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Mitchell v. Brownie's Independent Transmission

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

January 5, 2018

TERRANCE MITCHELL Plaintiff-Appellee

         Civil Appeal from Municipal Court Trial Court Case No. 2015-CVI-2989.

          TERRANCE MITCHELL, Plaintiff-Appellee-Pro Se

          MARIA L. RABOLD, Atty. Attorney for Defendant-Appellant


          WELBAUM, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Brownie's Independent Transmission ("BIT"), appeals a decision of the Dayton Municipal Court awarding judgment to plaintiff-appellee, Terrance Mitchell, following a bench trial. For the reasons outlined below, the judgment of the trial court will be reversed.

         Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 2} On July 21, 2015, Mitchell filed a pro se complaint in the small claims division of the Dayton Municipal Court alleging that BIT owed him $1, 161.34 for failing to repair his 2003 Chevy Blazer. The matter proceeded to a bench trial before a magistrate on August 19, 2015. Mitchell appeared at trial and testified on his own behalf while BIT was represented by counsel.

         {¶ 3} At trial, Mitchell testified that in November 2012, he drove his vehicle to BIT's automotive repair shop located on Main Street in Dayton, Ohio, because "the transmission was slipping" and his vehicle was "doing a jerk." Trial Trans. (Aug. 19, 2015), p. 3, 6. Mitchell testified that BIT performed a diagnostic inspection on his vehicle and confirmed that the transmission needed repaired. Mitchell provided an invoice to the magistrate dated November 28, 2012, that itemized the agreed-upon repairs and other costs, which totaled $1, 161.34. See Plaintiff's Exhibit I. The invoice noted that "Brownies IT rebuilt transmission [and] rebuilt torque converter with a 6 month 6, 000 mile warrant[y] if repaired at 1901 North Main Street location only." Id.

         {¶ 4} Mitchell testified that his vehicle was stored at BIT's Dixie Drive location while he was making payments toward the repair cost. Mitchell claimed that after he made his final payment, BIT informed him that his vehicle would not start despite BIT performing the agreed-upon repairs and installing new spark plugs. According to Mitchell, BIT told him that their best mechanic was going to look into the matter. However, shortly thereafter, BIT contacted Mitchell and explained that it could not fix anything else because the shop only worked on transmissions. Mitchell testified that he did not know whether BIT fixed the transmission on his vehicle as promised.

         {¶ 5} It is undisputed that BIT returned the inoperable vehicle to Mitchell on January 12, 2013, by towing the vehicle to Mitchell's house on a flatbed truck. Mitchell testified that his vehicle has not been moved or worked on by another mechanic since its return. To establish this, Mitchell provided the magistrate with two photographs that he claimed he took the day before trial. One of the photographs depicts a green Chevy Blazer and the other depicts a speedometer. See Plaintiffs Exhibits II and III. Mitchell testified that the photographs show his vehicle parked at the location where BIT returned it, and the vehicle's speedometer reading, which had not changed significantly since it was dropped off at BIT on November 28, 2012.[1]

         {¶ 6} Following Mitchell's testimony, BIT moved the magistrate to dismiss Mitchell's claim on grounds that it was filed outside the applicable two-year statute of limitations for claims alleging damage to personal property. The magistrate advised that he would have to research the matter and would accept additional briefs on the issue. In response, BIT indicated that it would proceed at trial with the motion to dismiss pending.

         {¶ 7} In proceeding at trial, BIT did not attempt to cross-examine Mitchell or present any of its own witnesses. Rather, BIT's attorney argued that the November 28, 2012 invoice presented by Mitchell indicated that there were other problems with the vehicle. Specifically, BIT pointed to a notation on the invoice that stated: "While [your vehicle] was here we took the opportunity of inspecting it and find that the following items need attention-Engine Codes P128 - P155 - P300 - P442 Needs [illegible] minor oil leaks [check] exhaust system." Plaintiffs Exhibit I.

         {¶ 8} BIT also argued that Mitchell failed to present any evidence demonstrating that the vehicle would not start due to the transmission or torque converter not working. BIT maintained that it performed the work on those parts of the vehicle as promised and that a number of other issues could have arisen while the vehicle was being stored in wait of Mitchell's payments.

         {¶ 9} BIT provided a business record to the magistrate showing that Mitchell's vehicle was returned to him on January 12, 2013, thus establishing a 46-day storage period. See Defendant's Exhibit I. BIT also argued that the vehicle was operable when it was driven to BIT's Dixie Drive location for storage, as BIT claimed that Mitchell would have otherwise been charged for a tow to that location.

         {¶ 10} Following the bench trial, on August 24, 2015, BIT submitted a brief in support of its motion to dismiss arguing that Mitchell brought his claim past the two-year statute of limitations in R.C. 2305.10(A), which applies to product liability claims and claims alleging bodily injury and injury to personal property. Mitchell did not file a brief in opposition.

         {¶ 11} On October 14, 2015, the magistrate issued a written decision overruling BIT's motion to dismiss and granting judgment in favor of Mitchell in the amount of $1, 161.34. In overruling BIT's motion to dismiss, the magistrate found that Mitchell's claim sounded in breach of contract, which, pursuant to R.C. 2305.06, has an eight-year statute of limitations. Accordingly, the magistrate concluded that Mitchell had brought his claim within the applicable limitations period.

         {¶ 12} In granting judgment in favor of Mitchell, the magistrate found, based on the evidence presented at trial, that Mitchell had entered into an implied contract with BIT in which Mitchell agreed to pay BIT to fix the transmission on his vehicle. The magistrate also found that after Mitchell made his final payment to BIT, his vehicle would not start and that BIT towed the vehicle to Mitchell's house where it has remained ever since. The magistrate further found that Mitchell presented sufficient evidence demonstrating that BIT failed to fix the vehicle's transmission. The ...

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