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Intentional Torts - Conversion
Elements of Conversion

 

The elements of a conversion claim Hernandez v. Lopez

2.         The Tort Claims

                        The trial court mistakenly assumed the Hernandezes’ second cause of action for “intentional tort” only pertained to a claim for emotional distress or fraud.  But the second cause of action alleged Lopez and his wife “took full control of the Business from Plaintiffs without paying the agreed purchase price, or any price at all; essentially [defendants] stole the Business from Plaintiffs.”   

                        These allegations are sufficient to support claims for the tort of conversion or its “little brother,” the tort of trespass.  (Thrifty-Tel, supra, 46 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1566-1567.)  “Conversion is the wrongful exercise of dominion over the property of another.  The elements of a conversion claim are:  (1) the plaintiff’s ownership or right to possession of the property; (2) the defendant’s conversion by a wrongful act or disposition of property rights; and (3) damages.”  (Burlesci v. Petersen (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1062, 1065.)  A trespass cause of action protects possessory interests in land from unlawful interference.  (Smith v. Cap Concrete, Inc. (1982) 133 Cal.App.3d 769, 774-775; see also Hassoldt v. Patrick Media Group, Inc. (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 153, 171 (Hassoldt).)

                        The Hernandezes claim that Lopez converted their property and violated their right to possess the leased premises and operate their business.  At a minimum, the intentional tort allegations support a tort claim for misappropriating such tangible property as the restaurant fixtures.  At trial, Lopez admitted he failed to return the Hernandezes’ restaurant furniture or equipment, noting it remained in storage “because it wasn’t ours.”    Rather than a needless digression on the technical label of the tort cause of action, “the inquiry in a case involving unlawful intrusion on property rights should focus upon the nature of the injury and the damages sought . . . .”  (Hassoldt, supra, 84 Cal.App.4th at p. 171.)  Suffice it to say, Lopez may not appropriate the Hernandezes’ property interest in their restaurant without having to answer legally — whether in contract, quasi-contract or tort — for the resulting injury to the Hernandezes.  Hernandez v. Lopez 11/30/09 CA4/3

 

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