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January 10, 2024 | BusinessLitigation

What is the Difference Between a Demand Letter and a Cease & Desist Letter?

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Author(s)
David Fish

Senior Counsel

Ellie Sanders

Graduate Law Clerk

The terms “Demand Letter” and “Cease & Desist Letter” are often used interchangeably and, indeed, there are similarities between these two forms of legal communication.  For those wondering whether to send a demand letter or a cease & desist letter, speaking with an experienced dispute attorney can help you understand which makes better sense in your specific circumstances.

What Is A Demand Letter?

A demand letter is a written document, typically drafted by an attorney on behalf of a client, outlining a grievance, claim, or legal demand against another party.  A demand letter usually includes a brief narrative of the facts underlying the issue, the legal basis for the claim, and a clear demand for specific actions, such as payment, performance of a contractual obligation, or remedying some type of harm.  The recipient of the demand letter is given a timeframe to respond and comply before a legal action is started.

What Is A Cease & Desist Letter?

A cease & desist letter is aimed at stopping someone from engaging in  certain behavior.  This legal tool is often used in cases of intellectual property infringement, defamation, harassment, or other situations where one party believes their legal rights are being violated.  A cease & desist letter typically outlines the alleged wrongful activity, the legal basis for the claim, and demands that the recipient stop the wrongful activity immediately.  The sender may give the recipient a deadline (often immediately upon receipt of the letter) within which to stop the activity before the sender takes legal action.

What Is The Difference Between The Two?

The main difference between a demand letter and a cease & desist letter is their objective:

  • a demand letter urges a party take action or negotiate a resolution;
  • a cease & desist letter seeks to put an immediate stop to alleged wrongdoing.

When Should I Send A Demand Letter?

Demand letters are commonly sent when there is money owed.  For example, if you were owed $10,000 under a contract, and it was not paid when due, , you would send a demand letter.  Your demand letter would outline the facts about the contract and its relevant payment terms, state the breach of contract laws that would apply to the non-payment, and demand that the recipient make a payment of $10,000 by a specific date.

Let’s flip this example to illustrate how a demand letter can open the door to negotiation.  Now let’s say that you were the recipient of the demand letter, and you owed the sender $10,000 under the contract.  You could respond to the demand letter and offer to pay $8,000 by the specific date and request that the sender sign a settlement agreement to release all claims against you.  Sometimes, people are willing to accept lesser payments (or different terms than they initially demand) in order to resolve an issue without getting involved in a civil litigation, which tend to be costly and time-consuming.

When Should I Send A Cease & Desist Letter?

On the other hand, it makes more sense to send a cease & desist letter if, for instance, someone was making untrue and damaging comments about you in public and you wanted them to stop.  There tends to be less room to negotiate around cease & desist letters, because the sender usually wants the recipient to stop doing something; typically, there is no room for a back and forth on terms, like “can I continue to make false statements about you, but only on Mondays after 5pm?”  Still, there are potential situations where a recipient could try to negotiate around the precise demands in a cease & desist letter.  If you have received a cease & desist letter and need advice about negotiating a settlement, reach out to a qualified attorney to discuss potential next steps.

Conclusion

Clear and early communication is frequently the cornerstone of effective dispute resolution.  While there are similarities between them, a cease & desist letter differs from a demand letter in that its primary purpose is to halt objectionable conduct rather than to negotiate a resolution.  Whether you are considering sending or responding to either a demand letter or a cease & desist letter, it’s advised to seek legal guidance to ensure your rights and interests are protected.  Reach out to a member of our team to schedule personalized legal advice tailored to your unique situation.

 

 

Photo by Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash
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