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Any unauthorized act that deprives an owner of personal property without his or her consent.
The wrongdoer converts the goods to his or her own use and excludes the owner from use and enjoyment of them. The English Common Law early recognized such an act as wrongful and, by the middle of the fifteenth century, allowed an action in Trover to compensate the aggrieved owner.
The earliest cases allowing a lawsuit for conversion were based on claims that the plaintiff had possession of certain items of Personal Property, then casually lost them, and the defendant had found them and had not returned them but instead "converted them to his own use." This phrase was picked up, and it gave a name to a tort that originally was a kind of Action on the Case, a form of Trespass. As time passed, the plea that the plaintiff had lost his or her goods and the defendant had found them came to be considered a legal fiction (that is, a decision was made in the case as if the plea were true, and it did not have to be proved). The defendant was not allowed to dispute the allegations but could answer only the claim that the plaintiff had a right to possession of the goods and the defendant had refused to restore them to the plaintiff.
Today the word conversion is still applied to the unlawful taking or use of someone else's property. The type of property that can be converted is determined by the original nature of the Cause of Action. It must be personal property, because real property cannot be lost and then found. It must be tangible, such as money, an animal, furniture, tools, or receipts. Crops or timber can be subject to conversion after they are severed from the ground. The rights in a paper—such as a life insurance policy, a stock certificate, or a promissory note—can be converted by one who appropriates the paper itself.
A thief, a trespasser, or a bailee may be guilty of conversion because the action may be maintained whether or not the property was lawfully acquired at the outset. For example, a dry cleaner who mistakenly delivers a suit to the wrong customer has converted it. Moving some-one's property without his or her permission might constitute a conversion if the inconvenience is substantial: for example, having some-one's car towed away in order to take the parking place. Unauthorized use is a conversion—such as a mechanic who, without permission, borrows a sports car that he or she is supposed to repair. Misuse of property can also be a conversion. If a neighbor lends his or her hedge trimmer to a friend, it is a conversion for the friend to use the hedge trimmer to cut down a tree.
n. a civil wrong (tort) in which one converts another's property to his/her own use, which is a fancy way of saying "steals." Conversion includes treating another's goods as one's own, holding onto such property which accidently comes into the convertor's (taker's) hands, or purposely giving the impression the assets belong to him/her. This gives the true owner the right to sue for his/her own property or the value and loss of use of it, as well as going to law enforcement authorities since conversion usually includes the crime of theft. (See: theft)
conversionthe wrong committed by a dealing with the goods of a person that constitutes an unjustifiable denial of his rights in them or his assertion of rights inconsistent with them. Conversion and trespass overlap. To take away the goods of another will be trespass but also maybe conversion. If the taking is temporary, however, and not done to exercise rights over the goods, then there is no conversion. Taking to use the goods is sufficient, it not being necessary to assert ownership over the goods. In English law, it holds that the voluntary receipt by the defendant of the goods from a wrongfully interfering third party is conversion. Abuse of an authorized possession maybe conversion - where goods are pawned, for example. Allowing the goods to be stolen through lack of care, being an omission, is not conversion. Destruction of the goods or alteration of the goods to another species is conversion. It is not known in Scotland although sometimes similar issues arise. The closest analogue is SPUILZIE.
It is also a crime in English law, if fraudulent, under the Theft Act 1968.
CONVERSION. torts. the unlawful turning or applying the personal goods of
another to the use of the taker, or of some other person than the, owner; or
the unlawful destroying or altering their nature. Bull. N. P. 44; 6 Mass.
20; 14 Pick. 356; 3 Brod. & Bing. 2; Cro. Eliz. 219 12 Mod. 519; 5 Mass.
104; 6 Shepl. 382; Story, Bailm. Sec. 188, 269, 306; 6 Mass. 422; 2 B. & P.
488; 3 B. & Ald. 702; 11 M. & W. 363; 8 Taunt. 237; 4 Taunt. 24.
2. When a party takes away or wrongfully assumes the right to goods which belong to another, it will in general be sufficient evidence of a conversion but when the original taking was, lawful, as when the party found the goods, and the detention only is illegal, it is absolutely necessary to male a demand of the goods, and there must be a refusal to deliver them before the conversion will, be complete. 1 Ch. Pr. 566; 2 Saund. 47 e, note 1 Ch. Pl. 179; Bac. Ab. Trover, B 1 Com. Dig. 439; 3 Com. Dig. 142; 1 Vin. Ab. 236; Yelv. 174, n.; 2 East, R. 405; 6 East, R. 540; 4 Taunt. 799 5 Barn. & Cr. 146; S. C. 11 Eng. C. L. Rep. 185; 3 Bl. Com. 152; 3 Bouv. Inst. n. 3522, et seq. The refusal by a servant to deliver the goods entrusted to him by his master, is not evidence of a conversion by his master. 5 Hill, 455.
3. The tortious taking of property is, of itself, a conversion 15 John. R. 431 and any intermeddling with it, or any exercise of dominion over it, subversive of the dominion of the owner, or the nature of the bailment, if it be bailed, is, evidence of a conversion. 1 Nott & McCord, R. 592; 2 Mass. R. 398; 1 Har. & John. 519; 7 John. R. 254; 10 John. R. 172 14 John. R. 128; Cro. Eliz. 219; 2 John. Cas. 411. Vide Trover.
CONVERSION, in equity, The considering of one thing as changed into another; for example, land will be considered as converted into money, and treated as such by a court of equity, when the owner has contracted to sell his estate in which case, if he die before the conveyance, his executors and not his heirs will be entitled to the money. 2 Vern. 52; S., C. 3 Chan. R. 217; 1 B1. Rep. 129. On the other hand, money is converted into land in a variety of ways as for example, when a man agrees to buy land, and dies before he has received the conveyance, the money he was to pay for it will be considered as converted into lands, and descend to the heir. 1 P. Wms. 176 2 Vern. 227 10 Pet. 563; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.