ILNews

Federal judge gives green light to trial

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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A federal judge in Indianapolis has ruled a lawsuit can proceed to trial over a "very fast, and valuable, race car."

The Not for Publication opinion issued Wednesday by U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder is Reginald D. "Don" Whittington Jr. v. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation a.k.a. Hall of Fame Museum, No. 1:06-cv-0333-JDT-TAB.

Judge Tinder denied motions for summary judgment and determined that a trial is the only likely way to resolve this dispute involving the ownership of a famous Porsche 935 used in the French car race that is considered the Indianapolis 500 of endurance racing.

In 1979, the driver racing team of brother Don and Bill Whittington and German driver Klaus Ludwig won the 24 Hours of Le Mans that is raced in France each year on a circuit that combines racetrack and closed public roads. This litigation focuses on the ownership of the Whittingtons' 935 K-3 racecar, which both parties disagree whether it was donated or loaned to the IMS Museum of History in the early 1980s.

After giving the car to the IMS, Don Whittington raced for several years before dissolving the brothers' racing company, spending time in prison for tax conspiracy, and eventually asking in August 2004 for the Porsche to be returned so he could show it at a vintage car event in Florida. The IMS Foundation - which had maintained, insured for $375,000, and periodically displayed the car for more than 20 years - declined to return the Porsche it classified as a donation. This suit was filed in February 2006.

In Judge Tinder's ruling, he notes that neither party can point to written records establishing the nature of the ownership transfer - "the history of the Porsche 935 K-3 is little more than a story of handshake deals," the judge wrote.

As a result, he denied Whittington's motion for summary judgment on claims of conversion and replevin, and also denied the Foundation's motions for summary judgment on statute of limitations and laches grounds.
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