9. What is “conversion”?
Conversion is a civil cause of action for taking another person’s property without her consent. It entails the wrongful exercise of dominion (power) and control over the personal (non-land) resources of someone else. In doing so, a person violates the owner’s lawful right to exclude others from her resources. The deprivation may be temporary or permanent, but it must constitute a serious invasion of the owner’s legal rights.
• Example: Stealing something from an employer is conversion – as is purchasing something that has been stolen. Failing to return something at a designated time, delivering something to the wrong party, and destruction or alteration of someone else’s property also constitutes conversion.
• Discussion: What level of interference with another person’s use and enjoyment should be considered conversion? How does the nature of the deprivation affect your opinion? Does the length of deprivation affect your opinion? Should the interference be intention? How would you balance the rights of an innocent transferee of the property against the rights of the original owner?
• Practice Question: Ervin purchases a luxury watch from Carl. Carl claims to have received the watch as a gift. In reality, Carl stole the watch from Todd. Todd learns that Ervin has possession of his watch, what are his options for securing its return?