Causa (legal ground)

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Causa ( Latin : case , cause ) is the Latin name for the legal transaction "reason for a donation" , which comes from Roman law . In terms of content, the cause overwrites the type of business to be specified in the individual case (such as the purchase , work , service or rental contract ).

The causa is the namesake of the causal principle applicable in Austria and of the term causal transaction, which is not only applicable in the legal system of Germany . However, these terms must not be confused with the specific cause-and-effect principle, causality . In all legal systems, this designates the “link” between the action and the “result” triggered by it.

In German law

In civil law, German law primarily distinguishes between obligation and disposition transactions as well as actual acts . The obligation transactions ( purchase contract , work contract and others) form the legal basis , the causa for the intended disposal transactions ( transfer of ownership of the purchased item, assignment of a claim ) or the real acts that lead to (temporary) enrichment ( e.g. transfer of possession , transport ).

In German law, the causa is particularly important in the area of ​​enrichment law . It also plays a role in cases under Section 139 of the German Civil Code (BGB) in which the so-called abstraction principle is broken, for example in the case of ancillary security rights such as liens and mortgages or in uniform business contracts , the core feature of which is the systematic merging of two contracts, which by virtue of an agreement is not should exist independently of each other; this includes a land purchase contract that should not be concluded without a construction supervision contract.

A prerequisite for any claim arising from unjust enrichment is the lack of a reason objectively justifying the shift in assets. The law does not expressly determine when an enrichment is unjustified, but equates the subsequent elimination of the “legal reason” or the non-occurrence of the success intended by the content of the legal transaction with the original lack of the “legal reason”. The causa can be absent because the obligatory transaction has become ineffective, for example through contestation , or because there was no obligation from the outset, for example in the case of the original nullity of the contract and in the case of dissent . Disposals of assets that are made “without legal reason” are to be reversed via the enrichment law or property law , because “there is no legal reason for being allowed to retain them”.

Loss of causa due to contestation (explanatory case)

An example might explain the meaning of the causa for legal transactions: A and B conclude a sales contract for a bicycle. Legal processing: The purchase contract is a so-called contract under the law of obligations between the parties, whereby A undertakes , in accordance with Section 433 (1) BGB , to give B ownership of the bike. In turn, obliged to B in accordance with § 433 2 BGB paragraph the A to pay the agreed purchase price ( Synallagma ). In this context, the lawyer speaks of the obligation business. At the same time or as a result of the obligation to perform, the obligation to transfer ownership has not yet passed to the parties exchanging the item and the money. A agrees with B that the ownership of the bike should pass to him and ideally gives him direct possession for the purpose of transferring ownership by handing over the bike to him legally in accordance with § 929 sentence 1 BGB. In return, B agrees in turn with A that ownership of the banknotes should pass to him, and by handing them over gives him immediate possession ( Section 929 sentence 1 BGB).

If A has fraudulently deceived B about an essential property of the bicycle , for example because he had truthfully explained to him that the bicycle was a certain branded bicycle, although it was actually a cheap foreign plagiarism, then B can cancel the contract in accordance with § 123 paragraph 1 BGB. The legal consequence is regulated by § 142 paragraph 1 BGB. The contract is destroyed retrospectively. The challenge pretends that a sales contract between A and B never came about. On the other hand, due to the principle of separation and abstraction - assuming there is no case of error identity - both fulfillment transactions (transfer of ownership of the bike and transfer of the banknotes) have remained effective. Since the legal system does not want to maintain this undesirable result, the right to enrichment takes effect in terms of performance conditionality ( § 812 paragraph 1, 1st alternative sentence 1 BGB), from which everyone can demand the thing that is now given up "without legal grounds". A gives money in the amount of the purchase price, B returns the bike, because there is no legal reason for the respective retention, the causa is missing; in this case with ex tunc effect.


  • Rudolf von Jhering , The purpose in law , 2 vol., 1877–1883
  • Till Bremkamp, Causa. The purpose as a cornerstone of private law , Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2008, Volume 380 (On the meaning of the term "cause" for the development of the principle of freedom of contract as well as the causa doctrine of German civil law)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Alois Walde and Johann Baptist Hofmann : Latin etymological dictionary. Heidelberg 1938, Volume 1, p. 183 f. (originally forensic: blow offense as the cause)
  2. With regard to the legal dispute associated with the business type of the “business unit”, compare: Affirmative case law: BGHZ 31, 323; BGH NJW 1952, 60, 67; BAG NJW 1967, 751; Critically negative: Jens Petersen , The business capacity, in JURA 2004, 100; Othmar Jauernig , abstraction principle , in JuS 1994, 721, 724; Holger Schlueter in JuS 1969, 10, 11
  3. BGH NJW 1976, 1931
  4. ^ Palandt, Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, Einl. § 812 BGB, Rn 68, Beck, Munich 1996, p. 913.