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18.4 Cases

Transfer of Title: Destination Contracts

Sam and Mac, Inc. v. Treat

783 N.E.2d 760 (Ind. App. 2003)

Anthony L. Gruda and Sharon R. Gruda (the “Grudas”) owned and operated Gruda Enterprises, Inc. (Gruda Enterprises), which in turn operated The Kitchen Works, a kitchen supply business. On March 5, 1998, Gruda Enterprises contracted to sell a set of kitchen cabinets to Sam and Mac, Inc. [SMI], a commercial construction and contracting corporation. Gruda Enterprises was also to deliver and install the cabinets. Because it did not have the cabinets in stock, Gruda Enterprises ordered them from a manufacturer. On March 14, 1998, nine days after placing the order, SMI pre-paid Gruda Enterprises for the cabinet order.

On May 14, 1998, prior to delivery and installation of the cabinets, the Grudas ceased operation of Gruda Enterprises and filed for personal bankruptcy. Gruda Enterprises did not file for bankruptcy and was not dissolved. Instead, the Grudas’ stock in Gruda Enterprises became part of their bankruptcy estate.…When no cabinets were delivered or installed, and the Grudas ceased operation of Gruda Enterprises, SMI asked Treat, who was the landlord of Gruda Enterprises, to open the business premises and permit SMI to remove cabinets from the property. Treat declined, stating that he feared he would incur liability to Gruda Enterprises if he started giving away its inventory. Treat and other secured creditors sued Gruda Enterprises, which owed them money. [Summary judgment was for Treat, SMI appeals.]

SMI contends that there was a completed sale between SMI, as the buyer, and Gruda Enterprises, as the seller. Specifically, SMI maintains that title to the cabinets under [UCC] 2-401(3)(b) passed to SMI when the contract for sale was [made].…Therefore, SMI argues that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of Treat because [SMI] held title and, thus, a possessory interest in the cabinets.…

[T]he contract is governed by the…Indiana Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). 2-401 establishes the point in time at which title passes from seller to buyer. Specifically, 2-401(2) provides, in pertinent part, that unless explicitly agreed, title passes to the buyer at the time and place at which the seller completes his performance with respect to the physical delivery of goods.…

Moreover, the record indicates that SMI and Gruda Enterprises did not have an explicit agreement to pass title at any other time, or at any time prior to actual delivery of the cabinets. SMI argues that title passed to it under 2-401(3)(b) [“where delivery is to be made without moving the goods,…if the goods are at the time of contacting already identified and no documents are to be delivered, title passes at the time and place of contacting.”].…However, the record reflects that SMI admitted that the terms of the contract required Gruda Enterprises to not only order the cabinets, but to deliver and install them at the location specified by SMI, i.e. the house that SMI was building. 2-403(3) applies to purchases of goods where delivery is to be made without moving the goods. SMI argues that since the cabinets were identified at the time of contracting and no documents needed delivery, title passed at the time and place of contracting.…

[T]itle to goods cannot pass under a contract for sale prior to their identification in the contract. See 2-401(1). This does not mean that title passes when the goods are identified. It only means that identification is merely the earliest possible opportunity for title to pass.…[I]dentification does not, in and of itself, confer either ownership or possessory rights in the goods. [UCC] 2-401(2)(b) states that “[i]f the contract requires delivery at destination, title passes on tender there.” In the present case, tender did not occur when Gruda Enterprises called SMI to notify it that the cabinets were in and ready to be delivered and installed. SMI requested that the cabinets remain at the warehouse until the house it was building was ready for the cabinets to be installed.…[W]e find that SMI and Gruda Enterprises agreed to a destination point, i.e. the house that SMI was building. Accordingly, we find that 2-401(2)(b) is also applicable. The title to the cabinets did not pass to SMI because the cabinets were not delivered and installed at the agreed upon destination. Therefore, we conclude that SMI does not have a possessory interest in the cabinets.

Based on the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Treat.…Affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. One argument made by the plaintiff was that because the plaintiff had paid for the goods and they had been identified to the contract, title passed to the plaintiff. Why did the court disagree with this contention?
  2. When would title to the cabinets have shifted to the plaintiff?
  3. This is footnote 2 (it was not included in the parts of the case set out above): “We note that Treat owned Kitchen Wholesalers, Inc., from approximately 1987 to approximately June 20, 1996. On or about June 20, 1996, Kitchen Wholesalers, Inc. sold its assets, inventory, equipment, and business to Gruda Enterprises. The Grudas executed an Agreement for Sale of Assets, Lease, and Security Agreement, as well as a Promissory Note in which they agreed to pay $45,000 for the assets, inventory, equipment, and business, and to pay monthly rent of $1,500 for the premises where the business was located, and secured their obligations with inventory, equipment, and proceeds therefrom, of the business which they were purchasing. Treat filed and perfected a security interest in the accounts receivable, inventory, and equipment of The Kitchen Works on August 28, 1998. The Grudas currently owe Treat $61,794.99.”

    This means that when the Grudas failed to pay Treat, he had a right to repossess all assets belonging to them, including the cabinets—Treat was a creditor of the Grudas. SMI, of course, contended it had title to the cabinets. Based on the court’s analysis, who is going to get the cabinets?

Defrauding Buyer Sells to Good-Faith Purchaser for Value

Marlow v. Conley

787 N.E.2d 490, (Ind. App. 2003)

Donald E. Marlow appeals the trial court’s judgment in favor of Robert L. Medley and Linda L. Medley (collectively, the “Medleys”) on Marlow’s complaint for replevin. Marlow raises [this issue],…whether the Medleys obtained good title to a truck pursuant to Indiana UCC 2-403(1). We affirm.

The relevant facts follow. On May 21, 2000, Robert Medley attended a car show in Indianapolis. Henderson Conley attended the same car show and was trying to sell a 1932 Ford Truck (“Truck”). Conley told Robert that he operated a “buy here, pay here car lot,” and Robert saw that the Truck had a dealer license plate. Robert purchased the Truck for $7,500.00 as a gift for Linda. Conley gave Robert the Truck’s certificate of title, which listed the owner as Donald Marlow. When Robert questioned Conley about the owner of the Truck, Conley responded that Marlow had signed the title as part of a deal Conley had made with him. After purchasing the Truck, Robert applied to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for a certificate of title in Linda’s name.

On December 18, 2000, Marlow filed a complaint against Conley and the Medleys.…At the bench trial, Marlow testified that he had met Conley at a car show in Indianapolis on May 19, 2000, and Conley had told him that Conley owed a “car lot” on the west side of Indianapolis. Marlow also testified that Conley came to his house that night, but he “didn’t let him in.” Rather, Marlow testified that Conley “[came] over [his] fence…a big high fence.” According to Marlow, Conley asked him to invest in Conley’s business that night. Marlow gave Conley $500.00. Marlow testified that Conley came back the next day and Marlow gave him an additional $4,000.00. Marlow then testified that Conley stole the certificate of title for the Truck from Marlow’s house and stole the Truck from his garage. According to Marlow, he told Conley later in the day to bring his Truck back and Conley told him that it had caught on fire. Marlow testified that he then called the police. However, in the May 30, 2000 police report, which was admitted into evidence at trial, the police officer noted the following:

The deal was [Conley] gets $4500.00, plus an orange ′32 Ford truck. In return, [Marlow] would get a ′94 Ford flatbed dump truck and an ′89 Ford Bronco. [Marlow] stated that he has not received the vehicles and that [Conley] keeps delaying getting the vehicles for him. [Conley] gave [Marlow] several titles of vehicles which are believed to be junk. [Conley] told [Marlow] that he has a car lot at 16th and Lafayette Road.

[The trial court determined that Marlow bought the truck from Conley, paying Conley $4500 plus a Ford flatbed truck and Ford Bronco.]

The issue is whether the Medleys obtained good title to the Truck pursuant to Indiana UCC 2-403(1) [voidable title passed on to good-faith purchaser]. We first note that UCC 2-401(2) provides that “[u]nless otherwise explicitly agreed, title passes to the buyer at the time and place at which the seller completes his performance with reference to the physical delivery of the goods.…” Further, 2-403(1) provides as follows: “A purchaser of goods acquires all title which his transferor had or had power to transfer.…A person with voidable title has power to transfer a good title to a good faith purchaser for value. When goods have been delivered under a transaction of purchase, the purchaser has such power even though:…(d) the delivery was procured through fraud punishable as theft under the criminal law.”

Thus, Conley, as purchaser of the goods, acquired all title to the Truck that Marlow, as transferor, had or had power to transfer. Additionally, even if Conley had “voidable title,” he had the power to transfer good title to the Medleys if they were “good faith purchasers for value.” Consequently, we must determine whether Conley had voidable title and, if so, whether the Medleys were good faith purchasers for value.

A. Voidable Title

We first determine whether Conley had voidable title to the Truck.…[T]he UCC does not define “voidable title.” However, we have held that Indiana’s UCC 2-403 is consistent with Indiana’s common law, which provided that “legal title passes to a defrauding buyer. This title is not void; it is voidable, which means that when title gets into the hands of a bona fide purchaser for value then he will prevail over the defrauded seller.” [Citation] Thus, a “defrauding buyer” obtains voidable title. However, a thief obtains void title. See, e.g., [Citation] holding that a renter who stole a motor home had void title, not voidable title, and could not convey good title).…

Here, Marlow argues that Conley stole the Truck and forged his name on the certificate of title. However, the trial court was presented with conflicting evidence regarding whether Conley stole the Truck and the certificate of title or whether Conley and Marlow had a business deal and Conley failed to comply with the agreement. The trial court found that:

Evidence presented concerning [Marlow’s] complaint to the Indianapolis Police Department on May 30, 2000 casts doubt on the credibility of [Marlow’s] trial testimony as the report states the truck and title were obtained by Conley in exchange for a 1994 Ford Flatbed Dump Truck and a 1989 Ford Bronco plus the payment of $4500.00 by [Marlow]. Apparently, [Marlow] was complaining to the police concerning Conley’s failure to deliver the two Ford vehicles.

…The trial court did not find Marlow’s testimony regarding the theft of the Truck and the certificate of title to be credible.…[B]ased upon the trial court’s findings of fact, we must assume that the police report accurately describes the circumstances under which Conley obtained possession of the Truck and its signed certificate of title. Consequently, we assume that Marlow gave Conley $4,500.00 and the Truck in exchange for two other vehicles. Although Conley gave Marlow the certificates of title for the two vehicles, he never delivered the vehicles.

Conley’s title is voidable if “the delivery was procured through fraud punishable as theft under the criminal law” under 2-403(1)(d).…Assuming that Conley knew that he would not deliver the two vehicles to Marlow, the delivery of the Truck to Conley was procured through fraud punishable as theft. Consequently, Marlow was defrauded, and Conley obtained voidable title to the Truck.…

B. Good Faith Purchasers for Value

Having determined that Conley obtained voidable title to the Truck, we must now determine whether the Medleys were good faith purchasers for value. Marlow does not dispute that the Medleys were purchasers for value. Rather, Marlow questions their “good faith” because they purchased the Truck from someone other than the person listed on the Truck’s certificate of title. [UCC 1-201919] defines good faith as “honesty in fact in the conduct or transaction concerned.” Marlow argues that Robert did not purchase the Truck in good faith because, although Robert purchased the vehicle from Conley, he was aware that the certificate of title was signed by Marlow.

…Here, the sole evidence presented by Marlow regarding the Medleys’ lack of good faith is the fact that the certificate of title provided by Conley was signed by Marlow. Robert testified that he thought Conley was a licensed dealer and operated a “buy here, pay here” car lot. The Truck had a dealer license plate. Robert questioned Conley about the certificate of title. Conley explained that Marlow had signed the title as part of a deal Conley had made with him. Robert also testified that he had previously purchased vehicles at car shows and had previously purchased a vehicle from a dealer where the certificate of title had the previous owner’s name on it.…

The Medleys’ failure to demand a certificate of title complying with [the Indiana licensing statute] does not affect their status as good faith purchasers in this case.…The statute does not void transactions that violate the statute. [Citations] Although the failure to comply with [the licensing statute] may, combined with other suspicious circumstances, raise questions about a purchaser’s good faith, we find no such circumstances here. Consequently, the Medleys were good faith purchasers for value.…

Lastly, Marlow also argues that the Medleys violated [licensing statutes] by providing false information to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles because the Medleys allegedly listed the seller of the Truck as Marlow rather than Conley. We noted above that legal title to a vehicle is governed by the sales provisions of the UCC rather than the Indiana Certificate of Title Act. Thus, although false statements to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles under Ind.Code § 9-18-2-2 could result in prosecution for perjury, such false statements do not affect legal title to the vehicle.

In summary, we conclude that, as a defrauding buyer, Conley possessed voidable title and transferred good title to the Medleys as good faith purchasers for value.…Thus, legal title to the Truck passed to the Medleys at the time Conley delivered the Truck to them. See UCC 2-401(2) (“[T]itle passes to the buyer at the time and place at which the seller completes his performance with reference to the physical delivery of the goods.…”). This result is consistent with the policy behind 2-403.

Section 2-403 was intended to determine the priorities between the two innocent parties: (1) the original owner who parts with his goods through fraudulent conduct of another and (2) an innocent third party who gives value for the goods to the perpetrator of the fraud without knowledge of the fraud. By favoring the innocent third party, the Uniform Commercial Code endeavors to promote the flow of commerce by placing the burden of ascertaining and preventing fraudulent transactions on the one in the best position to prevent them, the original seller. The policy behind the UCC is to favor the Medleys because, as between the Medleys and Marlow, Marlow was in the best position to prevent the fraudulent transaction.

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the trial court’s judgment for the Medleys. Affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. The court determined Marlow was defrauded by Conley. How did Conley defraud Marlow?
  2. What is the rationale, here expressed, for the UCC’s provision that a defrauding purchaser (Conley) can pass on title to a good-faith purchaser for value?
  3. Why did Marlow think the Medleys should not be considered good-faith purchasers?
  4. Why would the UCC prevail over the state’s certificate of title act?

Risk of Loss, Seller a Merchant

Ramos v. Wheel Sports Center

409 N.Y.S.2d 505 (N.Y. Civ. Ct. 1978)

Mercorella, J.

In this non-jury action plaintiff/purchaser is seeking to recover from defendant/vendor the sum of $893 [about $3,200 in 2010 dollars] representing the payment made by plaintiff for a motorcycle.

The parties entered into a sales contract wherein defendant agreed to deliver a motorcycle to plaintiff by June 30, 1978, for the agreed price of $893. The motorcycle was subsequently stolen by looters during the infamous power blackout of July 11, 1977.

It is uncontroverted that plaintiff paid for the motorcycle in full; was given the papers necessary for registration and insurance and did in fact register the cycle and secure liability insurance prior to the loss although license plates were never affixed to the vehicle. It is also conceded that the loss occurred without any negligence on defendant’s part.

Plaintiff testified that defendant’s salesman was informed that plaintiff was leaving on vacation and plaintiff would come for the cycle when he returned. He further testified that he never saw or rode the vehicle. From the evidence adduced at trial it is apparent that plaintiff never exercised dominion or control over the vehicle.

Defendant’s president testified that he had no knowledge of what transpired between his salesman and plaintiff nor why the cycle was not taken prior to its loss.

The sole issue presented to the Court is which party, under the facts disclosed, bears the risk of loss?

It is the opinion of this Court that defendant must bear the risk of loss under the provisions of Section 2-509(3) of the Uniform Commercial Code.

This section provides that “…the risk of loss passes to the buyer on his receipt of the goods if the seller is a merchant.…” Section 2-103(1)(c) states that receipt of goods means taking physical possession of them. [Authors’ note: UCC revisions have changed the rule so that risk of loss passes to the buyer on his receipt of the goods irrespective of whether the seller is a merchant or not. It is still 2-509(3), however.]

The provision tends more strongly to hold risk of loss on the seller than did the former Uniform Sales Act. Whether the contract involves delivery at the seller’s place of business or at the situs of the goods, a merchant seller cannot transfer risk of loss and it remains on him until actual receipt by the buyer, even though full payment has been made and the buyer notified that the goods are at his disposal. The underlying theory is that a merchant who is to make physical delivery at his own place continues meanwhile to control the goods and can be expected to insure his interest in them.

The Court is also of the opinion that no bailee/bailor relationship, constructive or otherwise, existed between the parties.

Accordingly, let judgment be entered in favor of plaintiff for the sum of $893, together with interest, costs and disbursements.

Case Questions

  1. What caused the loss here, through no fault of either party?
  2. What is the rationale for holding the merchant-seller liable in this circumstance?
  3. Suppose instead that Ramos had purchased the motorcycle at a garage sale from an acquaintance and the same loss occurred. Who would bear the risk then?