Nelson v. Jones, CPU4-21-000628

CourtCourt of Common Pleas of Delaware
Writing for the CourtKatharine L. Mayer, Judge
PartiesHUBERT NELSON, Plaintiff, v. ERICK JONES, C/O CHURCHMAN'S AUTO SERVICE Plaintiff/Appellee,
Docket NumberCPU4-21-000628
Decision Date29 November 2021

HUBERT NELSON, Plaintiff,
v.

ERICK JONES, C/O CHURCHMAN'S AUTO SERVICE Plaintiff/Appellee,

No. CPU4-21-000628

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, Castle

November 29, 2021


Submitted: October 13, 2021

Hubert Nelson Self-Represented Plaintiff

Erick Jones Churchman's Auto Service Self-Represented Defendant

FINAL DECISION AND ORDER

Katharine L. Mayer, Judge

Plaintiff Hubert Nelson filed this action on March 5, 2021. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he drove his pickup truck to Defendant's auto repair shop on Friday, November 20, 2020, to be serviced and that he parked where Defendant had directed him to. Plaintiff alleges that he handed his keys to Defendant after discussing the necessary repairs. Plaintiff then alleges that on Monday, November 23, 2020, Defendant called him to tell him that the truck had been stolen. In the Complaint, Plaintiff sought relief in the amount of $8, 500.00 for the value of the truck and the tools that were in the truck at the time.

Defendant filed an Answer on March 23, 2021, in which he admitted that Plaintiff had left

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the truck at his repair shop on November 20, 2020, and that when he returned to the shop on November 23, 2020, the truck was no longer there. However, Defendant denies that he provided any assurances to Plaintiff that he would protect his truck and alleges that Plaintiff was aware that he had parked his truck in an open access parking lot. On April 30, 2021, Defendant filed an Amendment to his Answer in which he stated that he found it strange that Plaintiff did not remove the tools from his truck, given that it would take a few weeks to make the repairs on Plaintiffs truck.

Trial was held on October 13, 2021. Plaintiff and Defendant appeared self-represented. Aside from the Plaintiff and the Defendant, there were no other witnesses. The Court heard testimony from both parties and received documents into evidence.[1] The Plaintiff introduced into evidence a copy of the police report made when Defendant reported the truck stolen and a list of the tools that were in Plaintiffs truck when it was stolen. At the conclusion of trial, the Court reserved decision.

FACTS

The parties do not dispute that the truck was delivered to Defendant's auto repair shop on Friday, November 20, 2020, nor that the truck was no longer present at the repair shop when Defendant returned on Monday, November 23, 2020. Based on the testimony and evidence presented at trial, the Court considered the following facts in rendering this decision.

Plaintiff contacted Defendant to get the clutch on his truck replaced. On Wednesday, November 18, 2020, the parties discussed what type of repairs the truck would need. Plaintiff told Defendant that he needed the clutch in his truck to be replaced. Defendant told Plaintiff that he did not have time to check on the truck that day but told him to drop off the truck at the repair shop

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on Friday, November 20, 2020, for Defendant to inspect it and determine what repairs it would need. Plaintiff dropped off his truck on November 20, 2020, as had been discussed by the parties. However, Defendant was unable to work on Plaintiffs truck that day as there were already other cars on the lot that he was working on.

Plaintiff gave his keys to Defendant for Defendant to work on the truck. Plaintiff left the truck parked on the open access parking lot in the strip mall where Defendant's shop is located. Defendant did not attempt to move the truck because it had a bad clutch, and he would only have one chance to move it.

When Defendant arrived back in his shop on November 23, 2020, Defendant noticed that Plaintiffs truck was gone. Defendant called Plaintiff to ask him if he had taken his truck back, but Plaintiff stated that he had not. Defendant then informed Plaintiff that his truck had been stolen and called the police to file a report.

In addition to the value of the truck, Plaintiff seeks to recover the value of tools that he claims were in his truck. Plaintiff is a self-employed handyman and the tools that he claims were in the truck are tools he uses in his line of work. Defendant did not know that Plaintiff had left tools in the truck. Further, Defendant testified that the truck was an open bed truck and that when he looked in the truck, no tools were visible. At trial. Defendant argued that it did not make sense for Plaintiff to leave tools he used for work in a truck that needed repairs.

During cross-examination. Defendant asked Plaintiff whether the truck had been paid in full or if it had been repossessed. Plaintiff denied that the truck had been repossessed and testified that he paid for the truck in cash. Defendant did not present any evidence that the truck was repossessed.

Defendant argues that he is not liable for the theft of Plaintiff s truck because the parking

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lot where the truck was parked is an open access parking lot that is shared with four other shops. Further, Defendant claimed that there was no way for him to secure Plaintiffs vehicle as he had nowhere to lock it. Defendant's shop has been at its current location for thirteen years and he has never had problems with vehicle thefts.

At trial, Plaintiff stated he sought relief in the amount of $15, 000: $8, 500 for his truck and $8, 500 for his tools. However, the list that Plaintiff introduced at trial listed the value of the tools as $4, 729.35. Additionally, the Complaint stated that the relief sought was $8, 500 total. Aside from the list of tools, Plaintiff did not introduce any evidence of the value of the tools. Plaintiff testified he did not have any receipts for his tools and that he came up with the value based on his recollection and by checking Lowe's.

Plaintiff did not introduce any evidence of the value of his truck. Plaintiff testified he did not check Kelley Blue Book to determine the truck's value. He determined the value of the truck based on its age and how many miles it had. When asked by the Court how much he believed the truck was worth, Defendant testified that he estimated the truck was worth between $3, 700 and $5, 700. Defendant admitted that he did not get a chance to inspect the truck, but testified his estimate was based on Plaintiffs statement that the truck needed a new clutch.

As of the date of trial, Plaintiffs truck has not been recovered. Although Defendant disputes whether the truck was truly stolen, Defendant did not present evidence proving otherwise.

DISCUSSION

In civil claims, the party asserting the claim bears the burden of proving each and every element of the claim by a preponderance of the evidence.[2] The side on which the greater weight

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of the evidence is found is the side on which the preponderance of the evidence lies.[3] If the evidence is in even balance, then the party bearing the burden of proving a fact by a preponderance of the evidence has failed to satisfy that burden.[4]

1. Bailment of the Truck

Plaintiff seeks recovery on the basis of negligence, arguing Defendant breached his duty to Plaintiff by failing to safeguard...

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