by Arthur W. Zamosky, Esq.
In the United States, the concept of replevin dates back to the late Nineteenth Century and has been available in most jurisdictions to the present day.
A replevin action is used to regain possession of chattels that are being wrongfully detained by another party. The action allows a Court the ability to order that the property be returned to the party asserting rightful ownership prior to a final judgment on the merits.
Historically, a replevin action could only be sustained by a party that had full ownership of the property sought. However, Pennsylvania Courts have held that a security interest coupled with a right of immediate possession is sufficient to maintain an action. Since the Pennsylvania UCC allows a secured party to take immediate possession of the collateral, an action for replevin is appropriate even if the moving party does not have full ownership.
As a prerequisite to bringing a claim for replevin, the moving party must make a demand for return of the property. Assuming the moving party has either 1) full ownership or 2) a security interest and an immediate right to possession, if the party with possession at the time of the demand refuses to return the property, he or she will have satisfied the “wrongful detention” requirement for replevin.
Actions for replevin must be brought in the County in which the property is located or in any County that the wrongful possessor can be sued under the Rules of Civil Procedure. An action for replevin is brought by filing a Complaint in the appropriate County.
After the filing of the Complaint in replevin, in order to take immediate possession of the property, the party seeking the property can seek a writ of seizure from the Court. The writ must be prepared and served in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. The moving party must also post a bond with the Court of double the value of the property at issue. A hearing on the writ of seizure is then held and a judgment on the disposition of the chattel is made.
The case then goes to trial in a fashion similar to most matters before the Court of Common Pleas. The parties can opt to have the trial before a Judge only (instead of before a jury) if they like. The issues in a replevin trial are typically limited to the plaintiff’s ownership or security interest in the chattel and the plaintiff’s right to immediate possession of the chattel. Those matters need to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to be successful. A successful plaintiff in a replevin action also has the right to recover costs and damages, however, exemplary damages are awarded very rarely.
As with all areas of law, the specific facts of any scenario could change the manner in which to proceed. The preceding was intended to give a basic outline of a replevin action in Pennsylvania. For a more specific analysis of a specific claim or dispute, you should consult an attorney.