Recovering personal items
Updated: Mar 27, 2020
How to recover your property in someone else’s possession
You own property that someone else has, and the person has refused to give it to you. You may call the police, but the police may say that the issue is a civil matter, and they will not get involved. So what do you do?
First, you should not attempt to use force to recover the property yourself. Recall that when O. J. Simpson attempted this, he was convicted of robbery and served nine years in prison.
In Oklahoma, if the person holding the property has refused to negotiate or compromise, you may bring a lawsuit in replevin. How do you do this?
First, file a petition in district court. This petition should describe the property, state the value of the property, and show why you are entitled to a return of the property.
Then, a summons should be served on the defendant (the person in possession of the property.)
After the defendant receives the summons, he has five days to file a written response to the petition. If the defendant files a response within five days, the judge should set a hearing. At this hearing, you and the defendant will both have the right to present evidence as to who is the actual owner of the property. If the judge agrees that you do in fact own the property, the judge should sign an order of delivery. If the defendant does not answer the petition within five days, the court clerk may sign an order of delivery.
If the total value of the property in question is less than $10,000, you may file the case in small claims court. If you file the case in small claims court, the process is much simpler. You will likely not need an attorney if the case is in small claims court (though you’ll probably need a lawyer if the case is in district court.) In small claims court, you don’t have to write a petition yourself; the court clerk will simply give you a form to fill out. Also, in small claims court, the defendant does not have to file a written answer; rather, the court clerk will set a date for the hearing, and the defendant may appear at the hearing, and orally argue his position. In small claims court, as in district court, if the judge agrees that you own the property, the judge will sign an order of delivery.
In both small claims court and in district court, if the defendant cannot be located, after a reasonable effort is made, the judge may sign an order of delivery without notice to the defendant.
As soon as the judge, or clerk, signs an order of delivery, you should deliver the order to the sheriff. Once the sheriff has the order of delivery, the sheriff may recover the property and deliver the property to you. If the property is inside any building or home, the sheriff has the right to enter the building. If the sheriff is refused entrance, the sheriff may break open the building.
If the judge has signed the order of delivery without notice to the defendant, then, as soon as the defendant finds out that the judge signed the order, the defendant may file a motion to have the property returned. The judge should then set a hearing; at the hearing, both you, and the defendant may argue your positions. If the judge agrees that you are the owner of the property, you may keep the property, but, if the judge agrees that the defendant owns the property, you may be ordered to return the property to the defendant.
That, in a nutshell, is the process for obtaining your property when the property is in someone else’s possession. Click here to read the state laws on replevin.