If someone has taken or withheld your personal property, you can try to get it back through two different legal actions: replevin and detinue. In a replevin action, a judge may grant you immediate, but temporary, possession of the property until the judge decides who will have permanent possession. In a detinue action, a judge decides who is entitled to permanent legal possession of the property.
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. Rather, your replevin case will become a detinue case after the “show cause” hearing.
Will a replevin action help me?
A replevin action lets you seek to immediately recover property that someone has wrongfully taken or withheld from you. But replevin is a temporary remedy. It only determines who gets to possess the property while the action for permanent legal possession (detinue) is being decided.
To win a replevin action, you must show that you are entitled to immediate possession of the property. (Note: It is possible to own or have title to property but not have the right to possess it immediately. In that case, you cannot win a replevin action.)
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.
You may be required to pay a refundable fee to the court until the judge decides who gets permanent legal possession. This is because if you win the replevin action but the defendant wins the detinue action, you will have to return the property, and you may have to pay the defendant money damages.
Will a detinue action help me?
A detinue action allows you to seek either permanent possession of personal property or payment for the value of the property. It also allows you to seek money from the defendant if the property was damaged or if you lost money because you have been deprived of the property.
How do I bring a replevin or detinue action?
The first step is to 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.
After the complaint is filed, the court clerk will issue the defendant a summons and notice. This tells the defendant that there is a legal action against him, and that he has the right to appear in court and present evidence to defend himself.
In a replevin action, the court will hold a “show cause” hearing to determine who is entitled to temporary possession of the property. After the replevin action is decided, the case will automatically become a detinue action. In a detinue action, the court will hold a trial to determine who is entitled to permanent legal possession of the property.
During the hearing and the trial, you must be prepared to present your case. This means that you must have any witnesses ready and available to testify, and you must offer evidence, exhibits and other material to support your claim. You must be prepared to submit copies of your materials to the court. You must appear for trial whether or not the defendant is present.
Where do I file my complaint?
A replevin action must be filed in the District Court of Maryland.
A detinue action must be filed in either the District Court or the Circuit Court, depending on the value of the property and the amount of money damages claimed.
- If the amount is less than $5,000, the case must be brought in District Court.
- If the amount is more than $30,000, the case must be brought in Circuit Court.
If the amount is between $5,000 and $30,000, the case can be brought in either District Court or Circuit Court.
Are there alternatives to going to court?
If you and the defendant do not want to go through a court process, you may want to consider mediation. During mediation, a trained neutral person (a “mediator”) helps the disputing parties communicate with and understand each other. The mediator works with both sides to resolve the problem and to come up with a mutually agreeable solution. It is less formal, less time-consuming and less costly than going to court. Generally, mediation saves both time and frustration. But, if the parties cannot reach an agreement, the plaintiff may still file a lawsuit.
The District Court of Maryland has an Alternative Dispute Resolution program that offers mediation free of charge. You can learn more about the program on the Maryland Court's website. In addition, Community Mediation Maryland operates a state-wide network of community-based mediation programs. Finally, private, for-profit mediation services are available. Additional information about all of these programs may be found on the Maryland Court's website.
Before filing an action for replevin or detinue, you should consider how important it is to recover the property, because the court process can be long and costly. Mediation may help you settle the dispute while avoiding court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses.
If you still want to go to court, choose the most effective action to achieve the outcome you want. If you want immediate possession of the property, file a replevin action. If you want permanent legal possession of the property or payment for the value of the property, file a detinue action.