What is Civil Theft?

In short, the cause of action of Civil Theft involves the taking of another person’s property without their consent with the intention to deprive the person of their property.  There is no distinction in terms of the act of theft between criminal and civil theft.  However, the consequences are different and the proof required is also different.

772.11 Civil remedy for theft or exploitation.

(1) Any person who proves by clear and convincing evidence that he or she has been injured in any fashion by reason of any violation of ss. 812.012812.037 or s. 825.103(1) has a cause of action for threefold the actual damages sustained and, in any such action, is entitled to minimum damages in the amount of $200, and reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in the trial and appellate courts. Before filing an action for damages under this section, the person claiming injury must make a written demand for $200 or the treble damage amount of the person liable for damages under this section. If the person to whom a written demand is made complies with such demand within 30 days after receipt of the demand, that person shall be given a written release from further civil liability for the specific act of theft or exploitation by the person making the written demand. Any person who has a cause of action under this section may recover the damages allowed under this section from the parents or legal guardian of any unemancipated minor who lives with his or her parents or legal guardian and who is liable for damages under this section. Punitive damages may not be awarded under this section. The defendant is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in the trial and appellate courts upon a finding that the claimant raised a claim that was without substantial fact or legal support. In awarding attorney’s fees and costs under this section, the court may not consider the ability of the opposing party to pay such fees and costs. This section does not limit any right to recover attorney’s fees or costs provided under any other law.
(2) For purposes of a cause of action arising under this section, the term “property” does not include the rights of a patient or a resident or a claim for a violation of such rights.
(3) This section does not impose civil liability regarding the provision of health care, residential care, long-term care, or custodial care at a licensed facility or care provided by appropriately licensed personnel in any setting in which such personnel are authorized to practice.
(4) The death of an elderly or disabled person does not cause the court to lose jurisdiction of any claim for relief for theft or exploitation when the victim of the theft or exploitation is an elderly or disabled person.
(5) In a civil action under this section in which an elderly or disabled person is a party, the elderly or disabled person may move the court to advance the trial on the docket. The presiding judge, after consideration of the age and health of the party, may advance the trial on the docket. The motion may be filed and served with the civil complaint or at any time thereafter.
History.s. 3, ch. 86-277; s. 47, ch. 88-381; s. 5, ch. 89-303; s. 1181, ch. 97-102; s. 2, ch. 2002-195; s. 8, ch. 2014-200.

What is criminal theft?

In a criminal case, the charges are brought by a government entity (i.e. the State Attorney).  In a civil case, the cause of action is brought by the Plaintiff.  There is no prohibition on having both a civil and criminal case regarding the same incident or set of facts.

Can I Sue for Civil Theft if I have a breach of contract action?

The answer is sometimes.  A civil theft suit requires that a Plaintiff prove that he has suffered a separate loss other than the contract loss itself.  Where no fraud can be shown in a breach of contract action, there cannot be a successful claim for civil theft.  There is also an element of the crime of theft called mens rea.  Where one acts on a good faith belief that they have a legal right to possession of property, there can be no civil theft.  This is because an element of the crime or civil cause of action requires intent to steal or defraud.  In the case of Rosen v. Martin, the court found that neither civil theft nor conversion occurred where a party took money or property but did know that he or she did not have a right to the property (money) taken.  Rosen v. Martin, 486 So. 3d 623 (3rd DCA 1986).

What Damages Can a Plaintiff Receive in a Civil Theft Case?

In Florida, Section 771.11 of the Florida Statutes concerns Civil Theft Remedies.  Interestingly, there is a provision in the law for three times the actual damages to the Plaintiff if the correct actions are taken pursuant to Florida law.  There is also a provision providing that there are minimum damages of $200, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.  Civil theft must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.  This is a lower standard than the one used in a criminal case for theft.  In a criminal case for theft, the standard is beyond a reasonable, doubt.

There is a statutory letter that an injured party must send to the Defendant to trigger the potential for treble damages.  In most cases, the letter should be sent prior to the filing of a suit and at least 30 days prior.  The author has had a case wherein the Plaintiff failed to provide the statutory written demand with 30 days notice and found that the notice had to be served 30 days before a judgment could be entered based on case law.   That said, a prudent litigant should send the letter before filing suit, as cases frequently settle when Defendants realize that they could be taxed with attorneys fees, costs, and treble damages if they lose.  The Civil Theft Statute provides that any and all other remedies are available even if one files suit for Civil Theft.

Call an Experienced Attorney for a Consultation if You are Involved in a Civil Theft Case.

If you are a litigant in a civil theft case, an experienced attorney can help determine your best course of action.  Call the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, and speak to an experienced attorney to understand your rights.  Call (904) 990-8000 for a free initial consultation today.

About the author

Neil Weinreb is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing and regularly works on cases involving both Civil Theft and Criminal Theft for over 17 years in North Florida.  Mr. Weinreb works for the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida.   Mr. Weinreb has worked as an adjunct professor teaching law to paralegal students at Jones College in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can contact Mr. Weinreb at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation.  Mr. Weinreb has received the highest rating from Martindale Hubbell, AV Preeminent.











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