Monday, October 14, 2013

Conversion of a Home Run Ball? A Quick Take


In last night's thrilling Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park, Tigers' Alex Avila hit a home run to right field that, as Deadspin's Timothy Burke details with video, a Red Sox fan threw back onto the field. But it didn't seem to be this fan's ball to throw back.  The video indicates he didn't catch it, but rather the woman standing next to him did--or at least she mostly caught it.  Then, based on the video, he wrestled it from her and threw it onto the field.  She didn't seem too happy about it, which would be understandable since the ball would make an awesome memento and is probably worth a pretty good chunk of change, especially to Tigers fans.

The exchange won't wind up in court and seems more like fodder for a law school exam question than a real world scenario, but as my friend Marc Isenberg wonders, did the guy break any laws?  A starting issue is determining who had rights to the baseball.  A simple issue, but one that has sparked debate over the years, including a legal fight over Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run.  Massachusetts law indicates that a person obtains a legal right of possession of an item, like a baseball, when there is physical control + intent to continue control.  The video is not conclusive, but gives the impression that she had control of the home run ball and her negative facial reaction to it be wrestled from her suggests she wanted to keep controlling it.

The guy would probably argue, however, that he had his hands on the baseball the whole time.  If so, then both likely had a right to it.  Also, since the two were seated next to each other, it's very plausible they knew each other and he might argue he had her implied consent.

Assuming it was her baseball, then by taking it from her and throwing it back, there's a good argument he converted the ball under tort law.  He would have dispossessed her of the ball and totally and permanently destroyed it's value by throwing it onto the field.   She could also argue the tort of battery if she could prove that the ball had become part of her personal autonomy, and of course there's everyone's favorite tort, intentional infliction of emotional distress.

There's even a slight chance he committed the crime of petty larceny (when you steal something worth $250 or less), especially since he seemed to take the baseball directly from her.  Then again, he probably lacked the intent to steal, especially if he had a hand on the baseball when she caught it.