Conversion (law) - Defenses


In a conversion suit, it is no defense to claim that the defendant was not negligent or that the defendant acquired the plaintiff's property through the plaintiff's unilateral mistake, or that the defendant acted in complete innocence and perfect good faith.

The following are traditional defenses to an action in conversion:

  • Abandonment. Abandonment of the property before it was taken by the defendant is a complete defense.
  • Authority of law. A conversion cannot occur if it is done by authority of law, a court order or valid process.
  • Consent or approbation. Consent by the plaintiff can be either express or implied.
  • Delay in bringing action. Statutes of limitations are defined by legislative jurisdiction. Some cases are based on "reasonable knowledge". Paintings purchased from a third person became the subject of an action in conversion, even though the incident had occurred 30 years prior. The action accrued based on when the plaintiff reasonably knew or should have known the identity of the possessor of the converted paintings.
  • Fraud of the plaintiff. Conveying property to a third person for purposes of evading creditors is a complete defense to a subsequent action in conversion.
  • Interest of defendant. If the defendant has ownership or partial ownership to the property, it cannot be converted. Cases revolve around the specific facts concerning ownership.
  • Value of property. A provisional defense can be made if the property converted has no value. Nevertheless, it is well established that it is not necessary for property to have a commercial value in order to maintain an action in conversion. This argument can be used to mitigate damages.
  • Writings. A bill or debt obligation can be converted. However, if it has been paid or otherwise satisfied, then it has neither value nor existence in the eyes of the court.
  • Nonexistence or lack of identity of property. Something that was not in existence at the time of the alleged conversion cannot be converted.
  • Privilege. Finders of lost property may be entitled to use or ownership if the real owner cannot be identified. This is an overlap into the rules of trover.
  • Unlawful and illegal acts. Unlawful contracts, illegal ownership and illegal activities on the part of the plaintiff can be a defense to an action in conversion. A counterfeit coin cannot be converted, nor can a note issued in an illegal manner.
  • Waiver, ratification and estoppel. An action in conversion can be dismissed if the right to treat the action has been waived by the plaintiff.
  • By receipt of proceeds of a sale. Accepting the proceeds of a sale of the converted property is a defense against further action.
  • By accepting return of goods. Once the owner accepts the converted property back, he is generally precluded from any further action.

Read more about this topic:  Conversion (law)

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