Slander of Title

Torts. The term “slander of title” refers to a false written or verbal statement (which could include filing of lis pendens or recording a deed, etc.) that calls into doubt another person’s ownership of property.


To prevail on a slander of title cause of action, a plaintiff must prove each of the following elements with preponderance of the evidence:

  1. That defendant made a statement (e.g., recorded a deed) that cast doubts about ownership of the property;
  2. That the statement was made by defendant to a person other than plaintiff;
  3. That the statement was false and plaintiff did indeed own the property;
  4. That defendant knew that the statement was false or acted with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity as to whether plaintiff owned the property;
  5. That defendant knew or should have known that someone else might act in reliance on his statement causing plaintiff financial loss;
  6. That plaintiff did suffer immediate and direct financial harm because someone else acted in reliance on the false statement; and
  7. That defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

Reference Desk

Finch Aerospace Corp. v. City of San Diego, 8 Cal.App.5th 1248 (2017):

Slander of title is not a form of deceit.  It is a form of the separate common law tort of disparagement, also sometimes referred to as injurious falsehood . . . Among the differences between deceit and disparagement, deceit involves a false or misleading communication to the plaintiff that induces the plaintiff to act while disparagement involves a false or misleading communication to a third party that induces the third party to act.  (3 Dobbs, et. al., The Law of Torts (2d ed. 2016) § 656, pp. 615–616; Rest.2d Torts, § 623A, com. e.)  “What [further] distinguishes a claim of disparagement is that an injurious falsehood has been directed specifically at the plaintiff’s business or product, derogating that business or product and thereby causing that plaintiff special damages.”  (Hartford Casualty Ins. Co. v. Swift Distribution, Inc. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 277, 294 (Hartford).)

M.F. Farming Co. v. Couch Distributing Co., Inc., 207 Cal.App.4th 180 (2012):

“Slander of title is effected by one who without privilege publishes untrue and disparaging statements with respect to the property of another under such circumstance[s] as would lead a reasonable person to foresee that a prospective purchaser or lessee thereof might abandon his intentions. (Rest., 199*199 Torts, § 624.) It is an invasion of the interest in the vendibility of property. In order to commit the tort actual malice or ill will is unnecessary. (Gudger v. Manton, 21 Cal.2d 537, 543 [134 P.2d 217]; Rest., Torts, §§ 624, 625, 628.) Damages usually consist of loss of a prospective purchaser. (Rest., Torts, § 633.) To be disparaging a statement need not be a complete denial of title in others, but may be any unfounded claim of an interest in the property which throws doubt upon its ownership. (Gudger v. Manton, supra.)” (Phillips v. Glazer, supra, 94 Cal.App.2d 673, 677.) “However, it is not necessary to show that a particular pending deal was hampered or prevented, since recovery may be had for the depreciation in the market value of the property (Davis v. Wood, 61 Cal.App.2d 788 [143 P.2d 740]).” (Hill v. Allan (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 470, 489 [66 Cal.Rptr. 676].)

The Supreme Court has recognized: “If the matter is reasonably understood to cast doubt upon the existence or extent of another’s interest in land, it is disparaging to the latter’s title where it is so understood by the recipient. (Rest. Torts, § 629.)” (Gudger v. Manton, supra, 21 Cal.2d at pp. 542-543, disapproved on another point in Albertson v. Raboff (1956) 46 Cal.2d 375, 381 [295 P.2d 405].)

Smith v. Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co., 177 Cal.App.3d 625 (1986):

“The elements of the tort [of slander of title] . . . have traditionally been held to be publication, falsity, absence of privilege, and disparagement of another’s land which is relied upon by a third party and which results in a pecuniary loss.” (Appel v. Burman (1984) 159 Cal.App.3d 1209, 1214 [206 Cal.Rptr. 259].) (4) A privilege, either absolute or qualified, is a defense to a charge of slander of title.[1] The privileges are codified in Civil Code section 47 (Slaughter v. Friedman
(1982) 32 Cal.3d 149, 158 [185 Cal.Rptr. 244, 649 P.2d 886]), which states in part: “A privileged publication or broadcast is one made . . . 3. In a communication, without malice, to a person interested therein, . . . (3) [by a person] who is requested by the person interested to give the information.” There is some confusion in the cases as to which side must plead and prove the existence or nonexistence of the privilege. Smith claims tha Stevens v. Snow (1923) 191 Cal. 58 [214 P. 968] holds that the defendant bears the burden of proof, while Commonwealth cite Hill v. Allan (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 470 [66 Cal.Rptr. 676] for the proposition that the plaintiff must allege and prove that the communication is not privileged. In this instance the better view appears to be a dialectical synthesis of these opposing views. Jones v. Express Pub. Co. (1927) 87 Cal.App. 246, 255-256 [262 P. 78] states: “The burden is also upon the defendant to prove any affirmative defense upon which he relies, including . . . that the communication is privileged. But when the pleadings admit . . . such facts, manifestly the defendant is thereby relieved of this burden.” “Normally, privilege is an affirmative defense which must be pleaded in the answer [citation]. However, if the complaint discloses existence of a qualified privilege, it must allege malice to state a cause of action [citation].” (Cameron v. Wernick (1967) 251 Cal.App.2d 890, 894-895 [60 Cal.Rptr. 102], quoting Morris v. National Federation of the Blind (1961) 192 Cal.App.2d 162, 164-165 [13 Cal.Rptr. 336].) Finally, “Ordinarily privilege must be specially pleaded by the defendant, and the burden of proving it is on him. [Citations.] But where the complaint shows that the communication or publication is one within the classes qualifiedly privileged, it is necessary for the plaintiff to go further and plead and prove that the privilege is not available as a defense in the particular case, e.g., because of malice.” (4 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (8th ed. 1974) Torts, § 302, p. 2573.)

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