Louisiana Second Court of Appeal Affirms West Monroe Vehicle Conversion Case

no-parking-1445079-768x1024Have you ever wondered what happens when someone wrongfully takes or destroys your personal property? Conversion occurs when one sells or disposes of property belonging to another without permission. The case discussed in this post describes the conversion of a vehicle that was towed and sold to a third party after the title was wrongfully obtained in violation of the Louisiana Towing and Storage Act (“LTSA”).

After Kimberly Wilson’s car broke down at the West Monroe AutoZone on February 11, 2013, she left the car in the parking lot. On May 14, 2013, AutoZone’s manager received instructions from the West Monroe Police on how to remove the car. Wilson noticed her car was no longer parked at AutoZone and was informed that T & T Auto Repair and Towing, LLC (“T & T”) had towed the car.

On May 16, 2013, T & T sent Wilson a “Right to Hearing” notice for the balance of $204.12 by regular mail. Wilson did not receive the notice. On July 1, 2013, T & T sent Wilson a “Final Notice” for the balance of $1,060.02. Wilson did not receive Final Notice either. On October 16, 2013, paperwork was prepared for a “Permit to Sell” so the title of Wilson’s car could be transferred to T & T and sold for nonpayment. On January 24, 2014, Wilson’s attorney was notified that title had been transferred. T & T then sold the car, but could not provide a copy of the Bill of Sale.

Wilson filed a lawsuit against T & T requesting the vehicle or the vehicle’s value be returned. Wilson alleged that T & T had engaged in unfair trade practices and sought general damages and attorney’s fees based on the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act (“LUPTA”). The West Monroe City Court granted judgment to Wilson for $3,275, for the vehicle’s wrongful conversion, along with attorney’s fees for $2,500. T & T then appealed the judgment to the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal.

The LTSA describes the steps a towing company must follow in Louisiana to collect towing and storage fees. See La. R.S. 32:1711. The towing company must send notice by certified mail to the vehicle owner’s last known address. See La. R.S. 32:1720. The towing company must also maintain adequate records on any stored vehicles for at least three years. See La. R.S. 32:1723.

In Louisiana, the LUPTA creates a private right of action to any person who suffers any ascertainable loss that results from the use of unfair trade practices and also provides for attorney fees. See La. R.S. 51:1409. Acts that constitute unfair trade practices are not defined in the LUPTA and are determined on a case-by-case basis. See La. R.S. 51:1405. Under Louisiana law, wrongful seizure and wrongful possession are unfair trade practices within the meaning of the LUPTA.

T & T argued that the Trial Court erroneously held that it did not comply with the LTSA. The Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s judgment, finding that T & T did not follow the LTSA requirements. T & T failed to notify Wilson by certified mail that her car had been towed and of the amount she owed for retrieval. T & T also failed to notify Wilson by certified mail that the car would be seized and sold for nonpayment. T & T then sold her car to a third person and failed to keep adequate records.

T & T also argued that the Trial Court erroneously awarded $3,725 for damages and in awarding attorney fees under the LUPTA. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that Wilson was entitled to the damages and attorney fees. By failing to follow the requirements of the LTSA, T & T illegally acquired title to Wilson’s car and sold it. As a result, T & T engaged in an unfair trade practice and wrongfully converted Wilson’s car.

In the end, the Court of Appeal concluded that T & T had violated the LUPTA by failing to follow the LTSA notice and record keeping requirements. T & T engaged in an unfair trade practice by wrongfully seizing Wilson’s car when it acquired the title for nonpayment. T & T then wrongfully converted Wilson’s car by selling it to a third party in violation of La. R.S. 51:1409, entitling her to damages and attorney fees. The Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s judgment.

Additional Sources: KIMBERLY WILSON VERSUS T & T AUTO REPAIR & TOWING, L.L.C.

Written by Bernard Law Firm Blog Writer: Fareena Azhar

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