COA affirms $147,000 judgment against smelter manufacturer

June 7, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a $147,000 judgment against a manufacturer of lead smelters, finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it entered default judgment against the company when it did not respond properly to a complaint.

Otter Creek Trading Co. Inc. is owned by Daniel Pohle and manufactures and sells lead smelters. In 2014, PCM Enviro PTY LTD, a company that recycles lead shot collected from shooting clubs, arranged to purchase a smelter from Otter Creek. PCM paid for the smelter, but never received it or another part called a Broekema belt.

PCM sued for breach of contract and conversion of the Broekema belt and Otter Creek replied saying it never signed a contract with PCM to sell it the smelter and had not collected the belt. Otter Creek did this pro se, but after it got counsel at the court’s urging it did not reply any further to PCM’s complaint. The trial court entered default judgment against Otter Creek and ordered the company to pay PCM $147,000 for lost profits, the price of the smelter, the value of the belt and punitive damages for conversion. Otter Creek appealed.

In a decision written by Judge Cale Bradford, the COA said Otter Creek’s reply to PCM’s complaint was not enough to stave off default judgment on either the smelter or Broekema belt. “Because this response neither confirms nor denies any of PCM’s specific allegations, they are deemed admitted pursuant to Trial Rule 8(D). Moreover, the response does not in any way directly respond to PCM’s contract claim, as PCM did not allege that it had a signed contract with Defendants,” Bradford wrote.

Otter Creek also claimed the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the company’s motion to correct error. Otter Creek claimed newly discovered evidence that PCM did not legally exist when it agreed to purchase the smelter, PCM did not follow Indiana law when filing its complaint, and defendants did not ship the smelter to PCM because owner Craig Mitchell did not verify his identity. However, Bradford wrote that even if PCM not was not an official company that does not absolve Otter Creek of its contractual obligations. Otter Creek also claimed that PCM, an Australian company, did not obtain a certificate of authority, but this also had no effect on the case’s outcome. Finally, Mitchell did try to identify itself via passport, but to no avail.

Otter Creek also claimed the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Otter Creek’s motion for relief from judgment. Bradford wrote that all of the defenses for this judgment would not  have produced a different result. Bradford also wrote that Otter Creek was not misled about the case as they were notified of all happenings in it.

Finally, Otter Creek claimed the trial court abused its discretion when it computed damages, arguing the amount awarded for lost profits was based on speculation. It also argued the trial court erred in awarding punitive damages related to their conversion of the Broekema belt. Otter Creek argued PCM did not mitigate the damages done by Mitchell in failing to identify himself sufficiently. Otter Creek also said the value of the lead PCM sold to another company, which it based its computations on, was high. But Mitchell made sufficient efforts to identify himself, and Otter Creek is asking the court to reweigh evidence.

The court also did not abuse its discretion when it awarded $3,000 in punitive damages.

The case is Otter Creek Trading Company, Inc., and Daniel Pohle v. PCM Enviro PTY, LTD, 40A01-1509-MI-1432.


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