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COA reverses treble damages in business deal gone bad

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A trial court erred in awarding treble damages to an Indiana man who entered into a business venture with a North Carolina couple that ended up costing him more than $1 million in money owed to him, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded Thursday.

E.J. Agnew and Golden-AGI LLC sued Joel and Ruby Bowden and their companies, Golden Companies Inc. and Golden Purchasing and Staffing, after learning that he was owed profits from the Bowdens from a joint business venture they entered into to develop business with U.S. auto and truck producers and arrange for the production and delivery of parts from overseas manufacturers.

They entered into the 50/50 ownership deal in 2004 that created Golden AGI LLC. They were to split profits from a deal with a manufacturer in India, but Agnew later earned the Bowdens, who lived in North Carolina, used money from the India deal to pay off debts in a separate deal supplying parts to Cummins. He also learned that Golden AGI income and expenses were comingled with that of other Golden entities and that the Bowdens never intended to operate GAGI as a functional business entity.

Agnew sued for money damages in 2009; the Bowdens sought dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was denied. At the bench trial, Agnew’s expert David DeWitt, a licensed CPA, testified regarding the profits derived from the India deal. He said Agnew’s share was at least $1,754,278, which is the amount the trial court awarded to Agnew. The trial court also awarded treble damages based on the conclusion the Bowdens committed conversion. The Bowdens appealed.

“The Bowdens’ wrongful failure to distribute net revenue in accordance with the 50/50 agreement constitutes a failure to pay a debt, not criminal conversion. The money withheld from Agnew was not a separate, specifically identifiable chattel,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote in Joel Bowden, Ruby Bowden, Golden Companies, Inc., and Golden Purchasing and Staffing, Inc. v. E.J. Agnew and Golden-AGI, LLC, 49A05-1301-PL-23. As such, the trial court erred in awarding treble damages under I.C. 34-24-3-1. The judges ordered the judgment reduced to the original $1.75 million awarded to Agnew.

The Court of Appeals found the trial court’s reliance on DeWitt’s expert testimony regarding damages was not erroneous and that the Indiana courts have personal jurisdiction over the North Carolina couple in their individual capacities.
 

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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