Laber v. Koch

Decision Date15 January 1986
Docket NumberNo. 14977,14977
Citation383 N.W.2d 490
PartiesAlois LABER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Robert KOCH and Northwest Cattle Company, Defendants and Appellees. . Considered on Briefs
CourtSouth Dakota Supreme Court

Steven M. Johnson of Brady, Kabeiseman, Reade & Johnson, Yankton, for plaintiff and appellant.

C.E. Light of Light Law Offices, Yankton, for defendants and appellees.

WUEST, Justice.

This is an appeal from a grant of summary judgment in an action for fraud and deceit and negligence in the sale of cattle to appellant. We reverse and remand for trial on the merits.

Appellant, Alois Laber (Laber), has run a farming and cattle-feeding operation near Delmont, South Dakota, since 1955. Appellee, Robert Koch (Koch), is an experienced cattle buyer and is paid a fee, by weight of the cattle purchased, for his cattle-buying services.

In May 1978, at Laber's request, Koch, as an agent for Northwest Cattle Company of Rock Rapids, Iowa, purchased nine hundred fifty-seven head of cattle in Oklahoma, selling them in turn to Laber for approximately $303,000. Laber bought the cattle, intending to fatten them for sale or use them for breeding purposes. Thus, he instructed Koch to buy young, healthy cows, able to do well on feed and to be used as replacements for his breeding stock. Koch represented that the cattle would be in good and healthy condition, free from disease and other maladies, and of a certain weight. When deposed, Koch acknowledged a duty to insure that the cattle were properly dipped in toxaphene to prevent any spread of scabies and properly shipped.

Laber instructed Koch to deliver the cattle to Armour, South Dakota, where the family veterinarians, Drs. T.X. Cox (Cox) and Watson, were to worm, implant and inspect the cattle. According to Laber, the veterinarians found that thirty or forty cows were weak, run down and ill, and several had toxaphene in their lungs. Laber indicated during his deposition that the apparent stress endured by the cattle was unusual. Health certificates and brucellosis test records were produced at Koch's deposition, revealing many of the cattle were old, some ten years of age. Although Koch presented certificates allegedly constituting proof that the cattle had been vaccinated against brucellosis, Laber said that one or more of the cows developed the disease, causing the herd to be quarantined by the state. Koch further stated that the cattle he sold to Laber were inspected by a licensed veterinarian in Oklahoma to determine their health before they left the sale ring.

After the cattle arrived, Laber called Koch to report that the cattle did not appear healthy. Laber stated that when he informed Koch of his concerns, Koch told him to turn the cattle out in the pasture and they would recover. Laber indicated that while Koch did not tell him that he had to accept the cattle, he felt somewhat obliged to because Koch was "such a qualified order buyer that he should know."

The affidavit of Cox, a certified veterinarian practicing in Armour, alleges that when the cattle were unloaded it was apparent that they were sick due to "an insufficiency of feed ... for a considerable period of time prior to delivery." Cox said that the failure to feed cattle properly between purchase and delivery often results in the cattle digesting their body fat. Further, the digestion of body fat by a cow makes it susceptible to other health problems and prevents the cow from gaining weight properly. Cox stated that neither Laber nor any good cattle feeder could recognize cattle that were feeding on their own body fat and, thus, the permanent impairment to normal growth and weight gain would remain undetected. Cox also stated that, contrary to good practice, the cattle appeared to have been dipped in toxaphene and shipped immediately thereafter. Cattle which are shipped too soon after this procedure can develop a reaction to the substance.

Stan Gerlach (Gerlach), a farmer who also purchased cattle from Koch in 1978, submitted an affidavit stating that the cattle he bought from Koch experienced the same problems as did Laber's cattle. Gerlach alleged that he received cattle that were not of the weight he had anticipated, were sickly, and did not gain weight properly. Both Gerlach and Laber stated that their requests for sales receipts as verification of the weight of the cattle when purchased by Koch were denied.

Thirty of the cows Laber obtained from Koch died during the feeding period and Laber contends that the others did not gain weight properly. Autopsies were performed on the dead cattle revealing toxaphene in their lungs. Laber brought suit against Koch and Northwest Cattle Company, alleging fraud and deceit and an action for negligence. On February 15, 1985, Koch filed a motion for summary judgment, pursuant to SDCL 15-6-56(b), contending that Laber had demonstrated no genuine issue of material fact. The trial court granted the motion, stating in its memorandum decision:

The plaintiff had his [veterinarian] examine each critter. The plaintiff rejected some that were sick and accepted and paid for those he did receive. The defendant complied with the Oklahoma and S.D. livestock health laws. The plaintiff was an experienced cattleman and was able to determine the age and condition of the cattle. The plaintiff never notified the defendant of any complaints until filing the summons and complaint several years after he sold the cattle, except for one telephone call stating they were not gaining weight.... The court agrees with the defendant that he did not warrant the rate at which the cattle would gain weight or [that they would not] develop any disease or sickness.

We disagree.

SDCL 15-6-56(c) states that summary judgment shall be rendered "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." We delineated the guidelines for the grant of a motion of summary judgment in Wilson v. Great Northern Railway Company, 83 S.D. 207, 212, 157 N.W.2d 19, 21 (1968).

(1) Evidence must be viewed most favorable to the non-moving party;

(2) The burden of proof is on the movant to show clearly that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he

is entitled to judgment as a matter of law;

(3) Summary judgment is not a substitute for a court trial or for trial by jury where any genuine issue of material fact exists;

(4) Surmise that a party will not prevail upon trial is not sufficient basis to grant summary judgment on issues which are not shown to be sham, frivolous, or so unsubstantial that it is obvious that it would be futile to try them;

(5) Summary judgment is an extreme remedy which should be awarded only when the truth is clear and reasonable doubts touching the existence of a genuine issue as to material fact should be resolved against movant;

(6) When no genuine issue of fact exists, summary judgment is looked upon with favor and is particularly adaptable to expose sham claims and defenses.

See also Rozeboom v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co., 358 N.W.2d 241 (S.D.1984); Nemec v. Deering, 350 N.W.2d 53 (S.D.1984). When this court considers a motion for summary judgment, however, "the formal issues presented by the pleadings are not controlling and a party may not rest upon the mere allegations contained therein." Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. McElvain, 363 N.W.2d 186, 188 (S.D.1985); see also Hughes-Johnson Co. v. Dakota Midland Hospital, 86 S.D. 361, 195 N.W.2d 519 (1972). The nonmoving party must present specific facts which demonstrate a genuine, material issue for trial. Western Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Gridley, 362 N.W.2d 100 (S.D.1985); Brown Cty. Co-op v. Rasmussen-King Cattle, 300 N.W.2d 265 (S.D.1980). "Allegations which do not set forth specific facts will not prevent the issuance of a summary judgment." Western Casualty, supra at 102; Peterson v. Rogers, 347 N.W.2d 580 (S.D.1984); Lee v. Beauchene, 337 N.W.2d 827 (S.D.1983).

There is a factual question on the issue of fraud and deceit. * Laber instructed Koch to purchase young healthy cattle. The facts admit, however, that at least three of the cows transported could not make it off the truck. Thirty more died during the feeding period, and several of the cows were revealed to be carriers of brucellosis, resulting in the quarantine of the entire herd for breeding purposes. Many of the cattle purchased were not young and healthy; but, rather, seven to ten years of age, which was not revealed to Laber until after this suit was commenced. Further, the cattle were found by a certified veterinarian to be digesting their own body fat because of lack of feed during shipment. "Questions of fraud and deceit are generally questions of fact and as such are to be determined by the jury." Commercial Credit Equipment Corp. v. Johnson, 87 S.D. 411, 416, 209 N.W.2d 548, 551 (1973); Wolfgram v. Dill, 37 S.D. 282, 157 N.W. 1059 (1916). "Likewise, whether a party relied on the claimed fraud to its detriment is a fact question for the jury." Commercial Credit, supra, 209 N.W.2d at 551; Coman v. Williams, 65 N.W.2d 377 (N.D.1954). Whether Laber was deceived by Koch or relied on any misrepresentations are some of the factual questions which must be resolved by a jury.

Furthermore, we believe that Laber has sufficiently established a factual question on negligence as a cause of action to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Negligence is the breach of a duty owed to the plaintiff, the proximate cause of which results in plaintiff's injury. Leslie v. City of Bonesteel, 303 N.W.2d 117 (S.D.1981); Johnson v. Straight's, Inc., 288 N.W.2d 325 (S.D.1980); Blumhardt v. Hartung, 283 N.W.2d 229 (S.D.1979). When deposed, Koch acknowledged a duty to insure that the cattle were properly dipped in toxaphene and properly shipped. Thus,...

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