Key Decisions

February 2013 – Treble Damages Were Recoverable

(filed under: Key Decisions | February 22, 2013)

Treble Damages Were Recoverable

Bell v. Feibush
(Cal. Ct. of App., 4th Dist.), filed January 15, 2013 

Igal Feibush induced Sharon Bell to loan him $202,500 based on a false pretense.  When he refused to repay the loan, Bell sued him.

Based on Feibush’s alleged abuse of the discovery process, the trial court struck his answer and entered his default.  It then entered a default judgment, awarding Bell damages of $202,500 plus prejudgment interest on her breach of contract and fraud causes of action, and awarding her treble damages of $607,500 based on a cause of action under Penal Code section 496(a).

Penal Code section 496(a) makes receiving or buying property “that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft” a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment.  Subdivision (c) provides that any person “who has been injured by a violation of [section 496(a)] . . . may bring an action for three times the amount of actual damages, if any, sustained by the plaintiff, costs of suit, and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

Feibush appealed.  He asserted that because he had not been convicted of violating Section 496(a), the trial court could not impose treble damages against him.

The Court of Appeal affirmed.  It held that based on the statutory language, a criminal conviction under Section 496(a) was not a prerequisite to recovery of treble damages under Section 496(c).  It also held that the phrase “any manner constituting theft” under Section 496(a) included theft by false pretense.