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Timmer v. Gray

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Heaton leased land from Glowack. On the land, Heaton owned two discs that were in poor condition. Later, Farmers Home Administration obtained title to the discs by entering into a security agreement with Heaton. The discs remained on Glowack’s land. While on the land, Glowack allows his neighbor, Gray, to possess the discs. Gray then hired Maggert to repair the discs. Subsequently, Plaintiffs purchased the discs from Farmers Home Administration. Both parties to the sale thought the discs were still in poor condition at the time of sale and without inspecting the discs. Plaintiffs brought suit against Maggert and Gray. The trial court held for Plaintiffs, but subject to an equitable lien in favor of Maggert. Plaintiffs appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    With the exception of a bona fide purchaser for value without notice, one may enforce an equitable lien against another who later acquires an encumbered property.

    Facts.

    Terrance Heaton (“Heaton”) leased land from Tom Glowack (“Glowack”). Heaton owned two disc harrows that left in poor condition on the property. Later, in 1984, the Farmers Home Administration (“FmHA”) obtained title to the discs by means of a security agreement with Heaton. Upon purchase of the discs, FmHA left the discs on Glowack’s land. While the discs where on Glowack’s land, Glowack allowed his neighbor, William Gray (“Gray”), to possess of the discs. Gray hired Jed Maggert (“Maggert”) to fix the discs, and Maggertrepair the disc, totaling $857 worth of repairs. However, Gray never paid Maggert for the repair. In December 1984, Martin and Lylia Timmer (collectively known as “Plaintiffs”) bought the discs from FmHA for $75. At that time,Timmers did not examine the discs priorto purchase, but FmHA and Plaintiffs thought the discs were still in poor condition at the time of the sale. Plaintiffs brought suit against Maggert and Gray for replevin and conversion seeking to obtain possession of the discs. The trial court held that Plaintiffs were the owners of the discs, but Plaintiffs’ ownership was subject to an equitable lien in favor of Maggert. Plaintiffs appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether one may enforce an equitable lien against another who later acquires an encumbered property.

    Held.

    Yes, with the exception of a bona fide purchaser for value without notice, one may enforce an equitable lien against another who later acquires an encumbered property.

    Discussion.

    With the exception of a bona fide purchaser for value without notice, one may enforce an equitable lien against another who later acquires an encumbered property.Courts are authorized toissue equitable liens to avoid unjust enrichment of an acquiring person. Unjust enrichment may result from failure to provide consideration, fraud, mistake, or moral injustice. Here, the trial court properly held that Plaintiffs ownership of the discs is subject to an equitable lien in favor of Maggert because when Plaintiffs purchased the discs, the repair bill encumbered the discs. Although Plaintiffs were without notice of the encumbrance, Plaintiffs are not bona fide purchasers for value of the discs because they only paid $75 when the discs were worth $857 after the repair. Thus, providing Plaintiffs full ownership of the discs for merely $75 would result in an unjust enrichment to Maggert. Furthermore, when one of two innocent parties must bear the loss, the party bearing the loss is the one who was in the best position to prevent the loss. Here, Maggert could have examined ownership of the discs before to making the repairs, but Plaintiffs could have easily avoided the loss by examining the discs before purchasing them Therefore, Plaintiffs bear the loss and there is a lien in favor of Maggert. Overall, the trial court’s decision is affirmed.


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