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Detinue is similar to replevin in that it seeks a recovery of a specific item of property. However, unlike replevin, which is based upon a wrongful taking of the property, detinue is based upon the wrongful holding or retainer of the property. The defendant in detinue takes the property by lawful means and the plaintiff need not ever have possessed the property to claim a right to the property in detinue.
The property sought must be of a uniquely identifiable nature and no demand must be made upon the defendant before the plaintiff brings a detinue action. The plaintiff may also seek damages for the time the property was retained by the defendant.
The following is an example of a state statute dealing with detinue:
"(a) When an action is commenced for the recovery of personal chattels in specie, if the plaintiff, his agent, or attorney makes affidavit that the property sued for belongs to the plaintiff and executes a bond in such sum and with such surety as may be approved by the clerk, with condition that if the plaintiff fails in the action, he will pay the defendant all such costs and damages as he may sustain by the wrongful complaint, it is the duty of the clerk to endorse on the summons that the sheriff is required to take the property mentioned in the complaint into his possession unless the defendant gives bond payable to the plaintiff, with sufficient surety, in double the value of the property, with condition that if the defendant fails in the action he will, within 30 days thereafter, deliver the property to the plaintiff and pay all costs and damages which may accrue from the detention thereof.
(b) If the defendant neglects for five days to give such bond, the property sued for must be delivered to the plaintiff on his giving bond, with sufficient surety, in double the value of the property, payable to the defendant, with condition to deliver the property to the defendant within 30 days after judgment in case he fails in the action and to pay all damages for the detention of the property and costs of the action. If the plaintiff fails to give such bond for five days after the expiration of the time allowed the defendant, the property must be returned to the defendant."