Even in a suit for conversion, only time expended to recovering the converted property definitely, and independently in its purposes from litigation can be recovered; no time expended for litigation or the preparation thereof is recoverable according to the courts.
If certain preparatory work may be both used a means to compel the converter to produce the property and to files suit and litigate the matter, such time will be excluded as a result of courts aversion towards the idea of allowing the disruption of “proper” course of the judicial process by letting everyone (including those represented) on the court floor with their problems.
Section 3333. [Civ. Code]
For the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, the measure of damages, except where otherwise expressly provided by this Code, is the amount which will compensate for all the detriment proximately caused thereby, whether it could have been anticipated or not.
Section 3336. [Civ. Code]
The detriment caused by the wrongful conversion of personal property is presumed to be:
First—The value of the property at the time of the conversion, with the interest from that time, or, an amount sufficient to indemnify the party injured for the loss which is the natural, reasonable and proximate result of the wrongful act complained of and which a proper degree of prudence on his part would not have averted; and
Second—A fair compensation for the time and money properly expended in pursuit of the property.
Summarily, In Gladstone v. Hillel a California Court of Appeal summarized the state of judicial construction relating to the above questions a which, citing previous precedent, reads out important remedies of the above statute which would otherwise be detrimental to make justice work in California in general where attorney’s fees recovery is generally very limited due to what colloquially is referred to as the “American rule”. Many, therefore, would have to settle for having not only a fool (rather a person without the means to pay up) for a client, but also a generally incompetent, unexperienced, biased attorney (himself). This “loophole” to clog the courts is properly dealt with and made sure no one will just spend hundreds if not thousands of hours for education only to “waste” the court’s time, and recover potentially orders of magnitude more in time expended for litigation than the amount otherwise in controversy while getting a basic legal education.
“It has long been held that Civil Code section 3336 does not authorize the award of attorney's fees. ( Haines v. Parra (1987) 193 Cal.App.3d 1553, 1558-1559 [ 239 Cal.Rptr. 178].) As an apparent extension of this rule, the early case of W. P. Nicholls v. Mapes (1905) 1 Cal.App. 349, 356 [ 82 P. 265], disallowed 10 dollars that plaintiff paid "`in expenses of Charles Tuttle in coming to Dutch Flat to take the depositions.'" More recently, Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles v. Lutz (9th Cir. 1963) 322 F.2d 348, 352, refused to allow certain accounting expenses paid after the converted property had been successfully traced and identified. The court held "[t]hese expenses, then, were incurred in preparation for litigation and not in pursuit of property."
When Civil Code section 3336 was enacted in 1872, the Legislature may have contemplated compensation for time spent searching the countryside in search of misappropriated livestock or other chattels. But Gladstone could only rely on legal process to recover the property that appellants withheld. The preliminary injunction that he obtained in July 1981, marked only the beginning of his efforts. After returning most of the molds, appellants actively concealed their possession of other property. In a letter dated December 13, 1983, their attorney informed Gladstone that "rings or jewelry left with the company" had been either sold or "melted down and disposed of in payment of business bills sometime between December 1981 and June, 1982." Nhaissi had testified to the same effect on deposition. At trial appellants finally produced five missing molds and twenty-one pieces of jewelry manufactured by M. Gladstone Co. but, despite persistent cross-examination, Gladstone was unable to locate much of the converted property.
Under modern conditions, the legislative purpose of Civil Code section 3336 would be defeated by rigorously excluding all items having some connection with litigation. The statute should at least extend to efforts that had a purpose independent of the litigation, such as preparation of lists of missing property, inspection of inventories, meetings with appellants, contacts with law enforcement authorities, and inquiries regarding appropriate courses of action. The record of these items is sufficient to sustain the relatively modest award of $10,000 at issue here.“ (Gladstone v. Hillel, 203 Cal.App.3d 977, 250 Cal. Rptr. 372 (Cal. Ct. App. 1988))
Thinking out of the box...
Depending on the nature of the litigation, for example in case of bad faith acts or omissions, malice, fraud, oppression or retaliation being underlying factors of the suit, or if the, in order to deter recidivism or imitation, especially in cases of reprehensible conduct (or less reprehensibly: omissions) when other members of the public were also harmed by similar conduct (or omission) punitive damages may be awarded. I have yet to come across case law that expressly asserts, but it does appear that a secondary (if not primary function) of punitive damages (since it is not compensatory in nature) is to incentivize watchdog activity. It is imposed on the defendant and awarded to the plaintiff typically not exceeding a single digit multiplier over the compensatory damages or about 9.99 times or less than the actual damages of the plaintiff.
Civil penalties are similar, although typically have a lower threshold of reprehensibility in that it may be awarded — typically per statute — even when bad faith act or omission is not established for example when a defendant should have known they had a duty by the exercise of reasonable or ordinary care, and they failed to act on it. In many cases where applicable: Civil penalties may only be evaded by the exercise of reasonable or ordinary care and good faith attempts to comply with statutory duties. In case of failure, to similar ends, civil penalties may be imposed on the defendant, and awarded to the litigant which is also damages of non-compensatory nature and assessed in multipliers typically not exceeding double or treble damages over the actual or compensatory damages.
Other creative solutions to compensate for the time wasted to get things right might (or might not) be available.