Conversion Law in Minnesota: Three FAQs

What is the definition of a conversion?

In general, under Minnesota law, conversion is defined as an act of willful interference with the personal property of another which is without justification, or which is inconsistent with the rights of the person entitled to the use, possession or ownership of the property. The statute of limitations for a conversion claim is six years from the time of any wrongful act over the plaintiff’s property.

What qualifies as a conversion?

The courts rely on the criminal theft statute to determine whether a defendants conduct amounts to theft. The criminal-theft statute defines theft as transferring, concealing, or retaining property “intentionally and without claim of right… with intent to deprive the owner permanently of possession.”

The intention necessary to subject to liability one who deprives another of the possession of his chattel is merely the intention to deal with the item so that such dispossession results. It is not necessary that the actor intend to commit a conversion. Notably, acting in ‘good faith’ is not a defense to a claim of conversion. Further, the disposition of property consented to by the owner is not a conversion of that property under Minnesota law. However, personal property may be converted without causing physical damage or destruction of the property. In a situation in which the property is destroyed, conversion may be shown only if the destruction was intentional.

In general, the law of conversion is also applicable to personal property also applies to negotiable instruments. The statute governing the conversion of checks expanded the definition of conversion under a former statute to include the common law definition, but did not preserve a separate common law remedy for negotiable instrument conversion. Note that a bank is not liable for conversion of checks that an employee steals from her employer and deposits into her account if the employer entrusted the employee with responsibility for handling money, and the bank acted in good faith and with due care.

If I win a conversion claim am I awarded damages?

A plaintiff who prevails on a claim of conversion may seek punitive damages that are in addition to the value of the converted property under Minnesota statute which provides that “[a] person who steals personal property from another is civilly liable to the owner of the property for its value when stolen, plus punitive damages of either $50 or up to 100% of its value when stolen, whichever is greater.”