This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol4 Torts, Damages, Domestic Relations", by Albert H. Putney. Also available from Amazon: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The essentials to a right of an action for a trespass to personal property differ in one very important respect, from those in the case of a right of action for trespass against a person, or upon real property. To sustain actions of the two latter classes no actual damage need be alleged or proved. A mere touching of the person, a mere stepping upon the ground of another, may furnish the basis for an action of trespass, but to sustain an action for trespass to personal property, some actual damage to the property, or interference with its possession, must be proved. Such damage need not be great; it has been held that the mere scratching of the panel of a carriage is sufficient.1
The limitations of the action for trespass upon personal property was originally even more marked than at present, the action only lying in cases of a total destruction, or a carrying away of the personal property.2 Destruction of personal property could be
1 Fouldes vs. Willoughby, 8 M. & W., 549.
2 "The Register has its writ of trespass vi et armis for the wrongful chasing and biting of cattle by dogs, whereby the cattle were injured; also for the maiming of villeins, whereby they were rendered ineffective for their master's service. Reg. Brev. Orig., 94 b De juinento interfecto et ovibus fregatis. Compare the vicon-tiel writ, 92 a De omnibus frigatis.
"The writ for the chasing and biting of the cattle recites that some of the beasts were killed, and it is doubtless true that where none of a man's chattels were actually destroyed or taken away the injury was ordinarily deemed too insignificant for the king's court to take cognizance of. In such situation the plaintiff naturally preferred to apply for redress to the inferior courts. In Y. B., 12 Hen. IV., 8 pl. 15; Hankford, J., in speaking in an action of trespass for private nuisance, stated that by a cusredressed by an action of trespass vi et armis, and its carrying away by the action of trespass de bonis aspor-tatis.3
The rule as to what will constitute a trespass against personal property has been extended in modern times, until now, any unlawful interference with, or exercise of authority over, the goods of another, without his consent, is a trespass; and this extends not merely to the actual laying hold of, appropriating, or carrying away the goods, but also to any act of control or claim of dominion, even by words, whereby the use or possession of the goods is interfered with in any way, if only for an instant of time.4