“Conversion” is a tort for property damage for which the action of “trover” will lie. Conversion is the interference with the dominion over or ownership of personal property. Conversion is an intentional tort, and would not be a cause of action in a claim for negligent destruction of personal property. To win a claim for conversion, the Plaintiff must show (1) title in the plaintiff to the disputed property, or plaintiff’s right to immediate possession of the property; (2) actual possession in the defendant; (3) demand by the plaintiff for return of the property; (4) defendant’s refusal to return the property; and (5) value of the property.
Conversion has been defined as “any distinct act of dominion asserted over another’s property in denial of his right or inconsistent with it.” It has also been defined as “an unauthorized assumption and exercise of the right of ownership over personal property belonging to another, in hostility to his rights; an act of dominion over the personal property of another inconsistent with his rights; or an unauthorized appropriation.”
This conception is entirely different from the idea of damage to the property itself which is inseparable from trespass, and which seems to show itself in one branch of conversion. To state it another way, we may say that interference with or obstruction of the rightful power of controlling and disposing of chattels is unlawful and amounts to a conversion. The gist of the wrong consists in an unauthorized assumption of the power of a rightful possession, or in the obstruction of the true owner’s possession, or one having the right of possession, in the exercise of that right.
It is not necessary to show that the defendant personally benefited from the conversion, for whoever meddles with the property of another does so at his peril. When one acts with awareness of the fact that the converted property was not his, it is no defense that he did so on the advice of counsel, since that would involve a mistake of law for which the converter would remain liable.
The elements of a conversion claim are as follows: (1) title in the plaintiff to the disputed property, or plaintiff’s right to immediate possession of the property; (2) actual possession in the defendant; (3) demand by the plaintiff for return of the property; (4) defendant’s refusal to return the property; and (5) value of the property. 9 Each of these elements is considered below.
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