Tran v. NguyenAnnotate this Case
Defendant Que Phung Thi Nguyen allegedly threatened to expose the existence of plaintiff Bruce Tran's child she birthed during his marriage. Between 2010 and 2011, the Trans separated. During their separation, Tran began a romantic relationship with Nguyen; a few weeks into the relationship, Nguyen informed Tran she was pregnant with his child. Shortly thereafter, in June 2011, Tran ended the relationship. According to the complaint filed in this case, Nguyen later “began to blackmail” Tran by demanding that he pay her thousands of dollars, or she would disclose their relationship and the child’s existence to his wife. In this case, the parties disputed whether California had a civil cause of action for extortion. The trial court agreed with defendant Nguyen’s contention plaintiff Bruce Tran’s extortion cause of action could only move forward if it arose out of a threat to initiate a false criminal or civil prosecution—and thus no such cause of action could be based on the facts in this case. The Court of Appeal disagreed: Civil Code sections 1566, 1567, and 1570 established a right to rescission in cases in which a person’s consent to a transaction was obtained by “menace”: threats of confinement, of unlawful violence to the person or his or her property, or of injury to a person’s character. "This is effectively the civil version of extortion." However, because the cause of action which sought rescission sounded in contract, rather than tort, no emotional distress damages were recoverable. Because the civil extortion/rescission cause of action did not give rise to emotional distress damages, the Court found no error in the portion of the court’s order sustaining Nguyen’s demurrer to Tran’s separate cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court consequently reversed the judgment entered against Tran, and remanded the case with directions to allow him leave to amend his cause of action for recovery of the funds he paid to Nguyen as a result of her threats to reveal their affair—and the existence of their child—to his wife.