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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Michael R. LaPlace v. Pierre Briere

Michael R. LaPlace v. Pierre Briere, individually and trading as Pierre Briere Quarter Horses, and Pierre Briere Quarter Horses, LLC, Charlene Bridgwood, Douglas Gultz and Sherry Gultz, husband and wife


This case concerns the application of bailment law and the tort of conversion to circumstances where a horse died at the defendant stables while being exercised by an unauthorized person. The record contains no evidence establishing the cause of the horse's death or proving that the exercising of the horse was done negligently.

We hold that the conduct of the unauthorized person, an experienced horsewoman, in exercising the horse without permission did not constitute the degree of dominion and control over the animal that would give rise to a claim of conversion against her. Although damage to a chattel is a factor to be considered in determining whether a conversion has occurred, here that factor was given no weight since no causal connection was shown between the exercising of the horse and its death.

Under bailment law, the death of the horse gave rise to a prima facie case of conversion and negligence against the stable as bailee. Here the stable rebutted that presumption by coming forward with proofs of the circumstances in which the horse died. Even if the stable were negligent in allowing an unauthorized person to exercise the horse, we cannot presume that its negligence was a proximate cause of the horse's death, because determining the cause of death was uniquely within the control of plaintiff, the only person who had the authority to order a necropsy of the horse.

Summary judgment for defendants is affirmed.