People v. Ashworth

The Facts

Defendant was a mill manager for A-O Worsted Company, Inc. and his brother, also a defendant, was vice present of Midland Wool Combing Company, Inc. Lockport Company constructed an agreement with defendants for the combing of Midland’s wool.  Per the agreement, the wool was shipped and combed.  Later defendants made an agreement with Lockport to spin the same wool.  All wool was spun at A-O by the defendants, who used the machinery, spinning facilities, and laborers of the A-O company.  Midland did not have the capacity to spin wool; therefore, the brothers used the facilities for Midland’s profit.  The wool was spun and shipped; and Lockport paid midland for the work done at A-O.  The spinning was done without the knowledge of A-O organization officers.

Defendants claim the spinning facilities were real property, not personal property for which they could be charged with larceny.  They argue that they simply used real property and did not displace a personal item, which is commonplace in larceny charges.

Procedural History

Defendants convicted at trial and appeal.

The Issue

Whether use of the spinning facilities without permission from company officials constitutes larceny.

Whether real property, rather than personal property, can be the subject of larceny.


Relevant law:  “takes from the possession of the true owner, withholds, or appropriates to his own use, or that of any person other than the true owner, any … personal property.”

The Holding/Reasoning

The defendants “used” the facility.  It is important to note that they did not take or “appropriate” them.  However, they did “appropriate the use” of the facilities.  Defendants took the facilities, temporarily, for their own use to the exclusion of others.  The expressions of relevant law imply something more significant than “merely using” personal property of the owner.  The defendants did not asport the property, which at common law is an essential element to larceny.  “The taker, at some particular moment, must have obtained complete, independent, and absolute possession and control of the property, adverse to the rights of the owner.”

Real property is specifically excluded in the general construction of law section 39 in the definition of “personal property.” The definition is comprehensive and explicitly includes intangible property.  Nevertheless it is imperative that the court not traverse the commonly held definition of personal property to include a property right.

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