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Williams v. Ford Motor Credit Company

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff and her husband purchased a car and placed title under both of their names. However, Plaintiff’s husband was the only one listed on the financial loan papers. Later, Plaintiff and her husband divorced. The divorce court gave Plaintiff the car and required the husband to continue making payments on the car to the loan company. Thereafter, the loan company assigned the loan credit to Defendant. Plaintiff’s husband defaulted on the loan and signed a repossession authorization. Defendant instructed a tow truck drive to repossess the vehicle. Plaintiff brought suit. The jury held in Plaintiff’s favor and awarded her $5,000 in damages, but the court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in Defendant’s favor. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    One has lawfully repossessed property without breaching the peace when it is accomplished without forming violence or the risk of invoking violence.

    Facts.

    David Williams, Cathy Williams’ (“Plaintiff”) husband, purchased a car from a dealer. Both, Plaintiff and David, obtained titled to the car, but solely David’s name was listed on the loan papers. Thereafter, the car loan was assigned to the Ford Motor Credit Company (“Defendant”). Later, David and Plaintiff were divorced. Under the divorce court’s order, Plaintiff obtained full title to the car, but David was still mandated to pay Defendant for the car. David defaulted on the payments and signed a repossession authorization. At about 4:30 a.m., Plaintiff was woken up by a noise outside of her residence. At that moment, Plaintiff found two men in the process of towing her car. Plaintiff began to yell at the tow truck, and the truck stopped. One of the men in the truck told Plaintiff that Defendant told him tore possess the car. Plaintiff told the man that she had personal items inside the car. The man went to the car, obtained Plaintiff’s items, gave them to her, and left with the car.Plaintiff reported the car stolen to the police and brought suit against Defendant for conversion. At trial, Plaintiff testified that the tow truck driver was polite the entire time and did not threaten or make her believe she would be physically injured. At the end of the trial, the jury granted Plaintiff $5,000 in damages on the grounds that the repossession was a result of unlawful “breach of the peace,” violating Arkansas Statute § 85-9-503. Under the statute, which codifies Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code, one is allowed to secure party to repossess its property without judicial process only if the repossession occurs in a manner that does not breach of the peace. The district court entered judgment for Defendant notwithstanding the verdict. Plaintiff appealed on the grounds that the repossession took place in an unlawful manner because the method had a risk of violence.

    Issue.

    Whether one has lawfully repossessed property without breaching the peace when it is accomplished without forming violence or the risk of invoking violence.

    Held.

    Yes, one has lawfully repossessed property without breaching the peace when it is accomplished without forming violence or the risk of invoking violence.

    Dissent.

    The jury properly found that repossession of the car resulted in a breach of the peace. The confrontation between the tow truck driver and Plaintiff did not result in violence because Plaintiff did not escalate the circumstances.Still, a reasonable jury could hold that the Defendant’s actions in repossessing the car at 4:30 a.m. constituted a risk of violence. Therefore, the court should reverse the district court’s holding, and reinstate the jury’s verdict.

    Discussion.

    One has lawfully repossessed property without breaching the peace when it is accomplished without forming violence or the risk of invoking violence. In this case, Plaintiff did not object to the towing. Instead, the entire towing procedure took place without any violence or without any actions that may incite violence. Even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, despite the fact that Defendant did not act admirably by towing the car during at 4:30 a.m., Defendant was legally repossessing the car.Therefore, the district court’s decision is affirmed.


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