Rendelman v. State

The Facts

Defendant threatened to sue Elmhirst for damages if he did not pay $100k.  His threat, however, was made in bad faith because he had knowledge that there was no factual or legal basis for a lawsuit.  Defendant was charged with theft for false check writing and convicted on all counts, but blamed Elmhirst for his conviction, which was the basis of his blackmail.  He blamed Elmhirst for his divorce and estrangement from his young children.

Procedural History

Convicted at trial of extortion.

The Issue

Whether a defendant can be convicted for extortion where his threat is a lawsuit and his threat is made in bad faith.

Relevant Statute

“A person may not obtain or attempt to obtain money, property, or anything of value from another person with the person’s consent, if the consent is induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force or violence, or by wrongful threat of economic injury.”  … The threat is complete where a letter or delivery of the threat occurs.

The Holding/Rule

No.  When there is legitimate basis for the lawsuit, the person making the threat cannot be extortion.  In this case Defendant did not have any legitimate basis to sue.  There was no factual basis for any threat made.  But, the defendant in this case wrote that his threat was a “settlement demand.”    This does not constitute threat by economic damage.  He was threatening to seek a legal course of action specifically.  The relevant statute was patterned after a federal Hobb Act, which rises on “wrongful threat of economic injury.”  Defendant’s threat here is not wrongful; it is perfectly legal.  He also offers Elmhirst the opportunity to settle the dispute privately; and if not settled, he planned to resort to the mentioned lawsuit.  This represents an offer to negotiate; and if negotiation fails, the legal civil lawsuit will be engaged.  As such, threat of a lawsuit can never constitute a threat for extortion, even when it is made in bad faith.  In extortion, the extortionist uses intimidation to gain what is being extorted for; but if the threat is litigation, the victim has no reason to believe there will be actual harm.  If his threat is put in place through litigation, there can be no fear because the it is placed in the hands of a third party judicial partner.


Overruled, conviction overturned.

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