Conversion or Trespass to Chattels?

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Conversion or Trespass to Chattels?

Postby dibreezy » Wed Dec 03, 2014 9:28 pm

Here is the hypo:

David goes to Paul's house and hops on a thoroughbred horse. David's intention is to take the thoroughbred for a joy ride and then return the horse an hour later. However, Paul, a nationally renowned horse breeder, was intending on taking the horse to the Kentucky Derby. Not only was he going to take the horse to the KY Derby, but the horse was picked to one at odds of 2:3. This horse was a sure bet! As David rode the horse away Paul shouted, "Hey you! Give me my horse back!" To which David replied, "No way, Jose!" Because David had the horse during that hour, Paul was unable to take the horse to the KY Derby and had to forfeit as a result.

The question is whether David's action would constitute Conversion or Trespass to Chattels? Does David's intention to return the horse after an hour matter? Does the fact that in the period of time David had the horse, he prevented Paul from taking his "sure bet" to the KY Derby?

The point here is that in the time David had taken the horse (which would under normal circumstances have been Trespass to Chattels), Paul was forced to suffer some harm. In this hypo it is economic. You should be assuming that the horse would win no matter what. Take all gambling factors out of it and make it about a normal TtC case that, because of the unique time and unique circumstances, could be considered a conversion case.



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Re: Conversion or Trespass to Chattels?

Postby DportIA » Wed Dec 03, 2014 9:34 pm

[So glad I am not a 1L]

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Re: Conversion or Trespass to Chattels?

Postby WestWingWatcher » Wed Dec 03, 2014 11:32 pm

1L taking at shot at it. Let me know if I'm missing something, because I haven't encountered this before.

Couldn't you recover for either? I am under the impression that purely economic losses aren't barred in here...

For conversion, if he had raised that horse solely for the purposes of racing in that race, it seems conversion would be an available remedy. However, I'm not sure if this would be the best remedy, as then you would lose your horse and only get the fair market price of the horse at the time it was converted (which would be arguably high because it was about to win a huge race).

For trespass to chattels, although there was no actual harm, "if the trespass amount to dispossession, the loss of possession itself is deemed to be an actual harm." Therefore, it seems like he would be able to recover for the lost winnings (since they were a sure thing), and also keep his horse. So this seems to be the better option.

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Re: Conversion or Trespass to Chattels?

Postby Young Marino » Thu Dec 04, 2014 12:43 pm

1L here.

I'm going to say conversion in this instance. Conversion at common law is the intentional interface with another's chattel in which the defendant unlawfully exercises dominion over the chattel and deprives the owners of the chattels proper use permanently or for substantial amount of time. In this case, D took the horse from T intentionally and unlawfully as evidenced by his refusal to return the horse at P's request. P intended to use the horse in the derby and was deprived of that proper use of the horse permanently because he will not be able to race the horse at that particular time in that particular race. Therefore, D is liable to P for conversion.


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Re: Conversion or Trespass to Chattels?

Postby cfox17 » Tue Dec 09, 2014 10:57 pm

This is a question where the professor wants you to establish both principles, there are arguments for BOTH SIDES. It shows you that in law school, there typically is no right answer, you just have to issue spot and make a good argument and analysis. Also, most professors will want you to include counterarguments, etc. Most of this you probably know.

Trespass of Chattels: (Strongest argument)

In this case, David interfered with Paul's right of possession to his horse. However, this is where the one hour comes in crucial. In order to be a trespass, you only need to take the property or interfere with possession for a matter of time, BUT if you take the property and destroy it, etc. then it becomes a conversion. The damages rewarded in a trespass case are the harm to the property or the loss of use, which would be the money won from the derby.

Conversion: (Weaker)

This is where I would establish that I understood what conversion was, and that if David had kept/stolen the horse, and either killed it or injured it and rendered it useless for horse racing, you might then have a stronger argument for conversion. In this case, you only have David interfering for an hour, if he did bring it back. In a conversion case, the property is destroyed or the interference is so serious that it warranties the chattel to paid for in full market value, however, in this case assumedly you have David returning the horse, and thus the property.

The biggest distinction that helps for me to understand the two are (1) the Act, and (2) the Damages.

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