DENNIS J. SALLAZ and MARCY FOX, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
EUGENE (ROY) RICE and JANET RICE, husband and wife, and MICHAEL RICE, Defendants-Respondents.
Opinion No. 134
from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, in and for Ada County. Hon. Jason D.
Scott, District Judge.
judgment of the district court is affirmed.
K. Smith, Jr., Boise, argued for appellants.
Kahle Becker, Boise, argued for respondents.
an appeal out of Ada County from an order denying the
Plaintiffs' motion for a directed verdict. We affirm the
denial of the motion and therefore uphold the jury verdict
and judgment in favor of the Defendants.
J. Sallaz was the owner of a 1954 Cadillac Eldorado that he
had purchased in 1964. In 1991, Mr. Sallaz granted Eugene
"Roy" Rice a lien on the Cadillac, and a new
certificate of title was issued on July 17, 1991, showing
that Roy Rice had a lien on the car. On July 22, 1991, Mr.
Sallaz had a duplicate of that certificate of title issued to
Sallaz was counsel for Mr. Rice, and they were close friends
and business associates for many years. Their relationship
soured, and on January 17, 2011, Mr. Rice had his son Michael
Rice repossess the Cadillac. On January 24, 2011, Michael
Rice, on behalf of his father, presented an Affidavit of
Repossession to the Idaho Transportation Department, and the
Department issued a new certificate of title showing that the
owner of the Cadillac was Eugene LeRoy Rice or Rose Jeanette
Rice, who was his wife. Mr. Rice later sold the Cadillac for
the sum of $25, 000.
April 11, 2011, Mr. Sallaz filed this action against Mr.
Rice, his wife, and his son seeking to recover possession of
the Cadillac or, if he could not do so, damages for
conversion in the sum of $75, 000. In the verified complaint,
Mr. Sallaz averred that "[a]t all times relevant hereto
(except as may be specified), Plaintiff was the sole owner of
a 1954 Cadillac, VIN 546265334." He also averred that he
had granted Mr. Rice a lien on the Cadillac in July 1991
because Mr. Rice had offered to loan money to Mr. Sallaz,
that the transaction never closed, and that Mr. Rice signed
the certificate of title releasing his lien on July 20, 1995.
A copy of the duplicate title was attached to the complaint,
and it showed a signature of "Roy Rice" releasing
the lien. In his verified answer and counterclaim, Roy Rice
alleged that his purported signature releasing the lien was a
bottom portion of the duplicate title had a form for
transferring ownership of the vehicle, and it had been filled
out showing that on January 1, 2011, Mr. Sallaz had
transferred ownership of the Cadillac to Marcy Fox, his
fiancé. She was later added as a plaintiff in this
action, although Mr. Sallaz also continued to prosecute the
case in his name pursuant to a power of attorney that she had
executed on February 11, 2011.
Sallaz sought a writ of possession to gain possession of the
Cadillac, but the district court denied the writ because
"Mr. Rice has shown with sufficient probability that he
is the official owner of record of the 1954 Cadillac Eldorado
and that he is entitled to possession of the vehicle."
There were other claims filed between the parties, and all of
the various claims were tried to a jury from June 30 through
July 21, 2014. The other claims are not relevant to this
the Defendants rested, Mr. Sallaz moved for a directed
verdict. The district court denied the motion, and the jury
returned a special verdict finding that the Plaintiffs had
failed to prove their claim against the Defendants for
conversion of the Cadillac. The Plaintiffs timely appealed.
the District Court Err in Denying the Plaintiffs' Motion
for a Directed Verdict?
reviewing the grant or denial of a motion for a directed
verdict, we conduct an independent review of the evidence and
do not defer to the findings of the trial court.
Gillingham Constr., Inc. v. Newby-Wiggins Constr.,
Inc., 136 Idaho 887, 891, 42 P.3d 680, 684 (2002). Our
standard of review is as follows:
We must determine whether, admitting the truth of the adverse
evidence and drawing every legitimate inference most
favorably to the opposing party, there exists substantial
evidence to justify submitting the case to the jury. The
"substantial evidence" test does not require that
the evidence be uncontradicted, or even that we find it
persuasive. We do not weigh the evidence or consider the
credibility of the witnesses. It requires only that the
evidence be of sufficient quantity and probative value that
reasonable minds could conclude that a verdict in favor of
the party against whom the motion is made is proper. A
directed verdict is proper only where the evidence is so
clear that all reasonable minds would reach only one
conclusion-that the moving party should prevail.
Id. at 891-92, 42 P.3d at 684-85. (Citations
of conversion requires proof of three elements: "(1)
that the charged party wrongfully gained dominion of
property; (2) that property is owned or possessed by
plaintiff at the time of possession; and (3) the property in
question is personal property." Taylor v.
McNichols, 149 Idaho 826, 846, 243 P.3d 642, 662 (2010).
In this case, there was no dispute that the Cadillac was
owned by one of the Plaintiffs when it was repossessed and
that it was personal property. The only issue in dispute was
whether the Defendants wrongfully gained dominion over it.
Sallaz testified that in 1991 he and Roy Rice were working
together to purchase something, that his part was to give Mr.
Rice a lien on the Cadillac, that he did so, that Mr. Rice
worked on the transaction for a long time, and that they
backed out of the purchase because Mr. Rice could not get the
price he wanted. According to Mr. Sallaz, in 1995 he was
going through his car documents and noticed that he had never
had Mr. Rice release the lien. He therefore went to Mr.
Rice's house and had him sign the release of lien. Mr.
Sallaz produced at trial the duplicate title that he had
issued on July 22, 1991. A signature purporting to be that of
Roy Rice was written in the place on the title for releasing
a lien against the Cadillac along with the release date of
"7-20-95." Mr. Sallaz stated that after 1995, Roy
and Michael Rice did ...