Conversion (law): Wikis


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Conversion is a common law tort. A conversion is a voluntary act by one person inconsistent with the ownership rights of another.[1] It is a tort of strict liability.[2] Its criminal counterpart is theft. Examples are seen in cases where trees are cut down and the lumber hauled from the land by someone not having clear ownership; or removing furniture belonging to another from a cohabited dwelling, placing it in storage and not telling the owner of the whereabouts. In medieval times, a conversion would occur when bolts of cloth were bailed for safe keeping, and the bailee or a third party took them and made clothes for their own use or for sale. (See infra.) Many questions concerning joint ownership in enterprises such as a partnership belong in equity, and do not rise to the level of a conversion. Traditionally, a conversion occurs when some chattel is lost, then found by another who appropriates it to his own use without legal authority to do so. It has also applied in cases where chattels were bailed for safe keeping, then misused or misappropriated by the bailee or a third party.

Conversion, as a purely civil wrong, is distinguishable from both theft and unjust enrichment. Theft is obviously an act inconsistent with another's rights, and theft will also be conversion. But not all conversions are thefts because conversion requires no element of dishonesty. Conversion is also different from unjust enrichment. If one claims an unjust enrichment, the person who has another's property may always raise a change of position defence, to say they have unwittingly used up the assets they were transferred. For conversion, there always must be an element of voluntarily dealing with another's property, inconsistently with their rights.


Elements of conversion

The elements of a conversion cause of action are:

  • the plaintiff has clear legal ownership or right to possession of the property at the time of the conversion;
  • the defendant's conversion by a wrongful act or disposition of plaintiff's property rights;
  • there are damages resulting from the conversion.[3][4][5][6]

In another formulation, it has been stated that one claiming conversion must show a tortious conversion of the chattel, a right to property in it, and a right to immediate possession which is absolute, unconditional, and not dependent upon the performance of some act.[6][7]

History of conversion

Buildings, silos and machinery attached to them can be converted if they are removed from the land.

Conversion has been described as a fascinating tort,[8] albeit one which has largely eluded the attention of legal writers. The literature frequently laps over into that of trover.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] Other sources define conversion as a distinct act of dominion wrongfully exerted over another's personal property in denial of or inconsistent with his title or rights therein, or in derogation, exclusion, or defiance of such title or rights, without the owner's consent and without lawful justification.[17][18][19][20]

A conversion occurs when a person does such acts in reference to the personal property of another as amount, in view of the law, to his appropriating the property for himself.[21][22] The action probably developed because there was no equivalent form of action in English law to the Roman law rei vindicatio. This was an action in protection of one's property, whereby a claimant could simply allege in court "that's mine!".[23] Early cases of conversion are to be found in 1479, where reference to an even earlier action on the case is made when the defendant "converted" the goods by changing their character, making clothes out of gold cloth.[24][25]

Otherwise, conversion had its origin in the common law action in trover, as a branch of action on the case. The earliest cases are most likely lost. These probably involved cases when the finder of lost goods did not return them to the rightful owner, but used them himself or disposed of them to someone else.[26] It became necessary to invent a new writ which covered the gap between action in trespass which lay for the wrongful taking of a chattel, and detinue which lay for its wrongful detention.[27][28][29]

The claim in conversion had become standardized by 1554 in the case of Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester.[30] The plaintiff was in possession of certain goods, he casually lost them, the defendant found the goods and did not return them, but instead "converted them to his own use."[31]

The distinction of trover from conversion is of interest. Trover resolved the old procedural problem of wager of law which had developed as a form of licensed perjury, which made detinue unattractive to an honest plaintiff suing a dishonest defendant. Wager at law allowed testimony from many witnesses, who might have nothing to do with the actual litigation. In this sense, it was not much different from champerty and maintenance. Because trover sidestepped these old problems, there was an effort to expand it into many different forms. The legal device to accomplish this at first was to treat the allegation of losing the goods and then finding them as a fiction.[32] This method was seen in several cases in the 1600s.[33][34][35][36][37] As a technical factor, the defendant was not permitted to deny losing and finding, so the only issues to be litigated were those of the plaintiff's right to possession and the conversion as an existent fact. With losing and finding no longer essential, trover became the standard remedy for any form of interference with a chattel. It entirely replaced detinue, which fell into compete disuse. It replaced trespass to chattels to such an extent that the former was rarely seen.[38] In 1756, Lord Mansfield stated in Cooper v. Chitty:

"whenever trespass for taking goods will lie, that is, where they are taken wrongfully, trover will lie."[39]

Similar results are seen in other cases from the time.[40] The two actions were regarded as alternative remedies for the same wrong. Often, the plaintiff had a choice of action, although there were differences between the choices. Trover must involve a wrongful detention of goods which had not been wrongfully taken, while trespass would not.[41] The theory of trespass was that the plaintiff remained the owner of the chattel, with his possession only interrupted or interfered with, so that when it was tendered back to the plaintiff, he must accept it. The damages must be limited to the loss of use, which could be considerably less than its total value. Trover, which involved lost goods or those placed in a bailment, necessitated full replacement damages. Once the damages were paid, the ownership of the chattel passed to the defendant in trover.

The modern law of conversion crystallised after the case of Fouldes v. Willoughby[42] in 1841. Two horses owned by the plaintiff were placed on a river ferry. The horses were put back on the shore by the defendant ferryman. The plaintiff/owner of the horses remained on the ferry and subsequently lost the horses. It was held that this was a trespass, but not a conversion, since there was no interference with the plaintiff's "general right of domination" over the horses.

Property subject to conversion

In order for a conversion to occur, it used to need to be lost then found by some other person than the owner. In the process, it was a possibility that the property could be converted.[43] Chattels converted have included a dog,[44] money[45] and tax receipts.[46] Land could not be the subject of an action in trover, since it could not be lost, then found and converted. The same was true for sand and gravel, timber, crops and fixtures, so long as they were considered as a part of the land. No action in trover could be had. Once there was severance from the land, these became personal property, and trover could be entertained because of removal from the land.[47][48][49][50][51][52]

Animals can be converted if they are removed, co-mingled, or injured.

Intangible rights

Intangible rights could not be lost or found, and the original common law rule was that there could not be a conversion of such. This restriction has been discarded for the most part.[53][54][55][56][57] In the absence of contravening evidence, the measure of damages for conversion of a negotiable instrument usually is taken to be its face value.[58]

Tangible and intangible property

The conception that an action for conversion lies only for tangible property capable of being identified and taken into actual possession in based on a fiction by which the action of trover was founded, namely, that the defendant had found the property of another, which was lost. This conception has become, in the progress of the law, something without meaning which has been discarded by most courts.[59][60][61] Therefore, it has been generally accepted that an action for conversion lies for every species of personal property which is the subject of private ownership, whether animate or inanimate.[62][63][64][65][66] Intangible property can be the subject of a conversion in the United States.[67][68] There cannot be an action in conversion for choses in action or mere debt.[69][70][71] Computer software can be the subject of a conversion.[72]

Both tangible items and intangible property can be the subject of a claim for conversion in US law. In Kremen v. Cohen, 325 F.3d 1035 (9th Cir. 2003), when the domain name was wrongfully transferred to a con man, a claim for conversion was held to be available against the domain name registrar. In English law, however, the recent case of OBG Ltd. v. Allan [2007] UKHL 21 held intangible property cannot be the subject of a claim for conversion.

Written Instruments

Stock certificates, bonds and commercial paper can be the subject of an action in conversion

A judgment that is in the nature of a debt of record, but has neither goods nor a chattel attached is not subject to a conversion, because the judgment creditor has no property in it.[73] A writ of execution can be the subject of a conversion, despite the fact that it is not private property.[74][75] Unpublished and published manuscripts, whether copyrighted or not can be the subject of a conversion, as can paintings, pictures, photos, letters, business books, pamphlets, newspapers and the like.[76][77][78] Insurance policies, stock certificates, bills of lading, securities, bonds and commercial paper can be converted.[79][80][81]

Real estate and property affixed thereto

The general rule is that an action for conversion lies only with respect to personal property, and cannot apply to real estate.[82][83] The fact that personal property is annexed to realty after its conversion usually does not prevent the maintenance of an action for the conversion, although opinion on this subject remains mixed. Actions for conversion of a building, machinery attached to a building or a grain elevator have been allowed.[84][85][86][87][88] Severance of property from real estate can be converted.[89] Buildings can be converted.[85][90] Manure can be converted.[91][92]

Acts constituting conversion

An action for conversion does not rest on knowledge[93][94][95] or intent of the defendant.[96] The act constituting "conversion" must be an intentional act, but does not require wrongful intent, and is not excused by care, good faith, or lack of knowledge.[97] Fraudulent intent is not an element of conversion.[98] The defendant is answerable for the conversion, no matter how good his intentions were, or how careful he has been, or how apparently well-founded was his belief that his tortious act was right.[99][99][100][101] The existence of probable cause does not preclude liability.[102] A person may be liable for conversion even though he was reasonably mistaken in thinking the facts to be such as would give him a legal right to the goods.[103][104]

There are cases in which the defendant does not clearly appropriate the property to his own use, and in which the question whether there is a conversion therefore depends on the intent of the defendant either express or implied.[105][106][107][108][109][110][111]

In general

Trees cannot be converted, but lumber, severed from the land can be.

Conversion, being a wrongful act, cannot spring from the exercise of a legal right. Such acts include the right of execution on a legal judgment or contesting rights under a contract.[112][113] The general rule is that there is no conversion until some act is done which is a denial or violation of the plaintiff's dominion over or rights in the property. To constitute a conversion of a chattel, there must be an unauthorized assumption of the right to possession or ownership. The act must have the essence of a tort.[114][115][116]

Depriving owner of possession

The exercise of ownership over property may take a number of forms. All that is required is that the defendant exercise control over the chattel in a manner inconsistent with the plaintiff's right of possession.[117] The gist of a conversion is not the acquisition of the property by the wrongdoer, but the wrongful deprivation of another's property which the owner is entitled to possess.[118]

Receipt of property

A person who accepts the possession of personal property from one not authorized to transfer it may be regarded as a converter.[119] The Restatement of Torts is in accord with this concept, stating that one who receives possession of a chattel from another with the intent to acquire for himself or a third person a proprietary interest in the chattel which the other has not the power to transfer is subject to liability for conversion to a third person then entitled to the immediate possession of the chattel.[120]

Disposal of property

An action for conversion may be predicated upon an improper disposal, removal, transportation, delivery, or transfer of possession of property to one not authorized by the owner to receive the property.[121] The Restatement of Torts states that, with some exceptions, one who makes an unauthorized delivery of a chattel to a person not entitled to its immediate possession is subject to liability for conversion to another who is so entitled.[122] A bailee, agent, or servant who re-delivers to his bailor, principal, or master is not liable for conversion unless the person entitled to immediate possession had made an adverse claim upon him.[123] A bailee, agent or servant who delivers the chattel to a third person pursuant to the instructions of his bailor, principal or master is not liable for conversion unless he has knowledge or reason to know that his bailor, principal, or master is not authorized so to dispose of it.[124]

Detention or refusal to surrender possession

A sea container and its contents, lost, found and not returned to its rightful owner can be both a conversion and a crime.

A common conversion is a refusal to surrender possession of the chattel to one who is entitled to it. Normally, this is judged to be a sufficiently serious interference with the plaintiff’s right of control.[125] If the detention is small or not deemed to be serious, it will not be considered a conversion. A garage which delays delivery of an automobile for 30 minutes does not commit a conversion.[126][127][128] The same is true of a stock certificate.[129] Placing furniture or other goods in storage to prevent damage or theft is also not a conversion, per se, if proper notice of its location is given to the owner.[130][131][132][133] If the delay is long, or intentional, it is a conversion. Holding an automobile for a month is a conversion.[134][135][136][137] Goods placed in storage or in bailment destroyed by fire are considered to have been converted.[138] In 1704, it was stated in Baldwin v. Cole:

"The very denial of goods to him that has a right to demand them is an actual conversion, and not only evidence of it".[139][140][141][142]

Wrongful use, loss or injury

The use of or intermeddling with the property of another has often been held to constitute a conversion, whether the act is done by one who had no authority to use the property, or by one who has authority to use the property but uses it in an unauthorized way. Any unjustified exercise of dominion over property by one who is not the owner nor entitled to possession which interferes with the right of possession of another who is lawfully entitled thereto constitutes a conversion. According to the Restatement of Torts 2nd, one who uses a chattel in a manner which is a serious violation of the right of another to control its use is subject to liability to the other for conversion.[115][143][144][145][146][147] A conversion may be predicated upon destruction of personal property.[148][149] An action for conversion may lie for killing an animal or rendering a musical instrument useless.[149][150]

Persons entitled to bring action

An agent entrusted by a principal with the possession of goods is generally recognized as having a sufficient interest in the goods to enable him to maintain an action against a third person for a conversion. Some jurisdictions hold that the agent must have more than a mere right of possession. A similar result has been reached where the servant left the property in the possession of the defendant, who subsequently converted it. Where a sheriff attached chattels and delivered them for safekeeping to a person, the person was merely the sheriff's servant, and having no interest in the chattels, could not maintain an action for their conversion.[151][152][153] Causes of action for conversion are generally assignable, so that the action may be instituted by the assignee. An officer in possession of property may ignore a conversion of the same by a wrongdoer and proceed to sell the property on execution, the purchaser then being permitted to sue the wrongdoer for the conversion of the property.[154] A transferee of personal property, or interest therein, who acquires the right of possession by or through the transfer, may maintain an action for a conversion committed after the transfer, though he has not yet received actual possession of the goods.[155] A creditor, having no interest, generally may not be a plaintiff in an action to retrieve a debtor's converted property.[156] An owner of land may bring an action in conversion, but he must be in material possession of the land and of the property severed from the land at the time of the conversion.[157]

Persons subject to action

Furniture and clothing placed into storage without a notice to the owner, and subsequently destroyed in a warehouse fire has been ruled to be a conversion.[158]

The owner of a partial interest in property may be liable for converting the same, where he wrongfully takes it out of the possession of another, or does some other act amounting to a conversion.[159] The following are the typical defendants in an action in conversion:

  • Fraudulent takers and their transferees
  • Owner as possessor of land
  • Persons aiding and/or abetting in conversion
  • Public officers
  • An agent, even if he acts in good faith and in accordance with his instructions, if the principal is guilty of conversion
  • The principal when his agent's act of converting the property is committed within the scope of the agency
  • The owner of the property if he diminishes its value or sells or destroys it to the damage of a lienholder[160]

Conditions precedent to recovery

In order to maintain an action for conversion, the plaintiff must have an interest in the thing converted. He must recover on the strength of his own title, without regard to the weakness of that of his adversary. It is necessary that the plaintiff be the owner of the property claimed to be converted, or that he be in possession or entitled to possession at the time of the alleged conversion. Absolute and unqualified title is sufficient, but it is not necessary. A mere right of possession is generally regarded as an interest sufficient to maintain an action.[161][162]

Interest in property

An action for conversion may be maintained by persons having the immediate right of possession of the article converted.[163] In order for a plaintiff to recover in a suit for conversion, it is necessary that the plaintiff establish a right to the property and what is converted.[164] An immediate right to possession at the time of conversion is usually all that is required in the way of title or possession to enable the plaintiff to maintain an action.[165] The possession of personal property carries with it the presumption of title, and enables the possessor to maintain an action for conversion against any person except the rightful owner.[166] As against a stranger with no possession rights, mere possession alone is good enough, and in such a case, the plaintiff need prove no more than possession.[167] Generally, a peaceable possession of land, even though wrongful, is a sufficient interest on which to base an action for conversion against a trespasser upon the land who severs property from the soil as part of the trespass, although neither party has title to the land or the property severed therefrom.[168][169]

Tender of debt due defendant

Where a tender of a debt due the defendant is necessary to entitle the plaintiff to the immediate possession of the property, such tender is necessary to entitle him to maintain the action for conversion. This is because an action for conversion cannot be maintained unless the plaintiff, at the time of the alleged conversion, was entitled to the immediate possession of the specific property that is the subject of the conversion.[170][171] A tender is not required where it is no longer within the power of the defendant to perform his part of the agreement out of which the debt arose.[172][173]


Some jurisdictions require a demand and refusal to be necessary to constitute a conversion and to maintain a subsequent action for conversion. The usual rule is that demand and refusal are never necessary, except to furnish evidence of the conversion. Without these, when the circumstances (circumstantial evidence) are sufficient to prove the conversion, demand and refusal are superfluous.[174][175] In those jurisdictions requiring a demand and refusal, there is no specific form the demand must take.[176] In cases where stolen property ends up in the hands of a third party, demand may be necessary to put the third party on notice that the property has been stolen.[177]


The 20 Yuan note on top cannot be the subject of a conversion since it was issued in violation of the law, but the lower one (real) can be.

In a conversion suit, it is no defense to claim that the defendant was not negligent or that the defendant acquired the plaintiff's property through the plaintiff's unilateral mistake, or that the defendant acted in complete innocence and perfect good faith.[178]

The following are traditional defenses to an action in conversion:

  • Abandonment. Abandonment of the property before it was taken by the defendant is a complete defense.[179]
  • Authority of Law. A conversion cannot occur if it is done by authority of law, a court order or valid process.[180]
  • Consent or approbation. Consent by the plaintiff can be either express or implied.[181]
  • Delay in bringing action. Statutes of limitations are defined by legislative jurisdiction. Some cases are based on "reasonable knowledge". Paintings purchased from a third person became the subject of an action in conversion, even though the incident had occurred 30 years prior. The action accrued based on when the plaintiff reasonably knew or should have known the identity of the possessor of the converted paintings.[182]
  • Fraud of the plaintiff. Conveying property to a third person for purposes of evading creditors is a complete defense to a subsequent action in conversion.[183]
  • Interest of defendant. If the defendant has ownership or partial ownership to the property, it cannot be converted. Cases revolve around the specific facts concerning ownership.[184]
  • Value of property. A provisional defense can be made if the property converted has no value. Nevertheless, it is well established that it is not necessary for property to have a commercial value in order to maintain an action in conversion. This argument can be used to mitigate damages.[104]
  • Writings. A bill or debt obligation can be converted. However, if it has been paid or otherwise satisfied, then it has neither value nor existence in the eyes of the court.[185]
  • Nonexistence or lack of identity of property. Something that was not in existence at the time of the alleged conversion cannot be converted.[186]
  • Privilege. Finders of lost property may be entitled to use or ownership if the real owner cannot be identified. This is an overlap into the rules of trover.[187][188]
  • Unlawful and illegal acts. Unlawful contracts, illegal ownership and illegal activities on the part of the plaintiff can be a defense to an action in conversion. A counterfeit coin cannot be converted, nor can a note issued in an illegal manner.[189]
  • Waiver, ratification and estoppel. An action in conversion can be dismissed if the right to treat the action has been waived by the plaintiff.[190]
  • By receipt of proceeds of a sale. Accepting the proceeds of a sale of the converted property is a defense against further action.[191]
  • By accepting return of goods. Once the owner accepts the converted property back, he is generally precluded from any further action.[192]


In general

The remedy for conversion is usually in the form of damages equal to the fair market value of the chattel at the time of conversion.[193][194] The converter can offer to return possession of the chattel to the complainant, but the complainant is not obligated to accept. If the complainant wants the chattel returned without any additional monetary damages, they can claim a related tort, detinue. One may use force in order to recover a chattel only if the wrongdoer is either in the process of taking the chattel or the owner of the chattel is in "hot pursuit" of the chattel. This is because a victim of conversion should use the legal remedies available as opposed to "self-help" or violence. Deadly force may never be used in the recovery of chattels.

The exact measure of compensation due to a plaintiff whose goods have been wrongfully converted may be merely nominal if the wrong is technical and the defendant can return the goods; it may be limited to the actual damage where the goods can be returned, but the wrong is substantial; but in ordinary cases it is the full value to the owner of the goods of which he has been deprived.

Special Damages

When the conversion occurs, the injured party should receive full compensation for actual losses. Special damages may be recovered in an action for conversion for any injury proximately resulting from the conversion. The Restatement of Torts 2nd indicates these damages can consist of:

  • the additional value of a chattel due to additions or improvements made by the converter not in good faith.
  • the amount of any further pecuniary loss of which the deprivation has been a legal cause.
  • interest from the time at which the value was fixed.
  • compensation for the loss of use not otherwise compensated.[195]

It is a generally recognized rule that interest lost from the conversion is recoverable. Loss of rental value can be considered as interest.[196]


The defendant is allowed to show the existence of facts which would make it unjust to allow the plaintiff to recover full value. Ordinarily, the defendant is not allowed to deduct maintenance and upkeep expenses which would normally accrue taking care of the converted property. Return of the property with acceptance by the owner can dismiss the action, or be used as a mitigating fact. However, the mere offering of the converted property does not necessarily dismiss all damages which may have occurred based on the original tort. Action under legal process can be a complete defense and can mitigate damages.[197]

Measure for converting particular kinds of property

Damages for conversion of grains, corn and cotton are based on market value, plus any accrual or interest gained.

There are certain cases which require special calculation of damages.

  • Stock certificates or bonds which have increased in value after conversion. Recovery is permitted for the increased value. This rule can be applied to other kinds of property, such as cotton and corn.[198]
  • Business enterprise. The proper measure of damages for a business enterprise is the value at the time of the conversion.[199]
  • Commercial paper. Damages are generally the value at the time of conversion plus accrued interest.[200]
  • Insurance policies. Similar to other choses of action. Damage is based on value at the time of conversion, less the value of premiums to be paid after the conversion, and value based on life expectancy.[201]
  • Corporate stock. Damages based on market value, lost dividends and accrual or loss of value, considering lost chance to sell stock at a profit.[202]
  • Property severed from real estate. Damages measured based on market value and interest.[203]
  • Property of no market value or held for personal use. Items such as personal momentos, writings, personal diaries, plans, portraits, photographs, memoirs and the like, which have no intrinsic market value pose a difficulty. Usually the court will try to develop a method to arrive at a reasonable value for such an item. Results vary based on the facts of the case.[204]

Practice and Procedure

In general

The first question in an action for conversion is that of venue and jurisdiction. Mere questions of ownership within partnerships and some contract law do not arise to the level required for an action in conversion. These are matters best settled in a suit in equity with a determination of equity on the case.[205][206] A true conversion is strictly a legal case.[207] In general, relief through an action in conversion can proceed, even if other potential remedies have not been exhausted. However, once the action in conversion is commenced, the plaintiff may be precluded from seeking concurrent remedies.[208] Other concurrent remedies typically are:

  • Action to recover possession which may include trover, detinue and replevin, which are now statutorily defined and vary between jurisdictions.
  • Assumpsit
  • Criminal Proceedings

Joinder of parties can usually be allowed. Successive converters need not be named in an action in conversion.[209]

Pleading by Plaintiff

The facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action for conversion must be set forth in the complaint or declaration, so as to show that the plaintiff has a right to maintain an action. The typical pleading should include:

  • Jurisdictional facts.
  • Identification of the defendant.
  • Diversity of citizenship and amount in controversy (required for entry into federal court).
  • Proof of title or right of possession of the property.
  • Description of the property.
  • Value of the property.
  • Facts constituting the alleged conversion by the defendant.
  • Demand and refusal for a return of the property from the defendant.
  • Damages sustained by the plaintiff.[210]

Answer of Defendant

In general, the defendant should answer the charge of conversion by asserting:

  • Matters intending to prove the establishment of the defendant's affirmative defenses.
  • Plaintiff's consent to the defendant's taking (if it exists, can be proved or inferred by circumstantial evidence).
  • Defendant's rights to the property are superior to those of the plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff had waived the right to the property or to a subsequent cause of action.
  • Plaintiff was estopped from asserting any right to the property as against the defendant.
  • The property was abandoned.
  • Alleging mistake, or other mitigating circumstance - assertion that the plaintiff has not tried to facilitate defendant's attempts to resolve the issue or mitigate damages.[211][212]


In an action for conversion, as with all tort cases, witness testimony is important to establish the facts.

Rules of evidence are no different in an action for conversion than any other tort case. The burden is on the plaintiff to establish the case. The following areas are generally necessary to be established:

  • Plaintiff's interest in the property.
  • Identity of the property.
  • Value of the property.
  • Identification of the defendant.
  • The defendant exercised dominion over the property.
  • The defendant's exercise of dominion was intentionally committed.

These are established through testimony and documentary evidence.[213]

Verdict and judgment

An action in conversion is for the monetary value of the property and not the property itself. A judgment which requires either monetary damages or return of the property is not, per se, erroneous. A verdict demanding only the return of property is reversible error. It is within the discretion of the trier of fact to determine actual value, which may be different from that of market value, testimony or documentary evidence. A judgment is for the title and ownership of the property at the time of the conversion, and does not necessarily effect subsequent transactions which may have occurred.[214][215][216]

Conversion and crime

Conversion is an interference with another's ownership of property. It is a general intent tort, not a specific intent tort. That means that the intent to take or otherwise deal with the property is enough to support the claim, and it doesn't matter whether the defendant knew that the act would constitute interference with the property of another. Therefore, the defendant's innocent reasons for the act cannot be used as an excuse. It does not matter if the defendant made a mistake. The standard remedy for conversion is a judgment for damages in an amount equal to the fair market value of the property. Punitive damages are also possible, because conversion is an intentional tort.

The standard remedy in a detinue action is an order that the property be returned. The standard remedy in an action for trespass to chattels is a judgment for an amount equal to the value of loss of use of the property. Damages from a trespass claim are based on the harm caused to the plaintiff, rather than the value of the chattel. Many actions can constitute both conversion and trespass. In these cases, a plaintiff must eventually choose which claim to press based on what damages they seek to recover. It is the difference between forcing a rental fee and a total sale upon a defendant.

In some cases the exercise of the dominion may amount to an act of trespass or to a crime, e.g. where the taking amounts to larceny, or fraudulent appropriation by a bailee or agent entrusted with the property of another (Larceny Acts of 1861 and 1901). Fraudulent conversion by any person to his own use (or that of persons other than the owner) of property entrusted to him is a crime in the case of custodians of property, factors, trustees under express trusts in writing (Larceny Act 1861, ss. 77-85; Larceny Act 1901).

See also


  1. ^ "a taking with the intent of exercising over the chattel an ownership inconsistent with the real owner's right of possession" (Rolfe B), Fouldes v. Willoughby (1841) 8 M & W 540, 550
  2. ^ Kuwait Airways Corp. v. Iraq Airways Co. (No. 4,5,6) [2002] UKHL 19 at [129]
  3. ^ Hartford Financial Corp. v. Burns (2d Dist.) 96 Cal App 3d 591, 158 Cal Rep 169, 27 UCCRS 831
  4. ^ Brown v. Meyer (Mo App) 580 SW 2d 533
  5. ^ Gebhart v. D. A. Davidson & Co. Mont. 661 P2d 855
  6. ^ a b 18 Am Jur 2d Conversion section 2
  7. ^ Jenson v. Chicago & W. I. R. Co., 94 Ill. App. 3d 915, 50 Ill Dec. 470, 419 NE 2d 578
  8. ^ Keeton, W. Page, Prosser and Keeton On Torts, Fifth Edition" p. 88 West Publishing, St. Paul, 1984
  9. ^ See, Ames. History of Trover, 1898, 11 Harv. L. Rev. 277, 374
  10. ^ Salmond, Observations on Trover and Conversion, 1905, 21 Law Quarterly Review 43
  11. ^ Clark, 'The Test of Conversion,' 1908, 21 Harv. L. Rev. 408
  12. ^ Warren, Qualifying as Plaintiff in an Action for a Conversion, 1936, 49 Harv. L. Rev. 1084
  13. ^ Rubin, 'Conversion of Choses in Action,' 1941, 10 Ford. L. Rev. 415
  14. ^ Prosser, 'The Nature of Conversion', 1957, 42 Cornell Law Quarterly 168
  15. ^ Faust, Distinction Between Conversion and Trespass to Chattel, 1958, 37 Or. L. Rev. 256
  16. ^ Note, 1935, 21 Cornell Law Quarterly 112
  17. ^ Quaker Oats Co. v. McKibben (CA 9 Cal) 230 F 2d 652
  18. ^ Shartzer v. Ulmer, Ariz 179, 333 P2d 1084
  19. ^ De Vries v. Brumback, 53 Cal 2d 643, 2 Cal Rptr 764, 349, P2d 532; 51 ALR 1462
  20. ^ 73 ALR 792; 4 ALR 3d 1450; 18 Am Jur 2d section 1
  21. ^ Richstein v. Roesch, 71 SD 451, 25 NW 2d 558
  22. ^ 169 ALR 98
  23. ^ John Davies and James Edelman, 'Tort and equitable wrongs' (2007) in Andrew Burrows, et al., English Private Law, at 17.324
  24. ^ Simpson, 'The Introduction of the Action on the Case of Conversion' (1959) 75 Law Quarterly Review 364
  25. ^ Year Book 18 Edw. IV, f. 23. pl.5 1479
  26. ^ Prosser and Keeton ibid.
  27. ^ Fifoot, History and Sources of Common Law, 1949, 102-25
  28. ^ Ames, History of Trover, 1898, 11 Harv. L. Rev. 277, 374
  29. ^ Salmond, 'Observations on Trover and Conversion' (1905) 21 LQR 43
  30. ^ Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester (1554) 2 Dyer 121a; 73 Eng. Rep.265
  31. ^ Prosser and Keeton ibid. p. 89
  32. ^ Prosser and Keeton ibid. p.89
  33. ^ Gumbleton v. Grafton (1600) Cro. Eliz. 781
  34. ^ 78 Eng. Rep. 1011; Kinaston v. Moore (1626) Cro. Car. 89
  35. ^ 79 Eng. Rep. 678; Ratliff v. Davies (1611) Cro. Jac. 244
  36. ^ 79 Eng Rep. 210
  37. ^ Isaack v. Clark (1614) 2 Bulst., 306; 80 Eng. Rep. 1143
  38. ^ Prosser and Keeton ibid.
  39. ^ Cooper v. Chitty (1756) 1 Burr. 20, 31; 97 Eng. Rep. 166, 172
  40. ^ Serjeant Williams, Note to Saunders, Reports, Wilbraham v. Snow (1670) 2 Wms. Saund. 47aa, 85 Eng. Rep. 624
  41. ^ Put and Hardy v. Rawsterne (1682) T. Raym. 472; 83 Eng. Rep. 246
  42. ^ Fouldes v. Willoughby (1841) 8 M. & W. 540; 151 Eng. Rep. 1153
  43. ^ Ayers v. French 1874, 41 Conn. 142
  44. ^ Graham v. Smith, 1897, 100 Ga 434, 28 S. E. 225
  45. ^ State v. Omaha National Bank, 1899, 59 Neb. 483, 81 N. W. 319
  46. ^ Vaughn v. Wright, 1913, 139 Ga. 736, 78 S. E. 123
  47. ^ Cage Bros. v. Whiteman, 1942, 139 Tex. 522, 163 S. W. 2d 638
  48. ^ Palumbo v. Harry M. Quinn, Inc. 1944, 323 Ill. App. 404, 55 N. E. 2d, 825
  49. ^ Luhmann v. Shaefer, Mo. App. 1940, 142, S. W. 2d 1088
  50. ^ Pettigew v. W. & H. Development Co., Fla App. 1960, 122 So. 2d 813
  51. ^ Giuliano Construction Co. V. Simmons, 1960, 147 Conn. 441, 162 A. 2d 511
  52. ^ Smith v. Shiflett, 1965, 66 Wn 2d 462, 403 P.2d 364
  53. ^ Citizens’ Bank of Madison v. Shaw, 1909, 132 Ga 771, 65 S. E. 81
  54. ^ Capps v. Vasey Brothers, 1909, 23 Okl 554, 101 P. 1043
  55. ^ Hoyt v. Stuart, 1915, 90 Conn. 41, 96 A 166
  56. ^ Security Bank of Minnesota v. Fogg, 1899, 148 Mass. 273, 19 N. E. 378
  57. ^ Griggs v. Day, 1892, 136 N. Y. 152, 32 N. E. 612 reh den 137 N. Y. 542, 32 N. E. 1001
  58. ^ Allied Building Credits v. Grogan Builders Supply Co. Tex. Civ. App. 1983, 365 S. W. 2d 692
  59. ^ Payne v. Elliot, 54 Cal 339
  60. ^ 44 ALR 2nd 927,
  61. ^ 18 Am Jur 2nd section 7, "Conversion"
  62. ^ Hooten v. State, 119 Ark. 334, 178 SW 310
  63. ^ Hartlin v. Cody, 144 Conn. 499, 134, A2d 245
  64. ^ Louisvile & N. R. Co. V. Citizens’ & Peoples’ National Bank, 74 Fla 385, 77 So. 104
  65. ^ Vaughn v. Wright, 139 Ga 736, 78 SE 123
  66. ^ Graham v. Smith, 100 Ga 434, 28 SE 225
  67. ^ National Surety Corp. v. Applied Systems, Inc. Ala 418 So 2nd 847
  68. ^ 18 Am Jur 2nd section 7 "Conversion"
  69. ^ Great Commonwealth Life Ins. Co. v. Banco Obrero de Ahorro Y Prestamos (CA 5, Tex, applying Texas law)
  70. ^ Baker v. Brial, Kan 322, 341 P2nd 987
  71. ^ Mossler Acceptance Co. V. Moore, 218 Miss 757, 67 So 2nd 868
  72. ^ National Surety Corp. v. Applied Systems Inc. (Ala) 418 So. 2nd 847
  73. ^ Platt v. Potts, 3 NC 266
  74. ^ Keeler v. Fassett, 21 Vt. 539
  75. ^ 44 ALR 2nd 927 section 15
  76. ^ MacGregor v. Watts, 254 App. Div 904, 5 NYS 525
  77. ^ Bateman v. Ryder, 106 Tenn 712, 64 SW 48
  78. ^ 44 ALR 2nd 927 section 10
  79. ^ Galigher v. Jones, 129 US 193, 32 L. Ed. 658, 9 S. Ct. 335
  80. ^ McAllister v. Kuhn, 96 US 87, 24 L. Ed. 615
  81. ^ 18 Am Jur 2nd "Conversion" section 14
  82. ^ Rowe v. Burrup, 95 Idaho 747, 518 P 2nd 1386
  83. ^ Eadus v. Hunter, 268 Mich 233, 256 NW 323
  84. ^ Dawson & Young v. Powell, 72 KY 663
  85. ^ a b Russell v. Richards, 11 Me 371
  86. ^ Hardie v. Peterson, 86 Mont. 150, 282, P 494
  87. ^ Bynum v. Gay, 161 Ala 140, 49 So. 757
  88. ^ 84 ALR 2nd 790
  89. ^ Peiser v. Mettler, 50 Cal 2nd 594, 328 P2nd 953
  90. ^ 74 ALR 2nd 1
  91. ^ Haslem v. Lockwood, 37 Conn. 500
  92. ^ Pickering v. Moore, NH 533, 32 A 828
  93. ^ Poggi v. Scott, 167 Cal 372, 139 P 815
  94. ^ Newhart v. Pierce (1st Dist.) 254 Cal App 2d 783, 62 Cal Rptr 553
  95. ^ Watkins v. Layton 182, Kan 702, 324, P2d 130
  96. ^ Aeroglide Corp v. Zeh (CA 2 NY) 301 F2d 420, cert den 371 US 822, (L Ed 2d 61, 83 S Ct 38
  97. ^ Bader v. Cerri, 96 Nev 352, 609 P2d 314
  98. ^ Baker v. Rangos, 229 Pa Super 333, 324 A2d 498
  99. ^ a b 54 ALR 1328
  100. ^ 42 ALR 128
  101. ^ Baer v. Slater, 261 Mass 153, 158 NE 328
  102. ^ 34 ALR 721
  103. ^ Row v. Home Sav. Bank, 306 Mass 522, 29 NE 2d 552
  104. ^ a b 131 ALR 160
  105. ^ Cheminshaw v. Meehan 236 App.Div. 185, 258 NYS 225
  106. ^ Lund v. Keeper, 203 Wis 458, 233 NW 769
  107. ^ Towns v. Pratt, 33 NH 345
  108. ^ New York Life Ins. Co. v. Bank of Commerce & Trust Co. 172, Tenn 226, 111 SW 2d 371
  109. ^ 115 ALR 643
  110. ^ Rogers v. Huie, 2 Cal. 571
  111. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2d Conversion section 3
  112. ^ Owens v. Zippy Mart of South Carolina, Inc. 268 SC 383, 234, SE 2nd 217
  113. ^ Commercial Credit Equipment Corp. v. People's Loan Service, Inc. (La App.) 351 So. 2nd 852
  114. ^ 4 ALR 1192
  115. ^ a b 95 ALR 608
  116. ^ Jensen v. Chicago, & W. I. R. Co., 94 Ill. App 3rd 915, 50 Ill. Dec 470, 419, NE 2nd 578
  117. ^ Jensen v. Chicago & W. I. R. Co., 94 Ill App 3rd 915
  118. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections 28-32
  119. ^ Warner v. Martin, 52 US 209, 13 L. Ed. 667
  120. ^ Restatement, Torts 2nd section 229
  121. ^ Bell v. Carter (CA8, Colo) 164 F 417
  122. ^ Restatement, Torts 2nd section 235 (1)
  123. ^ Restatement, Torts 2nd section 235 (2)
  124. ^ Restatement, Torts 2nd section 235
  125. ^ Prosser ibid, p. 98
  126. ^ Matice v. Brinkman, 1889, 74 Mich. 705, 42 N. W. 172
  127. ^ Peck v. Patterson, 1956, 119 Vt. 280, 125 A 2d 813
  128. ^ Prosser ibid. p. 98
  129. ^ Daggett v. Davis, 1884, 53 Mich 35, 18 N. W. 548
  130. ^ Poor v. Oakman, 1870, 104 Mass. 309
  131. ^ Edinburg v. Allen Squire Co., 1938, 299 Mass. 206, 12 N. E. 2d 718
  132. ^ Zaslow v. Kroenert, 29 Cal. 2d. 451, 176 P 2d 1
  133. ^ Prosser ibid. p. 98
  134. ^ Thomas v. Westbrook, 1944, 206 Ark. 841, 177. S. W. 2d 931
  135. ^ Kirby v. Porter, 1923, 144 Md. 261, 125 A. 41
  136. ^ Jones v. Stone, 1917, 78 N. H. 504, 102 A. 377
  137. ^ Henderson v. Beggs, Tex. Civ. App. 1918, 207 S. W. 562
  138. ^ Donnell v. Canadian Pacific Ry. Co. 1912, 109 Me. 500, 84 A. 1002
  139. ^ Baldwin v. Cole (1704) 6 Mod. Rep. 212; 87 Eng. Rep. 964
  140. ^ Bristol v. Burt, 1810, 7 N. Y. (7 Johns.) 254
  141. ^ Vilas v. Mason, 1870, 25 Wis. 310
  142. ^ Smith v. Durham, 1900, 127 N.C. 417, 37 S. E. 473
  143. ^ Restatement, Torts 2nd section 227
  144. ^ 73 ALR 792
  145. ^ 17 ALR 2nd 1289
  146. ^ 20 ALR 374
  147. ^ 51 ALR 1462
  148. ^ Greer v. Carl Johnson Motor Co., 269 Ala 617, 114 So 2nd 907
  149. ^ a b 73 ALR 792
  150. ^ 1 ALR 1648
  151. ^ Ludden v. Leavitt, 9 Mass 104
  152. ^ Gunzburger v. Rosenthal, 226 PA 300, 75, A 418
  153. ^ Tuthill v. Wheeler (NY) 6 Barb 362
  154. ^ Jewett v. Patridge, 12 Me 243
  155. ^ 44 ALR 435
  156. ^ Quaker Oats Co. v. McKibben (CA 9 Cal) 230 F2d 652
  157. ^ White v. Yawkey, 108 Ala 270, 19 So 360
  158. ^ McCurdy v. Walblom Furniture & Carpet Co. 84 Minn 326, 102 NW 673
  159. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections 67; 81
  160. ^ Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" section 67
  161. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections 75, 76, 77
  162. ^ 3 ALR 2nd 218 section 6
  163. ^ McKee v. Gratz, 260 US 127, 67 L. Ed. 167, 43 S. Ct.
  164. ^ Groves v. Hanks (Tex Civ App Corpus Christi) 546 SW2nd 638
  165. ^ Kennett v. Peters, 54 Kan 119, 37 P 999
  166. ^ Carey v. Cyr 150 Me 405, 113 A2nd 614
  167. ^ Gunzburger v. Rosenthal, 226 Pa 300, 75 A 418
  168. ^ Omaha & Grant Smelting & Refining Co. v. Tabor, 13 Colo 41, 21 P 925
  169. ^ Hoffman v. Harrington, 44 Mich 183, 6 NW 225
  170. ^ Cumnock v. Institution for Sav., 142 Mass 342, 7 NE 869
  171. ^ Truscott v. Garner, 92 Ga App 95, 88 SE 2nd 197
  172. ^ Alcolea v. Smith, 150 La 482, 90 So 769
  173. ^ 24 ALR 815
  174. ^ 61 ALR 615
  175. ^ 97 ALR 2nd 990
  176. ^ Molski v. Bendza 116 Conn 710, 164 A 387
  177. ^ Gurney v. Kenny NY 2 Smith 132
  178. ^ Ligon v. E. F. Hutton & Co. (Tex Civ App Dallas) 428 Sw2nd 434
  179. ^ Rodgers v. Crum, 168 Kan 668, 215 P 2d 190
  180. ^ Restatement, Torts 2nd section 265
  181. ^ Restatement, Torts, 2nd, sections 252, 253, 255, 256
  182. ^ O'Keeffe v. Snyder, 83 NJ 478, 416 A2d 862
  183. ^ 37 Am. Jur. 2nd "Fraudulent Conveyances" section 148
  184. ^ 100 ALR 1370
  185. ^ 44 ALR 2nd 927 sections 4[b] and 4[c}
  186. ^ 40 ALR 377
  187. ^ 132 ALR 613
  188. ^ 44 ALR 2nd 927 section 7 [a]
  189. ^ 44 ALR 2nd 927 section 7[a]
  190. ^ 41 ALR 2nd 657
  191. ^ 2 ALR 2nd 218 section 5
  192. ^ 3 ALR 2nd 218
  193. ^ 79 ALR 2nd 668
  194. ^ 21 ALR 2nd 380 section 4
  195. ^ Restatement, Torts, 2nd section 927(2)
  196. ^ 36 ALR 2nd 337 section 23 [1] and 26[a]
  197. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversions" sections 124-133
  198. ^ 40 ALR 1279
  199. ^ Re: Estate of Corbin Fla App D3, 391, So 2d 731
  200. ^ 85 ALR 2d 1349 section 2 [a], [d]
  201. ^ Barney v. Dudley, 42 Kan 212, 21 P 1079
  202. ^ 31 ALR 3d 1286
  203. ^ 21 ALR 2d 371, section 5
  204. ^ 22 Am Jur 2nd "Damages" sections 149, 150
  205. ^ St. Louis & S. F. R. Co. v. Georgia, F. & A. R. Co. 213 Ala 108, 104 So. 33
  206. ^ 77 Am. Jur. 2nd "Venue" section 19
  207. ^ Mitchell v. Georgia & A. R. Co., 111 Ga 760, 36 SE 971
  208. ^ 25 Am. Jur. 2nd "Election of Remedies", section 10
  209. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections143-149
  210. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Comversion" sections 150-157
  211. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections 158-162
  212. ^ 61 A Am. Jur. 2nd "Pleading" section 139
  213. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections 163-177
  214. ^ 98 ALR 689
  215. ^ 3 ALR 2nd 214
  216. ^ 18 Am. Jur. 2nd "Conversion" sections 178-180


  • Bullen and Leake, Precedents of Pleading (3rd ed., 1868, 6th ed. by Dodd and Chitty, 1905)
  • F. Pollock, on Torts (7th ed., 1904)
  • Clerk and Lindsell, on Torts (3rd ed., 1904)
  • Lewin, on Trusts (I ith ed., 1904)
  • Jarman, on Wills (5th ed., 1893)
  • Dart, Vendors and Purchasers (1 ith ed., p. 301). (W. F. C.)
  • Prosser, W. and Keeton, P. et al. "Prosser and Keeton on Torts, Fifth Edition", West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1984
  • 18 American Jurisprudence 2nd "Conversion"; Lawyer's Cooperative Publishing, Rochester, New York; Bancroft-Whitney, San Francisco, 1984

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