Civil liability for conspiracy arises when two or more persons conspire to do an unlawful act and injury is caused to another from the commission of that act. The liability for civil conspiracy is damages.
The elements of a civil conspiracy are:
- two or more persons;
- unlawful objective to be achieved;
- an agreement on the objective or means to achieve the objective;
- one or more overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy[i]; and
- a resulting injury or damages[ii].
Most of the states do not recognize an action for civil conspiracy as a separate action. An action for damages where injury is caused in pursuance of a conspiracy is a tort action. An action for damages can be brought by an injured person for the damage caused by acts committed in furtherance of a conspiracy. Liability for damages will arise only if it is established that a person have committed some tortuous act that caused injury or damage[iii]. If the acts complained of are lawful then the issue of conspiracy does not exist.
In order to amount to a civil conspiracy, the parties to the conspiracy have to be aware of the wrongful nature of the act and the harm it may cause at the time of agreement to commit an act[iv]. The intention to achieve an unlawful object is an element in civil conspiracy.
If no direct act is done in furtherance of the conspiracy, there is no civil liability[v]. A person can bring an action only if some damage have been caused to him/her due to the overt acts of the conspirators[vi].
A person who was present at the time of commission of an offense need not be liable for the harm caused if it can be proved that there was no agreement from his/her part[vii]. A corporation cannot be involved in a conspiracy but an officer of the corporation may be considered party to a conspiracy.
Each conspirator is jointly and severally liable for each act done by the other conspirators[viii]. Each member of the conspiracy is liable for the damage caused irrespective of the fact s/he gained from the outcome of the conspiracy.
Withdrawal from a conspiracy will relieve a conspirator from the liability for subsequent acts. However, withdrawal must be made known to the other conspirators and a positive act in this regard should be done to make the withdrawal effective. The existence of intent to withdraw will not relieve the conspirator from liability[ix].
A civil conspiracy can be with regard to commission of various offenses. A few examples are: abduction, assault, and abstaining from doing a legal duty. A civil action for damages cannot be moved in a criminal conspiracy[x].
If an action against a civil wrong fails then the conspiracy claim also fails. A conspiracy claim cannot stand independently without a substantive tort claim[xi].
[i] Kovacic v. Cuyahoga County Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50046 (N.D. Ohio July 9, 2007)
[ii] Bills v. Adair, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13663 ( E.D. Mich. Feb. 23, 2009)
[iii] Bauerline v. Equity Residential Props. Mgmt. Corp., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94182 (D. Ariz. Dec. 29, 2006)
[iv] Chon Tri v. J.T.T., 162 S.W.3d 552 (Tex. 2005)
[v] Jag Media Holdings Inc. v. A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., 387 F. Supp. 2d 691 (S.D. Tex. 2004)
[vi] Morris v. Bank of Am. Nev., 110 Nev. 1274 (Nev. 1994)
[vii] Brown v. Mitchell, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10519 (N.D. Ind. Feb. 11, 2008)
[viii] Klistoff v. Superior Court, 157 Cal. App. 4th 469 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2007)
[ix] Ellis v. Zuck, 409 F. Supp. 1151 (N.D. Ala. 1976)
[x] Dunbar v. Greenlaw, 152 Me. 270 (Me. 1956)
[xi] Maltz v. Union Carbide Chems. & Plastics Co., 992 F. Supp. 286 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)