Employee’s Own Electronic Customer Lists “Converted”

Originally posted 2013-03-05 17:36:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Originally published August 2, 2005.

Another interesting New York decision reported by the (sub only) New York Law Journal ), an an article called “The Common Law Concept Applied to Computers.”  [Update:  The link to the New York Law Journal is long gone, but the case is Shmueli v. Corcoran Group, 9 Misc.3d 589, 802 N.Y.S.2d 871 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co.), aff’d, 29 AD 3d 309 (App. Div. 1st Dept. 2006).]

A Manhattan judge has relied on analogy to determine that the common-law concept of conversion — the wrongful retention of another person’s physical property — applies to electronic records.

Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn held that a terminated real estate agent who was prevented from accessing her work computer to obtain an electronic list she kept has a conversion cause of action against her former employer, the Corcoran Group.

Usually the former employer is suing the employee for theft of trade secrets. Here, presumably . . .  the employee’s list was her own property, perhaps brought from a previous professional existence, and not that of her employer. The fact that it was kept on her employer’s computer . . . did not automatically make it the employer’s property. We will want to read the full decision, but this is a very interesting case for computer law afficionados.

One last thought from Justice Cahn:

“The question is,” according to Justice Cahn’s decision, “does the common law tort of conversion become an extinct vestige of the past as to documents maintained on a computer, merely because traditional definitions of documents evolve over time to the point where wood pulp is no longer the only required medium upon which to record data?”

Their lack of wood pulp notwithstanding, Ms. Shmueli’s electronic records still comprised property, Justice Cahn ruled.

By Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

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