court definitively answered this question in 2019 in Bermel v. BlueRadios, Inc. – the judicially-created doctrine of the Economic Loss Rule cannot bar a statutory (legislatively-created) cause of action such as Civil Theft. Id., 440 P.3d 1150.

At Vail Law, we use an open-source, Litigation Checklist approach to develop claims and defenses tailored to each unique situation. Often these include breach of negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of contract, and exotic statutory causes of action. Contact Jeff Vail at (303) 600-3730 or to discuss your specific case.

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