Topics on this page
- Replevin v. Detinue - Which type of case to file?
- How do I file?
- What happens in court?
- What happens after court?
- Consider Alternatives
If someone has taken or withheld your personal property, replevin and detinue are two types of legal actions for the return of property.
- Replevin is a legal action where you are for the return of personal property, with possible damages.
- Detinue is a legal action for the return of personal property OR the property's value, plus possible damages.
Asking for damages allows you to seek money from the defendant if the property was damaged or if you lost money because you had been deprived of the property.
A major difference between the two legal actions is that in a replevin action, you can ask the court for the immediate return of the property before trial at a pre-trial Show Cause Hearing. However, this is a temporary remedy. The Show Cause Hearing only determines who gets to possess the property while the action for permanent legal possession is being decided.
You do not need to file for replevin before you file for detinue. If you do file for replevin, you will not need to file separately for detinue.
Replevin actions are filed in the District Court only.
Detinue actions can be filed in the District Court or the Circuit Court, depending on the value of the property and the amount of damages claimed.
- If the amount is less than $5,000, the case must be brought in District Court.
- If the amount is between $5,000 and $30,000, the case can be brought in either District Court or Circuit Court.
- If the amount is more than $30,000, the case must be brought in Circuit Court.
- Learn more about the difference between small and large claims.
Once you have determined the appropriate court:
- File a written complaint with the court. The complaint must include the following information:
- A description of the property and a statement of its value;
- A statement that the defendant is unjustly keeping the property;
- A statement that you need the property to be returned (or, in a detinue action, you may state that you need payment for the value of the property, instead); and
- A claim for money, if the property was damaged or if you lost money because your property was wrongfully taken.
- If this is a replevin action, you must also file the Request for Service and the Show Cause Order.
- Pay the filing fee.
After the complaint is filed and filing fee is paid, the court clerk will issue the defendant a summons and notice. This tells the defendant that there is a legal action against them, and that they have the right to appear in court and present evidence to defend themselves. The court will schedule a hearing once the defendant has been properly served. Learn more about service of process.
In a replevin action, the court will first hold a show cause hearing to determine who is entitled to temporary possession of the property.
- You will need to show that you are entitled to immediate possession of the property.
- Be aware that it is possible to own or have title to personal property but not have the right to possess it immediately.
- This is a preliminary decision.
- You may be required to pay a refundable fee (post a bond) to the court until the judge decides who gets permanent legal possession. This is because even if the judge orders temporary possession at the show cause hearing, it is possible that the defendant wins at the hearing and, you will have to return the property, and you may have to pay the defendant money damages.
During the hearing and the trial, be prepared to present your case, including having any witnesses ready and available to testify. You must offer evidence, exhibits, and/or other material to support your claim. Be prepared to submit copies of your materials to the court. You must appear for trial whether or not the defendant is present. Learn more about preparing your case.
After the trial, the judge will make a final decision about who owns the property, including to whom the property (or the value of the property), plus any potential damages, be awarded.
If you win a replevin action, the court will issue a writ of replevin. A writ of replevin is a document that tells the defendant to return the property to you. It also gives the sheriff the authority to take the property from the defendant.
If the court awards you damages, you will need to take additional steps to collect on the judgment. Learn more about collecting on a judgment.
Before filing an action for replevin or detinue, consider how important it is to recover the property because the court process can be long and costly. Also, there may be alternatives to court, such as mediation. Learn more about alternatives to court.