1

To be more specific, the hypothetical scenario is a little more complex. I am also wondering about the remedies that may be awarded. This refers to tort law.

Say, A bought an unregistered motorbike in 2005 for $3000 and that bike was stolen. In 2015, the same unregistered motorbike was sold to J for $3500 by M. The parties in the 2015 transaction were unaware it was stolen. Eventually, J did up the bike and it had an estimated market value of $7000. J tried to get it registered but was warned by the transport department that it was stolen, and A was contacted. A subsequently requested its return upon receiving information about its location.

So my questions:

  1. For all that time between 2005 and 2015, did A have a superior right to possession over those who seemingly legally bought the motorbike, but only had actual possession?
  2. Is it likely that a mandatory injunction for the return of the bike would be awarded here?
  3. Is it true that there would be no damages awarded given the increase in value of the bike?
  4. Would J be compensated by the court for the money spent on the bike?
  5. Have M and J converted the motorbike (against A) by selling/buying the bike?

Much Appreciated :-)

  • Why would "A" be contacted? Did they register it between 2005 and 2015? – Ron Beyer Jun 25 at 12:08
1

If a good is stolen, does the previous possessor have an indefinite immediate right to possession of that good? (Until it's returned)

No.

In all jurisdictions, civil claims (including torts) are subject to statutes of limitations. For example, in , this is covered by s21 of the Limitation Act 1969. The specific tort here is detention of goods [detinue] (conversion is only applicable against the original thief) and the limit is "six years running from the date when the first cause of action first accrues to the plaintiff or to a person through whom the plaintiff claims."

The cause of action would accrue when A became aware or should have become aware that M was in possession. On the facts, A has six years from the date of being notified by the transport department. However, if A had (or should have had) knowledge that J possessed it (or any previous possessor did) then the limitation period would run from that time.

Essentially, the purpose of such statutes is to force people to use or lose their rights.

1. For all that time between 2005 and 2015, did A have a superior right to possession over those who seemingly legally bought the motorbike, but only had actual possession?

Subject to the above, and in most cases, yes. See If a stolen item is stolen again, who has the liability?

2. Is it likely that a mandatory injunction for the return of the bike would be awarded here?

No.

Injunctions are only used when damages would be an insufficient remedy. For this to be the case, the bike would have to have some quality that made it irreplaceable. For example, if it was unique in some way - the bike that won the 1922 grand-prix or the bike that A's dad gave to A on A's graduation.

On the facts as stated, it appears that A could be "made whole" by monetary damages.

The value of the damages payable to A is the value of the goods at the time of conversion (IBL Ltd v Coussens [1991] 2 All ER 133). Specifically, this is the value of A's loss which may not be simply the market value of the goods.

For example, if the market value of the bike at the time was $2,000 but A could prove that he had had an offer to buy the bike for $4,000 thin A's loss is the value of the lost contract. Similarly, A would be entitled to the costs from 2005 to today of hiring a substitute chattel to replace the stolen one if that was a loss that A had incurred.

It's likely that a court would refer the parties to mediation to see if they can agree on a settlement. Only if that fails would the court impose a judgement.

However, for simplicity, let's assume that the figure of $3,000 is the ascertained damages then M would be ordered to pay A $3,000 and A would be ordered to transfer the bike to M.

3. Is it true that there would be no damages awarded given the increase in value of the bike?

As stated above, this would only arise if A retained ownership which is not a likely outcome. For the sake of discussion, let's assume that the bike was unique in a way the damages would be an inadequate remedy and the court awarded ownership to A.

M would potentially have a claim on A for unjust enrighment on the grounds of ignorance. However, in the case of a motor vehicle where there is a government register which can be relatively easily checked to verify title, this claim is likely to fail. For other chattels (e.g. furniture) where verifying title is next to impossible, M might have better prospects.

4. Would J be compensated by the court for the money spent on the bike?

See above.

5. Have M and J converted the motorbike (against A) by selling/buying the bike?

No.

M & J did not take the bike from the rightful owner so they have not converted it. If M hold out against A's rightful claim of ownership then M has detained it.

Other issues

M can seek restitution from J for their loss because J sold the bike without having good title to it. Depending on the jurisdiction, this is either a breach on an implied term of the contract, a breach of a statutory guarantee that sits beside the contract, or both.

Similarly, J has a claim on their vendor and so on up the line until we come to either the actual thief or a person who knew (or should have known) that they were buying stolen property. That person has no claim on anybody and is also subject to criminal sanction, however, it is likely the statute of limitation has run on that.

| improve this answer | |
0

I will assume that "A" registered the bike at some point between 2005 and 2015, so that the DOT knew of the existence of the bike. I'm also assuming this is in the US...

  1. For all that time between 2005 and 2015, did A have a superior right to possession over those who seemingly legally bought the motorbike, but only had actual possession?

"J" and "M" did not legally buy the motorbike. Legal purchase of property includes transfer of title, or the ability to transfer title. Since the bike was stolen, "M" did not have legal rights to transfer title to "J".

  1. Is it likely that a mandatory injunction for the return of the bike would be awarded here?

Yes. The bike still belongs to the original titled owner.

  1. Is it true that there would be no damages awarded given the increase in value of the bike?

Also yes. In order to be awarded damages for things like modifications, there needs to be some contract with the original owner. For example, I can't take a nice set of rims I have in my garage, find a car to put them on in a parking lot, then sue the owner for the cost of those rims. The person who made the upgrades should have obtained title to the property before making the changes, that is "on them".

  1. Would J be compensated by the court for the money spent on the bike?

Absolutely not. The court doesn't pay out for people who were in possession (knowingly or unknowingly) of stolen property. Courts don't pay awards at all in fact, the judgement would have to be against somebody, and there is nobody to hold responsible here other than the person they obtained the property from.

  1. Have M and J converted the motorbike (against A) by selling/buying the bike?

No, this isn't a "loophole" for fraudulent transfer of property. "M" did not have title to the property to sell to "J", so therefore the transfer is void.

The only remedy "J" has is to sue "M" in court for the cost. "M" would then have to sue whoever they got the bike from and so-on until they find the person who actually stole the bike. "A" is not responsible for repaying "M" or "J" since there is no contract there for the transfer of title or for performing upgrades on the property.


This gets a little hairier when insurance gets involved. If "A" was paid-out by insurance then technically the insurance company would own the title to the vehicle. This would be a complication for "A" though and wouldn't really change the remedy to "M" or "J".

| improve this answer | |
  • For the last question, I would have thought selling or buying a good demonstrates the defendant's exercise of dominion over the good (I.e. conversion). So, are you saying that "A" cannot sue "J" and "M" for conversion? – D2_CLK Jun 25 at 23:19
0

Is it true that there would be no damages awarded given the increase in value of the bike?

Would J be compensated by the court for the money spent on the bike?

Oh, it’s worse than that. You’ve made an assumption here: that J’s modifications make the bike better in A’s eyes (which are the only eyes that matter).

J did not have the right to make those modifications. If A does not like the modifications, A can sue J for the costs of rolling them back to status quo ante: the way they were before.

  • Suppose A was planning to move to California. Right now they’re in a state with no smog check. J’s hot-rodding removed all the smog controls, and made it utterly impossible for the vehicle to pass smog in CA. J’s really up the creek now: if you roll into a dealer with a smog-stripped vehicle and tell the dealer to “put it back to as-manufactured”, that’s gonna cost a fortune.
| improve this answer | |
  • I see what you are saying. So technically, damages can work in the opposite way as well, if a good has increased in price? That is, if it has been modified in some way by the defendant. I was always under the impression that compensation can only be awarded for goods that had decreased in price. – D2_CLK Jun 25 at 20:48
  • @D2_CLK The original owner has a right to have their property restored to a state that it was in when it was stolen, regardless if the current state is "worth more" or "worth less" than the original state. The person who the judgement is against may be able to recover the parts used to help offset this cost, or if the original owner wants to keep it, they may be required to reimburse the person for the cost (otherwise this is unjust enrichment). – Ron Beyer Jun 25 at 22:34
0

Since you are asking about an “immediate” right: Say a roofer stole my expensive ladder. Driving around, I see my ladder leaning against a wall, and the roofer on top of the roof. I would think that taken my stolen goods away immediately with the thief stuck on the roof would get me into legal trouble.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.