8/7/2018Wisconsin Court Decides Fate Of 1938 Talbot Lago
Wisconsin Court of Appeals rules against collector who unwittingly bought a $7 million classic automobile that had been stolen in 2001.
The fate of a $7 million car stolen 17 years ago is about to be resolved. The rare 1938 Talbot Lago T150-C SS Teardrop Coupe was stolen from the Milwaukee garage of its owner, Roy Leiske, on March 4, 2001, and his family wants it back. Rick Workman, a respected classic car collector, had purchased the missing Talbot Lago in Europe without realizing it was stolen. The state Court of Appeals last month sided with the claim made by the original owner's family.
Leiske, who died in 2005, bought the valuable French coupe in 1967 with the intention of conducting a full restoration, a process that had begun at the time thieves broke into the warehouse. Police investigating the theft found evidence that the thieves forged papers to ship the car to Europe. The car did not turn up again until 2016 when Workman attempted to title the car in Illinois.
Leiske's cousin, Richard A. Mueller, inherited ownership of the missing vehicle. Mueller asked Workman for the $7 million car back, and when the businessman refused, Mueller sued. The case turns on the disputed interpretation of the Wisconsin law that sets the clock for suing over unlawful possession at six years.
"The cause of action accrues at the time the wrongful taking or conversion occurs, or the wrongful detention begins," Wisconsin Statutes Section 893.35 states.
Workman insisted, and a lower court judge agreed, that the clock began ticking in 2001, and the opportunity to sue ran out in 2007. Not so, said Mueller, who argued the clock started when Workman refused to return the car. A three-judge appellate panel sided with Mueller, explaining that "wrongful detention" refers to possession of something that is stolen. It is an independent action that can "begin" at a different time than the initial theft.
"Based on the plain language of the statute, we conclude that the statute creates a cause of action for wrongful detention separate from the cause of action for conversion, that the time the cause of action accrues is based on the alleged wrongful act by the defendant, and that the same property can be converted by one party and wrongfully detained by another," Judge Kitty K. Brennan wrote for the appellate panel. "As the parties and the trial court acknowledged, no existing case addresses a fact pattern like this one."
The Court of Appeals reinstated Mueller's lawsuit and ordered the lower court to finalize the case. A copy of the ruling is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.