Torts I, Pages 86–88

Pearson v. Dodd

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, 1969

Facts:

Two of plaintiff's formers employees entered plaintiff's office at night without authority, removed documents from his files, made copies of them, replaced the originals, and gave copies to the defendants, newspaper columnists who published the contents thereof.

Procedural History:

The district court ruled that defendants' receipt and subsequent use of photocopies of the documents established their liability for conversion.

Issue:

Did defendants' use of unauthorized photocopies constitute a conversion?

Rules:

  • Page 87, Paragraph 4

    The Restatement (Second) of Torts has marked the distinction by defining conversion as: ". . . [A]n intentional exercise of dominion or control over a chattel which so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the other the full value of the chattel." Less serious interferences fall under the Restatement's definition of trespass [to chattels].

  • Page 87, Paragraph 5

    The measure of damages in trespass in not the whole value of the property interfered with, but rather the actual diminution in its value caused by the interference.

  • Bell: There must be complete of very substantial deprivation of possession rights.

Reasoning:

  • The documents were removed at night, copied, and returned undamaged before business began the next day. Plaintiff was not deprived of his use of them, so no conversion was committed.

  • Since there is only nominal damages, no action for trespass could be sustained.

  • Page 88, TopNone of the information contained in the documents seems to have constituted the type of original business information that the law protects:

    1. Information gathered and arranged at some cost and sold as a commodity on the market
    2. Ideas formulated with labor and inventive genius, as in the case of literary works or scientific researches
    3. Instruments of fair and effective commercial competition

Holding:

No, the defendants are not guilty of conversion. Denial of summary judgment for invasion of privacy affirmed. Summary judgment for conversion reversed.

Notes:

  • In conversion someone uses the object like it was his own.

  • Page 91
    1. In determining the seriousness of the interference and the justice of requiring the actor to pay the full value, the following factors are important:
      1. the extent and duration of the actor's exercise of dominion or control;
      2. the actor's intent to assert a right in fact inconsistent with the other's right of control;
      3. the actor's good faith;
      4. the extent and duration of the resulting interference with the other's right of control;
      5. the harm done to the chattel;
      6. the inconvenience and expense caused to the other.
  • A conversion may be committed by intentionally

    1. dispossessing another of a chattel as stated in §§ 221 and 222;
    2. destroying or altering a chattel as stated in § 226;
    3. using a chattel as stated in §§ 227 and 228;
    4. receiving a chattel as stated in §§ 229 and 231;
    5. disposing of a chattel as stated in § 233;
    6. misdelivering a chattel as stated in §§ 234 and 235;
    7. refusing to surrender a chattel as stated in §§ 237-241.
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