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RALPH WALKER AND RALPH WALKER, INC. v. RAYMOND BROWN

JANUARY 07, 1987

RALPH WALKER AND RALPH WALKER, INC.
v.
RAYMOND BROWN, JR., RAYMOND BROWN, SR., D/B/A RAYMOND BROWN TRUCKING, ET AL.



BEFORE WALKER, C.J., DAN LEE AND GRIFFIN, JJ.

DAN LEE, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Ralph Walker individually and Ralph Walker, Inc. appeal from a jury verdict holding them jointly liable with Valentine Truck Brokers, Inc. for the conversion of a refrigerated trailer. The adverse judgment in the Circuit Court of Rankin County held the trio liable for $5,000 actual damages and $50,000 punitive damages.

The original action was brought and tried against two additional defendants, but Victor Valentine and Robert Knipe, a dispatcher for Valentine Truck Brokers, Inc. were dismissed at the close of the evidence. Although judgment was rendered jointly against Valentine Truck Brokers, Inc. and Ralph Walker, Valentine has not appealed because it had gone out of business, and is now defunct and judgment proof, leaving Ralph Walker, Individually and Ralph Walker, Inc. as the only viable appellants in interest. Ralph Walker and Ralph Walker, Inc. appeal, assigning the following errors:

 I.

 THE VERDICT OF THE JURY WAS AGAINST THE OVERWHELMING WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.

 II.

 THE VERDICT OF THE JURY IN AWARDING $5,000.00 ACTUAL DAMAGES WAS AGAINST THE OVERWHELMING WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.

 III.

 THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING A PUNITIVE DAMAGE INSTRUCTION.

 IV.

 ANY AWARD OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST APPELLANT, RALPH WALKER, WAS AGAINST THE OVERWHELMING WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE AND LAW.

 V.

 THE AWARD OF $50,000.00 punitive damages by the jury was excessive, against the overwhelming weight of the evidence, and evinced bias, prejudice and passion.

 STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

 On September 2, 1981, Raymond Brown, Jr. began hauling a perishable load of lettuce and celery from Salinas, California to destinations in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Bedford, Ohio. He only made it as far as Mississippi where his trailer containing the perishable load was taken. The trailer was returned after four to five days, but its detention formed the basis for this suit in conversion.

 Raymond Brown, Jr., a Virginia resident, and his father, Raymond Brown, Sr., operated more or less as trucking partners. Brown, Sr. rented a refrigerator trailer under a lease/purchase agreement and had given the trailer to his son to make a living.

 On September 2, 1981, the younger Brown was traveling with his wife and son when he learned through Valentine Truck Brokers, Inc., a shipping broker that drew commissions for bringing shippers, receivers and carriers together, that a load needed shipment east. The younger Brown contracted with Valentine to haul the load. Though no delivery date was discussed, Brown was aware that the highly perishable load of lettuce should reach Pennsylvania and Ohio before September 9, 1981.

 Not having permits to drive a more northern route, Brown intended to drive a southern route which would take him through Arkansas, Tennessee or Mississippi. Brown realized at the time the trailer was loaded that it would be too heavy to meet the more restrictive weight limits in those states. He decided to drive through Mississippi and avoid the multiplied risk.

 Brown encountered several problems along the way. His brakes failed before he could get out of California. In the desert, he blew two tires. Exhausted, Brown testified he had to rest for nearly a day and a half in two different locations. As a result of these and other problems, Valentine Truck Brokers electronically advanced funds to Brown or those to whom Brown owed money. The parties agree Valentine advanced at least $1,659.00 to Brown. Another advance check of $303.00 was offered by Valentine ...


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