In Auto Liquidation Center, Inc. v. Chaca, 2015 WL 8479305, at *3 (Ind.App.,2015), a jury returned a verdict for Jorge on all counts, awarding damages in the amount of $45,883.86 for the conversion claim and the trial court entered a final judgment for Jorge in the amount of $121,069.66, which included prejudgment interest and attorney’s fees. The customer had taken the vehicle in for repairs because of mechanical difficulties, and the mechanic removed the GPS-tracker because it was interfering with the operation of the vehicle. So, the seller repossessed the vehicle, even though the customer was current on payments, and then would not return the vehicle. The Court of Appeal affirmed, and returned the case to the trial court to award more attorneys’ fees to the customer.
The Court of Appeal found that the defendant had criminally converted the vehicle.
Here, the evidence shows that ALC/Zojaji repossessed Jorge’s car because he erroneously believed that Jorge had missed a payment. Only after Jorge showed Zojaji receipts proving that he was current on his payments, did Zojaji claim to have repossessed the car because Jorge had disconnected the GPS device. Even after Zojaji learned that the GPS was disconnected because of the irreparable damage it was causing to the car and that Jorge’s mechanic would reinstall the device, Zojaji refused to give Jorge either his car or his personal belongings. We find the evidence supports the conclusion that Zojaji knowingly or intentionally exerted unauthorized control over Jorge’s property—namely, the car and the personal items contained therein. See Palmer Dodge v. Long, 791 N.E.2d 788 (Ind.Ct.App.2003) (holding that there was sufficient evidence to support criminal-conversion finding against dealership where the dealership had possession of the buyer’s purchased car but refused to give back the buyer’s trade-in car). In this case, even if Zojaji initially repossessed the car due to a genuine misunderstanding as to the allegedly missed payment or the removal of the GPS device, once those misunderstandings were clarified, Zojaji simply had no reason—contractual or otherwise—to keep Jorge’s car. ALC and Zojaji maintain, however, that Zojaji “firmly believed that he had a legal contractual right to repossess the car due to [Jorge]’s removal of the GPS device.” Appellants’ Br. p. 22. And, the argument continues, “Appellant cannot be guilty of conversion because his control over the vehicle was not ‘unauthorized.’ He had no’mens rea.’ “. . .First, there was sufficient evidence here for the jury to find that this was never a bona fide contract dispute. Even if the jury believed that Zojaji had initially acted on a mistaken belief that Jorge missed a payment, the evidence supports that the misunderstanding morphed into an intentional, unauthorized taking of Jorge’s property. In other words, when Zojaji realized Jorge was not behind in his payments and that he, Zojaji, had wrongfully disabled Jorge’s car via the GPS device, which resulted in Jorge’s mechanic needing to disconnect the GPS to prevent further damage to the car, the jury could very well have concluded that Zojaji’s continued possession of the car constituted conversion. As to the second distinction, in French–Tex the tenant was appealing from a negative judgment, whereas here Jorge prevailed in the trial court; thus, we must decline the appellants’ ongoing invitation to reweigh the evidence of Zojaji’s intent. Our standard of review requires us to consider only the evidence most favorable to the verdict unless we conclude that it is against the great weight of the evidence. . . . Because we cannot say that is the case here, we affirm the finding of criminal conversion.
Thus, the Court of Appeal found the jury verdict reasonable.
The record reflects that the jury’s damage award was based on the value of the car and the personal property contained in the car. In his appellate brief, Jorge discusses the range of reasonable damage awards based on the evidence that was before the jury, based on the car being priced somewhere between $10,400 (the price for which the car was sold at auction in December 2012) and $18,900 (the original sale price listed on the internet in November 2011), plus the personal property contained therein valued somewhere between $543 and $690, resulting in a range of between $10,943 and $19,590. When these amounts are trebled, as authorized by the statute, the range is between $32,829 and $58,770. Therefore, the jury’s award of $45,883.86 is clearly within the range supported by the evidence. See Appellee’s Br. p. 19. Further, ATC/Zojaji offer no evidence that the jury’s damage award was motivated by passion, prejudice, partiality, or consideration of improper evidence. . . .Thus, ATC/Zojaji does not meet the strict standard we apply when reviewing jury-awarded damages, and we will not reverse the damage award on these grounds.