Mary Cataldo, a partner at White and Bright, LLP, was featured in the October/November 2022 Issue of North County Lawyer. Cataldo's article, Penal Code Section 496(C) and Treble Damages in Probate Actions, explores the implications of the recently published Siry Investment, L.P. v. Farkhondehpour (Siry).
North County Lawyer is the magazine for the North County Bar Association. The publication features bimonthly issues that focus on topics such as the meaning of service, legal research, and protecting client data in technology contracts. The magazine helps promote the Bar Association's mission of promoting professional excellence, camaraderie, philanthropy, and community outreach by circulating useful information and encouraging attorneys to be active members of their community.
The California Supreme Court in Siry confirmed the availability of treble damages in civil causes of action if the property being considered had been obtained by means of theft. Because of this holding, parties who are involved in a probate proceeding and who assert claims involving misappropriated property, financial elder abuse, and fraud are able to seek treble damages.
Prior to the Siry ruling, the California Court of Appeal had held that Penal Code section 496(c) only applied where property was the direct subject of theft and did apply to "theft-related tort cases." Siry at p. 19. As of the Siry holding, the California Supreme Court has affirmed that the treble damage statute does apply to such cases if they involve claims of fraud, misrepresentation, or breach of fiduciary duty and if the plaintiff shows criminal intent - mere actual falsity is insufficient. See Siry at p. 22.
The recent Siry holding has significant implications for parties who are involved in probate litigation. Parties with claims related to probate, elder financial abuse, and breach of fiduciary duty by an executor or estate administrator may be able to seek treble damages under section 496(c) in addition to other remedies granted at law or in equity.
Effective utilization of Penal Code section 496(c) can dramatically increase the damages awarded to a plaintiff. With so much money on the table, it is important to place your case in the hands of a competent, zealous advocate. Mary Cataldo is an outstanding trust and estate litigation attorney with over twenty years of experience. In addition to her experience on the Board of Directors of the Probate Attorneys of San Diego and prior service as President of the North County Bar Association, she frequently speaks at probate-related events across California, including those held by the Professional Fiduciaries Association of California, Probate Attorneys of San Diego County, and the Bar Association of Northern San Diego County.