A contractor client of White and Williams recently found itself in a prickly situation. They had default terminated a subcontractor on a major commercial project and withheld payment to that subcontractor on an outstanding invoice as permitted under the terms of the subcontract until the project was completed. Clearly irate over being terminated, the subcontractor walked-off of the project with thousands of dollars’ worth of project materials and equipment that had been paid for by the owner. While on some projects this may amount to nothing more than an annoyance or inconvenience, in this case it was a significant problem because some of the wrongfully removed materials were custom manufactured overseas and not easily replaceable. The client therefore needed to take immediate action to retrieve the stolen materials so that the project would not be delayed. Specifically, it needed to file a replevin action against the subcontractor.
A replevin action is a little known but powerful area of the law. In its simplest terms, replevin is a procedure whereby seized goods may be provisionally restored to their owner pending the outcome of an action to determine the rights of the parties concerned. The requirements of a replevin action differ by jurisdiction. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Rules of Civil Procedure devote an entire section to replevin actions and spell out in precise detail the steps that must be taken. While you should be sure to strictly comply with the rules in your jurisdiction, here are a few general points to keep in mind:
- Where to File: A replevin action is typically commenced by filing a complaint in the appropriate jurisdiction. Generally speaking, it is best to file the action in the jurisdiction where the improperly seized materials are being held. If that location is unknown, you can also typically file the action in the jurisdiction where the project is located.