Replevin is one of the oldest forms of action known, first appearing about the beginning of the thirteenth century. It was a legal procedure for claiming the right to have personal property returned from the possession of one who had less right to hold it than the plaintiff. Originally the action may have been available only for the recovery of goods that were illegally held past the time the defendant had the right to their possession, but soon the right was extended to cover every situation, whether the defendant wrongfully took or just withheld another’s property. As time passed, if the goods themselves could not be recovered, the courts sometimes gave judgment for an amount of money representing the value of the goods. Generally, however, replevin aimed at restoring the property itself to the person entitled to possess it. The defendant could not claim as an excuse that the property belonged to someone not involved in the lawsuit because the only issue before the court was rightful possession, not title. For example, an executor of an estate could seek replevy of racehorses boarded by the decedent if the owner of the stable refused to release them. It would be no defense that the executor was not the owner of the horses.
Like other forms of action, replevin was wrapped up in technicalities that made it unwieldy for many plaintiffs. Modern statutes have replaced the old forms with more efficient laws; in most states, these include a particular statute regulating the recovery of personal property wrongfully withheld. These procedures generally incorporate elements of the common-law actions of detinue and replevin. The plaintiff usually initiates proceedings by serving papers showing why he or she claims the property and by posting a bond equal to double the value of the property. Then the sheriff seizes the property and, after a short period, delivers it to the plaintiff to hold until a hearing can be had on the claim. Most statutes allow the defendant to regain the property before the hearing by posting a bond of his or her own and filing an affidavit that he or she is entitled to possession of the property. An uncooperative defendant or the losing party can be ordered to pay monetary damages to the other party. The bond posted by either party is a source of money to pay any costs or damages assessed against that party.