Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 109

Summary of Decision July 13, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name:  Smith v. Lewis Auto Body

Citation:  2011 WY 109

Docket Number:  S-10-0267

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, The Honorable Peter G. Arnold, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff):  Brian J. Hunter, William M. McKellar, and Julie Tiedeken, McKellar, Tiedeken and Scoggin, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Defendant):  Mitchell E. Osborn, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

 Date of Decision: July 13, 2011

Facts:  Appellant was involved in a single-car accident that caused extensive damage to his car.  The vehicle was taken to Appellant, an auto body shop, for repairs.  After providing an initial estimate for repairs, ordering replacement parts, and tearing down the vehicle, Appellee found additional damage that caused it to believe the car was a total loss.  Appellant’s insurer paid for the ordered parts, conducted several further inspections, and finally agreed that the car was a total loss. 

Forty-five days later, the insurer requested that Appellee release the vehicle. In response, Appellant sent an invoice to the insurer requesting payment for parts, labor, administrative tasks, and storage fees in the amount of $30,816.32.  The insurer responded with a letter to Appellee confirming its prior demand for release of the vehicle and contesting certain charges contained in the invoice.  The insurer indicated its willingness to pay “reasonable storage fees for the insured vehicle” from the date it deemed the vehicle a total loss until the date it demanded release of the vehicle.  Appellee did not release the vehicle after the demand was made, and two days after receiving the subsequent letter from the insurer, asserted a lien against the vehicle in the amount of its invoice, and attempted to foreclose the lien by sending notice to Appellant and by publishing a notice of lien sale in the newspaper. Appellee then conducted a lien sale and obtained title to the car. 

Appellant filed a Complaint for Replevin seeking to recover possession of the vehicle, and upon discovering that Appellee had conducted the lien sale, amended the Complaint to add a claim for conversion.  Subsequently, the district court granted summary judgment to Appellant, finding that Appellee did not file a valid lien and did not provide proper notice of the sale. The following day, Appellee re-asserted its lien, an intent to sell the vehicle at public auction, and filed a Complaint for Money Judgment against Appellant, this time in the amount of $36,816.32. Appellant filed an Emergency Petition to Prohibit the Sale or Other Disposition of the vehicle and the district court consolidated the actions.  

Upon a bench trial, the district court awarded damages to Appellee in the amount of $20,516.00, which included $15,240.00 in storage fees calculated at $60.00 per day for 254 days.  The district court determined that Appellee was entitled to storage fees beginning when insurer totaled the vehicle, and ending when the insurer posted a bond with the court to cover damages in the event that judgment was entered against Appellant.  Appellant timely filed this appeal, challenging the district court’s award of storage fees.

Issues: Whether it was proper for the district court to award damages to Appellee for storage of the automobile after the date that a demand was made for the return of the automobile. 

Holdings:  The Court concluded that even if Appellee had timely asserted a valid lien in this case, Appellee was not entitled to accumulate storage fees after a demand for release of the vehicle was made because, during that period, Appellee was storing the vehicle for its own benefit.  The Court held that under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 29-7-102(a), Appellee would have been entitled to retain possession pursuant to a valid lien until it received payment for its services, however, Appellee was not also entitled to accumulate storage charges during that period.  The Court reversed and remanded for entry of an order consistent with the opinion.

J. Burke delivered the opinion for the court.

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