ILNews

Court vacates summary judgment

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated an Indiana District Court's grant of summary judgment and remanded the case so the court could determine what right a company has to receive compensation for its vandalized railroad cars.

In CSX Transportation Inc. v. Appalachian Railcar Services Inc., No. 06-3430, CSX brought suit in the Southern District to recover payment it made to Appalachian Railcar Services (ARS) for damaged railcars. CSX believed the 13 railcars derailed on CSX-owned track, making them liable for any damages; CSX paid ARS to replace 12 of the cars and repair one. Later, CSX reviewed the payments it made to ARS and determined the derailment didn't occur on track they owned. The owner of the track still has not been determined.

CSX filed a lawsuit to recover the money it paid to ARS, contending the payments constituted unjust enrichment because they were made on the basis of a mistake of fact. The District Court granted ARS' motion for summary judgment based on the voluntary-payment doctrine.

In Indiana, the voluntary-payment doctrine states that "money voluntarily paid in the face of a recognized uncertainty as to the existence or extent of the payor's obligation to the recipient may not be recovered, on the ground of 'mistake,' merely because the payment is subsequently revealed to have exceeded the true amount of the underlying obligation."

The District Court held that the voluntary-payment doctrine barred recovery by CSX because it paid ARS in the face of a recognized uncertainty, the amount of liability owed. The court reasoned a certainty of liability would have allowed CSX to simply send ARS a check for the amount of damages, rather than asking ARS about the value of the damaged cars.

Judge Ilana Rovner wrote that because neither CSX nor ARS regarded CSX's responsibility for the derailment as uncertain, whether the payment embodied the possibility that CSX did not own the track is a fact question that precludes summary judgment on the basis of the voluntary-payment doctrine. The District Court focused on the doctrine and did not consider other arguments raised by either party. The 7th Circuit cannot determine if ARS was actually entitled to the payment by CSX or another party, nor can it determine whether ARS's reasonable reliance on CSX caused ARS to forego the opportunity to investigate the accident or discover for itself if it was entitled to payment.
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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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