Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Findings of fact and conclusions of law by the trial court will not be disturbed on appeal unless clearly erroneous when viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.
Roger Murray was in the business of trucking wood to mills. As part of his business, he owned a 1968 truck, a body attached to the truck to haul logs, a loader to lift logs, and a tag axle placed under the truck body to support extra weight. In July of that year, Murray signed an order to purchase a new 1979 International truck from J & B International Trucks, Inc. (J & B). The purchase order provided that Murray would trade in his 1968 truck, and that the loader, body, and tag axle from the old truck would be attached to the new truck. The truck’s engine seized while Murray was using it. Murray called J & B, who arranged to have the truck towed to a garage at North Country Motors, an International Harvester Company dealer. North Country determined that a defective bearing had caused the engine failure. It began to repair the engine, without charge, in accordance with the limited warranty, and completed the work. While the truck was at North Country, IHCC, to whom Murray’s contract had been assigned, discovered that it had mistakenly calculated the charges to Murray by not including a $4,530.00 physical damage insurance expense figure in its computations. A finance sales supervisor from IHCC wrote to Murray indicating that, because of the mistake, his monthly payments would have to increase to $1,491.62 or $110.19 per month more than he had agreed to. Alternatively, Murray was offered the option of keeping the payments at the same level, but providing his own insurance. William Cleary, the salesman from J & B who had sold the new truck to Murray, asked Murray to sign a new contract which reflected the higher payments. Murray declined, and demanded return of his down payment, his truck body, loader, and tag axle. IHCC advised Murray that it had corrected the error in the retail installment contract by reducing the cost of insurance from $4,530.00 for four years to $1,370 for one year, and by making other adjustments which reduced the first sixteen monthly payments from $1,381.43 to $1,350.17. The finance charge, however, was increased from $8,572.12 to $11,481.88. Murray decided he could not agree to the proposed changes because it appeared that ultimately he would have to provide his own insurance and he could not afford the total monthly cost. In February 1980, IHCC sent to J & B the truck's certificate of title and an affidavit of repossession. Soon after, IHCC gave to J & B a bill of sale for the vehicle. J & B then paid Murray’s indebtedness to OCCSA for $2,820.42 and obtained a release of OCCSA's lien on the truck. J & B then sold the truck to a third party for $43,000.00. J & B's repurchase obligation to IHCC was for $42,458.46. Murray subsequently filed suit against J & B, IHCC and North Country alleging conversion, and seeking consequential and punitive damages. J & B filed a counterclaim against Murray alleging losses sustained in the truck resale. J & B also filed a crossclaim against IHCC and North Country, alleging that it was entitled to indemnity for any adverse judgment. The trial court held that 1) Murray was entitled to receive $1,393.00 in consequential damages, plus interest, from defendant J & B for breach of warranty; 2) found all three defendants jointly and severally liable for conversion and awarded Murray $20,438.00, plus interest, which represented the value of property converted and lost profits; 3) awarded Murray $5,000.00 in punitive damages against IHCC; and 4) awarded J & B $2,820.00, plus interest, on its counterclaim against plaintiff, which represented the amount of Murray’s indebtedness to OCCSA, but disallowed J & B's claim of indemnity.
Did the trial court err in finding J & B jointly and severally liable with IHCC and North Country for conversion of Murray’s logging truck?
The court held that the trial court's finding that J & B is jointly and severally liable with IHCC and North Country for conversion of Murray’s truck and equipment is not clearly erroneous. The court believed that this finding, supported by the evidence, adequately bolsters the trial court's conclusion that J & B attempted to negotiate a new contract with Murray. Findings of fact and conclusions of law by the trial court will not be disturbed on appeal unless clearly erroneous when viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. The court amended the judgment of the trial court by striking the consequential damage award. The court held that it was error for the trial court to base its consequential damage award for lost income on a breach of warranty theory. Because the debtor purchased the truck for commercial purposes, he was not a consumer under Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 9A, § 2-316(5). Moreover, the truck was not a consumer good under Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 9A, § 9-109. Thus, the exclusion of implied warranties contained in the purchase agreement applied to the transaction. The court refused to disturb the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the trial court unless they were clearly erroneous. Except for the consequential damage award, the court held that the trial court's judgment for the wrongful conversion and repossession of the truck was not clearly erroneous but supported by the weight of the evidence.