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Appellate panel affirms trial court in dispute over unpaid land rental

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A trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied a man damages for conversion, the Indiana Court of Appeals found.

In Nathan Abernathy v. Larry Bertram and Keith Broyles, No. 33A04-1106-CC-317, Nathan Abernathy appealed some of the trial court’s findings in his claim of breach of contract, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment and conversion, stemming from a dispute over unpaid rent.

In the late spring of 2007, Keith Broyles and Abernathy entered into an oral agreement whereby Abernathy would pay cash to rent farm land from Broyles. Abernathy cleared the land and planted winter wheat for harvest in the summer of 2008. At some point during the summer of 2008, Broyles talked to Abernathy about his failure to pay rent. After that conversation, Broyles hired Larry Bertram to harvest the wheat Abernathy planted, and Broyles sold it to a grain mill for $3,293.74.

On June 4, 2009, Abernathy filed a complaint against Broyles for breach of contract and quantum meruit. Abernathy stated a claim against Broyles and Bertram for unjust enrichment and damages for conversion. On March 25, 2011, the trial court awarded Abernathy $3,950. That amount was based on the amount for which Broyles sold the crop and the value of lost hay or straw, minus $2,000 in rent Abernathy owed Broyles. The trial court found Abernathy proved his breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit claims, but it denied his conversion claim.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to omit the value of Abernathy’s crop insurance policy in the amount of damages it ordered Broyles to pay. The COA also held the court did not err when it denied Abernathy’s conversion claim because he did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Broyles and Bertram intended to exercise unauthorized control over Abernathy’s property.

 

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