The claimant’s stolen painting was put up for sale by the defendant. On being withdrawn, they returned it to the person who had brought it in. The claimant sought damages.
Held: There was no reported case in which a court has had to consider the liability of an auctioneer who had simply put goods up for auction and then returned them unsold to the would-be seller. It is interference with the title or ownership of the chattel which counts for conversion. The assertion of a lien might have been a conversion, but the mere presence of an asserted right was not enough. The appeal failed.
Lord Justice Peter Gibson, Lord Justice Tuckey and Lord Justice Keene
 EWCA Civ 731, Times 30-May-2003, Gazette 10-Jul-2003,  QB 286,  QB 286,  3 WLR 980
Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 11(2)
England and Wales
Cited – Hollins v Fowler HL 1875
One who deals with goods at the request of the person who has the actual custody of them, in the bona fide belief that the custodier is the true owner, or has the authority of the true owner, should be excused for what he does if the act is of such . .
Cited – National Mercantile Bank Ltd v Rymill CA 1881
The plaintiff was the owner of horses the subject of a bill of sale. The grantor of the bill sold the horses privately in the defendant’s auction yard and following the sale, on the grantor’s instructions, the auctioneer delivered the horses to the . .
Cited – Barker v Furlong 1891
The executor plaintiffs were entitled to furniture which was sent to auction without their knowledge or consent. Some of the furniture was returned unsold to the would-be seller and no claim was made against the defendant auctioneer in respect of . .
Cited – Consolidated Co v Curtis and Son QBD 10-Nov-1891
An auctioneer who sold and delivered goods the subject of a bill of sale. An auctioneer who sells and delivers is liable in conversion because he is acting as more than a mere broker or intermediary.
Held: It is not easy to draw the line at . .
Appeal from – Marcq v Christe Manson and Woods (t/a Christies) QBD 29-Oct-2002
The claimant sought damages for conversion from the respondent auctioneers as bailees. The painting had been registered as stolen. It failed to achieve its reserve and had been returned.
Held: It was for a bailee to prove that he had acted in . .
Distinguished – Saleh Farid v Theodorou CA 30-Jan-1992
The first defendant had entered into an unauthorised sale and leaseback of the claimant’s car to secure a loan. The second defendant finance company admitted that they had converted the car even though they had not physically possessed it. Their . .
Cited – Smith (Administrator of Cosslett (Contractors) Limited) v Bridgend County Borough Council; In re Cosslett (Contractors) Ltd HL 8-Nov-2001
The standard building contract allowed a contractor to take plant and equipment from a site and sell it in payment of sums due under the contract, upon the other contractor becoming insolvent. It was said that this power amounted to a charge over . .
Distinguished – Michael Gerson (Leasing) Limited v Michael Wilkinson and State Securities Limited CA 31-Jul-2000
Where goods were subject to a financing arrangement involving a sale and leaseback with a finance company, the goods were to be treated as constructively delivered to the finance company on the sale. Delivery required a voluntary act by the person . .
Cited – Mercantile Business Finance Ltd v Sibec Developments Ltd QBD 1992
The court considered what was required to establish the tort of conversion.
Held: Demand is not an essential precondition of the tort: what is required is an overt act of withholding possession from the true owner. Such an act may consist of a . .
Cited – Loeschman v Machin 1818
If a hirer of the goods sends them to an auctioneer to be sold, he is guilty of a conversion of the goods; and if the auctioneer afterwards refuses to deliver them to the owner, unless he will pay a sum of money which he claims, he is also guilty of . .
Distinguished – Tear v Freebody 1858
The surveyor to a parish was found to have taken possession of the plaintiff’s materials so as to obtain an unfounded lien over them. . .
Cited – Robot Arenas Ltd and Another v Waterfield and Another QBD 8-Feb-2010
The tenant company had defaulted under the lease, and the landlord had retaken possession. The landlord discarded the tenant’s possessions, and the tenant now sued, saying that the landlords as involuntary bailees owed duties to the proper owner. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 08 January 2022; Ref: scu.182591