Persons Who Can Sue for Conversion

Generally, an agent entrusted by his or her principal with the possession of goods is recognized as having a sufficient interest in the goods.  This enables him or her to maintain an action against a third person for their conversion[i].  Causes of action for conversion are generally held to be assignable.  The assignee may institute such an action[ii].  The assignment may be made of the indicia of ownership[iii].  When a bill of lading is endorsed to a bank with a draft , the amount of which is paid to the assignor by the bank, the legal title of the property called for in the bill is transferred  to the bank.  The bank is entitled to maintain an action for the conversion[iv].  A transferee may maintain an action for a conversion committed after the transfer even though he/she has not received actual possession of the goods[v]. 

The plaintiff must have either a general or special interest in the thing converted in order to maintain an action for conversion.  Therefore, a mere creditor may not sue persons who have converted the debtor’s property and obtain a judgment against them as if the creditor were the owner of the cause of action.  This is based on the theory that he/she is proceeding by the creditor’s bill[vi].  Where allegedly converted benefits were neither identified with documents that had been converted nor earmarked for payment with specific monies, creditors cannot show legal ownership or superior right to possession of specifically identifiable property required for a conversion claim with respect to a debtors’ assets.

An action may be maintained for the conversion of property severed from the real estate.  Trover or conversion is the proper remedy where the plaintiff owns title to the land and is in possession of it and the defendant enters the land and removes property from it for which he/she refuses to pay for[vii].  This action may be maintained by an owner of real estate who has either actual or constructive possession of the land.  However, possession by the defendant is merely transitory for the purpose of making the severance.  It is not sufficient to defeat the action.

If at the time of the severance, the owner of the freehold was not in actual or constructive possession of the land, an action for conversion may not be maintained by him/her[viii].   Thus, a grantor of the right to extract minerals on its land conveys away his/her entire estate in the minerals.  Therefore, he/she could not maintain an action for conversion with regard to those minerals.  The retention of an unexercised right of reentry did not create any possessory interest in the minerals[ix]. 

If a claim contains no allegation that the trustee in bankruptcy ever had title to or possession of a negotiable instrument representing any amount in the bank account or that such a negotiable instrument ever existed, no cause of action exists for conversion of money in the bankrupt’s bank account[x].  Interference by a party with a future right is an actionable tort, whether or not it is called a conversion[xi].

[i] Gunzburger v. Rosenthal, 226 Pa. 300, 75 A. 418 (1910)

[ii] U.S. v. Fleming, 69 F. Supp. 252 (N.D. Iowa 1946); Vogel v. Cobb, 1943 OK 287, 193 Okla. 64, 141 P.2d 276, 148 A.L.R. 774 (1943); Strickland v. Quality Bldg. & Sec. Co., 220 Ark. 708, 249 S.W.2d 557 (1952).

[iii] Dolliff v. Robbins, 83 Minn. 498, 86 N.W. 772 (1901); Kissick v. Kissick, 221 Mo. App. 420, 279 S.W. 764 (1926).

[iv] Marsh Milling & Grain Co. v. Guaranty State Bank of Ardmore, 1918 OK 169, 69 Okla. 222, 171 P. 1122 (1918)

[v] Powers v. Dodgson, 194 Mich. 133, 160 N.W. 432 (1916)

[vi] Quaker Oats Co. v. McKibben, 230 F.2d 652 (9th Cir. 1956); Raymond v. Blancgrass, 36 Mont. 449, 93 P. 648 (1908).

[vii] Pettigrew v. W & H Development Co., 122 So. 2d 813, 84 A.L.R.2d 787 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 1960)

[viii] Aldrich Mining Co. v. Pearce, 169 Ala. 161, 52 So. 911 (1910).

[ix] Potts Run Coal Co. v. Benjamin Coal Co., 285 Pa. Super. 128, 426 A.2d 1175 (1981).

[x] In re Oxford Marketing, Ltd., 444 F. Supp. 399 (N.D. Ill. 1978)

[xi] Northeast Bank of Lewiston and Auburn v. Murphy, 512 A.2d 344 (Me. 1986)


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