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Livestock Producers, Inc. v. Littleton - 748 So. 2d 537

Rule:

The Louisiana Supreme Court has developed a two-part test for reversing a fact finder's determination. The appellate court must find from the record that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding of the trier of fact, and then the appellate court must further determine that the record establishes that the finding is clearly wrong (manifestly erroneous). Said another way, findings of fact will not be disturbed unless the record establishes that a factual, reasonable basis does not exist and the finding is clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous.

Facts:

Danny Smith was in a partnership with several members of the Glasscock family.  The partnership, known as McDade Cattle Company, engaged in raising cattle. Smith told B. L. Littleton, an out-of-state rancher, that he and R.E. Glasscock (R.E.) owned 250 head of cattle that were for sale. Actually, R.E. was the sole owner of the cattle, and not connected in any way with the McDade Cattle Company. After Littleton provided bull semen to artificially inseminate the cows, he then purchased the 200 cows that were pregnant. In light of the sale, Littleton paid $150,000 for the cows. Smith asked for two checks, one for $75,000 to Danny Smith Farms and the other for $75,000 to R.E. However, it appears that Smith gave R.E the entire proceeds from the sale. When Smith began experiencing financial difficulties (due to a gambling problem), he began selling the calves at the Livestock Producers, Inc. (LPI), a livestock auction house, without Littleton’s knowledge or approval. Littleton received an anonymous phone call at his office in  Arkansas, that the cows were gone and that Smith had disappeared. A criminal investigation ensued, and Danny Smith was arrested and charged with theft. The Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office determined that 74 cows, which had been sold, should remain on the buyer's farm until the matter was settled. When the ownership of the cows was called into question, LPI refunded the buyer's purchase price. LPI and Littleton filed separate suits. The trial court allowed recovery as they were damaged by the wrongful conduct, but applied comparative fault principles to reduce their recovery. On appeal, Littleton argued that his codefendants, Smith, R.E., and McDade Cattle Company, were completely liable for the loss of the cows, and that the trial court erred in assessing any degree of fault to him.

Issue:

  1. Was Littleton also at fault for theft of his own cows?
  2. Were principles of comparative fault applicable in this case so as to reduce Littleton’s recovery?

Answer:

1. No. 2. No.

Conclusion:

The Court found that the trial court was clearly wrong and manifestly erroneous in finding that Littleton was liable in any way for the theft of his own property. The trial court based this determination on a finding that Littleton left the cows in Louisiana for an extended period of time without adequately securing them. The record failed to support that this action by Littleton was negligent or unreasonable in any way. Littleton had an agreement with Smith to pasture the cows until they were finished calving and could be moved to his farm in Texas. According to Littleton's testimony, the cattle had to be tested for brucellosis before they could be moved and frequently a pregnant cow will render a false positive on this test. It was Smith's suggestion that the cows be left in Louisiana, for which Littleton paid an extra $11,000 for pasturing the cows; at this time, Littleton had no indication that Smith was a dishonest person who would steal the cattle. Under the facts, Littleton took action that appeared to be reasonable in securing the cows during the winter, while their calves were being born. There is nothing in the record to support the trial court's finding that Littleton was at fault in any way or that he contributed to the theft of his cows. Accordingly, this finding by the trial court was manifestly erroneous and clearly wrong and was reversed.

The principles of comparative fault were not applicable in this case. None of the parties in this case pled or argued the principles of comparative fault. Further, the Court found that the application of this doctrine in this case was simply not necessary to the decision of this case.

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