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3.13-4  Conversion

Revised to January 1, 2008

The plaintiff seeks to recover damages from the defendant for the alleged conversion of (his/her) personal property.  A defendant is liable for conversion when (he/she), without authorization, assumes and exercises ownership or control over property belonging to someone else and thereby deprives the other person of the property, either permanently or for an indefinite period of time.  Conversion can occur where a defendant wrongfully takes possession of the other person's property or where (he/she) wrongfully exercises control over the property.  The essence of conversion is dealing with another's personal property in a manner that is adverse to and inconsistent with the ownership or possessory rights of the plaintiff in that property.

To bring a claim for conversion, the plaintiff must have been the "owner" of the property.  An owner of property can be someone who has full, legal title, but also includes someone who may not have legal title but who has the right to immediate possession and control of the property.

Elements of Claim
To establish the defendant's liability for conversion, the plaintiff must prove four essential elements by a fair preponderance of the evidence:

  1. that the property at issue belonged to the plaintiff.  In other words, that at the time the defendant took (possession of / control over) the property, the plaintiff (owned / was entitled to take immediate possession of) the property;

  2. that the defendant (took possession of / exercised control over) the plaintiff's property which deprived the plaintiff of the property either permanently or for an indefinite period of time; 

  3. that the defendant's conduct was unauthorized.  In other words, the defendant's acts were wrongful, were without the plaintiff's permission, and without any other lawful authority; and   

  4. that the defendant's conduct caused harm to the plaintiff. 

In this case, the plaintiff claims that <insert plaintiff's allegations with reference to the appropriate elements>.

The defendant has denied that (he/she) converted the plaintiff's <insert description of personal property>.  The defendant claims that <insert defendant's claims with reference to the elements in dispute>.

The plaintiff has the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, each of the elements of conversion as I have previously instructed you.  The defendant has no burden to disprove conversion.  If you find that the plaintiff has not proved (his/her) claim of conversion as to any of the personal property at issue, you must return a defendant's verdict on that claim.  If, however, you find that the plaintiff has proved that the defendant converted all or some of (his/her) personal property, you must return a plaintiff's verdict after deciding what damages to award the plaintiff in connection with that claim.

Compensatory Damages
[<If there has been a total loss of property:>  The rule of damages in a conversion case like this, where the plaintiff has alleged a total loss of ownership rights in its converted property, is that the plaintiff should recover the fair market value of the property at the time and place it was converted, together with simple interest at the rate of 10% per year running forward from the day it was converted to the day of the verdict.  The fair market value of the property is the price that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the property after fair negotiations, where neither was under any undue compulsion to make the deal.  You must determine, on the basis of the evidence presented, what the fair market value of the converted property was.  The burden is on the plaintiff to prove the fair market value and you must do your best to determine its value on the basis of the evidence presented.]

[<If the property has been returned:>  The rule of damages in a conversion case like this, where the converted property has been restored to and accepted by the plaintiff, is that the plaintiff should recover the reduction in the fair market value of the property caused by its conversion.  You must determine the fair market value of the property at the time and place it was converted.  From that amount, you must subtract the fair market value of the property at the time and place it was returned.  The difference in fair market value is the measure of damages that you may award to the plaintiff.  The fair market value of the property is the price that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the property after fair negotiations, where neither was under any undue compulsion to make the deal.  You must determine, on the basis of the evidence presented, what the fair market value of the converted property was at the time of conversion and at the time of return.  The burden is on the plaintiff to prove the fair market value, and you must do your best to determine its value on the basis of the evidence presented.] 

If you find that the defendant is liable for conversion, you must record your finding and the amount of the plaintiff's damages in the space provided for that purpose on the Plaintiff's Verdict Form [and then go on to consider the plaintiff's further claim for punitive damages, if requested].

Consequential Damages
The plaintiff may also be entitled to recover consequential or incidental damages.  Consequential damages in a conversion action are damages that result from the natural consequences of the act complained of even though they may not be the necessary result of it.  An example of consequential damages may be compensation for loss of use of the property converted, or for lost profits caused by the loss of the property, but only for the period it would take a reasonable person to replace the item.

<Insert Damages - Consequential, Instruction 4.5-11>

In this case, the plaintiff claims that <insert plaintiff's claims with reference to consequential damages>.

It is not always possible to determine these damages with precise mathematical proof.  The burden is on the plaintiff to present evidence with such a degree of certainty that you have a basis to make a fair and reasonable estimate of these damages, if you feel they are warranted.

Punitive Damages
In addition to compensatory damages, which are designed to compensate the plaintiff for (his/her) proven losses, the plaintiff claims other damages which we call punitive damages. 

<Insert instruction on Damages - Punitive, Instruction 3.4-4>

If you find that the plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages, the measure of such damages will be determined by the court, by me -- after your verdicts are rendered.  You need only make a finding whether or not the defendant's conversion of the property, if any, was such as to warrant an award of punitive damages.  Please record your answer, "Yes" or "No," in the space provided for that purpose on the Plaintiff's Verdict Form.

Authority

Deming v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 279 Conn. 745, 770-71 (2006); Label Systems Corp. v. Aghamohammadi, 270 Conn. 291, 329 (2004); Howard v. MacDonald, 270 Conn. 111, 129 n.8 (2004); Hi-Ho Tower, Inc. v. Com-tronics, Inc., 255 Conn. 20, 43 (2000); Kuzemka v. Gregory, 109 Conn. 117, 122 (1929).

Notes

"Conversions may be grouped into two general classes: (1) those where the possession is originally wrongful; and (2) those where it is rightful and subsequently becomes wrongful.  Under the first class, wrongful use and the unauthorized dominion constitute the conversion; therefore no demand for the return of the personal property is required.  Under the second class, since the possession is rightful and there is no act of conversion, there can be no conversion until the possessor refuses to deliver up the property upon demand."  Label Systems Corp. v. Aghamohammadi, 270 Conn. 291, 331 n.30 (2004). Therefore, where possession is originally lawful, the plaintiff must also prove that (he/she) made a demand for the return of the property and that the defendant, without justification, refused to return the property to the plaintiff.

Although money can be subject to conversion, an action for conversion of funds cannot be maintained when the claim is a general obligation to pay money.  The specific money claimed must have at one time belonged to the plaintiff or been in the possession of the plaintiff.  Deming v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 279 Conn. 745, 772 (2006).

"Conversion can be distinguished from statutory theft as established by [General Statutes] § 53a-119 in two ways.  First, statutory theft requires an intent to deprive another of his property; second, conversion requires the owner to be harmed by a defendant's conduct.  Therefore, statutory theft requires a plaintiff to prove the additional element of intent over and above what he or she must demonstrate to prove conversion."  (Internal quotation marks omitted.)  Howard v. MacDonald, 270 Conn. 111, 129 n.8 (2004).

See General Statutes § 53a-119 (10) for conversion of a motor vehicle and § 53a-119 (13) for conversion of leased property.

If the property converted does not have a market value that can be established, or if the property has a special or peculiar value to the owner, then the owner is entitled to recover "the value to him based on his actual money loss, all the circumstances and conditions considered, resulting from him being deprived of the property, not including, however, any sentimental or fanciful value he may for any reason place upon it."  (Internal quotation marks omitted.)  Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil & Fuel Co., 193 Conn. 208, 222-23 (1984); Kuzemka v. Gregory, 109 Conn. 117, 122 (1929). 

The plaintiff must plead consequential loss to be awarded damages therefore.  Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil & Fuel Co., 193 Conn. 208, 223-24 n.16 (1984).

If warranted, an instruction on mitigation of damages may be given.
 


 

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