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This article is written by Parshav Gandhi, student,  Indore Institute of Law, Indore. 

Introduction

The term property means all the physical or virtual entity that is owned by an individual or jointly by a few individuals. The properties are further divided into the movable property and immovable property

Movable Property

Any property of an individual or group of people, which can be moved from one place to another comes under the movable property. Like a car, bike, laptop, pen, even a stick etc. comes under the movable property.

Immovable Property

Any property of an individual or a group of people, which cannot be moved from one place to another place comes under the scope of immovable property. Like land, building etc.

What type of movable property covered under the Tort

All the movable property like a car, bus, bike, horse, cat, dog, laptop, standing crops of one’s field even the fruits on the tree of one’s garden, even the wood of one’s tree etc. i.e. all the things on which a person has legal right to possess and is the rightful owner of that movable property is covered under tort law.  

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Tort related to Movable Property

As we already discussed the concept of the Movable Property and what movable properties come under the scope of tort related to movable property. Generally, there are four categories in which tort relating to movable property falls:

  1.  Trespass To Goods
  2.  Trespass ab initio
  3.  Detinue
  4.  Conversion or Trover

1. Trespass to Goods

First, we will discuss what is trespass?

Trespass means wrongful conduct where a person enters or disturb the possession of another person’s property whether movable or immovable or caused any damage to his body without the consent of the person. The word intention here means voluntary.

Different type of Trespass?

1.  Trespass against Person

It means when a person with wrong intention and unreasonably interfere with one’s body. It includes the usage of force causing damages and impairment in the body. Trespass to the person consists of any type of contact with one’s person or body without one’s consent which causes legal harm to the person.   

Illustration: A friend of B hit B on his head without the consent of B then A is liable for trespass to the body.

2. Trespass to Property:

It means when a person with the wrong intention and unreasonably without the consent or permission or without any lawful authority enters someone’s property or causing disturbance with someone’s property, whether movable or immovable.

    Ø Trespass to Movable Property/Goods

When a person with a wrongful intention cause any damage to the movable property of other is said to commit the act of trespass to movable property.

It means unlawful causing the disturbance with someone’s movable property or goods without one’s consent.

Illustration, If A, a friend of B enters B’s car and A scratched the hood of B’s car without B’s permission. A is liable for the act of Trespass to Movable Property.

  1. Muthuswami Gounder vs Thulasi Ammal

In this case, the driver of the car driving negligently, and stuck with auto and caused damage to the auto. Court, however, state that it was not only the case of an accident but also a trespass to another’s movable property and the damage to the property. Thus the defendant is liable for trespass to movable property.  

    Ø Trespass to Immovable Property

It means when a person with wrong intention and unreasonably without the consent or permission or without any lawful authority causes disturbance on someone’s immovable property like land, property, house, office etc.

Illustration, if Ram put a notice board written “No Entry without permission” on the front gate of his garden. One fine day Chetan enter the garden without the permission of Ram. Chetan commits the act of Trespass to Immovable Property.  

Trespass to Goods

The act of Trespass to Goods is to take place when there is an actual direct or indirect damage to the person’s good or wrongfully taking away any good from the rightful owner without his/her consent. In other words, the act of Trespass of Goods means the unlawful and intentional disturbance with the possession of the goods by taking it away from the possession from the rightful owner wrongfully.

Illustration, If A friend of B, B is the owner of the motorcycle showroom. One fine day A is waiting for B to come out From his house. A without the consent of B, remove the tyre of one of the B’s Motorcycle. Thus A does the act of Trespass to Goods of B.

Jadu Nath, Dundput, Sripati v. Hari Kar And Ors

In this case, the defendant wrongfully enters the plaintiff land and wrongfully cut and carried away the standing crops from the plaintiff land. As in this case, the defendant is liable for the act of Trespass to land as well as Trespass to Goods, because the defendant damaged the goods which are in rightful possession of the plaintiff.  

Essentials of the Tort of Trespass of Goods

  1. At the time of Trespass, the good should be in the possession of the person.

Illustration:

If Shayam took Ram watch without the consent of Ram from Ram’s house. Shayam does an act is of Trespass to Goods. As at the time when he took the watch, the watch is in the rightful possession of Ram.  

  1. The person unlawfully and intentionally disturbs the possession of the goods.

Illustration:

if A gave his watch to B for repairs, and then, if A silently took the watch without B’s Consent then even if A is the rightful owner, he is liable for the act of trespass to Goods as at the time when A took the watch, the watch was in the rightful possession of B. and he is disturbing possession of watch.  

Defences to an action for Trespass to Goods:

Self Defence:

If a person wrongfully tries or attempt to take the good which is in the possession of the person then the person having rightful possession can use the act of Self Defence.

Illustration: if Ram tries to take the goods from B’s hand so B can apply force for his defence

Exercise of Absolute Rights

Any person can take any good from the possession of the rightful owner if the person has the absolute right and authority. The person acting in his capacity will not be held liable for the act of Trespass of Goods. Like seizing of car, property by the Government officer acting as per his orders.

Illustration: If A, a customs officer, seize the vessel of B as B didn’t pay the tax. So here A has a right to seize the goods because he has the absolute right and he works in his capacity.

Wrongful Act of Plaintiff himself

If the plaintiff is involved or done any wrongful act and it is necessary to act against him then that act doesn’t create liability.

Illustration: If A parked his car wrongfully in front of B’s house and denied to move his car then, B can act and remove A’s car even without A’s consent. And that act of B doesn’t amount to trespass to good.

2. Trespass ab initio

A person who legally takes the movable property in his possession, but later abuse it or waste it i.e. wrongfully disturbs his own possession, render himself liable as according to Trespass ab initio.

The plaintiff must show:

  1. He has rightful possession (actual or constructive)
  2. His possession was wrongfully disturbed.

Illustration:

If A gives his car to B for repairs. Now B has legal possession of that car but later if B abuses or wrongfully disturb the possession of car then he is liable for the trespass ab initio. Here in this situation B has the legal/rightful possession of car but if he later abuses that possession that makes him liable.  

3.  Detinue or Detention

The act in which a person wrongfully holds the movable property of another. The Remedy provided by English law is an action in detinue, i.e. specific recovery of the detained movable property from the person’s possession. The person who wrongfully detained the movable property is known as a wrongful detainer.

For the purpose of recovery of detained movable property the plaintiff has to prove:

  1.  That he has the lawful right to possess the movable property.
  2.  That the defendant wrongfully detained the possession of the movable property.

Illustration: if A gives his pressure cooker to B for repairs. Later A pays for the service to the B, but even after receiving of the payment B denied to give the cooker to A. this act of B is the act of detention.

4.  Conversion or Trover

Originally the concept of conversion used as a remedy used by the court as to convert the possession of the movable property to the rightful person i.e. if a person who found the property of another and refused to give it back to the rightful owner then by conversion the court provide the remedy to plaintiff.

But as the time change, the conversion is used for wrongful taking or using the property of another and the remedy which is available to the plaintiff is to be known as the action of conversion.

To maintain the action of conversion, the plaintiff should have to prove:

  1.  That he has the lawful right to possess the movable property.
  2.  That the defendant wrongfully converts the possession of the movable property.

4.1. Methods of Conversion or Trover

There are 6 types of methods:

1. When the movable property is wrongfully taken and result in Conversion:

If the person wrongfully took the movable property of another, he can be sued for conversion.

Illustration :

  1. If a person sees the branch of a tree of others garden overhanging in his garden. He cut that extra part which was hanging in his area. Later he ate all the fruits of that branch then he will be liable for conversion. But if he returns the branch to the owner then he is not liable.
  2. If a person found some type of good on the street and refused to give back to the owner as he has doubt about the ownership then he is not liable for conversion, but if it is discovered that the person demanding the property is the rightful owner and even then he refused to give back the property to the owner then he will become liable for conversion.

2. When movable property wrongfully sold and result in Conversion:

A wrongful sale of the movable property is also considered as a conversion.

For example A deposit his good in C warehouse and ask to deliver them to D and C’s servant delivered that goods to J, when D demands the goods from A. thus C should be estopped from denying that he had the goods and is liable to D for conversion of the good on which D has rightful possession.

A deposited his movable property in C’s warehouse and ask him to deliver them to D. But C wrongfully sold it to Z, so here, C is responsible for the wrongful sale of A’s movable property.

3.  When movable property wrongfully detained and result in Conversion:

When any person wrongfully detained the possession of the movable property of another person then he is liable for conversion.

Illustration, if A gives his bike to V for repairing and later when A demand it back and paid V for his service as well but, V denied, the denial of V  results in wrongful detention of good.

In Armory v. Delamirie (1721)1 str. 505, In this case, a sweeper boy, found a gold jewel in the garbage. He went to a goldsmith, to sale the gold. The goldsmith in order to take advantage of the boy simplicity told him that, it is not gold and try to buy the gold from the boy in a nominal amount. The boy refused to sale and demand the gold back the goldsmith denied to give it back. Thus, the boy approached the court and the court held the goldsmith liable as he wrongfully detained the good of the sweeper boy.   

4.  When movable property wrongfully destroyed and result in Conversion:

When the person destroys the movable property of another person then he is liable for conversion.

Illustration, if A took the bottle of wine from C’s collection and destroy all the wine from it and refill it with water that act of A is the act of conversion.

Kanhaiyalal vs Badrilal And Anr.

In this case the plaintiff handover one she-buffalo with a calf and another she-buffalo to the defendant. And ask the defendant to keep them safe and feed them from time to time. But defendant fails to keep them safe and feed. Result in death of the calf and both the buffalo become weak. The plaintiff files a case against the defendant and demands the damages. The court held that this case was of trespass to goods of the plaintiff and the defendant has to pay the damages to the plaintiff.

4.2. Remedies for the Tort of Conversion:

1. Re-caption:

A person is entitled to retake and possess his movable property, also he can use reasonable force if necessary.

Illustration: if A took B’s watch and denied to give him back. B is entitled to take the watch back from A and can use a reasonable amount of force on A as well.

2. Order of Restoration:

The court can pass the order of restoration i.e. the court ask the defendant to give the possession of the property to the original owner.

Illustration: if Ram wrongfully and without the consent of Geeta take her car for a ride. He likes that car and refuses to give it back to Geeta. Geeta can approach the court and as for the remedy. And if Geeta successfully convinced the court that she has a legal right to possess the car then court by passing the order of restoration provides the remedy to Geeta.  

3.  Suits for Damages

If the property were destroyed or damaged by the defendant then the plaintiff is entitled to receive full value of the good.

Illustration, if A, a friend of B damaged B’s watch without his consent and now it is impossible to repair that watch. So B can get the full value of that watch from A.   

Conclusion

Property means any virtual or physical things that are owned by an individual. The property is of two types: movable or immovable. Movable properties are those properties which can be moved from one place to another place like, a car, bike, fan, etc. even a standing crop in someone’s property is considered as movable property. And immovable properties are those properties which cannot be moved like, land, building etc.

In Tort relating to movable property, any person does any act like trespass to goods, or trespass ab initio, or conversion or wrongfully tries to disturb the possession of the movable property of another person without his consent, he has committed the act of tort to movable property.

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