California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

2100. Conversion—Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] wrongfully exercised control over [his/her/its] personal property. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of plaintiff] [owned/possessed/had a right to possess] [a/an] [insert item of personal property];

2. That [name of defendant] intentionally and substantially interfered with [name of plaintiff]’s property by [insert one or more of the following:]

[taking possession of the [insert item of personal property];] [or]

[preventing [name of plaintiff] from having access to the

[insert item of personal property];] [or]

[destroying the [insert item of personal property];] [or] [refusing to return the [insert item of personal property] after [name of plaintiff] demanded its return.]

3. That [name of plaintiff] did not consent;

4. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

5. That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

New September 2003; Revised December 2009, December 2010

Directions for Use

The last option for element 2 may be used if the defendant’s original possession of the property was not tortious. (See Atwood v. S. Cal. Ice Co. (1923) 63 Cal.App. 343, 345 [218 P. 283].)

Sources and Authority

  • “[Cross-complainant] maintains that he alleged the essential elements of a conversion action, which ‘ “are the plaintiff’s ownership or right to possession of the property at the time of the conversion; the defendant’s conversion by a wrongful act or disposition of property rights; and damages. It is not necessary that there be a manual taking of the property; it is only necessary to show an assumption of control or ownership over the property, or that the alleged converter has applied the property to his own use.” . . .’ ” (Shopoff & Cavallo LLP v. Hyon (2008)
    167 Cal.App.4th 1489, 1507 [85 Cal.Rptr.3d 268].)
  • “[A]ny act of dominion wrongfully exerted over the personal property of another inconsistent with the owner’s rights thereto constitutes conversion.” (Plummer v. Day/Eisenberg, LLP (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 38, 50 [108 Cal.Rptr.3d 455].)
  • “Conversion is a strict liability tort. The foundation of the action rests neither in the knowledge nor the intent of the defendant. Instead, the tort consists in the breach of an absolute duty; the act of conversion itself is tortious. Therefore, questions of the defendant’s good faith, lack of knowledge, and motive are ordinarily immaterial.” (Burlesci v. Petersen (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1062, 1066 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 704], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[I]t is generally acknowledged that conversion is a tort that may be committed only with relation to personal property and not real property.” (Munger v. Moore (1970) 11 Cal.App.3d 1, 7 [89 Cal.Rptr. 323], disagreeing with Katz v. Enos (1945) 68 Cal.App.2d 266, 269 [156 P.2d 461].)
  • “The first element of that cause of action is his ownership or right to possession of the property at the time of the conversion. Once it is determined that [plaintiff] has a right to reinstate the contract, he has a right to possession of the vehicle and standing to bring conversion. Unjustified refusal to turn over possession on demand constitutes conversion even where possession by the withholder was originally obtained lawfully and of course so does an unauthorized sale.” (Cerra v. Blackstone (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 604, 609 [218 Cal.Rptr. 15], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘To establish a conversion, plaintiff must establish an actual interference with his ownership or right of possession. . . . Where plaintiff neither has title to the property alleged to have been converted, nor possession
    thereof, he cannot maintain an action for conversion.’ ” (Moore v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. (1990) 51 Cal.3d 120, 136 [271 Cal.Rptr. 146, 793
    P.2d 479], internal citations omitted.)
  • “In a conversion action the plaintiff need show only that he was entitled to possession at the time of conversion; the fact that plaintiff regained possession of the converted property does not prevent him from suing for damages for the conversion.” (Enterprise Leasing Corp. v. Shugart Corp. (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 737, 748 [282 Cal.Rptr. 620], internal citation omitted.)
  • “Neither legal title nor absolute ownership of the property is necessary. . . . A party need only allege it is ‘entitled to immediate possession at the time of conversion. . . . ’ . . . However, a mere contractual right of payment, without more, will not suffice.” (Plummer, supra, 184 Cal.App.4th at p. 45, internal citation omitted.)
  • “The existence of a lien . . . can establish the immediate right to possess needed for conversion. ‘One who holds property by virtue of a lien upon it may maintain an action for conversion if the property was wrongfully disposed of by the owner and without authority . . . .’ Thus, attorneys may maintain conversion actions against those who wrongfully withhold or disburse funds subject to their attorney’s liens.” (Plummer, supra, 184 Cal.App.4th at p. 45, internal citation omitted.)
  • “Where the conduct complained of does not amount to a substantial interference with possession or the right thereto, but consists of intermeddling with or use of or damages to the personal property, the owner has a cause of action for trespass or case, and may recover only the actual damages suffered by reason of the impairment of the property or the loss of its use. As [plaintiff] was a cotenant and had the right of possession of the realty, which included the right to keep his personal property thereon, [defendant]’s act of placing the goods in storage, although not constituting the assertion of ownership and a substantial interference with possession to the extent of a conversion, amounted to an intermeddling. Therefore, [plaintiff] is entitled to actual damages in an amount sufficient to compensate him for any impairment of the property
    or loss of its use.” (Zaslow v. Kroenert (1946) 29 Cal.2d 541, 551–552 [176 P.2d 1], internal citation omitted.)
  • “[T]he law is well settled that there can be no conversion where an owner either expressly or impliedly assents to or ratifies the taking, use or disposition of his property.” (Farrington v. A. Teichert & Son, Inc. (1943) 59 Cal.App.2d 468, 474 [139 P.2d 80], internal citations omitted.)
  • “As to intentional invasions of the plaintiff’s interests, his consent negatives the wrongful element of the defendant’s act, and prevents the existence of a tort. ‘The absence of lawful consent,’ said Mr. Justice Holmes, ‘is part of the definition of an assault.’ The same is true of false imprisonment, conversion, and trespass.” (Tavernier v. Maes (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 532, 552 [51 Cal.Rptr. 575], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘Money cannot be the subject of a cause of action for conversion unless there is a specific, identifiable sum involved, such as where an agent accepts a sum of money to be paid to another and fails to make the payment.’ A ‘generalized claim for money [is] not actionable as conversion.’ ” (PCO, Inc. v. Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, LLP (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 384, 395 [58 Cal.Rptr.3d
    516], internal citations omitted.)
  • “One who buys property in good faith from a party lacking title and the right to sell may be liable for conversion. The remedies for conversion include specific recovery of the property, damages, and a quieting of title.” (State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 1076, 1081–1082 [62 Cal.Rptr.2d 178], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[Conversion] must be knowingly or intentionally done, but a wrongful intent is not necessary. Because the act must be knowingly done, ‘neither negligence, active or passive, nor a breach of contract, even though it result in injury to, or loss of, specific property, constitutes a conversion.’ It follows therefore that mistake, good faith, and due care are ordinarily immaterial, and cannot be set up as defenses in an action for conversion.” (Taylor v. Forte Hotels International (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1119, 1124 [1 Cal.Rptr.2d 189], internal citations omitted.)
  • “In order to establish a conversion, the plaintiff ‘must show an intention or purpose to convert the goods and to exercise ownership over them, or to prevent the owner from taking possession of his property.’ Thus, a necessary element of the tort is an intent to exercise ownership over property which belongs to another. For this reason, conversion is considered an intentional tort.” (Collin v. American Empire Insurance Co. (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 787, 812 [26 Cal.Rptr.2d 391], internal citations omitted.)
  • “A conversion can occur when a willful failure to return property deprives the owner of possession.” (Fearon v. Department of Corrections (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 1254, 1257 [209 Cal.Rptr. 309], internal citation omitted.)
  • “A demand for return of the property is not a condition precedent to institution of the action when possession was originally acquired by a tort as it was in this case.” (Igauye v. Howard (1952) 114 Cal.App.2d 122, 127 [249 P.2d 558].)
  • “ ‘Negligence in caring for the goods is not an act of dominion over them such as is necessary to make the bailee liable as a converter.’ Thus a warehouseman’s negligence in causing a fire which destroyed the plaintiffs’ goods will not support a conversion claim.” (Gonzales v. Pers. Storage Inc. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 464, 477 [65 Cal.Rptr.2d 473], internal citations omitted.)
  • “Although damages for conversion are frequently the equivalent to the damages for negligence, i.e., specific recovery of the property or damages based on the value of the property, negligence is no part of an action for conversion.” (Taylor, supra, 235 Cal.App.3d at p. 1123, internal citation omitted.)
  • “A person without legal title to property may recover from a converter if the plaintiff is responsible to the true owner, such as in the case of a bailee or pledgee of the property.” (Department of Industrial Relations v. UI Video Stores, Inc. (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 1084, 1096 [64 Cal.Rptr.2d
    457], internal citation omitted.)

Secondary Sources

5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 699–719

3 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 40, Fraud and Deceit and Other Business Torts, § 40.40 (Matthew Bender)

13 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 150, Conversion, §§ 150.10, 150.40–150.41 (Matthew Bender)

5 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 51, Conversion, § 51.21[3][b] (Matthew Bender)