A court decides whether parents can clean up after their children

You would think that you could throw out an objectionable property of your children in your own home. But, if you do, beware of a lawsuit from an angry son or daughter.
In Michigan, a federal court judge recently addressed whether parents were liable for money damages for throwing out what the judge described as “a trove of pornography and an array of sex toys” that the adult son left in his parent’s home. The judge ruled in favor of the irritated son, who said his parents had no right to throw out his extensive collection.

The parents had warned their son that if he brought pornographic material into the home, it would be destroyed. And they freely admitted destroying the items. The disgusted father, in an email to his son, wrote, “One reason I destroyed your porn was for your own mental and emotional health. I would have done the same if I had found a kilo of crack cocaine.”

In a November 10, 2020 opinion, the judge wrote, “Getting to the heart of the coconut now, the legal issue before the court is whether Paul and Beth converted David’s pornography ‘to their use.’” The judge ruled that they did and noted that “Michigan courts have recognized that conversion to one’s ‘own use’ was broad and could include destruction due to the converter’s ‘belief in [the destroyed item’s] deleterious effects.’” The judge stated that “There is no question that the destroyed property was David’s property,” and that the parents repeatedly admitted destroying the property. As a result, the judge entered summary judgment in favor of the son.

The judge ordered discovery on the issue of damages and asked only for written submissions on the subject. He will not conduct an evidentiary hearing on the number of damages. How does one place a value on the property that the parents threw out? We will soon find out.

*The case is Werking v. Werking, Case No. 19-cv-00276. To view the court’s decision, click here: WERKING V. WERKING – OPINION

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