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Bowman v. Cobb

November 21, 1994

JAMES BOWMAN D/B/A J&J TOWING, APPELLANT
v.
JOSEPH COBB, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Before Steadman, and Schwelb Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

SCHWELB, Associate Judge: Joseph Cobb brought this action for replevin in the trial court to recover possession of a tow truck and a van. James Bowman, who does business as J&J Towing, counterclaimed for towing fees and storage charges. Following a bench trial, the trial Judge ruled in favor of Bowman on the complaint and awarded him $380.00 for towing charges on the counterclaim. The Judge denied Bowman any recovery for storage fees, however, apparently because she believed that Bowman had not explicated the basis for the amount demanded. On appeal, Bowman contends that the Judge committed reversible error by denying him storage fees. We reverse the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

I.

The facts relevant to the narrow issue to which this appeal pertains are largely undisputed. In June, 1991, Cobb was storing a van and three tow trucks in an alley in northwest Washington on property owned by Earl Vincent. The agreed rental was $200 per month. Cobb testified that Vincent developed an "attitude," perhaps because Cobb was not timely in paying a portion of his rent. Vincent changed the locks on the property, thus preventing Cobb from gaining access to the trucks and the van. Vincent then had the vehicles ticketed by the police.

On July 22, 1991, at Vincent's request, Bowman's employees towed the four vehicles to Bowman's lot. Four days later, Vincent advised Cobb by letter where his van and trucks had been taken. Cobb visited Bowman and asked for the return of his vehicles. Bowman advised Cobb, however, that Cobb would first be required to pay towing and storage charges.

Cobb took no further action until January 7, 1992, when he instituted an action for replevin. He initially sought possession only of two of the vehicles, a 1976 yellow and green Ford truck and a 1983 blue and gold van. Bowman counterclaimed, inter alia, for towing and storage fees. On February 27, 1992, after Cobb had filed a satisfactory undertaking, the court issued a writ of replevin. On March 13, 1992, pursuant to the writ, the 1976 Ford truck and the 1983 van were recovered by the United States Marshal and returned to Cobb.

Subsequently, Cobb apparently amended his complaint *fn1 to seek return of the two remaining trucks, a blue 1973 Ford and a brown 1975 Chevrolet. The case came on for trial on February 22, 1993. Cobb's principal claim at trial was that all four vehicles had been lawfully parked on Vincent's property and improperly ticketed, and that he was entitled to the return of the two remaining trucks without paying towing or storage charges. Bowman responded that he had lawfully towed vehicles which had been ticketed by the police and that he was entitled to compensation for storage and towing for all four of them.

At the Conclusion of the trial, the Judge found that although Cobb had established that he held title to the two trucks which had not been returned to him, he had not proved that he bad a right to their possession -- the essence of an action for replevin. She also found, somewhat inconsistently, that Bowman had not sufficiently established any "authentication of those particular vehicles and their relationship to this alley or anything else." *fn2 The Judge thus awarded no relief to either party with respect to the two trucks which had remained on Bowman's lot.

The Judge found that with respect to the two vehicles which had been recovered by the United States Marshal, Bowman had proved that he was entitled to towing fees of $380.00, but not to any storage charges. She noted that the defense had produced invoices which reflected charges of $3,870.00 for each of these vehicles (and $8,715.00 each for the two tow trucks remaining on Bowman's premises) but commented that "there is no evidence or records of how that number was arrived at. It just seems to be arrived at." After awarding Bowman $380.00 in towing charges on the yellow and green truck and the blue and gold van, the Judge explained that "the other monies the court cannot find the basis , and therefore cannot make an award in this matter."

Bowman filed a timely appeal from the court's failure to award him storage fees. In his brief in this court, he states that he does not challenge the Judges ruling that his proof failed with respect to the two trucks not recovered by the U.S. Marshal. Cobb has not cross-appealed, and the only question before us is whether storage fees were properly denied with respect to the replevied blue and gold van and yellow and green truck. *fn3

II.

As noted by the Judge, Bowman introduced into evidence four form invoices, one for each of the vehicles he towed away and stored. Printed on ...


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