Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Replevin Definition:

A legal action taken to reclaim goods which have been distrained.

A legal action taken to reclaim goods which have been wrongfully taken, detained or distrained.

In 1856, a British Court, in Mennie v. Blake wrote:

"(I)t seems clear that replevin is not maintainable unless in a case in which there has been first a  taking out of the possession of the owner. This stands upon authority and the reason of the thing."

In Epps v Cortese, Justice Troutman of the US District Court (Pennsylvania) wrote:

"The action of replevin is designed to permit one having the right of possession to recover property in specie from one who has either wrongfully taken or detained the property in question.

"At early common law, a form of replevin ... was considered to be a tenant's sole remedy against a landlord who had wrongfully distrained his goods."
In The Law of Torts, John Fleming writes:
"From medieval times, there has also come down to us a summary process, known as replevin, by which a man out of whose possession goods have been taken may obtain their return until the right to the goods can be determined by a court of law.

"Replevin arose out of the need of a turbulent society to discourage resort to self help and, although for a long time primarily used in disputes about distress between landlord and tenant, it was gradually expanded to cover all cases of allegedly wrongful dispossession.

"(I)f the plaintiff wanted return of his chattel in specie, replevin was a more appropriate remedy than either trespass or trover in which only damages could be recovered. Restoration of the property is, of course, only provisional, pending determination of title."

In Manitoba Agricultural Credit Corp. v. Heaman, a 1990 decision, the Manitoba Court of Appeal adopted the words of the 1875 Manitoba Administration of Justice Act as having "codified, but not changed, at least in substance  (the action of replevin)" as follows:

"Whenever any goods, chattels, bonds, debentures, promissory notes, bills of exchange, books of account, papers, writings, valuable securities or other personal property or effects, have been wrongfully distrained under circumstances in which by the law of England replevin might be made, the person so complaining of such distress as unlawful, may obtain a writ of replevin in the manner prescribed by this Act....."

In McGregor v. McGregor, British Columbia Supreme Court justice Irving wrote:

"An action of replevin may be brought (1) where goods have been wrongfully distrained, or (2) where goods have been otherwise, i.e., otherwise than by distress, wrongfully taken or detained.

"The word "wrongfully" is applicable to both cases. "Wrongfully" ... imports the infringement of some right, and any invasion of the civil rights of another is in itself a legal wrong, and the appropriate action for the violation of legal right unconnected with contract is an action for tort.

"(T)he early history of a replevin action in England is traced (as) ...'The nature of the complaint in the action was for a tortious taking of the goods'.

"Our (British Columbia) replevin action, which is wider than the English, gives the right to replevy to the party who could maintain trespass or trover.

"It is given, as it were, supplementary to, or in aid of, the remedy which those actions afford; but as all three actions, trespass, trover and replevin are classed ... as actions of tort, I think the action under our (British Columbia) statute is for the tortious taking or tortious detention of goods."

Holdsworth suggests that replevin was introduced into the English common law by Ranulf de Glanvill or his assistant Hubert Walter, circa 1188, in their Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae.

Research and Further Reading:

  • Epps v Cortese 326 F.Supp. 127 (1971)
  • Fleming, John, The Law of Torts, 4th Edition (Australia: The Law Book Co. Ltd., 1971)
  • Holdsworth, William, A History of English Law, Vol. 2 (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1952), page 189, adding "but the statements made by the (quoted) work are not entitled to much credence"!
  • Manitoba Agricultural Credit Corp. v. Heaman (1990) 70 DLR 4th 518
  • McGregor v. McGregor 6 BCR 432 (1899)
  • Mennie v. Blake (1856) 119 ER 1078 

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