Tort Law

Summary of Conversion Cases

A conversion case is similar to a criminal theft charge, however, it’s civil not criminal.  A plaintiff may sue to claim their property’s value. 

Below you will find a compilation of cases reported by the Virginia Supreme Court dealing with conversion cases. 

Conversion-Statutes

See Va. Code § 18-2-104.1 indicating that a person convicted under concealment statute may be civilly liable for the merchandise’s retail value and the merchant’s costs in prosecuting the action.

Conversion-Cases

2011 Condominium Services, Inc. v. First Owners’ Ass’n., 281 Va. 561, 709 S.E.2d 163.

The allegation here is that, after a management contract ended, the management firm opened a bank account by falsely representing authorization from the other party to do so. The condo unit owners were then directed to send money owed to the Owners’ Association to the condominium service company. 

Because the management agreement had ended, the alleged act referenced above did constitute an independent willful tort of conversion.

2004 Halifax Corp. v. Wachovia Bank, 268 Va. 641, 604 S.E.2d 403.

Over four years, the plaintiff corporations’ comptroller embezzled over $15 million by writing checks against accounts with defendant banks and depositing them into other accounts at defendant banks. 

Plaintiff alleged conversion and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty. 

Without deciding whether or not a claim for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty exists, the court properly held that insufficient facts were alleged to state such a claim. 

The claim for conversion had been displaced by Va. Code § 8.3A-420(a).

2003 PGI, Inc. v. Rathe Prods., Inc., 265 Va. 334, 576 S.E.2d 438.

The conversion includes any wrongful exercise or assumption of authority over another’s goods depriving him of his possession. It can also include any act of dominion wrongfully exerted over property and denial of its right or inconsistent with it. 

In this case, Rathe received $250,000 from the Smithsonian but refused to pay any of the proceeds to PGI or pay the outstanding billing of another entity, contrary to agreement to do so. The jury was entitled to find that Rathe, without justification, wrongfully withheld settlement proceeds from PGI. 

This is sufficient to allege a claim for conversion in the civil. Rathe did not inform PGI that it had received the $250,000. In this case, reasonable persons could disagree as to whether the conduct in question was so willful and wanton to show a conscious disregard of others’ rights. 

Therefore, the punitive damage claim should not have been stricken by the trial court.

2001 Simmons v. Miller, 261 Va. 561, 544 S.E.2d 666.

A person is liable for conversion for wrongful exercise or assumption of authority over the possession of personal property belonging to another person and depriving the owner of their possession or any act of dominion wrongfully exerted over the property in denial of or inconsistent with the owner’s rights.

2000 Economopoulos v. Kolaitis, 259 Va. 806, 528 S.E.2d 714.

A conversion claim is a wrongful assumption or exercise of the right of ownership over goods belonging to another in denial of or inconsistent with the owner’s rights. In this case, plaintiffs were not entitled to immediate possession of treasury bills when they were alleged to have been converted. 

In light of this, there is no element of conversion.

1998 Hartzell Fan, Inc. v. Waco, Inc., 256 Va. 294, 505 S.E.2d 196.

The manufacturer signed a contract with Virginia corporation to act as a sales representative on a commission basis. Specific customers ordered manufacturer’s products and sent checks to the sales representative, who then improperly endorsed checks and deposited them into their account. This conduct by the sales representative did constitute conversion. 

The conversion consists of the wrongful exercise of assuming authority over another’s goods, depriving him of their possession.

1997 Perk v. Vector Resources Group, 253 Va. 310, 485 S.E.2d 140.

Plaintiff alleges the theft of computer programs, data, and software. The defendant maintained that these are nothing more than lists of Riverside’s debtors, which belong solely to Riverside. 

These items’ character and the question of whether these items had value to the plaintiff are matters of proof that were improperly decided on demurrer.

1995 Town & Country Props. v. Riggins, 249 Va. 387, 457 S.E.2d 356.

Plaintiff sued the defendant for using the plaintiff’s name in the sale of the plaintiff’s former home. One’s name and likeness are a property interest. 

Conversion occurs when, as here, the defendant claims the possession of property belonging to someone else as his own and exercises dominion over it without the owner’s consent.

1994 United Leasing Corp. v. Thrift Ins. Corp., 247 Va. 299, 440 S.E.2d 902.

A conversion includes any wrongful exercise or assumption of authority over another’s goods, depriving him of their possession. Any act of dominion wrongfully exerted over the property in denial of the owner’s right or inconsistent with it. 

Action for conversion can be maintained only by one who has a property interest and is entitled to immediate possession of things alleged to have been wrongfully converted. The cause of action for conversion does not encompass claims for interference with undocumented intangible property rights such as those asserted here, i.e., right to obtain adjudication that the other party must honor forged stock certificate.

1993 Bader v. Central Fidelity Bank, 245 Va. 286, 427 S.E.2d 184.

Plaintiff asserted action permitted by Va. Code § 8.3-419, which provides that instrument is converted when it is paid on the forged endorsement. 

Conversion is any wrongful exercise or assumption of authority, personally or by procurement, over another’s goods. 

It carries with it a five-year statute of limitations. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the bank wrongfully exercised authority over her funds by having paid them to her husband based on a forged endorsement.

1988 Roughton Pontiac Corp. v. Alston, 236 Va. 152, 372 S.E.2d 147.

The employee of a car dealership repossessed the vehicle without authorization. There was no evidence that the employer directed employees to take this action. The jury verdict exonerated the employee—jury verdict against the employer. 

Since an employer’s liability is purely derivative, and the employee’s verdict is not appealed, the final judgment must be entered for the employer.

1983 Sachs v. Hoffman, 224 Va. 545, 299 S.E.2d 343.

Expert testimony was sufficient to support the award of damages for rental losses resulting from removing equipment from buildings used for food processing and catering.

1981 Peacock Buick, Inc. v. Durkin, 221 Va. 1133, 277 S.E.2d 225.

Plaintiff purchased auto and, after accepting the delivery, was informed that the trade-in value was $1000 too high. Plaintiff refused to pay the extra amount, and the defendant then took the keys from the plaintiff. 

Verdict for the plaintiff.

1981 Sampson v. Sampson, 221 Va. 896, 275 S.E.2d 597.

Evidence as to unlawful taking was circumstantial. The jury could reasonably infer that defendants had taken more than they admitted taking. Evaluation of property in question was based on hearsay that should not have been revealed. 

This portion of damages is not recoverable.

1951 Mullins v. Sturgill, 192 Va. 653, 66 S.E.2d 483.

Discussion of conversion as it relates to mining equipment on leased land.

1944 Douthat v. Chesapeake & O. Ry., 182 Va. 811, 30 S.E.2d 578.

The defendant is alleged to have removed the stone from the plaintiff’s property. The measure of damage was the diminution of the fair market value of the real estate.

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Summary of Conversion Cases

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