What Is Detinue?

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 What Is the Legal Definition of Personal Property?

Personal property is defined as anything other than land that may be subject to ownership. The main characteristic of personal property is that it may be moved, in contrast to real estate or real property.

There are 2 main categories of personal property, tangible and intangible. Tangible property is property that may be physically handled, for example:

  • Clothes;
  • Jewelry;
  • Furniture; and
  • Other items.

Intangible personal property is property that cannot be physically handled, for example:

  • Stocks;
  • Trust fund accounts; and
  • Copyrights and other intellectual property.

What Is a Detinue Case?

Detinue was a way for plaintiffs to seek recovery of their specific property in a court of law. Detinue was abolished in 1977.

It was replaced with interference of property torts, for example, conversion. In a detinue case, a defendant may have taken the property by a lawful means but retain the property unlawfully.

A plaintiff does not have to have the property in their possession at any time to seek recovery of the property through detinue.

What Is Conversion?

Conversion is defined as the serious intentional interference of an individual’s right to possess property. In other words, one individual who does not own a piece of property takes control of that property away from the true owner and converts it into their own property.

The individual whose rights have been interfered with may sue the individual who interfered with their rights. Another related but different tort is trespass to chattel.

Chattel is personal property, either intangible or tangible. Trespass to chattel is a legal concept that refers to an intentional and wrongful interference of the personal property of another individual without their permission.

In order to prove trespass to chattel has occurred, an individual must prove the following:

  • The plaintiff has the right to possess the personal property or owns the property;
  • The defendant intentionally interfered with the property of the plaintiff without their consent;
  • The defendant deprived the plaintiff of possession or use of the property; and
  • The interference caused damages to the plaintiff.

Trespass to chattel is a valid claim in certain situations, including:

  • The individual deprives the owner of the chattel;
  • The value, quality, or condition of the chattel is impaired;
  • The owner is prevented from using the chattel for a substantial period of time; and
  • Bodily harm was caused to the property owner or harm was caused to an individual or property in which the owner has a legally protected interest.

Both of these torts involve only personal property and not real property or an interest in land. In order to prove conversion, a plaintiff must prove the same elements as in trespass to chattel.

What Is Detinue versus Replevin?

Replevin allows the plaintiff to recover their personal property that was lost due to a personal injury tort, such as conversion. The plaintiff may also receive other legal damages along with their personal property.

Detinue is similar to replevin, but it is different in a major way. Replevin is based on a wrongful taking by the defendant.

In contrast, detinue is based on a wrongful holding or retaining of the property by the defendant. In other words, a plaintiff may use debt to recover property that the defendant took and will not return.

A plaintiff may use replevin to recover property that the defendant has wrongfully taken, regardless of the defendant’s current status of possession.

What Are the Elements of Detinue?

In order for a plaintiff to recover property under a detinue claim, they were required to show:

  • The plaintiff has title and the right to immediate possession of the property;
  • The chattel has some value;
  • The chattel is identifiable in a unique way; and
  • The defendant had possession at some time prior to the lawsuit.

In contrast to most other interference torts, detinue also allows for the recovery of the specific chattel that is being withheld.

What Were the Requirements for Detinue?

It is important to review that, in order for a detinue action to succeed, the plaintiff must prove that they had better right to possession of the chattel than the defendant. In addition, the plaintiff must show that the defendant refused to return the chattel once the plaintiff demanded it.

Could I Also Sue for Money in Addition to My Property?

In addition to the remedies for torts noted above, a plaintiff may request monetary damages for the time their property was in the defendant’s possession. An individual who commits a tort can be punished according to the provisions in the applicable tort laws.

When an individual has taken something away from another individual, that individual has been aggrieved. When one party’s rights are violated, it is punishable by law using legal remedies.

An individual who has been the victim of a tort may have several possible remedies that are available under tort laws. A remedy is a relief that is available to the individual against whom a wrong has been committed.

Torts may be committed against individuals or their property. Certain torts, such as nuisance, can occur even if an individual does not intend to commit them.

There are 3 basic categories of remedies in tort law, including:

  • Legal remedies, or damages;
  • Resititionary remedies; and
  • Equitable remedies.

Also referred to as damages, legal remedies for torts are monetary payments that are made by a defendant in order to compensate the victim for their:

  • Injuries;
  • Losses; or
  • Pain and suffering.

These damages are calculated based on the victim’s losses instead of based on the tortfeasor’s gains. In certain types of cases, punitive damages may be added.

A plaintiff that wins a judgment in court may be awarded pain and suffering damages. Restitutionary remedies are also awarded to restore a plaintiff to a position of wholeness.

In other words, restitution remedies are used to restore a plaintiff as close as possible to their state before the tort occurred.

Restitutionary remedies may include:

  • Restitutionary damages: These damages are calculated based on the tortfeasor’s gain instead of the plaintiff’s losses, as with regular damages;
  • Replevin: Replevin allows a plaintiff to recover their personal property they may have lost as a result of the tort;
    • Replevin may be coupled with legal damages in certain cases;
  • Ejectment: Ejectment occurs when the court ejects a person who is wrongfully staying on real property owned by the plaintiff;
    • Ejectment is common in cases involving a continuing trespass;
  • Property lien: If the defendant cannot afford to pay damages, a judge may place a lien on their real property, sell the property, and forward the proceeds to the tort victim;
  • Equitable remedies: Equitable remedies may be available in cases where monetary damages will not adequately restore the plaintiff to wholeness;
  • Temporary restraining order: Victims of physical harm or harassment may obtain a restraining order, which prevents the defendant from making contact with or coming near the plaintiff; and
  • Temporary or permanent injunction: An injunction can be used to prohibit unlawful activity by a defendant or order them to take some affirmative step.

What If I Am Sued for Detinue?

If an individual is sued for detinue, there are certain defenses that may be available. For example, the defendant may argue that the detention of the property was justified or that they did not detain the property.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about Detinue?

If you are a victim of conversion, it is important to consult with a tort lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of the applicable laws in your state as well as represent you in court in order to get your property back.

If you are being sued for conversion, it is important to have a lawyer represent you. Your lawyer can present any available defenses in court and ensure your rights are protected.

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