The name of an action for the recovery of a personal chattel in specie.
This action may be considered: 1. With reference to the nature of the thing to be recovered; 2. The plaintiff's interest therein; 3. The injury; 4. The pleadings; 5. The judgment.
The goods which it is sought to recover, must be capable of being distinguished from all others, as a particular horse, a cow, etc., but not for a bushel of grain. Detinue cannot be maintained where the property sued for had ceased to exist when the suit was commenced.
To support this action, the plaintiff must have a right to immediate possession, although he never had actual possession; a reversioner cannot, therefore, maintain it. A bailee, who has only a special property, may nevertheless support it when he delivered the goods to the defendant, or they were taken out of the bailee's custody.
The gist of the action is the wrongful detainer, and not the original taking. The possession must have been acquired by the defendant by lawful means, as by delivery, bailment or finding, and not tortiously. But a demand is not requisite, except for the purpose of entitling the plaintiff to damages for the detention between the time of the demand and that of the commencement of the action.
The plaintiff may declare upon a bailment or a trover; but the practice, by the ancient common law, was to allege, simply, that the goods came to the hands, etc., of the defendant without more. The trover, or finding, when alleged, was not traversable, except when the defendant alleged delivery over of a chattel actually found to a third person, before action brought, in excuse of the detinue. Nor is the bailment traversable, but the defendant must answer to the detinue. In describing the things demanded, much certainty is requisite, owing to the nature of the execution. A declaration for 'a red cow with a white face,' is not supported by proof that the cow was a yellow or sorrel cow.
In this action the defendant frequently prayed garnishment of a third person, whom he alleged owned or had an interest in the thing demanded; but this he could not do without confessing the possession of the thing demanded, and made privity of bailment. If the prayer of garnishment was allowed, a sci. fac. issued against the person named as garnishee. If he made default, the plaintiff recovered against the defendant the chattel demanded, but no damages. If the garnishee appeared and the plaintiff made default, the garnishee recovered. If both appeared, and the plaintiff recovered; he had judgment against the defendant for the chattel demanded, and against the garnishee a judgment for damages, and a fi. fa. in execution. The verdict and judgment must be such that a special remedy may be had for the recovery of the goods detained, or a satisfaction in value for each parcel, in case they, or either of them, cannot be returned. The judgment is in the alternative, that the plaintiff recover the goods or the value thereof and his damages for the detention and full costs, if he cannot have the goods themselves. This action has yielded to the more practical and less technical action of trover.