Law School Case Brief
Charter Air Ctr., Inc. v. Miller - 348 So. 2d 614 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1977)
Punitive damages are not a proper item of damages for breach of contract unless the act complained of constitutes a tort which was willfully and wantonly committed or was attended by fraud, malice, or gross negligence
Appellee buyer entered into a written contract with appellant corporate seller through its agent salesman. Pursuant to the contract, appellee delivered a $ 11,000 down payment to appellant for an aircraft. Appellee cancelled his order and requested the return of his deposit. Appellant corporate president did not refund the down payment. Appellee filed a complaint seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Appellee alleged that appellants had represented that they could deliver, as a dealer in good standing with the manufacturer, the aircraft; that appellants had lost their franchise prior to the contract's execution; and that appellants had contracted with appellee with the specific intent of defrauding appellee. The jury awarded appellee $ 18,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that appellee was not entitled to punitive damages from either of appellants because appellee had not established the elements for punitive damages in a tort action.
Was there a willful breach of contract as to entitle the appellee an award for punitive damages?
Appellee alleged in his complaint that the conversion was accomplished by a wrongful taking of the deposit and by misuse of these funds. Nevertheless, the Court found that conversion was not established because appellee did not show that he was wrongfully deprived of funds under either of those theories. Appellee admited that he voluntarily paid over the down payment to Charter Air and did not bring out evidence of any act committed by Cousins or by agents of Charter Air which would constitute a wrongful taking. Appellee also failed to introduce any facts to support his allegation that Cousins individually or as an agent for Charter Air converted the down payment by using the funds for his own purpose. Moreover, appellee did not support his request for award of punitive damages for a conversion, because he did not prove that if a conversion were committed that it was wilfully and wantonly committed with malice or gross negligence. Punitive damages are not a proper item of damages for breach of contract unless the act complained of constitutes a tort which was wilfully and wantonly committed or was attended by fraud, malice, or gross negligence. It was not refuted that attempts were made to fulfil Charter Air's contractual obligation to secure the airplane ordered by appellee.
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