LONG v. DILLING MECHANICAL CONTRACTORS, INC. No. 09A05-9803-CV-157.
705 N.E.2d 1022 (1999)
Paul LONG, Indiana State Pipe Trades Association and United Association Local No. 166, Appellants-Defendants, v. DILLING MECHANICAL CONTRACTORS, INC., Appellee-Plaintiff.
Court of Appeals of Indiana.
February 16, 1999.
Michael L. Einterz, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorney for Appellee.
Paul Long (Long), the Indiana State Pipe Trades Association (the Association), and the United Association Local No. 166 (Local 166) (collectively, the Defendants) bring an interlocutory appeal from the trial court's order that denied their "Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment" and that granted summary judgment in favor of Dilling Mechanical Contractors, Inc. (Dilling).
Although numerous issues were raised on appeal, we find one issue dispositive: Whether the bags of trash Long took from Dilling's dumpster were abandoned property. We answer in the affirmative, and reverse and remand with instructions.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Dilling maintained an office building in Logansport, Indiana. Outside of the office building was a lidded dumpster in which Dilling deposited trash. This dumpster, which Dilling leased for its exclusive use, stood on Dilling's property and was located at the curtilage about two feet from a public sidewalk. The rear of the dumpster abutted the building, and Dilling had constructed a wall slightly taller than the dumpster around the two sides of the dumpster. There was no wall in front of the dumpster, which remained open to public access. A waste management firm, pursuant to a contract with Dilling, was assigned to dispose of materials placed in the dumpster.
Since February of 1995, Long had been employed by the Association as a labor organizer. Long was seeking to organize Dilling's employees for union membership. In the early morning of August 24, 1995, Long went to Dilling's Logansport property and removed five or six filled plastic trash bags from the dumpster. Long took these trash bags hoping they would contain records revealing the names and phone numbers of Dilling employees, with whom Long wished to discuss collective bargaining. Long took these trash bags to a hotel room, where he rummaged though the bags' contents. Long then re-bagged the trash and deposited it in the hotel's trash receptacle.
At some point, Dilling became aware of Long's activities and filed a complaint against the Defendants, alleging they were civilly liable to Dilling. Dilling claimed that Long and the other Defendants committed criminal offenses, including theft, receiving stolen property, criminal trespass, burglary and corrupt business influence. As a result, pursuant to Ind.Code §§ 34-4-30-1
Defendants filed a "Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment," which requested that Dilling's corrupt business influence claim be dismissed and that summary judgment be entered in their favor on Dilling's other claims. Dilling responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment. On March 24, 1997, the trial court issued an interlocutory order denying the Defendants' motion and granting Dilling's motion for summary judgment.
In that order, the trial court found that Long, by taking trash bags from the Dilling dumpster, committed theft;
On February 20, 1998, the trial court's interlocutory order was certified for appeal. We heard oral argument on August 31, 1998.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This court stands in the shoes of the trial court when it reviews the grant or denial of a summary judgment motion. Anderson v. Yorktown Classroom Teachers Ass'n,
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
The Defendants argue that the trash in Dilling's dumpster was abandoned property. They cite the holdings of various criminal cases dealing with Fourth Amendment protections, representative of which is United States v. Kramer,
State property law guides our analysis of the abandonment issue. The most recent Indiana case addressing abandonment is Right Reason Publications v. Silva,
Id. at 1351. In Right Reason, we found that the journals had been abandoned, as "by making the journals freely available to the public, [the publisher] displayed conduct inconsistent with an intention to maintain ownership over them." Id.
Under the Right Reason standard, Dilling abandoned its trash. Dilling placed filled trash bags in an unlocked dumpster for a waste disposal firm's disposition. Generally, one relinquishes personalty when he voluntarily makes it available for someone else's disposition. See id., 691 N.E.2d at 1351 ("[The Publisher] actually relinquished the student journals by placing them in distribution stands."). Thus, Dilling relinquished possession of its trash.
In addition, there is a widely held and long-standing doctrine that personalty discarded as waste is considered abandoned. See United States v. Wiederkehr, 33 M.J. 539, 541 (A.F.C.M.R.1991) ("Abandoned property is property the owner has thrown away."); Ex parte Szczygiel, 51 N.Y.S.2d 699, 702 (Sup.Ct.1944) ("The abandonment of property is the relinquishment of all title, possession or claim to or of it—a virtual intentional throwing away of it."); Eads v. Brazelton, 22 Ark. 499, 509 (1861) ("Property is said to be abandoned when it is thrown away. . . ."); M'Goon v. Ankeny, 11 Ill. 558, 559 (1850) ("[I]f those who made the slag, considering it entirely worthless, cast it away with the intention of abandoning it, they thereby divested themselves of their title to it. . . ."); William T. Brantly, Of the Law of Personal Property § 133, at 213-14 (1891) ("A thing is abandoned when the owner throws it away, or leaves it without custody, because he no longer wishes to account it as his property[.]").
Dilling claims that it did not abandon the contents of the trash bags taken by Long. Instead, it claims that it, as the generator of the trash, "retains ownership of the contents of the garbage until such time as the contracted carrier has exercised custody and control over those contents." Brief of Appellee at 14-15. In support of that contention, Dilling cites National Serv-All, Inc. v. Indiana Department of State Revenue,
In National Serv-All, the question before the tax court concerned who owned the trash
In so finding, the tax court observed that:
Id. at 959 (citations omitted) (footnotes omitted).
The National Serv-All decision addressed the question of who owned the trash once it was picked up by the hauler. It did not address the question presented in our case, that being whether an owner may abandon trash before the contracted carrier picks it up.
We answer that question in the affirmative and conclude that, if a generator of trash wishes to retain ownership or control of that trash, then it must take affirmative steps to do so. Although Dilling claimed that the trash bags taken by Long contained Dilling's sensitive and confidential company documents, it took no steps to protect those documents from abandonment. Those documents were neither shredded, nor placed in locked containers nor in an area which was not readily accessible to others. When trash, whether it be documents or other discarded material, is placed in trash bags, and those trash bags are placed in an unlocked dumpster on the curtilage and readily accessible to others, that trash has been abandoned. In that context, trash is trash. As noted in Moran v. State,
II. The Effect of Abandonment
As a result of Dilling's abandonment of its trash, its property rights were not abrogated by Long's taking of the bags. See Right Reason, 691 N.E.2d at 1351. Consequently, there can be no showing that Long committed theft, receiving stolen property, criminal trespass or burglary. In order to establish liability under any of these offenses as alleged, Dilling was required to show that it had a property right in the trash bags. Dilling cannot make this showing because it abandoned and, therefore, did not own the trash.
Nor can the Defendants be found liable for corrupt business influence. Ind.Code § 35-45-6-2 requires a "pattern of racketeering activity," which in this case would have been proven by the crimes of theft, receiving stolen property, criminal trespass and/or burglary resulting from Long's taking of the trash bags. Since Long did not commit
The trial court erred when it entered summary judgment in Dilling's favor. Further, as Dilling cannot recover on any of the legal theories it advances, the trial court erred in refusing to grant the Defendants' summary judgment on Dilling's other claims. We therefore hold that Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment" should have been granted.
The trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Dilling is reversed. The trial court's denial of the Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment" is also reversed. This cause is remanded to the trial court with instructions to dismiss Dilling's corrupt business influence claim, and to enter summary judgment on Dilling's other claims in favor of the Defendants.
Reversed and remanded.
NAJAM, J., and FRIEDLANDER, J., concur.
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