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What is civil conspiracy?

In Florida, civil conspiracy is a cause of action that allows a plaintiff to seek damages from two or more parties who agree to commit an unlawful act or engage in a lawful act by unlawful means, and the plaintiff suffers harm as a result of that agreement. The basis of a civil conspiracy claim is the agreement between the parties rather than the underlying unlawful act itself.

Suppose a group of employees plan to harm their employer’s business and defame him by spreading false rumors about the company to its clients or customers. The employees then send a series of false claims about the employer’s business to the social media accounts of regular customers. The customers see the terrible rumors and stop going to the company.

In the above example, the critical elements of a civil conspiracy claim in Florida would be present—an agreement between two or more parties to commit an unlawful act, an overt act in furtherance of that agreement, and damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the conspiracy.

Notably, a civil conspiracy claim in Florida requires that the underlying unlawful act or means be tortious. Therefore, a plaintiff must also establish the underlying tort the parties conspired to commit. For example, a plaintiff may allege the parties conspired to commit fraud, defamation, or interference with business relationships.

If a plaintiff successfully proves a civil conspiracy claim, they may be entitled to recover damages from all the parties to the conspiracy who participated in the tortious conduct. However, establishing a civil conspiracy claim can be challenging, as it requires evidence of an agreement and an overt act to further the agreement.

Need help with a civil conspiracy matter? Schedule your consultation today with a top business litigation attorney.

What legal issues typically arise related to civil conspiracy?

The following disputes are among the most common to civil conspiracy:

  • Intent: The essence of conspiracy is that two people were intent on one common purpose. Even if not written, an agreement can be implied or understood from the parties’ conduct to establish a civil conspiracy. However, the critical aspect is the intent to achieve an illegal goal. Without that kind of intent, there can be no conspiracy.
  • Underlying civil wrong: Civil conspiracy is not a standalone tort. It requires the existence of another underlying and actionable tort or wrong. To demonstrate civil conspiracy, a plaintiff must show a plan to commit this underlying tort or wrong.
  • Joint and several liability: Because civil conspiracy can hold one conspirator responsible for the tortious actions of another, it allows for the possibility of establishing “joint and several liability.” In Florida, parties to a conspiracy may be jointly and severally liable for the plaintiff’s damages, meaning that the court might find each party responsible for the entire damages, regardless of their degree of fault.
  • Causation: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the conspiracy was a direct cause of the plaintiff’s damages.
  • Damages: The plaintiff must prove they suffered damages due to the conspiracy.
  • Statute of limitations: Civil conspiracy claims are subject to a four-year statute of limitations in Florida. Therefore, the plaintiff must bring the claim within four years of the date of the alleged conspiracy.

What are relevant laws related to civil conspiracy in Florida?

In Florida, civil conspiracy is a common law cause of action. Further, the legislature has not explicitly codified civil conspiracy claims under the Florida Statutes. Instead, our understanding of civil conspiracy comes from precedential decisions of the Florida judiciary, meaning that the laws related to civil conspiracy primarily come from the findings of Florida courts in past cases. For instance, the Florida Supreme Court recognizes and explains the elements of a civil conspiracy action in Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Russo, 175 So. 3d 681, 686 F.N. 9 (Fla. 2015). Some older cases, such as Loeb v. Geronemus, 66 SO. 2d 241, 243 (Fla. 1953), which recognized the importance of the “underlying civil wrong,” are still widely cited as good law today.

What is required to prove a case of civil conspiracy in Florida?

To prove a case of civil conspiracy in Florida, the plaintiff must establish the following elements:

  • An agreement between two or more parties: As previously mentioned, the parties may still create an agreement without written or spoken words. In some cases, circumstantial evidence, such as the actions of the parties involved, might imply the terms of the agreement;
  • To perform an unlawful act: The conspiracy must be related to an underlying civil wrong, usually an actionable tort;
  • Performance of some overt act in pursuance of the conspiracy: This can be any act in furtherance of the conspiracy or, in other words, something done to accomplish the conspiracy’s goal, such as making a false statement, transferring money, or stealing property; and
  • Damage to the plaintiff due to acts performed under the conspiracy: Damages can include any harm suffered by the plaintiff so long as it is due to the conspiracy, such as financial loss, damage to reputation, or emotional distress.

When a set of facts is appropriate to meet the requirements of civil conspiracy, there are many paths a claimant may take. We are value-based attorneys at Jimerson Birr, which means we look at each action with our clients from the point of view of costs and benefits while reducing liability. Then, based on our client’s objectives, we chart a path forward to seek appropriate remedies, such as:

  • Monetary damages

To see what actions may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

What are common defenses to civil conspiracy in Florida?

Some defenses to civil conspiracy in Florida include:

  • Legitimate business purpose: This strategy contends that the defendant’s actions taken as part of the alleged conspiracy were for a legitimate business purpose and were not part of an agreement to engage in unlawful activity.
  • Statute of limitations: The defendant could argue that the statute of limitations bars the plaintiff’s claim.
  • Immunity: Certain individuals or organizations, such as government officials or agencies, may be immune from civil conspiracy claims under certain circumstances.

One core strategy in defending a civil conspiracy claim involves disproving any intent of the parties to commit a tortious act. As established above, the intention to achieve some illegal goal is critical to an action for conspiracy. Additionally, the defense could disprove any other elements of a civil conspiracy claim by arguing that the plaintiff has insufficient evidence to prove the existence of an agreement, that any overt act furthered the conspiracy, or that damages resulted from the conspiracy.

To see what defenses may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

Have more questions about a civil conspiracy-related situation?

Crucially, this overview of civil conspiracy does not begin to cover all the laws implicated by this issue or the factors that may compel the application of such laws. Every case is unique, and the laws can produce different outcomes depending on the individual circumstances.

Jimerson Birr attorneys guide our clients to help make informed decisions while ensuring their rights are respected and protected. Our lawyers are highly trained and experienced in the nuances of the law, so they can accurately interpret statutes and case law and holistically prepare individuals or companies for their legal endeavors. Through this intense personal investment and advocacy, our lawyers will help resolve the issue’s complicated legal problems efficiently and effectively.

Having a Jimerson Birr attorney on your side means securing a team of seasoned, multi-dimensional, cross-functional legal professionals. Whether it is a transaction, an operational issue, a regulatory challenge, or a contested legal predicament that may require court intervention, we remain a tireless advocate every step of the way. Being a value-added law firm means putting the client at the forefront of everything we do. We use our experience to help our clients navigate even the most complex problems and come out the other side triumphant.

If you want to understand your case, the merits of your claim or defense, potential monetary awards, or the amount of exposure you face, you should speak with a qualified Jimerson Birr lawyer. Our experienced team of attorneys is here to help. Call Jimerson Birr at (904) 389-0050 or use the contact form to set up a consultation.

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