Reasonable Reliance: Fraud and Intentional Misrepresentation

Fraud has nine (9) elements. A plaintiff’s failure to establish any of these elements is fatal to the claim. Heberer v. Shell Oil Co., 744 S.W.2d 441, 443 (Mo. 1988). Reliance is one of the nine elements of fraud, and thus a plaintiff cannot prevail on a fraud claim unless he or she proves that he or she relied on the truth of the representations claimed to be false. Trimble v. Pracna, 167 S.W.3d 706, 712 (Mo. 2005).

Whether a party has appropriately relied on a misrepresentation is typically an issue for the judge or jury to decide. Renaissance Leasing, LLC v. Vermeer Mfg. Co. 322 S.W.3d 112, 132 (Mo. 2010). However, a party who undertakes an independent investigation does not have the right to rely on a misrepresentation. There are exceptions to this exception: (1) the investigating party makes only a partial investigation and still relies on the misrepresentation; (2) the defrauded party lacks equal footing for learning the facts; and (3) the seller makes a specific and distinct misrepresentation. Brown v. Bennett, 136 S.W.3d 552 (Mo. App. 2004).

To further complicate matters, some areas of law (eg, the bankruptcy code) distinguish between “reasonable reliance” and “justifiable reliance.” Justifiable reliance is a lower standard than reasonable reliance.

Because these are fact-intensive inquiries, it can be very difficult for a party defending a fraud claim to prevail on motions to dismiss or for summary judgment. A trial is often required.

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