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Conversion as an economic tort has been largely prevalent in the contemporary society and
therefore it has given rise to plethora of problems that affect the society at large, in general and
the affected person in particular. This forces us to think over and to understand the intricacies
of this particular type of economic tort. It is one of very few torts in which the element of
intention is relevant. This project deals with the study of conversion as a branch of Economic
Torts and in doing so it deals with the different aspects related to conversion. It takes into
account the essentials which are required to make a particular act, an act of conversion, the
problems arising out of conversion in litigation, the defences regarding the conversion, the
question of law evolving in conversion etc. This project also deals with the comparison of
conversion and trespass and their apparent difference existing in the society. Conversion also
known as trover consists in wilfully and without any justification dealing in goods in such a
manner that another person, who is entitled to immediate use and possession of the same is
deprived of that. It is dealing with the goods in a manner it is inconsistent with the right of the
owner. The same must have been done with an intention on the part of the defendant to deal
with the goods in such a way that amounts to denial of the plaintiff’s right to it. Refusing to
deliver the plaintiff’s goods, putting them to one’s own use or consuming them, transferring
the same to the third party, destroying them or damaging them in a way that they lose their
identity, or dealing with them in any other manner which deprives the plaintiff to its use and
possession are some of the examples of the wrong.

For example, In M.S. Chookaligam v. State of Karnataka, the respondent Forest Department
of the State Government, purchased 206 rosewood logs from the petitioner and refused to pay
for the same for nine years, in spite of repeated demands. It was held by the court that the
conduct of the respondents in retaining the amount to which the petitioner is entitled in spite
of the demands, amounts to conversion. The Karnataka High Court directed the respondents to
pay to the petitioner the sum of money equivalent to the value of 206 logs of rose wood with
interest @ 6% from the date of delivery of logs until the payment of the value, and costs of Rs.

This project is an honest attempt to analyze the position of conversion as a tort and its impact
on the law and legal system and as to how the law has moulded itself according to the different
cases that has come before it. It becomes obvious from the different cases, which have been
dealt with in this project. This project also takes into account the intricacies involved with this
particular aspect of law and tries to answer them as far as possible.

A conversion is an act, or complex series of acts, of wilful interference, without lawful
justification, with any chattel in a manner inconsistent with the right of another, whereby that
other is deprived of the use and possession of it. It is also called as trover.

Conversion is an act of ‘wilful interference.’ This expression implies the element of intention,
which refers to the intentional commission of the act, which is termed as conversion.

An act of conversion may be committed:

 When the property is wrongfully taken.
 When it is wrongfully parted with.
 When it is wrongfully sold.
 When it is wrongfully retained.
 When it is wrongfully destroyed.
 When there’s a denial of the wrongful owner’s right.

The definition mentioned above is a precise introduction of what conversion really is. It
consists of the basic elements that make an act the ‘act of conversion’. The basic elements
mentioned in the definition can be dealt in the following manner under the heading -----
essentials of conversion.

According to the definition mentioned above, we can infer that two elements can be said to
have been intertwined into it. It can be arranged as under: -

a) Conversion would be caused if the chattel belonging to another person is interfered with in
a manner, which is inconsistent with the rights of that person entitled to that chattel.

b) Another essential is that the intention of the other party interfering with the chattel comes
into the way so as to deny that person’s (owner’s or immediate possessor) right or to assert
one’s own rights which is, in fact, inconsistent with the rights of the person or in assertion of
that right.

Conversion can be committed in many ways. The major ways in which conversion can be
committed are as follows: -


Since the owner is entitled to the use of his property all the times, a person is said to be guilty
of conversion if he takes the chattel out of the possession of anyone else (the owner) having
the intention of exercising a permanent or temporary dominion over it. In case if a person
wrongfully takes possession of another’s goods, then it is at the risk of the possessor since he
is liable to either return or pay for the chattel in all circumstances. In this regard it becomes
essential to note that the demand for chattel is not needed for its return to its rightful owner. In
these circumstances it becomes the duty of the person in whose custody the chattel is, to return
it to its owner. Legally speaking, in these cases the duty of care is on the person who is having
the chattel with him.

Case Analysis:
M’ Combie v. Davies
In this case, the property of another person was taken by assignment from an agent who had
no authority to dispose it off, and the person taking it refused to deliver it up to the principal
after notice and demand by him. It was held by the court that it was a case of conversion.

At this point it becomes necessary to mention that a mere taking away of the chattel without
the element of intention to exercise such a dominion cannot be said to be a conversion. It is
simply because if a person does not have the intention to harm another person it is not fault on
his part, since the fault arises only when there is a duty of care and in such cases duty of care
does not exist or even if it exists, it is not relevant. Therefore, in such cases the conversion is
not said to have been committed.

It is said to have been committed when it is adverse to the owner or other such persons who
are entitled to possession. This suggests that the person interfering must have shown that an
intention to keep the thing in defiance of the plaintiff. This means that being merely in
possession of a chattel without title is not a conversion and therefore there is no tort at all.

Here it is necessary to note that if a bailee merely holds over after the end of the period for
which the chattel was bailed to him, as distinct from acting in a manner totally repugnant to
the terms of the bailment, he may be liable for a breach of contract but it must be noted that he
may not necessarily be guilty of Conversion. Therefore we can infer from the above statement
that if a person finds a lost chattel he cannot be sued in a conversion, even if he keeps it for a
long time, unless by refusing to give it up or in some other way he shows an intention to detail
it adversely to the owner. It should also be kept in mind that a denial of possession does not
always cease to be a contract because it is accompanied by some sort of excuse (like trade
union difficulties etc).


In this case the question of lawful justification is in the picture and according to this principle
every such person is guilty of conversion who without lawful justification deprives a person of
his goods by delivering them to someone else, so as to change the possession. In this regard
the case of Hollins v. Fowler is significant.

Case Analysis:
Hollins v Fowler

In this case, the defendant, a cotton broker obtained possession of thirteen bail’s of the
plaintiff’s cotton from one B and sold the same further, receiving only his own commission. B
had obtained these goods from the plaintiffs by fraud, but the defendant, had absolutely no
knowledge of the same.
In this case Hollins was liable in Conversion to Fowler, even though he had acted in good faith
and obtained only a broker’s commission from Micholls & Co. Therefore we can infer that an
auctioneer who sells and delivers stolen property or property subject to a bill of sale is liable
to the true owner or to the bill of sale holder, even though ignorant of any such adverse title,
and even though he has already paid over the proceeds to his own client.
But in this regard it is also possible that a bailee of goods for safe custody is not liable if he, or
his servant, honestly but mistakenly delivers the goods to someone who is not entitled to them,
at least if the contract of bailment so provides.


If a person gives some other person the right to title of a good, which belongs to somebody else
without lawful justification, that person would be deemed to be guilty of conversion. There
have been cases where a person in possession of goods of which he has no title can however
effectively, though wrongfully, so dispose of them by sale, pledge or otherwise that he confers
a god title to them on someone else. Such disposition amounts to conversion as against the true
and original owner because by the creation of such adverse title, he has been deprived of his
proper Case Analysis:

In Syeds v. Hey it was held by the court, that the givers and the receivers would be liable as
joint tortfeasors. If a person takes another’s horse to ride, and leaves him at an inn, that is a
conversion, for though the owner may have his horse back, he has to pay for its keeping.

This leads us to believe that law takes into account the harm or damage caused to the person
i.e. the sufferer has a greater significance into the eyes of law. It is simply because under the
torts, it becomes difficult to compensate an affected person since neither is there a contractual
relationship nor is there any other way out by which he can retrieve for the damages caused to
him. In such cases the affected person would never have any other choice but to suffer. It would
lead to chaos in the society and the very existence of law would be at stake. Therefore, taking
into consideration the position of the party at loss, the law takes the recourse to compensate
such persons to maintain the justness and reasonableness of the society. While doing so, the
indirect loss being caused to the third party is negated. Though it does not appear very
reasonable, but the Courts have always chosen the lesser evil to exist, if it is mandatory to make
a choice. Hence, the Courts should not be blamed in this regard for any apparent injustice.


It is a very interesting branch of conversion wherein any such person is deemed to be guilty of
Conversion who wilfully consumes or otherwise destroys a chattel belonging to another person
without lawful justification. At this point it is necessary to mention that a mere damage which
falls short of actual destruction cannot be said to have amounted to Conversion. This means
that the destruction caused to the chattel of the party be such that either the identity of that
article is deformed or it is no longer of the same use as that it can be normally used.

Case Analysis:
In Richardson v Atkinson, the defendant drew out some wine out of the plaintiff’s cask and
mixed water with the remainder to make good the deficiency. He was held liable of the
conversion of the whole cask, as he had converted the parts of its contents by taking them away
and the remaining part by destroying their identity.

This suggests that the objects cannot be used in the same manner, as is generally used. This is
detrimental to the owner of the chattel and in this regard it becomes necessary to mention that
since his right to exercise ownership has been interfered with, he is liable to be compensated
for the loss suffered.
It can be better understood from the fact that the identity of a good is changed when grapes are
converted into wine and cotton is woven into clothes. In doing so, though the material is not
lost but the identity of the original good is lost i.e. in the above example, the cotton now cannot
be used for the purpose of making quilts.


According to this branch of conversion every person is guilty of conversion who causes the
loss of a chattel by any act of wilful interference without lawful justification and which has not
been dealt in the different sections mentioned above.
There are cases where conversion can be said to have been committed even if there is no
physical possession of goods by the defendants, but it has been done in such a way that there
is an absolute denial or repudiation of the plaintiff’s rights.


Title of Plaintiff

In this kind of issue the plaintiff must have “rights to the goods” and herein they must show
that their rights of enjoyment of that property have been interfered with.
In such cases the action can be maintained only if he can show that at the time of defendant’s
act he fulfilled the following requisites: -
a) The plaintiff had the ownership as well as the possession of the goods.
b) The plaintiff had only possession of that good.
c) The plaintiff had immediate right to possess them, but without either ownership or actual
right of possession

In this regard the language of law is very ambiguous and it has been obvious in more than one
cases. Though it is the law but in several cases it has been said, the plaintiff must have a right
of property in the thing and a right of possession and that unless both these rights are there the
action will not lie. If right to property stands for ownership, this creates an unclear picture and
might lead one to conclude that no one can sue for Conversion except an owner in possession
at the date of the alleged Conversion. But it is not so because in case of a bailee, he only has
the possession and not ownership but still the bailee is in a condition to sue a third party for
Conversion. This leads us to conclude that even that person who has mere possession of the
good on the date of conversion can, in normal circumstances, sue and so can one who has no
more than a right to process.
It can be understood from the example of a master who has given some goods to his servant to
take care of. In this case the servant is a bailee and it can be simply said that he possesses the
right to exclusive keeping of the good. This suggests that if goods are delivered to him to hand
to his master, the servant has the possession of those goods until he has done some act that
transfers it to his master.

Another example in this regard is interesting wherein a shop assistant has possession of money
paid to him by a customer until he puts it in the till. Till that moment, the master has the right
to possess only.

Jus Tertii
This maxim stands for the meaning that the third party has a better right to that property than
the plaintiff. This maxim comes into the picture when law recognises that possession is a
sufficient ground for claim for recovery of personal property and therefore the question of how
far the defendants be allowed to raise the issue of Jus Tertii becomes pertinent.

This brings into light several questions like that of refusal to admit this maxim which will
ultimately allow recovery by plaintiff who may have himself wrongfully dispossessed the true
owner and also exposes the wrongdoer to the risk of more than one liability i.e. multiple
liability. Contrastingly, it can be argued that a person who has disposed another should have
no right to raise such issues relating to the relationship between the dispossessed and some
other party having a claim over the goods. It is because there is a serious risk of abuse and of
the perpetual prolongation of actions. It was also the norm that if the plaintiff was in the
possession at the time of the conversion, the defendant could not institute the jus tertii claim.
He could have instituted the claim only if he was acting on behalf of or under the authority of
the true owner of the goods.

The development of the law in this regard can also be assessed from an Act passed by the
British legislature. The Act is known as Torts (Interference with Goods) Act, 1977. After this
Act, the defendant is entitled to show that a third party has a better right than the plaintiff with
regard to all or any part of the interest claimed by the plaintiff or in right of which he sues the
other party. The Act also gives us an insight of the fact that the law of conversion is still
evolving and in the light of this Act and therefore it is pertinent to note that the onus on the
defendant increases and it is substantially important that the position of the defendant in this
regard weakens. It is done with an aim to strengthen the position of the affected party, since it
would be reasonable on the part of law to provide relief to that party. This would help maintain
the justness and peace in the society.

Status of the Finder

The position of the finder of a chattel is very interesting in the eyes of law. According to the
law a finder of the chattel has a title to keep it with himself against everyone, only if the two
exceptions mentioned herein are not satisfied.

These two exceptions are: -

a) In the case of a rightful owner, if the finder wilfully appropriates the chattel in the question,
then he is committing the tort of Conversion. In this case the finder is not only guilty of
conversion but also of theft. In such a situation he can be absolved only if he is in the belief
that the owner cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps. In such a situation, the finder
is under a situation, according to law, to be punished.

b) It is interesting to note that in some cases the occupier of the land on which the chattel is
found is allowed to have a superior title than that of the finder. In this regard it becomes
pertinent to note the case of Parker v British Airways Board the law in such cases was
comprehensively dealt with by the Court. It was clear that the occupier of the land has the
superior title in the following cases: -

 Where the finder is a trespasser on the land.

 Where the property is in the land or attached to the land.
 Where the occupier of premises on which the chattels are found and before the findings an
intention to exercise control over the premises and the things, which may be upon the land or,
in it is obvious or manifested.

In such situations, the burden of proof rests upon the occupier. But it is interesting to note that
in some cases the things are very obvious and the facts are so clear that it can be said that the
matter speaks for itself, and it becomes easy to decide the case.
Though trespass and conversion appears to be very similar but on minute observations it
becomes clear before us that substantial difference exists between these two legal phenomenon.

The distinction between the two can be dealt as under:

A) Trespass is a wrong to the actual possessor and therefore a person in possession cannot
commit it whereas conversion is a wrong to a person entitled to the immediate possession of
the chattel. However, in some cases, a person who is entitled to the immediate possession of
the chattel is allowed to sue in trespass also, so that the conversion may include trespass, but it
is not necessary. This suggests that the trespass is considered as a subset of conversion in many
cases, if not all.

B) Trespass is defined as the damage or interference with the chattel or property of the other
without intending to exercise an adverse or unlawful possession. Contrastingly, a conversion
is defined as a breach made adversely in the continuity of the owner’s dominion over the goods.
In this case the goods may not be hurt or destroyed.

C) In trespass, the force and direct injury is inflicted whereas in conversion the person having
the right to have it is deprived of either the goods or its use.
In the case of conversion the defence can be put under the following headings. It is so because
the cause arises under different headings or parts of law and therefore it becomes necessary to
place the defences category wise. These categories are as under:

It deals with both the general and special (particular) cases. In this case it becomes important
to note that demand and refusal are not evidence of conversion where the party has the lien
upon the chattel. It means that a mere demand of the chattel from the bailee and its refusal on
the part of the bailer won’t amount the act to be the act of conversion.


The defendant contends this defence when the issue of sale of goods is involved i.e. when a
good is sold by a person in such a way that the original owner of that good suffers the damage
making him unable to exercise his right to enjoy that property. Here the defendants can contend
that the goods have in the transit of the final act committed i.e. for what a person is being held
for, he is not the final holder of that chattel but is merely a medium or a single entity of a larger
chain or that he is not the final beneficiary of the being committed.
In this particular defence, the defendant argues that the chattel in question belongs to him and
that the plaintiffs have no right over it. This means the possession of the property by the
defendants is summarily denied in this case. In this regard the institution of jus tertii becomes
important. It is applicable when the plaintiff was not in the possession of the property but had
only the rights to possess and it is used by the defendant to save himself. In case where the
plaintiff was in possession of the goods at the time of conversion, the defendant cannot institute
a claim for jus tertii.

It is another defence where goods are taken under a distress or under an execution. This means
that if the goods were taken away or it interfered with the enjoyment of the property of the
other, it was not deliberate but it was done so because of something really more important in
the ordinary sense. This could also be stated that law could accord more value to the other act
than the negative act of conversion on the part of the defendant. Therefore, it is a strong defence
in the eyes of law.
Taking into consideration the English Law, sale of goods in market overtly gives a good title
to the purchaser. Such a purchaser cannot be sued for conversion if he parts with the goods or
refuses to give them up on demand, but the seller can be sued if he has no title. Though this
doctrine is not applicable in India, but sections 27, 28, 29 and 30 of the Indian Sale of Goods
Act govern such cases.


After going through different aspects related to conversion and analyzing the pertinent cases,
one can analyse the fact that the law puts before itself some questions and that while answering
these questions, the evolution of law is occurring in this branch of Economic Torts. Many
contentions, disagreements, apparent injustice etc does seem to reflect from the decisions of
the Courts in different cases, but still taking the larger perspective into the mind the Courts
have been successful in maintenance of a reasonable and just society where peace could prevail
and its members could remain in harmony. It becomes clearer when we study some cases,
which is being mentioned hereunder.

The first in the line is the famous and landmark case of Moorgate Mercantile Co v. Finch.



The defendant used the plaintiff’s car to transfer unaccustomed watches. The car was seized
and forfeited by the custom officials under the Custom and Excise Act, 1952.

Forfeiture of the car was held to be the natural; and probable consequence of the defendant’s
act and he was deemed to have intended the same and as such the defendant was liable for

In this case though the decision was delivered against the defendant for the act of conversion
but even after the decision it does seem very awkward to know that a person is being punished
for another person to whom neither he had seen nor had he to do anything. Moreover in this
case the question of Privity Of Contract also comes into the picture i.e. the defendants had a
contract with another person and therefore common legal sense suggests that the defendants
should have been exonerated.

Apart from it, the essential of conversion is intention to harm or interference with the
enjoyment of other’s property. In this case, since the defendant didn’t know that the goods
belonged to the car company and therefore the unknown identity should not have been allowed
to sue, since there is no any such intention involved against the car company.

This and various other questions remain ambiguously answered and therefore it is said that the
law in this regard is still evolving and it is trying to answer all such difficult questions that
arises from time to time.
Similarly, the case of Lord v. Price also appears to be relevant in this regard. In this case the
Court said that the action cannot be maintained without a right of present possession of the
goods and therefore plaintiffs cannot be entertained.

Comparing this case to that of the initial case of Moorgate case, we find that the latter case is
older and therefore the principles of Common law has been implied into the case in an orthodox
manner whereas the latter case deals with the problem in a more systematic and scientific way.
This leads us to believe that the evolution of law is occurring and is desperately trying to solve
the ambiguities involved in the problems related to this specific branch of Economic Torts i.e.

After going through the different attributes of Conversion viz. the essentials, the defences, the
characteristics, the comparison and differentiation from the trespass which can be submitted
for Conversion etc., we finally come to the conclusion that the tort of conversion forms a
significant type of Economic Tort and that the society needs to adjust to these types of torts
since these are very much common. The critical analysis of the Court’s decisions in this regard
leads us to believe that though intention in this regard is very essential, but in many cases it is
negated to uphold the claims of the plaintiffs, since the justness in the society is of utmost
Conversion as an economic tort has been largely prevalent in the contemporary society and
therefore it has given rise to plethora of problems that affect the society at large, in general and
the affected person in particular.

Conversion being a tort in which intention can be an object of issue it becomes a bit complex
for the court at times to come to a logical judgment.