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Trespass to chattels "occurs when one party intentionally uses or intermeddles with personal property in rightful possession of another without authorization."[1]


"Courts have consistently held that an e-mail service provider's computer network is private property and can be subject to trespassing."[2] "[T]ransmission of electrical signals through a computer network is sufficiently 'physical' contact to constitute a trespass to property."[3] "[T]he sending of spam to and through an ISP's e-mail servers constitutes the tort of trespass to chattel in the state of Virginia."[4] "Unauthorized spam can be a particularly harmful type of trespass to a computer network."[5]


Under the Restatement (Second) of Torts:

One who commits a trespass to a chattel is subject to liability to the possessor of the chattel if, but only if ...

(b) the chattel is impaired as to its condition, quality, or value, or (c) the possessor is deprived of the use of the chattel for a substantial time, or (d) bodily harm is caused to the possessor, or harm is caused to some person or thing in which the possessor has a legally protected interest.[6]

As the comments to sections (b) and (c) explain, "[t]he interest of a possessor of a chattel in its inviolability, unlike the similar interest of a possessor of land, is not given legal protection by an action for nominal damages for harmless intermeddlings with the chattel."[7] Nothing in the common law of trespass to chattel alters "the traditional understanding that tort recovery requires not only wrongful act plus causation reaching to the plaintiff, but proof of some harm for which damages can reasonably be assessed."[8]


  1. America Online, Inc. v. IMS, 24 F.Supp.2d 548, 550 (E.D. Va. 1998)(full-text), citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 217(b). See also CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc., 962 F. Supp. 1015 (S.D. Ohio 1997)(full-text).
  2. Jaynes v. Commonwealth, 48 Va. App. 673, 689, 634 S.E.2d 357, 365 (2006) (full-text).
  3. America Online v. LCGM, 46 F.Supp.2d 444, 452 (E.D. Va. 1998) (full-text).
  4. Verizon Online Servs., Inc. v. Ralsky, 203 F.Supp.2d 601, 617 (E.D. Va. 2002) (full-text).
  5. Jaynes v. Commonwealth, 48 Va. App. 673, 689, 634 S.E.2d 357, 365 (2006) (full-text).
  6. Restatement (Second) of Torts §218.
  7. Id. §218, cmt e.
  8. Doe v. Chao, 540 U.S. 614, 621 (2004)(full-text).