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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?
- The tort of conversion occurs when a person intentionally interferes with personal property belonging to another person. To make out a conversion claim, a plaintiff must establish the following elements:
- That the plaintiff owns or has the right to possess the personal property in question at the time of the interference.
- That the defendant intentionally interfered with the plaintiff’s personal property.
- That the interference deprived the plaintiff of possession or use of the personal property in question.
- That the interference caused damages to the plaintiff.
In the example of the practice question, Todd has the option of suing Carl for the tort of conversion. www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/elements-conversion
Douglas, Simon, The Scope of Conversion: Property and Contract (May 2011). The Modern Law Review, Vol. 74, Issue 3, pp. 329-349, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1830959or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2011.00850.x