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Law*

In Ebay Inc. v. Mercexchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 126 S. Ct. 1837 (2006) (“EBay”), the Court restated that:

“The traditional four-factor test applied by courts of equity when considering whether to award permanent injunctive relief to a prevailing plaintiff [] requir[ing] a plaintiff to demonstrate:

(1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury;

(2) that remedies available at law are inadequate to compensate for that injury;

(3) that considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and

(4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.

The decision to grant or deny such relief is an act of equitable discretion by the district court, reviewable on appeal for abuse of discretion. […] “[A] major departure from the long tradition of equity practice should not be lightly implied.” Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U. S. 305, 320. Nothing in the Act indicates such a departure.”” (bold type added).the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.

The four-factor test has been repeatedly reaffirmed over the decades by the U.S. Supreme Court — no coincidence the above-mentioned tradition. (See: Cornel Law School on Permanent Injunctions: "There is a balancing test that courts typically employ in determining whether to issue an injunction. To seek a permanent injunction, the plaintiff must pass the [above] four-step test" (Weinberger v. Romero—Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305, 311–313, 102 S.Ct. 1798, 72 L.Ed.2d 91 (1982); Amoco Production Co. v. Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 542, 107 S.Ct. 1396, 94 L.Ed.2d 542 (1987))

Unlike in the UK, most, if not all, U.S. states provide no statutory injunction or similar remedy mandating that a victim of criminal theft (let alone civil conversions) be returned their property by anyone who may have gained possession or equitable ownership in good faith.

For example, subdivision (c) of Section 496 of the California Penal Code on the criminal transfer and receipt of criminally obtained property and provides exclusively the following remedies for the victim of theft or other criminal dispossession and obtainment:

“Any person who has been injured by a violation of subdivision (a) or (b) [of Section 496] may bring an action for three times the amount of actual damages, if any, sustained by the plaintiff, costs of suit, and reasonable attorney’s fees”

The above provides no statutory injunction or even “indicate[ any] departure from the long tradition of equity practice [(which] should not be lightly implied[)]” (Ebay) leaving a mandatory injunction of the return of any stolen property outside of the realm of law declaring no such right to be asserted and exercised by the victim of theft and at the merits of the courts with jurisdiction in California to use equitable powers subject to, among other maxims, the traditional principles listed out in EBay.

Facts

Alice gets a violin stolen from her, an instrument she never learned to play; criminal prosecution ensues and results in the conviction of Bob who was the perpetrator of the theft.

During depositions it is admitted and left undisputed that Charlie, in good faith, purchased the violin from Bob.

Charlie learned to play on the violin, and now his sole income relies on it as he is unable to substitute the property by any means to make ends meet. Bob spent all the proceeds from the trade in the stolen property.

Questions

1.a) Is there any states in the U.S. where stolen property is statutorily (and/or by case law) mandated to be returned to the legal owner from an equitable owner in the above scenario or in cases where the victims’ footings are more balanced? 1.b) Which are they?

2.a) Is there anything else whatsoever than the law (statutory or decisional) that Alice may plead to bind the court to issue a mandatory injunction ordering Charlie to return the violin to Alice if Alice is willing to forgo any and all damages in return of such injunctions? 2.b) If there is, how does it overcome Ebay?

3.) Which states, if any, in the U.S. punish the knowing possession of stolen property as opposed to punishing the knowing receipt thereof?

*As understood at the time of the question.

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  • Why did you not just edit the original question, but deleted it and created this instead?
    – Greendrake
    Jan 12 at 5:34
  • Why did you not acknowledge the edit and a total of 3 references to separate U.S. Supreme Court decisions each reaffirming the general applicability of the four-factor test that needs to be cleared for any mandatory injunction to be issued?
    – kisspuska
    Jan 12 at 6:28

1 Answer 1

7

1.a) Is there any states in the U.S. where stolen property is statutorily (and/or by case law) mandated to be returned to the legal owner from an equitable owner in the above scenario or in cases where the victims’ footings are more balanced?

Yes

1.b) Which are they?

All of them.

The relevant cause of action is the common law tort of detinue:

The gist of an action in detinue is that the defendant is wrongfully in possession of personal property which belongs to the plaintiff ... In modern practice, detinue has been superseded almost entirely by statutory actions for the recovery of personal property.

2.a) Is there anything else whatsoever than the law (statutory or decisional) that Alice may plead to bind the court to issue a mandatory injunction ordering Charlie to return the violin to Alice if Alice is willing to forgo any and all damages in return of such injunctions?

Alice is not seeking an injunction for the return of the violin; she is seeking a judgement ordering the return.

An injunction is an interim order to preserve the status quo. She might seek an injunction that Charlie be restrained from using, damaging or disposing of the violin while the case is ongoing and that might be granted but one ordering the return where ownership is yet to be established would not. However, given that monetary damages are a suitable recompense for Alice's loss in this instance, the court might not issue an injunction.

2.b) If there is, how does it overcome Ebay?

Ebay is not applicable to the final judgement. If the violin is found to be Alice's, the court will order its return (not an injunction).

If Alice does seek an interim injunction, then Ebay will apply. Hence why I suggest that some types of injunctions might be granted and others will not.

3.) Which states, if any, in the U.S. punish the knowing possession of stolen property as opposed to punishing the knowing receipt thereof?

None as far as I know.

What is happening between Alice and Charlie is not a state punishment - it is the resolution of a civil dispute about ownership.

Most states do have forfeiture laws that might allow them to confiscate the violin irrespective of if Alice succeeds in proving ownership but, again, that is not punishment of Charlie - his loss was at the hands of Bob, not the state or Alice.

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  • Thank you, I appreciate the thorough reply! I was unfamiliar with the common law remedy of detinue and replevine. But my hunch feeling was that both of these would also be in equity, and not out of law. And that also means that the court will not be bound to provide the relief only not to provide it for any negative maxim based on the common law tort of replevine. Also, detinue would require wrongful detention of property, but our facts are silent about if Charlie was successfully contacted by anyone; if he was, it may stick absent a law shift to conversion; or else no wrongful withholding.
    – kisspuska
    Jan 12 at 7:24
  • 1
    @kisspuska if Charlie hasn’t been contacted, he can’t be sued because he hasn’t been served
    – Dale M
    Jan 12 at 7:32
  • This is great, I accept this answer, and delete my other one on the original question.
    – kisspuska
    Jan 12 at 7:55
  • FWIW, there are such things as final injunctions on the merits as well as preliminary/interim injunctions on a temporary basis, although I agree that an action to recover possession of property is usually not an injunction (also an injunction could order such a thing, but a replevin or detinue action is in rem while an injunction is in personam which has subtle legal consequences and impacts how the order is enforced). EBay is a permanent and not a preliminary/interim injunction case.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 28 at 19:18

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