Conversion

  1. Introduction

    A WMC victim could sue to recover property or damages. For instance, if an individual publishes an online photograph of the victim without her consent, she could try to sue him for conversion to reclaim the goods and/or obtain other equitable relief.

  2. Elements

    “Act of dominion wrongfully asserted over another’s property,” which is “inconsistent with his own ownership therein.”1 Moreover, conversion can be an “appropriate cause of action even if the specific property ‘converted’ has no actual value.”2 The essential element in a claim for conversion is “an unauthorized act which deprives another of his property.”3

  3. Cases

    1. Warshall v. Price, 629 So. 2d 903 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1994)

      • Procedural Posture: On appeal from a lower court decision directing verdict in favor of defendant on plaintiff’s claim for conversion of patient list.

      • Law: Conversion

      • Facts: Plaintiff was a cardiologist who started a private practice in Palm Beach in 1978. He hired defendant on as another cardiologist in 1984, and the two signed agreements documenting the terms of defendant’s employment. Defendant notified plaintiff that he was terminating the relationship early, and defendant obtained a list of patients’ names, addresses, phone numbers, insurance information, and last date of treatment from plaintiff’s office. He used that list to send letters to recruit patients when he opened his own practice. Plaintiff brought a claim for conversion.

      • Outcome: Affirming in part and reversing in part. The court held that the plaintiff could maintain an action for conversion even though plaintiff himself still maintained a copy of the list that was taken: “It is not necessary for a person to deprive another of exclusive possession of their property in order to be liable for conversion.”4

      • Special Notes: The court recognized that the patient list could be of greater value if “it was used to solicit [plaintiff’s] patients. That would indicate that the patient list does have value in the sense that without the list, fees from those patients could not be obtained. Viewed in that light, the list should be capable of conversion even under the trial court’s interpretation of this cause of action.”5

  4. Practice Pointers

    Because Florida recognizes that conversion can occur even if the plaintiff himself still maintains a copy of the converted item, a WMC can pursue a claim for relief even if his or she still has his or her own copies of the offending material in dispute.

  1. Warshall v. Price, 629 So. 2d 903, 904 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1994) (citing 12 Fla. Jur. 2d, Conversion and Replevin § 1 (1979)). 

  2. Id. at 904. 

  3. E.J. Strickland Constr., Inc. v. Dep’t of Ag. & Consumer Servs. of Florida, 515 So. 2d 1331, 1336 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1987). 

  4. Warshall, 629 So. 2d at 904. 

  5. Id. at 905.