Law School Case Brief
Dual Drilling Co. v. Mills Equip. Invs. - 98-0343 ( La. 12/01/98), 721 So. 2d 853
In Louisiana, the dispossessed owner of a corporeal movable may be accorded one of three actions to enforce his rights of ownership. The third action is known as a delictual action. It is available to an owner dispossessed as a result of an offense or quasi-offense or, in other words, a "tort." This action is grounded on the unlawful interference with the ownership or possession of a movable and is frequently termed an action for "conversion" in Louisiana. A conversion is committed when any of the following occurs: (1) possession is acquired in an unauthorized manner; (2) the chattel is removed from one place to another with the intent to exercise control over it; (3) possession of the chattel is transferred without authority; (4) possession is withheld from the owner or possessor; (5) the chattel is altered or destroyed; (6) the chattel is used improperly; or (7) ownership is asserted over the chattel. The conversion action is predicated on the fault of the defendant and directed to the recovery of the movable or, in the alternative, the plaintiff may demand compensation.
Travis Vollmering (Vollmering) and Atlas Iron and Metal Company (Atlas) who were partners, agreed to buy from Dual Drilling (Dual) an inoperative off-shore oil rig located in a shipyard. Dual retained ownership of certain parts. Vollmering and Atlas hired and sold most of the scrap metal to the dismantler, Southern Scrap Recycling, Morgan City (Southern Scrap) and mistakenly identified an adjacent rig as theirs. Dual marked the adjacent rig for Southern Scrap to leave alone, but Southern Scrap cut it anyway, later testifying that it followed instructions from Vollmering and Atlas. The trial court found Dual to be entitled to replacement costs such as $213,811 for cement package building, and $64,296 for a 500-ton swivel, and that both Vollmering and Atlas (buyers) and Southern Scrap (dismantler) solidarily liable for 100 percent of Dual’s loss. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit, Parish of Orleans (Louisiana), affirmed.
Did the trial court err in finding Vollmering, Atlas, and Southern solidarily liable for 100 percent of Dual’s loss?
The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the action was a delictual action, one of three Louisiana Civil Code conversion-like actions, requiring La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315 fault as opposed to common law conversion's allowance of strict liability. Vollmering, Atlas, and Southern Scrap were properly found liable in solido for the destruction of the adjacent rig, but their percentage fault rather than strict liability should have been assigned them. As the parties agreed that Southern Scrap never got possession of the associated equipment, the trial court erred in finding that Dual proved Southern Scrap converted that equipment. As the oil market had been depressed, the replacement costs should have been based on used, not new, equipment.
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