California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

334. Affirmative Defense—Undue Influence

[Name of defendant] claims that no contract was created because [he/she] was unfairly pressured by [name of plaintiff] into consenting to the contract.

To succeed, [name of defendant] must prove both of the following:

1. That [name of plaintiff] used

[a relationship of trust and confidence] [or]

[[name of defendant]’s weakness of mind] [or]

[[name of defendant]’s needs or distress]

to induce or pressure [name of defendant] into consenting to the contract; and

2. That [name of defendant] would not otherwise have consented to the contract.

If you decide that [name of defendant] has proved both of the above, then no contract was created.

New September 2003

Sources and Authority

  • The Civil Code provides that consent is not free when obtained through duress, menace, fraud, undue influence, or mistake, and is deemed to have been so obtained when it would not have been given but for such fraud or mistake. (Civ. Code, §§ 1567, 1568.)
  • Civil Code section 1575 provides three circumstances that support a finding of undue influence:

    1. In the use, by one in whom a confidence is reposed by another, or who holds a real or apparent authority over him, of such confidence or authority for the purpose of obtaining an unfair advantage over him;

    2. In taking an unfair advantage of another’s weakness of mind; or,

    3. In taking a grossly oppressive and unfair advantage of another’s necessities or distress.

  • The question of undue influence is decided as a question of fact: “[D]irect evidence of undue influence is rarely obtainable and, thus the court is normally relegated to determination by inference from the totality of facts and circumstances. Indeed, there are no fixed definitions or inflexible formulas. Rather, we are concerned with whether from the entire context it appears that one’s will was overborne and he was induced to do or forbear to do an act which he would not do, or would do, if left to act freely.” (Keithley v. Civil Service Bd. of the City of Oakland (1970) 11 Cal.App.3d 443, 451 [89 Cal.Rptr. 809], internal citations omitted.)

  • “In essence, undue influence consists of the use of excessive pressure by a dominant person over a servient person resulting in the apparent will of the servient person being in fact the will of the dominant person. The undue susceptibility to such overpersuasive influence may be the product of physical or emotional exhaustion or anguish which results in one’s inability to act with unencumbered volition.” (Keithley, supra, 11 Cal.App.3d at p. 451.)
  • Whether or not the parties have a confidential relationship is a question of fact: “It is, of course, well settled that while the mere fact that a relationship is friendly and intimate does not necessarily amount to a confidential relationship, such relationship may be said to exist whenever trust and confidence is reposed by one person in the integrity and fidelity of another. It is likewise frequently emphasized that the existence of a confidential relationship presents a question of fact which, of necessity, may be determined only on a case by case basis.” (O’Neil v. Spillane (1975) 45 Cal.App.3d 147, 153 [119 Cal.Rptr. 245], internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

1 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Contracts, §§ 316–321

17 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 215, Duress, Menace, Fraud, Undue Influence, and Mistake, §§ 215.40–215.42, 215.130–215.132 (Matthew Bender)

9 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 92, Duress, Menace, Fraud, Undue Influence, and Mistake, § 92.70 et seq. (Matthew Bender)

27 California Legal Forms, Ch. 77, Discharge of Obligations, § 77.352 (Matthew Bender)

1 Matthew Bender Practice Guide: California Contract Litigation, Ch. 8, Seeking or Opposing Equitable Remedies in Contract Actions, 8.07

1 Matthew Bender Practice Guide: California Contract Litigation, Ch. 17, Attacking or Defending Existence of Contract—Fraud, Duress, Menace, and Undue Influence, 17.03–17.06, 17.25–17.28