Have you ever had someone take something from you without your permission and that person either never returned it or when it was returned it was damaged or worse for wear? Maybe an acquaintance took money from your secret stash and you can prove it. Or maybe a buddy “borrowed” your new snowmobile without your knowledge or consent and brought it back unrepaired after causing several thousand dollars in damage. If so, they should be responsible for making you whole again. Fortunately, the law in North Dakota supports this notion.
First, you have a cause of action for “conversion” if your personal property has been wrongfully detained or destroyed, or if someone wrongfully exercises control over your property in a way that is inconsistent with your rights as the owner of that property. The essence of an action for conversion is not centered on the acquisition of the property, but rather on wrongfully depriving the owner of his/her property no matter whether it is temporary or permanent. The wrongdoer doesn’t need to have any bad intentions and doesn’t even need to receive any benefit from the conversion.
Similar to an action for conversion is a claim for “unjust enrichment.” To recover under a theory of unjust enrichment, you must prove that a person has unjustifiably obtained a benefit from you at your direct expense and that you have no legal means of recovering that benefit, such as suing for breach of contract. The essence of a claim for unjust enrichment focuses on a person’s inequitable retention of some benefit without paying the owner for its value. Thus, unlike an action for conversion, with a claim for unjust enrichment, it must be shown that the wrongdoer obtained some benefit.
Generally speaking, with either an action for conversion or a claim for unjust enrichment, it would be wise to ask the court to award you attorney’s fees. The court generally has the discretion to make such an award, and in an instance where you are simply trying to get back what was wrongfully taken from you, the court might sympathize with your position and even have the wrongdoer pay your attorney’s fees, so long as they are reasonable.
If you believe someone has wrongfully taken your property and/or diminished its value, it would be wise to speak with an attorney like Sean Foss or Chris Cerney about your options. There may be other issues or concerns in addition to those mentioned above and an attorney will be able to help you sort through those considerations. Contact O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo, North Dakota to discuss your case by calling 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002, or email by clicking on either of the attorney names above.