1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chose

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CHOSE (Fr. for “thing”), a term used in English law in different senses. Chose local is a thing annexed to a place, as a mill. A chose transitory is that which is movable, and can be carried from place to place. But the use of the word “chose” in these senses is practically obsolete, and it is now used only in the phrases chose in action and chose in possession. A “chose in action,” sometimes called a chose in suspense, in its more limited meaning, denotes the right of enforcing by legal proceedings the payment of a debt, or the obtaining money by way of damages for breach of contract, or as a recompense for a wrong. Less accurately, the money itself which could be recovered is frequently termed a chose in action, as is also sometimes the document evidencing a title to a chose in action, such as a bond or a policy of insurance, though strictly it is only the right to recover the money which can be so termed. Choses in action were, before the Judicature Acts, either legal or equitable. Where the chose could be recovered only by an action at law, as a debt (whether arising from contract or tort), it was termed a legal chose in action; where the chose was recoverable only by a suit in equity, as a legacy or money held upon a trust, it was termed an equitable chose in action. Before the Judicature Act, a legal chose in action was not assignable, i.e. the assignee could not sue at law in his own name. To this rule there were two exceptions:—(1) the crown has always been able to assign choses in action that are certain, such as an ascertained debt, but not those that are uncertain; (2) assignments valid by operation of law, e.g. on marriage, death or bankruptcy. On the other hand, however, by the law merchant, which is part of the law of England, and which disregards the rules of common law, bills of exchange were freely assignable. The consequence was that, with these and certain statutory exceptions (e.g. actions on policies of insurance), an action on an assigned chose in action must have been brought at law in the name of the assignor, though the sum recovered belonged in equity to the assignee. All choses in action being in equity assignable, except those which are altogether incapable of being assigned, in equity the assignee might have sued in his own name, making the assignor a party as co-plaintiff or as defendant. The Judicature Acts made the distinction between legal and equitable choses in action of no importance. The Judicature Act of 1873, s. 25 (6), enacted that the legal right to a debt or other legal chose in action could be passed by absolute assignment in writing under the hand of the assignor.

“Chose in possession” is opposed to chose in action, and denotes not only the right to enjoy or possess a thing, but also the actual or constructive enjoyment of it. The possession may be absolute or qualified. It is absolute when the person is fully and completely the proprietor or owner of the thing; it is qualified when he “has not an exclusive right, or not a permanent right, but a right which may sometimes subsist and at other times not subsist,” as in the case of animals ferae naturae. A chose in possession is freely transferable by delivery. Previously to the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, a wife’s choses in possession vested in her husband immediately on her marriage, while her choses in action did not belong to the husband until he had reduced them into possession, but this difference is now practically obsolete.