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Court must consider loss of use when determining damages in a replevin action

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The Indiana Court of Appeals Tuesday ordered a trial court to factor in the loss of use of a semi-tractor in a replevin action. It emphasized to the lower court that the amount of damages in a replevin action must be limited to a reasonable amount.

Red Husky LLC filed a complaint against the Roy Bayer Trust and trustee Penny Harris seeking replevin of a Kenworth semi-tractor and damages. Red Husky leased the Kenworth to Daniel Bowne and Bowne Transport, but Bowne defaulted on his lease for the Kenworth and stopped paying rent on a building owned by the trust. He abandoned the building, leaving the Kenworth behind. From September 2011 to September 2012, Red Husky tried to retrieve the Kenworth, but Harris refused, believing the trust had a lien against the semi-tractor.

The trial court ruled the trust did not have a valid lien against the semi-tractor and ordered it released. The trial court found Red Husky was entitled to $10,000 in damages due to deterioration during the time Harris refused to release the Kenworth.

“Harris is correct that Red Husky neglected to provide the trial court with a certificate of title to the Kenworth. Nevertheless, we conclude the evidence designated by Red Husky was sufficient to establish its ownership of the Kenworth, and thus the trial court did not err by awarding summary judgment to Red Husky,” Judge Margret Robb wrote in Roy Bayer Trust and Penny Harris v. Red Husky, LLC, 18A02-1307-PL-581. The judges pointed to evidence such as sworn statements claiming ownership, a lease to purchase agreement, and a form filed with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles indicating Red Husky was the lessor of the Kenworth.

They also ruled the $10,000 damages award was supported based on the fair-market value of the Kenworth of $16,000 and that it was sold for $6,000 due to deterioration that occurred while Harris held the semi-tractor for a year.

The COA believed the trial court should have also considered loss of use in its damages award, and ordered the trial court to do so. The judges cited McCready v. Harrison, 1:05-CV-1359-DFH-WTL, 2009 WL 62260 (S.D. Ind. 2009), in which the court held in a replevin action that loss of use damages must be reasonable in relation to the fair-market value of the property.

“We recognize that McCready is not binding precedent, but we believe the rule it espouses is a prudent one and should be considered in determining damages in a replevin action. The amount of damages in a replevin action must be limited to a reasonable amount — both as a general matter and in relation to the fair market value of the property. And although deterioration and loss of use are separate theories of recovery, we believe the total damages award is subject to a requirement of reasonableness,” Robb wrote.

 

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