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Crumpton v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

September 26, 2018

LEROY CRUMPTON Plaintiff-Appellant

          Appealed from the Monroe City Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2010CV01317 Honorable Jefferson B. Joyce, Judge.

          PLEASANT, WILLIAMS & BANKS-MILEY LAW GROUP, LLC By: Kristen B. Pleasant Counsel for Appellant Leroy Crumpton

          SHEREBA L. DIAZ Counsel for Appellee Edward Smith

          BOLEN, PARKER, BRENNER, LEE & ENGELSMAN, LTD. By: Madeline J. Lee Counsel for Appellee Defendant Monroe Iron & Metal Co. d/b/a Auto Shred of Louisiana

          LENNARD RUSSELL In Proper Person

          Before MOORE, PITMAN, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         A scrap metal salvage company purchased and crushed a 1991 pickup "auto hulk" from a seller who represented that he was the owner of the vehicle. The alleged true owner sued the seller and scrap company for damages in Monroe City Court alleging that the scrap company failed to require proof of ownership from the seller. After the suit languished for several years, the scrap company filed a petition for concursus seeking dismissal from the suit by admitting liability for purchasing the truck, but asserting that its liability was limited to the amount it paid the seller for the vehicle plus interest from the date of judicial demand-a total of $142.78- and seeking leave of court to deposit that amount in the court registry. After a contradictory hearing, the court granted the concursus petition and ruled that the defendant was a good faith purchaser liable to the plaintiff for only $142.78 that it had deposited in the court registry. The court dismissed the scrap company from the suit. The plaintiff filed this appeal alleging several assignments of error, including claims that the court erred in allowing the concursus proceeding, finding that the scrap metal company was a good faith purchaser, and dismissing the defendant from the suit.

         For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


         Leroy Crumpton filed a petition for damages on May 6, 2010, against Edward Smith and the Monroe Iron and Metal Company d/b/a Auto Shred of La. ("Auto Shred") alleging that Smith took possession of his 1991 Ford pickup truck and sold it for scrap metal to Auto Shred on May 8, 2009. Auto Shred, the petition alleged, is liable for damages because it purchased the truck from Smith without requiring him to show any proof of ownership.

         Although Auto Shred was timely served, service of process was not made on Smith within 90 days of filing as required by law. Pursuant to Smith's exception, Crumpton's claim against Smith was dismissed without prejudice for untimely service. Several years later, on May 8, 2015, Crumpton filed an amended petition, again naming Smith and Auto Shred as defendants, but now adding a third defendant identified as Leonard Polk, [1]who Crumpton alleged took possession of the truck along with Smith, who sold the vehicle for scrap.

         Smith answered, challenging Crumpton's account of the facts alleged in the amended petition. Smith argued that he had no intent to steal the vehicle, which had been abandoned for some time at Leonard Polk's residence, and had no intent to commit theft of the truck. He contends that Crumpton is largely responsible for the loss for his contributory negligence by abandoning the truck.

         Lennard Russell filed a pro se answer identifying himself as the correct defendant incorrectly named Leonard Pope in the amended petition. Russell's answer to that petition provides a cogent factual account of this affair.

         Russell stated that in late February 2009, Crumpton asked Russell if he could use his hoist to remove the motor from his truck and put another motor in it. He said Crumpton promised he would do the job within three days. Russell gave Crumpton permission to use the hoist and do the job at his house, but he said that he never agreed to allow him to store the truck on his property, and advised Crumpton to have the truck off his property within a week because the city was after him to clean up his property.

         Russell stated that Crumpton never finished his work on the truck, and never came back to get it. Russell contacted him several times about removing the truck from his property. He said he did not know Crumpton personally, but he did not charge him to use the hoist, and denied ever agreeing to take possession or responsibility for the truck. In his final conversation with Crumpton, Russell told him that he was going to move the truck to the street if he did not come and get it by March 24. On March 23, Russell moved the truck to the street where he said it remained until April 14, 2009. On the latter date, he returned home from a doctor visit and saw that the truck was gone. He assumed that Crumpton had picked it up.

         Crumpton alleged that he discovered his truck was gone from Russell's house on May 11, 2009. His account in the police report contradicts Russell's statement that the truck was moved from the street on April 14, 2009. Crumpton told Monroe Police Officer Donese Kitchen that the last time he saw the truck was on May 7, 2009, when it was parked in front of Russell's house at 2713 Jackson Street.

         Crumpton described the truck to Officer Kitchen as a 1991 Ford F150 valued at $1, 500. He said the reason the truck was at Russell's house was to put an engine in it and get it running, but when he returned to Russell's address on May 11, 2009, the vehicle was gone. He said he received a call from a friend at Auto Shred on the same day who told him that his truck was at Auto Shred. He went to Auto Shred and found that the truck had been crushed. He obtained a copy of the purchase receipt from Auto Shred with the signature of Edward Smith on it showing that Auto Shred purchased the truck from Smith on May 8, 2009. He gave the receipt to Officer Kitchen.

         After Crumpton filed the amended petition, Auto Shred filed a petition for concursus, naming Crumpton, Smith, and Russell as defendants. It admitted or adopted Crumpton's allegations that Smith and Russell stole the truck, and Smith sold the truck to Auto Shred for scrap metal. Auto Shred admitted that it purchased for scrap an F-150 pickup truck from Smith, and alleged that the truck had no license plate, engine or gas tank.[2] It alleged that Smith signed a document stating that he was the owner of the truck, attached as Exhibit A. It further admitted liability pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 4652, [3] and requested that the court grant leave for Auto Shred to deposit the amount it paid Smith, $132.00, plus legal interest from the date of judicial demand for a total of $142.78. Auto Shred averred that after such deposit, it was seeking a ruling from the court relieving it of any further liability.

         Crumpton filed an answer denying the allegations by Auto Shred regarding a concursus proceeding. Neither Smith nor Russell filed an answer to the petition for concursus.

         The trial court set a hearing date on a rule to show cause why the concursus petition should not be granted. The hearing was held on August 15, 2017, with counsel present for all represented parties, and Lennard Russell appearing pro se. No testimony was taken and only counsel for Auto Shred and Crumpton presented arguments. Counsel for Auto Shred submitted the sole item of evidence, the purchase receipt signed by Smith that Auto Shred had attached to its concursus petition as "Exhibit A," and is described by counsel as "the Affidavit that Edward Smith signed saying and attesting that he owned the car that he was selling for scrap metal."

         Exhibit A is a multi-purpose printed form on 4 x 6 inch paper bearing at the top the company name "Auto Shred of Louisiana." Below is a printed column of short "check lines," with each line next to an item type being sold for scrap, e.g. appliances, tin, whole cars, mashed cars, motors, etc. Below this list is a date line, a signature line and additional space for comments. At the very bottom of the form is a printed declaration which reads:

I choose to be unloaded by Auto Shred of La. equipment and release them of any liability or damages to my equipment.
I also state that the said property has been paid for and is owned by me, free of any leins [sic] or encumbrances whatsoever and that I am duly authorized to sell same.

Exhibit A was dated "5-8-09" and (somewhat illegibly) signed but identified with a handwritten notation "Edward Smith," in the margin. A check mark was placed beside the blank for "whole cars." Additionally, a blank area of the form contained a handwritten description of the vehicle as "Maroon- white Ford-P.U. F-150 XLT Lariat." On the two "comment" lines a handwritten entry of two letters, possibly "H.A", and the following: "1FTdF15N5MNA15533," which is possibly the VIN. No testimony was taken regarding the document ...

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