Appeal from the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Montgomery County, No. 83-14995.
Frederick E. Smith, Doylestown, for appellant.
Thomas A. Landis, Lansdale, for Jim Bowe & Sons, Inc., appellee.
Arthur Lefkoe, Norristown, for Plymouth Tp. Police, appellee.
Rowley, Wieand and Olszewski, JJ.
[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 188]
This is an appeal from a judgment entered in favor of appellee, Jim Bowe & Sons (Bowe) and against appellant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm), and in favor of appellee Plymouth Township Police (Montgomery County) in a replevin action.
State Farm, the insurer of a car which had been reported stolen to the Philadelphia Police, paid its insured the value of the car and obtained record title to the car in August, 1981. On July 8, 1982, Bowe, pursuant to an agreement with the Plymouth Township Police, towed the stolen vehicle to his place of business. The Plymouth Township Police immediately notified the Philadelphia Police that the stolen car had been found. In July, 1983, State Farm demanded delivery of the car from Bowe, but Bowe refused to relinquish it until the towing charge and approximately one year's storage fee were paid. State Farm was willing to pay the towing charge and a reasonable storage fee, but denied that it was responsible for an entire year's storage fee.
In October, 1983, State Farm filed an action in replevin against both Bowe and Plymouth Township Police. At the same time, State Farm filed a Motion for a Writ of Seizure. Bowe filed an answer, new matter and counterclaim asserting a common law garageman's lien for the year's storage fee. Plymouth Township Police filed an answer denying that they owed any duty to State Farm to inform it when the car was found. In December, 1983, a writ of seizure was issued. Subsequently, the case was tried without a jury, and the court found in favor of Bowe for $5,005 on its counterclaim, and in favor of Plymouth Township Police. The amount of the judgment represented a storage fee for 496 days, i.e., from the day the car was towed by Bowe until it was seized pursuant to the writ of seizure. Appellant's post trial motions were denied, judgment was entered on the verdict, and State Farm has appealed. We affirm the judgment in part, vacate the judgment in part, and remand for further proceedings.
[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 189]
On review of a case tried by a judge sitting without a jury, we must accept the factual findings of the trial court, although we are not bound by the trial court's legal conclusions drawn from those facts. Lawner v. Engelbach, 433 Pa. 311, 249 A.2d 295 (1969). In this case the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Bowe had no affirmative duty to notify State Farm that it was storing the vehicle. As a result, the trial court found that Bowe was entitled to recover the storage fee for the time from when Bowe towed the vehicle until State Farm demanded possession of it on a quasi-contract theory of unjust enrichment. The trial court reasoned that State Farm passively received the benefit of the storage of the vehicle, and that it would be unconscionable for State Farm to retain this benefit without payment for it. The trial court also determined that State Farm would have to pay for the storage of the vehicle from the time it requested the return of the car until the date the car was actually returned pursuant to the writ of seizure (1) because the storage fee charged for the period prior to State Farm's demand for the car was reasonable, (2) because Bowe had no duty to release the car upon State Farm's demand therefor without being paid a storage fee for the period from the date Bowe towed the vehicle until the date State Farm demanded possession of the car, and (3) because State Farm continued to receive the benefit of the storage after it had demanded possession of the vehicle, but Bowe had refused to release it. The trial court found that the Plymouth Township Police were not responsible for contacting State Farm about the recovery of the vehicle because it interpreted 75 Pa.C.S. § 7113(b) to impose the obligation on the police department which initially received the report of the theft of the car to notify the owner of a stolen car of its recovery.
On appeal, State Farm argues that quasi-contract and unjust enrichment are equitable theories, and that equity requires it to be responsible, at most, for the storage fees for a reasonable period in which Bowe could have contacted it. State Farm also argues that the Plymouth ...