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What Is “Conversion” Under Florida Law?


Conversion is a form of civil theft. Florida courts have defined conversion to mean “the exercise of wrongful dominion and control over property to the detriment of the rights of its actual owner.” Essentially, if someone else has your property, and they refuse to return it to you upon demand, they have engaged in conversion. You can then file a civil lawsuit to obtain recovery of the property.

This also applies to third parties. In a 2006 case, Joseph v. Chanin, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal held that where the joint tenant in a bank account wrongfully transferred funds to a third party, the other joint tenant could sue that third party for conversion. But the Fourth District cautioned this was conditioned on (a) proof the third party had the identifiable funds in question and (b) refused a demand to return those funds to the other joint tenant.

Appeals Court Allows Guardian’s Conversion, Civil Theft Claims to Proceed

More recently, the Third District Court of Appeal relied on Joseph to reach a similar conclusion in a case involving an alleged theft from an incapacitated adult (ward) under a guardianship. The ward in this case, Batista v. Rodriguez, was a woman in her 90s suffering from dementia. A man named Batista obtained a judicial appointment as the ward’s guardian. The guardian then filed a civil lawsuit against four individuals, alleging among other things conversion and civil theft.

According to the guardian, the ward had lived by herself for many years. She had about $75,000 in a savings account. In 2007, one of the ward’s friends allegedly took over the savings account. The friend died in 2019. Shortly thereafter, another couple then allegedly “inserted” themselves into the ward’s affairs and gave themselves signing authority over the ward’s bank accounts. The guardian further alleged that two other people received checks from the ward’s account. When the guardian learned of the situation, he initiated the guardianship proceedings.

The issue before the Third District was whether the guardian presented sufficient allegations to state a claim for conversion. The trial court ruled he did not. The appellate court reversed, however, explaining that conversion only requires allegations that the defendants “exercised improper control” over the ward’s money and used said control to transfer funds to the third parties. The guardian made such allegations. Furthermore, the guardian also properly stated a claim for civil theft, which under Florida law is basically “conversion plus felonious intent.”

Contact a Pompano Beach Guardianship Litigation Attorney Today

Guardianship litigation often arises when a person discovers a family member or other loved one has been the target of fraud or other financial abuse. An experienced Pompano Beach guardianship litigation lawyer can advise you of your rights in these proceedings and represent your specific interests before the court. If you need to speak with an attorney today, call the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., at 954-491-7099 to schedule a consultation.




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