Citation. Pearson v. Dodd, 429 U.S. 396, 97 S. Ct. 581, 50 L. Ed. 2d 574, 56 Oil & Gas Rep. 321 (U.S. Jan. 12, 1977)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Staffers of Plaintiff, a United States Senator, repeatedly entered his office and removed various documents. They made copies of the documents and distributed the copies to Defendants, who published their contents. The originals were returned to Plaintiff’s office.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Conversion is the intentional exercise of control or dominion over a chattel that interferes with another’s rights to control it with sufficient severity that the party exercising such control may fairly be required to pay for its full value.
Defendants published articles based upon information contained in documents stolen from Plaintiff’s office. Defendants would receive the information from Plaintiff’s own employees, who would temporarily remove the documents from Plaintiff’s office, copy them, and return the originals to the office. Plaintiff sued for conversion. The District Court ruled that the Defendants had committed conversion
Was the District Court correct in finding that Defendants committed conversion by paying for and using the photocopies of Plaintiff’s files?
* Was the information contained in the files in question properly subject to protection under a lawsuit for conversion?
No. The District Court’s decision was reversed.
* The interference with Plaintiff’s use of the files was not so severe as to warrant payment for their entire value. The files were removed at night, photocopied, and returned to their usual place. The interference with a Plaintiff’s use must be far greater for the tort of conversion, which necessitates an award of the entire value of the property in question.
* The information in this case is not the sort of information properly protected under conversion. In this case, the information involved was internal correspondence and office records, while conversion protects intellectual property, trade secrets, and the like.
The Court sets forth the elements of conversion, noting its most striking feature to be its award of the entire value of property with which interference has occurred. As a result of this relatively drastic remedy, the interference must be severe. The Court explains that a lesser interference will fall into the realm of trespass to chattels, in which the measure of damages tends to be diminution in value.